The User-Friendly Guide to Grading CBD

Crude, Refined & Colorful: An at-a-glance Guide to Grading CBD

Written by Jamie Hadfield

CBD products come in all shapes and sizes. While CBD oil is the single most popular type of product, variations exist even within this category. CBD oils and tinctures can vary greatly in their quality, flavor, and concentration.

For example, one oil might contain 500 milligrams of CBD - its active ingredient - while another only has 200. One might have an earthy taste, and another might taste like...nothing. Yet another oil could be mint or fruit flavored.

There’s another variation to take note of, one that just might speak volumes about the quality of your CBD oil: its color.

A light amber color is the literal gold standard for hemp extracts, but it can get a little more complicated than that. While extracts that possess an amber color are almost always high quality, the inverse of this pattern isn’t necessarily true. A CBD oil that’s clear, or even one that’s dark brown, might be just as high quality. Depending on the extraction method used, the ideal color of the extract will vary.

Before we go on, it’s important to note that any CBD oil is comprised of two major parts: the cannabinoid-rich extract, and its carrier oil. In most cases, the carrier oil accounts for 90% or more of the total solution. And that’s not a bad thing; CBD is pharmacologically active enough that virtually no one needs a tincture much stronger than 10% CBD. Just keep in mind that your CBD oil’s carrier oil (in most cases olive, hempseed, or coconut oil) will shift the entire product’s color towards itself.

Dark, Brownish Extracts

Sometimes called ‘crude’ or ‘raw’ extracts, it’s rare to find CBD oils this color in a retail setting. That’s probably a good thing, as crude extracts may contain residual solvents or other unhealthy byproducts of extraction.

Just as bad, crude extracts may have been derived from hemp that was grown in polluted soil, or hemp that had mold / mycotoxin problems. With quality assurance standards still inconsistent, it can be difficult to say.

On the other hand, a CBD oil with an unusually dark color could be perfectly fine - if it’s ultra concentrated. Even a pure extract may contain chlorophyll, anthocyanins, and other compounds native to the hemp plant. Once concentrated, these lightly hued compounds appear much darker.

Think of the difference between the sap of a maple tree and its syrup. Pure maple syrup will be much darker and richer in color than maple sap will, not because of any harmful additives, but instead because pre-existing elements were brought to the forefront.

All that said: if you have a CBD oil with concentration above 100 milligrams/mL, don’t be surprised if it’s a little on the darker side. Also don’t be surprised if an oil this concentrated is almost overpoweringly earthy or spicy!

Light Brown Oils

Light brown oils are usually slightly more refined than darker oils are. They’ve also had trace compounds removed, something that’s done to standardize and stabilize the final product. While this reflects processing efficiency, it also means that the health benefits of chlorophyll and flavonoids are lost.

It’s usually at this stage of the production process that CBD oil will be decarboxylated, or ‘decarbed’ for short. That means the raw CBDa found in a crude extract gets transformed via heat into CBD. While CBDa does have many health benefits of its own, it’s not nearly as active within the body as CBD is.

Once again, it’s possible to find CBD oils that are light brown by virtue of their concentration alone. A full spectrum oil, not matter how pure, may exhibit this color if it’s concentrated enough.

Amber Oils

Golden, luminescent, and perfectly refined: this kind of oil is popular for a good reason! We at Legends believe that full spectrum, amber hemp extracts represent the ideal - that’s why we put effort and focus into providing them to our customers.

After undergoing extraction, filtration, and decarboxylation, amber-colored oils are ready to be consumed. They usually have only a mildly earthy taste, with hints of spice or pine.

Though devoid of trace biochemicals, amber extracts are rich in hemp’s most ‘active ingredients’: CBD, CBG, CBN, and THC. Together, these cannabinoids perfectly modulate the Endocannabinoid System and promote full-body health.

This type of CBD oil is often mildly concentrated, containing between 5 and 50 mg’s/mL of CBD. And it usually comes with lab tests that reaffirm the purity of its appearance.

Refine a full spectrum extract further, and it might turn several shades lighter and become yellow. Yellow-colored extracts usually lack terpenes or trace cannabinoids; though sometimes marketed as being “full spectrum”, in reality they’re overprocessed. In this case, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Clear Oils

If amber oils are refined, then clear-colored CBD oil can be thought of as extra refined. Usually they’re made from CBD isolate, a whitish powder that’s more than 99% pure. Clear oils can be easily flavored, and don’t have the earthy aftertaste that other products do.

While pure, CBD isolate might not be as potent as an equivalent amount of amber CBD oil. It’s ‘missing’ every trace cannabinoid, terpenoid and flavonoid, after all. While still very effective for mild health problems and anxiety, those with severe conditions will probably do better with a full spectrum product.

Emulsified Oils

CBD oils may vary in their consistency, too. Some oils are emulsified for easier absorption, a beneficial process that’s been trending up in popularity. Emulsification tends to make a product thicker and more viscous; sometimes it also lightens its color. It may also create liposomes or nanoparticles, allowing CBD to be water soluble - pretty cool!

At Legends, we strongly believe in empowering each person to select the best CBD oil for them.

While most people will feel best from taking a balanced blend of full spectrum, amber-hued hemp extract, today’s market provides options for anyone. People with cancer have reported great results using rick simpson oil (it’s brown and viscous), while people with acute anxiety may prefer microdosing with a much weaker CBD isolate. Freedom of choice continues to benefit the entire CBD industry: its advocates, producers, and consumers.

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Jamie Hadfield is a RN, MBA with the help of Functional Medicine and Understanding the Endocannabinoid System was able to reverse 4 autoimmune diseases. She was in the pharmaceutical space and help put 15 different drugs on the market. She was a clinical educator at Yale and other top medical institution. Today, Jamie has created her own CBD line of products where she is anti-aging specialist and CBD educator. Legends Health Wellness and Performance is committed to helping other create contagious energy and freedom so they can live out their legacy of a happier healthier life. 

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