Topical CBD products seem to be everywhere now.

As U.S. states pass or modify laws to regulate CBD, with varying degrees of restriction, what has ensued is a gold rush of companies offering CBD topicals, from bath bombs to pain patches to body balms.

Many reputable massage product companies sell lubricants containing CBD, advertising them as a new way to combat pain and inflammation. Less-reputable companies sell these products too.

Until more research is conducted, there isn’t any way to determine, definitively, if a topical CBD product is truly safe or effective; however, a consumer can make a somewhat educated purchase by understanding such factors as full spectrum versus broad spectrum, pollutants and toxins, third-party testing, and how to tell how much CBD is in a product.

We take a look at each of these topics here.

Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum & Isolate

Full spectrum refers to a whole-plant extraction, which can include over 500 distinct compounds found in hemp such as cannabinoids, terpenoids (organic chemicals), flavonoids (pigments) and omega fatty acids, according to Brenda Verghese, a former pharmaceutical formulations scientist trained in analytical chemistry who is now vice president of research and development at Stratos CBD manufacturer, focusing on adapting pharmaceutical practices to the cannabis industry.

“The most widely discussed [compound] at the moment, in hemp, is cannabidiol, a popular cannabinoid known better as its abbreviation, CBD,” she said.

A full-spectrum product also typically includes small amounts of THC, said Meg Kramer, managing editor at CBD Hacker, a publication covering the CBD industry. Broad spectrum CBD oil contains fewer compounds than does full spectrum oil; does contain CBD along with trace cannabinoids and other plant compounds; however, the THC has been removed and is non-detectable in lab tests, she added. “It’s the decaf of the CBD world, and is sometimes marketed as ‘THC-free’ full-spectrum CBD.”

Further, she said, when a product is made with CBD isolate, it means that it is made with crystallized, purified CBD. Isolate, said Kramer, does not contain THC, other trace cannabinoids, or aromatic plant compounds.

The term “whole plant” is generally a synonym for “full spectrum.” However, said Kramer, it’s important to remember that the CBD industry is unregulated, so some brands stretch the generally accepted definitions of these terms.

“That’s why it’s so vital for consumers to look beyond the marketing materials,” she said. “They should always look for brands that provide complete third-party lab-test results so that they can verify the data behind the brand’s claims.”

Pollutants and Toxins

Hemp is a bioaccumulator, meaning it absorbs whatever is in the soil where it’s grown — and as a result, it can contain a lot of nasty stuff, including pesticides and heavy metals. CBD products might also contain residual solvents from the manufacturing process.

The number of pollutants or toxins that can be found in hemp products or CBD extracts is substantial, according to Jayneil Kamdar, lab manager of independent, third-party testing lab Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs (ICAL).

“ICAL has found pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins, microbial fungi, solvents and foreign material in samples that we’ve tested,” Kamdar said. Removing pollutants and toxins is an extremely difficult process, he added, and the only way to determine a product’s levels of pollutants or toxins is to have the product tested by a third-party lab.

“The most important thing for consumers to know when it comes to buying CBD products is that the regulations on testing vary per state,” said Kamdar. Some states, such as California, require just a potency test to ensure the THC level does not exceed 0.3%, for example, and there is no requirement to test for pesticides or any other contaminants.

The FDA has Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in place related to the regulation of food, drugs, supplements and cosmetics. Some CBD companies are taking it upon themselves to follow GMP. Those that don’t use GMP as well as “extensive” testing, said Verghese, may put out products containing residual solvents that are created during the extraction process, as well as microbial growth in the form of yeast and mold.

“Hemp can remediate soil, which means it can pull heavy metal and pollutants from contaminated soil,” Verghese said.

To avoid a product containing contaminants, look for a brand that provides third-party test results for pollutants and toxins. Such test results are shown on what’s called a complete certificate of analysis (COA), which is provided by a third-party lab and proves a product contains what the label indicates, including the amount of CBD in the product.

“Even then, though, there is the possibility that a brand could be using an altered or fake COA,” Kramer said. “That’s why it’s important to check online reviews to make sure that the brand has a good reputation before you buy.”

How Much CBD Is In This?

Based on testing performed by watchdog groups and academic institutions, it seems that most CBD product companies might not know how much CBD they are adding, said Sean Callan, PhD, “hence the widespread mislabeling issue in the industry.” Callan is senior vice president of innovation and operations at Ellipse Analytics, an independent, analytic chemistry lab that evaluates product purity.

However, he said, responsible brands will follow a multi-step process: They will test their starting material — whether full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate — to determine how much CBD is in the starting material. They will then calculate how much hemp extract they need to add to the product so that the product will contain a set amount of CBD.

“Critically, a good brand will follow up with testing to confirm that they measured correctly, and the CBD contained in the product is accurate,” Callan added.

CBD At a Glance

• Full spectrum products can include over 500 distinct compounds found in hemp, including CBD and cannabinoids.

• Broad spectrum products contain CBD along with trace cannabinoids and some compounds, but do not contain THC.

• Look for brands that provide third-party test results for pollutants and toxins, verified by a complete certificate of analysis.

• Check with your state boards if you are unsure whether CBD is legal and within your scope of practice in your state.

Legality, Efficacy & Safety

The 2018 Farm Bill created exceptions to hemp-derived products’ Schedule 1 status under the Controlled Substances Act, according to John Hudak, deputy director – Center for Effective Public Management, in an analysis of CBD law on The Brookings Institution’s blog. It allows for the cultivation, sale, transport and possession of hemp-derived products, with restrictions, including the stipulation that “any cannabis plant that contains more than .03 percent THC would be considered non-hemp cannabis — or marijuana — under federal law and would thus face no legal protection under this new legislation.”

A massage therapist practicing in a state where CBD containing 0.3% or less THC has been legalized and where the state’s board of massage has approved CBD within scope of practice might choose to use a lubricant containing CBD in practice or for self-care. (Note that this article is not intended as legal advice. As with any product, check your state and local regulations to determine if CBD is legal where you live and within your scope of practice.)

More research on CBD’s pain-relieving benefits is needed. Making unsubstantiated health claims about CBD products could result in legal action against a company, according to a July statement from the FDA. Anecdotally, users of CBD products claim reduced pain and inflammation, and improvements of depressive symptoms. Some people have reported fatigue, irritability and nausea from ingesting oral CBD products, according to a report from Harvard Medical School. The literature on topical CBD products is in its infancy.

Despite all the questions that remain regarding CBD, barring new state or federal legislation that would unexpectedly shift the hemp industry, one thing is clear: The CBD market, projected by some estimates to grow in the U.S. to $1.8 billion by 2022 — as comparison, the global aromatherapy market was valued at $1.3 billion in 2018 — has taken root.

(MASSAGE Magazine asked its readers what they want to know about CBD. Join our closed massage therapists’ Facebook group to participate in polls and for the opportunity to tell us what you’d like to learn. Subscribe to the print magazine to read the column, You Asked, before the article is run online.)

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her recent articles include, “As CBD Trend Continues, Some Questions Remain Unanswered” and “Aging Baby Boomers are Changing the Way Senior Massage is Delivered.”