Third-party testing is confusing and hard. It's not getting better anytime soon.

By Marc Lewis

When we started reviewing CBD products we heard: “Look for third-party lab results.” Only we noticed that lab testing was irregular and results were hard to understand. We found some brands who posted results regularly by batch and others who posted results rarely and on company letterhead—which looked ridiculous compared to genuine certificates of analysis. Other brands posted no test results at all.

That’s why we decided to test products ourselves. Brands were popping up daily and the market seemed shadier than the backside of a barn.

Early this year, we sent products to a third-party lab for testing. We wanted to know exactly what people were getting when they shopped for CBD online. When the results came back, we found a lot of brands had fine products. Our testing validated many brands who already had in place a rigorous testing protocol. Other brands thought we went too far in our review process. We were here to write light news and promote brands, they thought. Why were we testing with a lab? Especially a lab they hadn’t approved first.

Honestly, we came to think we were crazy for testing products, too.

First, there was the curious bacteria in the Sagely Naturals capsules. We wanted to know how the bacteria was introduced to the product, from the hemp or the turmeric. There was a clean COA on a bulk order of CBD, so it seemed the bacteria entered the product with the turmeric. There are natural and fine bacterias on raw materials we consume everyday. Stuff from the dirt is as much a part of us as water or air. So we asked how the turmeric was sourced and sanitized. The brand wanted time to figure it out. They consulted with another lab. Recently, they sent us test results and a letter from that lab saying the bacteria came from the turmeric and they believed the bacteria would not make anyone sick. It’s good to know. Nice to have more context and a second lab opinion. It’s also good to know there is a different CBD option with turmeric that we tested that did not have any bacteria or require multiple labs and a crash course in microbiology to understand.

There was also the Joy Organics tincture that failed a pesticide test. The company recalled the product. A second bottle failed the same testing. Then other samples passed testing at other labs. After the release of our test results, to add to the confusion, I got an anonymous email suggesting we should focus our efforts on Folium Biosciences, the wholesaler supplier of the hemp in question, rather than Joy Organics. The email was obviously bitter and mad, but interesting. Then, separately, in the back-and-forth between the brand and lab, there was a stupid suggestion that Remedy Review tampered with the sample—somehow got ahold of a pesticide used on citrus fruits and put it in a Joy Organics orange tincture to make a name for ourselves. Some real conspiracy stuff. Picture this editor breaking into ProVerde Labs in the dead of night with a vial, dodging a tired security guard. It was all strange.

Since then Joy Organics has put in place a new testing process. You can find third-party results on their site. Other review sites recommend their products as a best of the market. Talking to Joy, it’s easy to feel that she is a believer who got in the business for all the right reasons. Frankly, they’d probably be a favorite brand of ours, too—had we not tested the product.

In our first round of testing we also failed Pure Hemp Botanicals. From them we got a blustery threat, had a few conversations, were kicked out of their affiliate program, then heard nothing more. A review business exists on affiliate commissions, as most readers know, so we had a talk internally about how many affiliate programs we could afford to get kicked out of if we kept testing products. We decided we’ll probably get kicked out of more.

Lastly, there was the grossly mislabeled Just CBD. When I called the company for comment a Just CBD employee told me he was not surprised. They had a number of suppliers and were getting things together. He pointed out that the ingredients listed on the label were wrong, too. Had I noticed how wrong the ingredient list was? When I asked him if he was supposed to be talking to me so freely he referenced the all-too-common cannabis refrain, “It’s the Wild West, man,” and a few days later we got a bland corporate statement about the company’s commitment to delivering products “whose contents are exactly as stated on the label.”

The products and the brands are one part of the equation. The other is the labs. When we were looking for a lab, we understood that every one would be different—places of science are still run by people. But we also, in a space of beakers and microscopes, thought we would find objectivity, consensus, and hard-and-fast rules about what’s good and bad. Methods, machines, etcetera—black and white stuff.

Instead we found opinions where standards should be. Each lab we talked to had different thoughts on where cannabis testing would land. One common thread amongst the labs was that they believed brands shop for labs that will validate their products and provide results they like, avoid difficult tests and harsh standards. To which brands say they shop for labs to find one that tests correctly, does the testing right.

Clarity and cannabis are opposing forces, it seems.

Without standards from regulators coming anytime soon lab testing will continue to be difficult to understand and hard to do. For a while we thought the confusion was reason enough to revert to the cheerleading some in the industry wanted from a review site. But Remedy Review wants to be different. Today, consumers are forced to pick the product with the least amount of doubt surrounding it. It’s got to be better than that.

So, we will keep sharing our opinions. As we do, we will get things wrong, probably make more brands mad. We’ll also identify great products and help people feel better. Because that’s why we’re here—to make people feel a little bit better.

Cheerleading sounds fun but this body would embarrass the outfit. We’ll keep being a review site that aims at hard things.


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