CBD oil, short for cannabidiol oil, is an extract of the cannabis plant and is known for its pain relief, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety effects. It’s also one of the hottest (and controversial) health products in the USA.
Historically, CBD oil has been in a murky legal position, but that all changed in December of 2018. That’s because the 2018 Farm Bill, a major piece of law, was signed into action.
One provision of that law legalized hemp, a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant, which can be used as a source for CBD, but not the psychoactive compound THC (which, despite being legalized in a number of states, remains illegal at the federal level).
Since CBD oil can be derived from hemp, the 2018 Farm Bill was taken as a green light, and CBD oil is now sold everywhere from pharmacies to grocery stores to pet shops.
The new legal status of CBD oil has also made a big difference for scientific research into the uses of CBD; thanks to its newly legalized status, we now know much more about the effects of CBD on your body than we did even just a few years ago.
With all of these new developments, there have been a lot of shake ups in the CBD market. Our research team has stayed on top of the best products, and the latest scientific research on the applications of CBD. Read on for more.
1. Nutiva Organic Hemp Oil
Nutriva isn’t the best-selling hemp oil product on Amazon by sheer luck. This hemp oil extract is inexpensive, highly pure, and certified organic to boot. That means you don’t have to worry about any pesticides or herbicides making their way through the extraction process and into your supplement.
It comes in a large, opaque bottle, which helps keep the oil from suffering the destructive effects of visible light, but even so, you should still keep it cool. One bottle of Nutiva Organic Hemp Oil will last most users quite a while, and because it’s so cheap, it is a great choice if you have a high daily intake of hemp oil.
2. Just Hemp Foods All Natural Hemp Seed Oil
If there’s another contender for king of the hill when it comes to large-serving hemp oil products, it’s got to be Just Hemp Foods. Their product contains only pure cold pressed and cold filtered hemp seed oil. It’s not organic, but that’s about the only thing you can hold against it.
Though it’s a pretty new product, it’s got rave reviews so far, with users praising it for both supplement and cosmetic uses. The large size and the bottle-based delivery does make it susceptible to deterioration if you leave it sitting for months at a time, so use it up or get a smaller bottle (or softgels)!
3. Manitoba Harvest Hemp Oil
Manitoba Harvest is a heavy hitter in CBD oil products, and for good reason. Its flagship softgels deliver 825 mg of omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, and the only active ingredient is unrefined cold-pressed hemp oil.
Purists will like the fact that it contains little in the way of flavorings or additives, though the caramel powder (added for coloring) does detract from its appeal just a bit.
It’s a non-GMO product and is prepared without any preservatives, though it’s not certified organic like some of the other oils on this list. Considering the attractively low price, Manitoba Harvest is a solid contender across the board.
4. Dr. Adorable Help Seed Oil
Dr. Adorable is a well-loved purveyor of pure, organic hemp seed oil. It’s a solid contender, but it is hurt by the clear glass bottle (which allows light inside, which in turn causes degradation of some of the delicate compounds in cannabis oil extracts) and the moderately higher cost.
It’s also not marketed directly as a food supplement; again, this shouldn’t be a problem if the product is indeed 100% pure, but it never hurts to go with something intended for consumption.
5. Eco Finest Hemp Oil
This product is the right one for those seeking a hyper-pure cannabis derived oil for aromatherapy use or topical application. It’s too spendy to be consumed as a supplement.
While it’s quite expensive per ounce, few other competitors can match the purity claims of Eco Finest. The company uses advanced chemical purity analysis on every batch to ensure purity. Because of this, you should store it in the fridge after opening to ensure it retains its purity–some of the compounds in cannabis oil are quite delicate.
6. Sweet Essentials Extra Virgin Unrefined Hemp Seed Oil
Sweet Essentials is another contender in the “big and pure” category. While it’s a solid product, it gets beat out for two reasons. First, while it’s 100% pure and cold-pressed, it’s not USDA certified organic, and it isn’t quite as cost-effective as some of the other products on the market.
Still, make no mistake, it’s a good hemp oil, and people do love it. So don’t think you’re making the wrong call by going with Sweet Essentials’ hemp seed oil.
7. Renewalize Hemp Seed Oil
If you are interested in using hemp seed oil for its cosmetic purposes, you’ll have to check out Renewalize Hemp Seed Oil. It’s organic, cold-pressed, and includes only hemp oil as its sole ingredient.
While there’s no reason you couldn’t use it as a supplement, it’s not labeled as such, so it may not be subject to the same purity testing as a bona fide hemp oil supplement. The bottle is brown amber glass with an eyedropper on top, as is customary for oils like this, but the packaging also includes a facial sponge to underscore the recommended cosmetic use of the hemp seed oil.
8. Absolute Scientific Hemp Oil
Chalk this one up in the highly-pure category. It’s got the hallmarks of products that fit that description: small brown amber glass vial and dropper, lab-certified purity, and pretty spendy.
Unfortunately the actual hemp oil content is pretty low. Absolute scientific Hemp Oil would work okay as an aromatherapy product or a topical treatment for your skin, but look elsewhere for hemp oil to use as a supplement.
9. EndoCanna Care Pure Hemp Extract
The hemp extract made by EndoCanna boasts of its high omega 3, 6, and 9 content, but a typical serving size is only middle of the road when it comes to the fatty acid content.
It’s expensive compared to other products, and while the purity is good, it will get spendy if you are taking the recommended dosage every day (or if you need a high dose for relief of symptoms). As with other bottle-based hemp oil supplements, it’s best if you refrigerate the dropper bottle after you’ve opened it.
10. Wise Help Ultra Premium Hemp Oil
This hemp-derived oil is quite popular, and contains natural mint flavoring to help the taste go down a little better: not everyone is a fan of the distinctively earthy taste of hemp oil.
At two fluid ounces, it’s good for travel, but may not last a long time if you are a heavy users. This is a good option for people who don’t like the taste of hemp, but if you are a hardcore purist when it comes to your cannabis products, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Who should buy CBD oil?
CBD oil has gained the most traction among the general public for its ability to treat psychiatric conditions like anxiety and addiction. The roots of CBD oil in psychological treatment originated from its surprising effectiveness at helping children with epilepsy, and it’s becoming increasingly popular as a way to help ameliorate symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder as well.
However, by far the biggest groups of people who can benefit from the psychological effects of CBD oil are people with anxiety, and people with addictions (to cigarettes, for example).
Beyond its effects on brain function, CBD oil is also useful for people with chronic pain problems, particularly if this pain is nerve-related. CBD oil has been heavily studied for neuropathy-related pain, both in animal models of nerve damage and in people with conditions that generate serious neuropathic pain, like multiple sclerosis.
Research like this is why CBD oil is a popular ingredient in salves, balms, and creams for localized pain relief. It doesn’t function as a numbing agent, though; the benefits of CBD oil for pain relief lie in its ability to cut down on inflammation.
As such, if you are using CBD oil for pain relief, you’ll want to apply it on a regular basis, even when you aren’t having pain, to keep inflammation levels low.
Finally, CBD is gaining traction as a way to dampen some of the negative effects that come alongside its sister molecule, THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound in recreational and medical cannabis, and while it’s being actively explored for medical applications in its own right, it does have some well-known side effects, such as paranoia and anxiety.
CBD appears to be an effective way to reduce these, so a third group of people who should seriously consider taking CBD oil are people who use medical cannabis but are experiencing negative side effects from THC.
How we ranked
Our CBD oil rankings were based on both purity and efficacy. We assessed a wide range of hemp-derived oils available online, and looked for high-concentration oils that were extracted in a way that preserved the antioxidant capabilities of CBD.
Anything that wasn’t primarily oriented at delivering CBD-containing oil was dropped—given the popularity of CBD oil, many cosmetics and natural oil products have added hemp oil or CBD oil to their ingredients list, but only in small amounts that aren’t likely to make any difference when it comes to the actual health benefits of CBD.
We also kept an eye out for product packaging that would help preserve the benefits of CBD: as with many other potent antioxidants, CBD’s chemical potency can be readily degraded by exposure to light and oxygen. For that reason, our highest-rated products come in opaque or tinted plastic or glass bottles, and have rigid, well-designed seals to keep oxygen out after opening.
Finally, scientists have recently warned that oils derived from hemp are often mislabeled, with either too much or too little actual hemp-derived content. To this end, we rewarded companies that used purity testing and independent lab verification of their active ingredients. If you are using CBD oil, you definitely want it to work.
Cannabidiol is most easily used in a liquid form. Its intriguing biological properties have attracted attention from scientists and medical researchers studying a number of health problems.
In June of 2015, Nora D. Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse gave a presentation to the United States Senate Drug Caucus (1).
The caucus had called a hearing to inquire on the potential medical uses for cannabidiol, which remains difficult or illegal to obtain and use (depending on the oil’s source) in many states. In it, she described the state of the scientific research behind the use of cannabidiol oil for a wide range of health problems.
CBD oil has been used as a treatment for epilepsy. Some fascinating evidence exists suggesting that CBD oil is effective as an adjunctive treatment in children with epilepsy that was not well-controlled by medication. Volkow cites a number of small studies and clinical reports which found that cannabidiol oil reduced the frequency of seizures.
A 2012 review by Gloss and Vickrey at the University of California’s Department of Neurology examined the limited number of studies available to date, noting that there were some promising results, but concluding that the studies were too small and too limited to draw any strong conclusions (2).
There was, however, good evidence that there were no major adverse effects (side effects) from the cannabidiol oil treatment protocols used.
CBD oil can help protect your brain from degenerative disease. CBD oil also appears to have the ability to reduce inflammation and protect the brain from degenerative damage in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. So far, the research has been mostly confined to the Petri dish and the microscope.
Volkow cites one small study that found some improvement in quality of life in patients with Parkinson’s disease. However, beyond this, no major studies have tested cannabidiol oil as a drug for preventing or slowing the progression of any neurological diseases.
Similarly promising results have been found in cell cultures of cancerous cells. Cannabidiol appears to have anti-tumor properties. Volkow notes that there are a number of clinical trials underway: within a few years, there should be some good research on whether CBD oil can reduce tumor size or slow the progression of cancer.
CBD oil has been explored as a potential treatment for schizophrenia. Human trials are a little more advanced when it comes to using CBD oil to treat psychological problems. A 2012 study by a team of nine researchers in Germany, Italy, and the United States investigated the effects of cannabidiol on brain activity in patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (3).
The researchers compared cannabidiol to a common anti-psychotic drug called amisulpride. While both drugs were similarly effective at reducing the severity of symptoms, cannabidiol had far fewer side effects.
Further, analysis of blood samples revealed that patients who received cannabidiol had heightened levels of a particular neurotransmitter, and levels of this neurotransmitter in the blood were strongly and independently related to having fewer symptoms of schizophrenia. This indicates that CBD oil could one day become a reliable treatment for schizophrenia that has fewer side effects and uses a different biological mechanism to treat the problem.
CBD oil is a well-established anti-anxiety treatment. The neurological effects of cannabidiol might be useful for treating anxiety, too. A 2011 study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology examined whether cannabidiol could reduce anxiety and nerves in people with social anxiety disorder who were assigned a simulated public-speaking test (4).
Half the volunteers were given a single dose of CBD, while the other half were given a placebo. All of the study’s subjects were then instructed to prepare and give a short speech about their city.
To increase anxiety, the subjects were told the speech would be videotaped and later analyzed by a psychologist.
Compared to the subjects who received the placebo, the subjects who were given cannabidiol had lower levels of self-assessed anxiety, less cognitive impairment, and were more alert. Their overall performance in the speech was nearly as good as that of healthy controls who didn’t have social anxiety disorder!
CBD may soon become a mainstream treatment. Volkow’s presentation proposes that many of the positive effects of cannabidiol are the result of its ability to modulate levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. This would explain why it appears to be a potent treatment for such a wide range of maladies.
Despite the fact that much of the research is at a very early stage, CBD oil shows a lot of promise in treating many chronic health conditions, including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders.
Volkow’s presentation mentions a number of other emerging prospects for the compound, too: cannabidiol may work in concert with THC to reduce pain levels in people with neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer pain; it may also help reduce pain and spasms in multiple sclerosis too.
The latest research continues to support CBD as an effective treatment for anxiety. A review article published in the journal Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences in 2018 reviewed all of the CBD-related scientific work conducted thus far (5).
According to this same review study, the benefits of CBD oil for anxiety are supported by deeper biological work on how CBD molecules affect the function of the brain. CBD acts on specific neurotransmitters in the brain related to serotonin uptake, and it modifies blood flow to specific areas of the brain.
These findings have been confirmed in high-resolution medical imaging studies that show changes in cerebral blood flow in the hippocampus and other parts of the brain linked to feelings of anxiety.
CBD oil may help you quit a problematic addiction. One of the most exciting new areas of research related to CBD is its potential for helping with addiction. CBD has been proposed as a way to help people who are addicted to tobacco or even who are addicted to cannabis—a much rarer problem than tobacco addiction, but nevertheless a major issue for some people.
The rationale for using CBD to treat addiction may be linked to the same type of brain effects that help with anxiety. Withdrawal from a chemical dependence on a compound like nicotine creates feelings of anxiety and dissociation, which can be addressed by CBD.
A fascinating study done in the UK and published in the journal Addiction showed the potential for CBD to help reduce addiction-related craving behaviors (6).
The study used current tobacco users, put them on an overnight “fast” from all nicotine, and then gave them a single large dose of CBD oil or a placebo. Then, they showed the study participants visual images of tobacco (e.g. a lit cigarette, an open pack, etc.) and measured their attention-bias responses as well as markers of positive emotion.
The researchers were able to show that the patients who received the CBD oil were less interested and less excited about the cigarette cues created by the researchers, which suggests that CBD itself could help reduce impulses to continue using. CBD has also been explored as a potential treatment for opiate abuse, though given the fraught legal and ethical landscape surrounding opiate addiction, solid studies on CBD for painkiller abuse are few and far between.
Not all CBD products are created equally. As with any supplement that achieves fame incredibly quickly, the CBD market has struggled with cheap, low-quality products that don’t deliver the amount of CBD that they promise to deliver.
Moreover, some are contaminated with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, which could make you fail a drug test. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2019 looked at the CBD content of 84 different products available online (7).
Each product was tested for purity by an analytical chemistry lab, and the researchers reported the results. Some 26% of the products contained significantly less CBD than the product claimed, and moreover, 21% of the CBD oil products had detectable levels of THC.
These findings underscore the importance of choosing a high-quality CBD product, hopefully that uses independent lab testing to verify its purity. This study also suggests that using CBD is a bad idea if you get drug tested for your job—there’s a one in five chance that a CBD product could cause you to test positive for marijuana, even if you aren’t using it.
Cannabidiol appears to be quite safe. A 2011 study published in the journal Current Drug Safety concluded that CBD oil use, even at fairly high doses, does not appear to be associated with any major side effects (8). However, the authors caution that more research is needed, along with studies that follow subjects for longer periods of time.
In the intervening years, more research on the safety of CBD oil has been conducted, and the findings are very much the same: CBD, even in very high doses, is quite safe.
In fact, CBD has even been found to be a mediating factor for some of the negative effects of THC, the active ingredient in recreational and medical cannabis. One study which reviewed the literature on the overall negative effects of cannabinoids pointed to emerging research that suggests that CBD ameliorates some of the negative psychological effects of THC, but noted that more research is needed on this frontier (9).
Some risk of side effects are present when using lower-quality CBD oil that may be “contaminated” with THC, which is psychoactive. One case report that was published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology described two children who were using CBD oil to treat epilepsy, but were experiencing classic signs of being high: frequent laughter, bloodshot eyes, and reduced attention (10).
When their doctor switched them to a highly purified CBD-only oil, these symptoms immediately disappeared, and their epilepsy remained controlled. A takeaway from this study, and other research suggesting that up to one in five CBD oil products could be contaminated with detectable amounts of THC, is that side effects from over the counter CBD oil products might not actually be due to the chemical action of CBD.
If you think you’re getting side effects from a CBD oil, you might want to try a different brand—it could be something entirely different (like THC!) that’s causing the problem.
Perhaps the biggest issue facing research on using CBD for health problems is an immense confusion about the right dosage, timing, purification, delivery method, and so on.
The options are nearly limitless; CBD can be infused into creams and salves, or taken orally; it can be taken alone, or in combination with THC; it can be taken in a single large dose, or spread out throughout the day.
Hopefully, with the quasi-legalization of CBD in 2018, there will be more research in the next few years on optimal dosage and dosing protocols to get the best effects.
Until then, here’s what we do know: individual large doses taken orally, of 500 to 700 mg of CBD, are effective at creating the kind of anxiety relief and addiction disinterest we’ve seen earlier.
We also know that CBD oil is safe and well-tolerated even in doses of up to 1500 mg per day. CBD is also safe enough for long-term use for it to be consistently recommended by doctors as a way to control seizures in children.
Finally, CBD can also ameliorate some of the negative effects of THC, so it’s a great addition for users of medical cannabis who have side effect problems caused by THC.
As for the right CBD/THC ratio, scientists are still completely in the dark for the time being.
Q: What is CBD oil?
A: CBD is short for cannabidiol, which is a molecule that’s found in the Cannabis sativa plant. This plant is most famous for another cannabinoid, THC, which as you likely know is the reason cannabis has a psychoactive effect.
But CBD can be found in strains of cannabis sativa that have little or no THC present, and CBD has very different biological effects than THC.
When Cannabis sativa plant material is soaked in a solvent, then filtered and the solvent is evaporated, the result is an oily liquid which contains, among other things, cannabidiol.
This oil is either purified further, or bottled and sold immediately as CBD oil. In this sense, CBD oil is much like oils from other plants, like jojoba oil or argan oil. The difference is that this plant oil contains cannabidiol (CBD), the unique molecule that gives the oil its health benefits.
Q: Can you use CBD oil for pain?
A: Yes, CBD oil has been researched intently lately for its ability to treat pain. It seems particularly effective for neuropathy-related pain, and as a result CBD has been commonly used for patients with neurological diseases that cause this kind of pain, like multiple sclerosis.
The mechanism that CBD uses to relieve pain appears to be linked to its ability to combat inflammation, so while there’s less research on it, CBD oil might also be useful for inflammatory joint pain from conditions like osteoarthritis.
Q: Can you use CBD oil for anxiety?
A: Yes, CBD oil has well-documented anti-anxiety effects. Even a single dose has been shown to be an effective way to decrease feelings of anxiety and improve tasks impaired by anxiety, such as public speaking.
The benefits of CBD for anxiety have traditionally been assessed through subjective reports, like anxiety questionnaires and surveys, but recent groundbreaking research has been able to demonstrate that CBD upregulates specific neurotransmitter pathways in the brain, and changes cerebral blood flow patterns to areas of the brain linked to the symptoms of anxiety. These mechanistic changes make an even stronger case that CBD is an effective way to reduce feelings of anxiety.
Q: How long does it take for CBD oil to work?
A: CBD oil appears to be rapidly absorbed by the body, with blood levels of CBD increasing rapidly after taking an oral dosage of CBD oil (11).
Once absorbed in your body, CBD also lasts a long time; levels of CBD in your blood remain high for between 18 and 32 hours (12). In terms of how long it takes for CBD oil to start having a noticeable effect on symptoms, studies in rats suggest that dramatic effects are visible within 72 hours of starting to take CBD, so you should notice a difference pretty quickly if CBD is going to work for you.
Q: What side effects does CBD oil have?
A: Pure CBD oil is extremely safe, and by itself has no known side effects at the doses used in scientific research (up to 1500 mg per day).
When taking CBD oils you buy over the counter, you may have side effects caused by other compounds that are included in the product, either intentionally or unintentionally. Most notable among these is THC, the psychoactive compound that’s in recreational and medical cannabis.
Research has found that one in five CBD oils and hemp oils ordered online have detectable amounts of THC, so if you get side effects from your CBD oil, they might be due to THC or other compounds. In this case, try a different, higher-quality brand.
Q: What is CBD oil made from?
A: CBD oil is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant by soaking the plant materials in a solvent, like grain alcohol (also known as ethanol or ethyl alcohol, the same thing that’s in high-strength liquor).
Then, the plant materials are filtered off, and the alcohol is evaporated, which leaves an oily residue rich in cannabinoids. When using hemp, the strain of cannabis that’s specifically developed for industrial use, the primary cannabinoid is cannabidiol, known as CBD.
In contrast, other strains of Cannabis sativa will contain THC, which is psychoactive. High quality CBD oils will use additional purification steps, like fractional distillation, to isolate and purify the CBD. In its purest form, CBD itself isn’t “made” of anything; it’s just a molecule.
Q: What is the difference between CBD oil and hemp oil?
A: CBD oil is often used as a catch-all term for any oil from the Cannabis sativa plant that is high in CBD. This means that “CBD oil” can come from any strain of cannabis, including those that have high amounts of THC.
At legal cannabis dispensaries, you can often buy CBD oils that contain substantial amounts of THC, which many people believe work in a synergistic way.
However, hemp oil refers specifically to oil produced from hemp, which is a certain strain of Cannabis sativa that is specifically bred to have almost no THC. Hemp is usually used for industrial purposes, and was legalized nationwide in 2018 in a landmark piece of agricultural legislation.
A side effect of the legalization of hemp was that CBD oil made from hemp could be sold legally. Hemp contains CBD, but no THC. However, hemp is not specifically bred to contain high amounts of CBD—those strains of Cannabis sativa are still not legal at the federal level.
The result is that CBD is in a strange legal limbo where it’s fully legal if it comes from one strain of cannabis plant, but (might be) technically illegal from another strain of the exact same plant.
The difference in CBD content between CBD oil and hemp oil only further complicates the dosage issues: even when working with pure CBD, researchers don’t yet know the best dose for treating conditions like anxiety, addiction, and pain.
Things only get more confusing when different sources of CBD oil have different levels of CBD. Alas, until the legal situation clears up, the issue will likely remain complicated.
Q: Can CBD oil make you fail a drug test?
A: Hypothetically, taking pure cannabidiol (CBD) would not make you fail a drug test, but in practice, the risk of failing a drug test is very high if you take CBD oil. That’s because many CBD products are contaminated with traces of THC, which can be detected quite easily on a drug test.
CBD and THC, of course, come from exactly the same plant, so it’s understandable why there’s likely to be some cross-contamination. A 2019 study found that 21% of CBD oils purchased online contain detectable amounts of THC, so if you are getting drug tested, taking CBD oil is not a good idea, especially given how long THC can remain in your system (13).
With marijuana legalization in many states opening the door for more research into medical uses of compounds found in the marijuana plant, including cannabidiol, you’re sure to hear a lot about it in the future.
CBD is an effective way to treat anxiety, and shows immense promise at treating addiction, chronic pain, and psychiatric disorders.
It’s safe, well-tolerated, and may even help prevent some of the adverse effects of THC. Research on the uses of CBD is increasing every year, and the evidence for its efficacy has only grown in the last few years.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 CBD oil recommendation, click here.