From a consumer’s perspective, potency is one of the most important things to consider when purchasing a CBD oil. There are many factors that distinguish one CBD oil from the next, but strength is the kicker, determining everything from the cost of a product to its ultimate therapeutic effectiveness. Yet such an important element is often misunderstood.
The strength of a CBD oil definitely depends on how much cannabidiol it contains. But other elements play important roles in the potency equation, too. How do you measure the strength of a CBD oil? Does strength really matter as much as everyone seems to think it does? And what exactly is CBD oil in the first place? In this guide, we dive into all of those questions and more, closing with a list of the five strongest CBD oils on the market.
Learn all about what makes a CBD oil strong, what experts consider “high potency,” and get answers to common questions and concerns about buying CBD oils, so you can make the best product choice for your health and wellness needs.
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is CBD oil? The simplest answer is that CBD oil is a liquid product that consists of the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) infused in a fatty carrier oil. Carrier oils are typically medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) such as coconut oil, that are easy to digest and linked to many health benefits. Carrier oils can also be extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, or as is commonly found in hemp-derived products, cold-pressed hemp seed oil.
At minimum, CBD oil consists of these two essential ingredients: cannabidiol and a carrier oil. But most products contain much more. Depending on the source of the CBD and how it gets extracted, concentrated, and processed, CBD oils can contain other cannabinoids such as THC and plant compounds including terpenes, flavonoids and other phytonutrients. The carrier oil can also add other ingredients to the oil, especially if derived from hemp or cannabis. Finally, some manufacturers might add aromatic ingredients such as essential oils to their finished products.
As a result of all these variables, CBD oils can vary dramatically in color, consistency, and flavor, even before taking strength into account. And strength largely depends on how a CBD oil is formulated. At one end of the spectrum, there’s CBD isolate, the strongest and purest form of CBD available. Using solvents or supercritical gases, manufacturers extract cannabidiol from every part of the hemp plant, producing a crystalized form of CBD that’s typically above 99% pure. CBD isolate isn’t an oil, per se. Instead, manufacturers suspend it in a carrier oil until it reaches the desired concentration.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s broad-spectrum or full-spectrum CBD oil. Typically, though not necessarily, sourced from hemp plants, broad-spectrum CBD oils have been minimally processed and purified. As a result, they contain the widest range of minor cannabinoids, nutrients, vitamins, terpenes and more.
In the middle of isolate-based oils and full-spectrum oils, you’ll find CBD distillates. Less refined than isolates, distillates contain more of the source plants’ cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds. But they’re more refined than broad-spectrum oils. Distillates are more common in states with legal cannabis markets, since they usually contain more THC than the 0.3% limit set by federal law with the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill.
The boundaries between isolates, distillates and full-spectrum CBD oils aren’t always so clear. For example, a strong CBD oil made with a 99.7% pure isolate may also contain a range of minor cannabinoids and terpenes because it uses a broad-spectrum hemp seed oil as a carrier.
At first glance, measuring the strength of a CBD oil seems simple. Read the label to see how much CBD a product contains, and voila. But because CBD oils can be isolates, distillates, or broad-spectrum, determining strength can be a bit tricky. Moreover, some product labels can make it harder to know exactly how strong a product is, or how potent a dose it provides. So we’ll start there, with the product label of a CBD oil itself. Then, we’ll take a look at how testing labs measure the strength of a CBD oil, and how that connects with what’s on the label.
“When you’re talking about strength, you’re talking about potency,” explained Adie Rae, a science adviser to Weedmaps News and an academic researcher with a Ph.D. in neuroscience who has been studying cannabinoids since 2004. “And that means how much CBD per volume.”
As Rae explained, you could have two CBD oils, both in 30 milliliter bottles. But one contains 3,000 milligrams of CBD and the other contains 6,000 milligrams of CBD. In this example, the stronger oil is the one with 6,000 milligrams of CBD per 30 milliliter container. In fact, it’s twice as strong, so you’d have to take twice as much of the less potent oil to achieve the same dose. And if the stronger CBD oil is less than twice as much as the weaker version, you’re saving yourself money by going with the more potent bottle.
Sometimes, however, packages will tell you what percentage of CBD contained in the oil. This is where things can get confusing. A label may say that the CBD in the product is 99% pure if it contains a CBD isolate, or 70% if it contains a distillate. This tells you the strength of the CBD in the oil, but it doesn’t tell you how potent the CBD oil is by volume. And that means you won’t be able to tell how strong a dose is, so it’s important to find where the package indicates how much CBD it contains in milligrams.
From a lab technician’s perspective, however, determining CBD oil strength looks a little different. According to Myron Ronay, CEO of BelCosta Labs, manufacturers test for strength at every stage of the supply chain. They test the industrial hemp plants for CBD potency, then the initial “crude” oil and again at each stage of distillation. CBD oil manufacturers do this to ensure quality, consistency and legal compliance. But it’s a test of the final product that determines what gets printed on the label.
Most of the time, labs like BelCosta use High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to measure CBD oil strength. For the technically curious, the test produces a table of wavelengths that act as the chemical fingerprints of various cannabinoids. This allows lab technicians to identify which compounds a sample contains as well as their relative quantities.
When testing for CBD oil strength, BelCosta analyzes for 14 different major and minor cannabinoids, including CBD, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabigerol (CBG). The results show the percentage of CBD and other compounds in the sample. Reliable CBD oil companies will provide these results on their websites or product packaging.
Undeniably, today’s CBD market places a premium on potency. But does strength matter? And if so, how much? The truth is, we still really don’t know. When it comes to CBD, nothing is standardized. A dose that works for one person might be totally ineffective for someone else. Our individual bodies and metabolism, the bioavailability of different consumption methods and myriad other factors make experiences with CBD highly subjective and variable. Still, CBD consumers aren’t completely in the dark. Strength does matter, and in a few very important ways.
First, strength matters from the standpoint of efficacy. The stronger a CBD oil, the higher its potency, the more effects it’s going to produce. So what counts as a strong CBD oil? In the view of Rae, the cutoff for a “high potency” CBD oil is 35 milligrams per serving. Anything below that, and consumers are likely to have immeasurable blood levels of CBD.
“For me, when I’m buying hemp oil, I go for 50 milligrams CBD per milliliter,” Rae said. That’s a fairly high concentration of CBD, and one you won’t find in most CBD oil products below the $100 mark.
But potency (mg/mL) is only part of the larger strength equals efficacy equation. Research is still ongoing, but most experts agree that CBD on its own is going to be less effective overall than a full-spectrum oil containing roughly the same amount of CBD.
“No matter how much CBD isolate you’re taking, it’s not going to be as therapeutically beneficial as a broad-spectrum product,” Rae said.
BelCosta Lab’s Myron Ronay echoes Rae’s preference for broad-spectrum CBD oil over isolates. He said CBD is most effective when it can take advantage of the entourage effect, which is its interaction with other cannabinoids and terpenes in the oil.
To bind with the cell receptors of the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) and therefore produce therapeutic effects, CBD might need the help of THC and minor cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) and others. “Ratio is more important than strength in absolute terms,” Ronay said. “A little bit of THC goes a long way,” Rae said.
And that’s usually the difference between a broad-spectrum and a full-spectrum” product: full-spectrum cannabis oil contains THC. (Look out, though, for the word “full-spectrum” on products sourced from hemp; these have less than .3% THC in raw form). But outside of licensed medical or recreational cannabis dispensaries, CBD products have to contain less than 0.3% THC to remain legal. This makes it difficult to find products containing therapeutic levels of THC in states without legalized cannabis.
For consumers without access to legal cannabis shops, broad-spectrum products (without the THC) are the next best thing, because they often combine high-strength isolate or distillate with broad-spectrum hemp oil. In short, you should ultimately choose a strong CBD oil that contains the most ingredients possible.
Rae has some more crucial advice for CBD oil consumers looking for strength. Don’t swallow it! Studies have shown that the oral bioavailability of CBD is shockingly low, at just around 5%. In other words, only a fraction of the CBD oil you swallow is making it into your bloodstream where it can produce therapeutic results. But as Rae explained, there are a couple ways to hack CBD’s low bioavailability.
First, keep the oil under your tongue for as long as possible; try to make it to 4 or 5 minutes. “This method treats the oil more like a topical than an edible, and keeps the CBD safe from the digestive enzymes that break it down,” Rae said.
Second, if you do have to swallow the oil, take it at the same time as some black pepper. Piperine is a molecule in black pepper that shuts down the drug-metabolizing enzymes in your liver, giving CBD a better chance of getting absorbed.
Finally, no discussion of the importance of CBD oil strength would be complete without tackling the issue of product safety. It’s important to keep in mind that outside of licensed dispensaries, CBD products are still unregulated. There’s no real rules yet for acceptable levels of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, heavy metals and other contaminants. Screening for them isn’t required, and there are no restrictions on selling products that contain them. The only thing that matters is staying below the 0.3% THC threshold.
High-potency CBD oils in particular amplify concerns about contamination. As Ronay explained, concentrating for potency involves concentrating everything else in and on the hemp plant, too. “How do you know what’s in it or what’s safe? People are looking for a cure and for health and facing the unknown,” Ronay said.
But you don’t have to face the unknown. Here are five of the strongest CBD oils on the market, selected based on their potency, efficacy and how transparent the company is with what’s inside the bottle. Keep in mind, strength is all relative. What matters is potency: how much CBD a single dose provides, whether it’s a drop or a full milliliter dropper.
The oils below are all CBD-heavy, at concentrations way above the average product, with prices to match. We favored broad-spectrum oils due to their added therapeutic benefits. And remember, if you want to make your CBD oil stronger, all you need to do is take more of it!
Some oils you take by the dropper. This one, you take by the drop. At 5,000 milligrams of CBD, you’d be hard pressed to find a stronger CBD oil at the 30 milliliter level. Lab results indicate an even higher 5,280 milligrams of CBD, along with trace (and legal) percentages of THC, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and CBG. And to make way for all that cannabidiol, MyNaturalCBD uses a simple formula. This product fuses high-potency CBD with a blend of full-spectrum hemp oil and MCT oil from coconuts.
A high-potency CBD oil like this allows you to fine-tune your dosage. Each drop contains a little more than 8 milligrams of CBD. With four or five drops, and you’ve reached that 35-milligram-per-dose benchmark. A 0.5 milliliter dose would deliver 84 milligrams of CBD.
Availability: United States
Cannabidiol Life’s most potent offering is a perfect example of why it’s important to measure a CBD oil’s strength by volume. At 3,000 milligrams CBD, this whole plant hemp extract oil contains more cannabidiol than most products on the market. But its potency isn’t as extreme as it may appear. This is a 60 milliliter bottle, putting CBD potency at a humbler 50 mg/mL — therapeutically beneficial, but not chart-topping. Still, because Cannabidiol Life contains so much CBD, you can easily obtain 75–100 mg/mL doses, or higher, if required.
Enjoyable CBD’s full-spectrum CBD tincture clocks in at 100 mg/mL. And while that may not be the strongest CBD oil on the market by the numbers, it’s one of the strongest in terms of how much CBD gets into your bloodstream. That’s because this CBD is all about bioavailability. Enjoyable CBD uses full-spectrum Imperial CBD Oil, a formula which uses molecular encapsulated CBD to help improve how well your body absorbs the cannabidiol.
The unique extraction and distillation process produces a completely THC-free oil, however, so this is a case where strength may require a trade-off with the benefits of the entourage effect.
Availability: United States
Green Roads is a prominent name in CBD products, and its 3,500 milligram CBD oil is its flagship product. Each milliliter of this formula delivers 66.36 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD, according to the most recent lab sheets — stronger than advertised. Green Roads’ formulates this broad-spectrum CBD oil with a proprietary blend of terpenes, sourced from hemp seed oil.
Consumers can take confidence in the clear and regularly updated lab sheets provided about this and all Green Roads products. And Green Roads isn’t just testing for CBD. It also screens for pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, microbials and other contaminants and only sells products from batches that pass all tests.
Availability: United States
This is a 10 milliliter bottle of CBD oil that contains 7.26 grams of cannabidiol in a 55 percent CBD distillate. Germinated hemp seed oil, this product’s carrier oil, adds even more CBD in addition to minor cannabinoids, terpenes and other hemp phytonutrients. Hempassion says germinated hemp seed oil is one of the most nutritionally balanced supplements currently known.
According to Hempassion, each milliliter of Nature’s Nectar CBD oil contains 20 drops, and each drop contains about 20 milligrams of cannabidiol. Two or three drops under the tongue is all you need for a therapeutically significant dose of this ultra-high potency CBD oil. This is a product that highlights the cost savings of purchasing more concentrated CBD oils.
Availability: United Kingdom, United States
Featured Image: With so many cannabidiol (CBD) oil makers on the market offering a variety of hemp-derived and marijuana-derived products in a vast array of purity levels and strengths, what’s a consumer to do? For starters, look for CBD strength by volume. (Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)