How to Avoid CBD Scams

The cannabidiol (CBD) industry is still largely unregulated, and as a result, there are a lot of scams that you have to watch out for. If you don’t use caution when shopping, you may end up with an inferior product, a grossly overpriced product, or no product at all. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to avoid getting taken by CBD scams.

Types of CBD Scams

Here are just a few common CBD scams you’re likely to encounter.

The bootlegger scam

Prohibition-era bootleggers used to water down their liquor to make their supply go further, unbeknownst to their eager buyers. A version of that scam now exists in the CBD world.

For example, you purchase a bottle of CBD oil. The label says “750 mg of cannabidiol,” but the bottle actually contains less than 300 mg. Because the FDA doesn’t review or regulate CBD, a lot of scammers get away with this one.

In some cases, even honest companies get the CBD concentrations wrong simply because they use inferior extraction methods or have poorly trained extraction techs.

The doppelganger scam

Let’s say you’re searching the web for a popular, reputable brand like Charlotte’s Web CBD. But you accidentally misspell it as “Charlotes Web.” You may encounter a website advertising a product with the misspelled name. It looks similar to the real Charlotte’s Web, but it’s actually an imposter.

Copycat manufacturers will use the name (or a close variation thereof) and design characteristics of a popular brand to trick you into thinking you’re getting a quality product. But once you make a purchase, you’re sent a vastly inferior product or no product at all.

The something-for-nothing scam

You’ve seen the advertisements online: Get a free bottle of CBD oil! But if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Most often, these advertisements come from subscription services. You enter your credit card information to pay the $10 shipping cost for your free bottle, not realizing that you’re about to be charged $50 to $100 per month for a subscription you didn’t even know you signed up for (always read the fine print). These subscriptions are often difficult to cancel.

In other cases, the “free CBD” is just a tiny sample bottle that’s barely worth the $10 shipping cost.

cbd oil

The “it’s basically CBD” scam

You could argue that this is more “creative marketing” than an actual scam, but you still have to watch out for it. A lot of hemp seed oil manufacturers are capitalizing on the popularity of cannabidiol by using marketing pitches that are familiar to CBD shoppers.

For example, a product might read “Hemp Oil for Anxiety” and contain an illustration of hemp leaves. Because many people purchase cannabidiol for anxiety, shoppers might assume that they’re getting actual CBD oil. In fact, hemp seed oil is derived from the seeds of the plant (not the leaves) and contains no cannabidiol or other cannabinoids.

On sites like Amazon, hemp seed oil manufacturers often use the keyword “CBD” to draw in potential customers. While there are certainly benefits to taking hemp seed oil (it’s very rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, for instance), don’t be fooled by the often deceptive marketing that surrounds it.

For more information, read our breakdown of hemp oil vs. CBD oil.

The snake oil scam

Be wary of any advertisement that makes bold or too-good-to-be-true promises. Research shows a number of potential benefits for CBD, including the potential to address seizures, anxiety, chronic pain, and muscle spasms. However, research is still in its early stages, and none of these effects have been proven or affirmed by the Food and Drug Administration. CBD companies are forbidden from making unproven health claims.

So if you find a product that makes bold claims like “Proven to fight depression,” that’s a huge red flag. Not only does such marketing violate the law, but it suggests that the manufacturer is less than reputable.

Also watch out for Photoshopped advertisements of a company’s products on Shark Tank or a major news program. Some disreputable manufacturers will fraudulently appeal to authority to establish trust in their inferior or non-existent product.

The multilevel marketing scam

If you’re just looking to buy cannabidiol, make sure that the manufacturer isn’t trying to sell you much more—like membership into an ever-growing network of “distributors.” Because CBD has become such a hot commodity, the multilevel marketing (MLM) world has taken notice in a big way.

There may be some legitimate multilevel marketing companies in the CBD industry, but the majority are predatory pyramid schemes. The major difference is that a legitimate MLM emphasizes selling a product above all else, while a pyramid scheme places greater importance on recruiting new distributors (the product, if it exists at all, is a cheap afterthought).

It’s very difficult to earn a legitimate income even with the most respected MLM companies. In a pyramid scheme, it’s next to impossible. So if someone offers to sell you CBD oil but then segues into a speech about how you can earn an income selling the product to others, you should probably just smile and politely decline.

How to Avoid CBD Scams

Understanding the mechanisms of CBD scams is a great way to protect yourself, but it’s not always enough. Some scammers are extremely clever and convincing. If you don’t want to get taken, you really have to do your homework.

Research the manufacturer

Don’t just make a blind purchase because you found a CBD product advertised on Groupon, Leafly, or even this website. You should always do your own research to be an informed consumer.

Visit the company’s official website, and look for important details such as:

  • The company’s years in business
  • The company’s mission statement
  • The company’s manufacturing process (e.g. Do they grow their own hemp? Do they use organic herbicides and pesticides? Do they use high-quality extraction processes like CO2 extraction?)
  • Whether the hemp is domestically grown
  • Whether the company has been featured in any major media publications (make sure to confirm that the feature actually happened and that it sheds a positive light on the company)
  • Whether the company works with 3rd-party testing labs for quality assurance
  • Whether the company offers a satisfaction guarantee or reasonable return policy

The more you learn about a manufacturer, the more confidently you can purchase.

Certificate of analysis for Gobi Hemp

Read the certificate of analysis

If you’ve confirmed that the company works with 3rd party testing labs, you should be able to review a certificate of analysis (COA) for each CBD product on the manufacturer website. Never purchase a product if no COA is available. This certificate is a report from the lab that certifies the chemical breakdown of the product.

Your COA should tell you:

  • How much cannabidiol is in the bottle.
  • How much THC is in the bottle (it should be no more than .3% for hemp-derived CBD oil).
  • Which other cannabinoids are present along with their concentrations (e.g. most products will contain other cannabinoids like CBN and CBG).
  • Which terpenes are present (these are aromatic plant oils that complement the cannabinoids; examples include myrcene, limonene, pinene, and terpinolene).
  • Which (if any) pesticides are present and in what concentrations.
  • If mold, yeast, or other microbiological contaminants were discovered.
  • If residual solvents like butane or propane were detected, and in what concentrations.

The amount of cannabidiol in the certificate should match the concentration on the bottle. Pesticides and other contaminants should not be detected.

As an added measure of assurance, research the laboratory just like you researched the CBD manufacturer. Some manufacturers will do their own in-house lab testing. To ensure quality and accuracy, you want to make sure that the laboratory is completely independent of the product manufacturer.

Shop trusted names

New CBD companies are popping up daily, and it can be difficult to sort the legitimate brands from the shady opportunists. The easiest way to avoid getting scammed is to stick with established, trusted industry leaders that have stood the test of time and that continue to raise the bar for quality.

The following brands are just a few of the most reputable options to get you started:

Cannabidiol can be extremely enriching, but you have to be an informed, discriminating shopper. So do your homework, demand those certificates of analysis, and always know who you’re shopping with.

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