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Is Color an Indicator of CBD Quality?

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CBD is everywhere. Hundreds of farms across the US have popped up to farm hemp for CBD in the past few years and thousands of retail CBD brands have emerged from it. Because of its extreme popularity, you are inevitably going to find countless products that will all vary in quality, appearance, aroma and consistency. So what exactly is it that makes CBD, CBD?


CBD is short for Cannabidiol, a natural compound that is found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. Cannabis Sativa is the species of flowering plant in the genus Cannabis, from which we get both hemp and marijuana.

Cannabidiol or CBD (as we will refer to it) is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in the hemp plant. It is extracted and mixed into all kinds of products at varying states and concentrations.


If you wandered into a hemp field, you could pull a plant out of the ground, pop it in your mouth and chew on it. Without going into too much detail about Decarboxylation (the process of converting CBDa into CBD), we can assume that you might get a little bit of CBD out of that bite of Hemp you just munched on.

The amount and quality of that CBD would depend greatly on the variety, which part of the plant you munched on and how much of it you ate. Instead of making you chew on raw plants, we get a little more scientific and extract CBD from plants, much in a similar way that you would get vegetable oil or olive oil. We press the plants and then further refine the raw oil that we get out of the plant. Every step of refinement, from raw plant, to crude oil, distillate and eventually isolate - the resulting product is filtered, distilled, and purified. Through this process, more plant matter and other cannabinoids are filtered out and the resulting product becomes lighter, more transparent and more concentrated.

Below are some images of the different stages of CBD Extract that Common Ground produces. Note that we don't currently use any isolates in our own products, only Full Spectrum Extracts.

Hemp Crude Oil

CBD Rich Hemp Distillate

CBD Isolate

 The refined CBD extracts are then ready to be formulated into a finished product. Tinctures, salves, edibles, vape cartridges and more are  some of the products you might find. Each will be advertised most likely as Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum or Isolate. It might be logical at this point to assume that a product manufactured with full spectrum crude hemp oil will have a deeper, darker color than a product made with an 80% pure distillate. Well unfortunately it is not that simple! Unless you are purchasing a raw or crude product or straight distillate (like a Rick Simpson Oil), your CBD is probably infused, or blended into a carrier oil or other material. 

Concentration of extract to carrier can also make a massive difference in color, smell and viscosity. This makes it extremely hard to tell which product is superior or more “pure” by visuals alone.


For example, one of the most common products on the market is CBD Oil Tinctures in a 1oz (30mL) volume. To make a tincture, I could combine any volume of extract with a carrier oil like MCT oil. Let’s look at two possible formulations that would yield identical CBD concentrations:

Formula A

I have a crude oil that comes from a high CBD cultivar called Otto II. This oil has a CBD concentration of 507 mg/gram. That makes it about 50% pure. With that comes a bunch of plant material like glycerides, fatty acids, waxes, chlorophyll and other plant matter. It is dark, rich and fragrant. If I wanted to make a 1000 mg tincture, I would suspend approximately 2 grams of that into about 27.2 mL of carrier. The resulting product is this beautiful rich golden 1000mg tincture. Very fragrant and flavorful.

Formula B

I take that exact crude oil and I process a batch of it using a process called molecular distillation. I remove a lot of the plant material and further decarboxylate the extract and end up with a product that is actually 81.8% CBD. That’s 818 mg/gram. The distillate is light, less viscous, much less aromatic but still retains terpenes and a full spectrum of cannabinoids including CBN, CBG, CBC and THC (although in very small amounts, below the federal limit of .3% concentration). By mixing approximately 1.25 grams of that with around 28.5 ml of carrier I end up with a 1000mg tincture. Lightly golden, much less flavor and aroma.


Both mixtures have the exact same CBD from the exact same crop. Both have the exact same potency/concentration: 1000mg/30mL. But they look completely different, taste completely different and smell completely different. Does that make one a lower quality than the other? Nope, not at all. One might appeal more to one person than another, but preference doesn’t make right or wrong! 

So how do you determine CBD potency and product quality? 

You can’t. Joking! (not joking). 

You can’t ever be certain that what a company claims is accurate, but there are a few tell-tale signs and things to look for.

Certificate of Analysis

First and foremost is Certificates of Analysis (or COA’s). These are reports generated by independent, third party laboratories. They test for CBD content, concentration, purity and residual solvents and other contaminants. All manufacturers should offer transparency through published COAs. While there is no regulation on CBD products, you can spot a big red flag when a company fails to publish their COAs. There’s a good chance that the retailer doesn’t even know what is in the product they are selling. With the prevalence of white-labeling (putting a new label on a small portion of a mass manufactured generic batch) it is actually possible for someone to be selling a product without knowing what is in it.


You Get What You Pay For

Secondly, CBD is one of the products that actually fits within the “you get what you pay for” paradigm. Cheap, discount products are often manufactured with cheap, discount ingredients or processes. If a company claims to be selling a premium product, but hasn’t put any effort into educating their customers, taken any pride in their brand, packaging or customer experience and looks like they are just trying to sell product as fast as possible, that is a good indicator that they are probably just trying to sell product as fast as possible. Don’t be afraid to be picky when it comes to what you are putting in your body.


Cost Per Milligram

And lastly, pay attention to the dosing/concentration. Just because a product looks or smells like a densely concentrated tincture, does not mean that it actually is. Many manufacturers are putting small doses of CBD in hemp seed oil and claiming that it is a “Pure Hemp Oil”. Hemp Seed Oil and Hemp Extract are two completely different things. Hemp seed oil contains essentially zero CBD or THC. While it is rich in omega 3s and other great fatty acids, it is not CBD. There are many 250mg tinctures out there that priced the same as a 500mg or even a 750mg tincture. Like any supplement or medicine, it is the mass of the active ingredient that matters. $100 for 750mg is a much better deal than $50 for 250mg of CBD. If you are a price conscious consumer, the price per mg is the metric you should be looking at.


To recap and wrap this up, if you are asking yourself, "What color should my CBD oil be?" -- it is impossible to determine concentration or quality of CBD by just looking at, smelling or tasting a CBD product. Top quality CBD products can vary dramatically in color, so it is best to look for facts and ask questions! Shoot us an email, chat or phone call any time. We are happy to answer questions, give you advice or simply just get to know you and hear how CBD has affected your life.


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