CBD is often touted as a miracle cure, and typically comes with a price tag that matches its expectations. Paying hundreds of dollars for CBD oils, creams, tinctures and other various extracts can seem ridiculous, but for vast amounts of people these are the prices they have to pay to get the relief that only CBD can reliably provide.
But… why? Why is CBD so expensive? In some cases the cost of CBD concentrates can add up to more than their THC-laden counterparts; something that can seem a little counter-intuitive for a product with no psychoactive effects.
It’s that lack of psychoactive component that provides a major piece to this puzzle, though, alongside manufacturing issues, compliance needs and a host of other expenses. Growing cannabis of any kind isn’t easy or cheap, and growing hemp that focuses solely on CBD comes with it’s own unique, often expensive challenges.
In this article we’ll go over how CBD oil is made, from seed (or clone) to your store shelf; we’ll talk about the importance of quality, how extraction method matters, give you some tips on how to make sure you’re always buying the highest quality CBD extracts you can and how avoid CBD snake oil retailers (we even have some potentially good news about the price of CBD concentrates down toward the end). Let’s delve into it.
Growing CBD Hemp Is Hard
There is a reason cannabis is referred to as “weed” – It grows like one, often in the worst conditions and in the least likely of places. However, just because it can grow doesn’t mean it will reach it’s full potential, and therein lies our first answer to the question of “why is CBD so expensive?” – Growing hemp on an industrial scale is pretty difficult.
Location & Cultivation Matter
To make a hemp crop of any decent size or quality level a grower needs either a cultivated field (preferably covered to keep out rain) or an indoors growing area. Though a field is cheaper than an indoor area by a great magnitude (no need for lamps, temperature control, etc) an indoors grow may be the only rational option depending on the hemp farm’s location – Growing outdoors year round in, say, Hawaii is vastly different (and dare we say less challenging) than growing outdoors in Alaska.
In many areas simply acquiring the seeds and starter plants themselves can be a struggle – Cultivating high-CBD/extremely-low-THC strains of cannabis takes time and effort, typically involving cross-breeding between plants that do have a higher (and thus regulated) amount of THC content. Staying in compliance with local laws can be tricky, particularly if growing hemp in a state that doesn’t allow for medical or recreational marijuana, and cultivators must typically either be licensed or otherwise approved by the state.
Keeping THC at Bay
Once planted there’s no guarantee that a plant may not experience a mutation, creating a higher-than-expected THC content. The master grower on site must be constantly vigilant, checking the crop for plants exhibiting high THC-to-CBD ratios.
For hemp growers, any plants that have a THC percentage over the federal limit of 0.3% THC must be automatically destroyed; any plants that are found with a THC percentage of greater than 0.5% will land the farm a federal charge, including stiff fees and potential jail time. Needless to say staying compliant is an important task, making it also a major investment in time and resources.
Harvesting both cannabis and CBD hemp can be tricky for the grower; though mechanical combines can work they are often cost prohibitive, leaving the work to be done solely by hand.
Once harvested CBD-heavy hemp, much like THC-rich cannabis, will typically go through a drying and curing process before going beginning the extraction procedure – This takes time and storage space, with proper lighting and air control once again required. Small things like these all add up, and increase the price of high quality CBD oil products found at your local store.
Extracting CBD from Hemp
CBD oil is usually produced by one of two methods, either using a solvent such as ethanol or butane, or using CO2 in its fluid, “supercritical” state.
Supercritical CO2 is carbon dioxide that has been both heated and pressurized into a state that combines the properties of its liquid, solid and gas forms; this gives the CO2 a powerful penetrating and corrosive power. Exposing hemp at pressure to CO2 strips away the cannabinoids and terpenes inside the plant material.
Due to CO2’s nature as a “tunable solvent” precise control of both temperature and pressure of the supercritical fluid allows manufacturers to accurately choose just how strong they want the CO2’s solvent abilities to be. The CO2 can then specifically target the CBD, terpenes and other cannabinoids present in hemp, leaving behind substances like chlorophyll and lipids.
Effective But Expensive
After saturating the hemp many industrial processing machines will then further fractionate the CBD and cannabinoids away from the CO2 before recycling it, in what is referred to as a “closed loop” system – This can help the manufacturer reduce costs by not having to purchase as much CO2.
While CO2 extraction is both efficient and potent it also comes with an expensive price tag, alongside some hefty needs for both power and space. The equipment used for CO2 CBD oil extraction isn’t small, and can only produce so much at a given time – To ramp up production the manufacturer has to invest in, house and install a brand new set of very expensive machinery.
Using Solvents for CBD
Using ethanol or butane is a classic method for removing cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp alike, and one that doesn’t take much in the way of specialized equipment – Depending on how cheaply you want to get away with it all the manufacturer really needs is the solvent, something to hold it & their plant material in, a filter, and a vessel for holding the extract while the solvent evaporates away. This method for making CBD oil is inexpensive to set up at the start, easy to expand, and generally low maintenance.
Unfortunately this lower price tag comes at the cost of quality, as chemical solvents will not only strip away CBD/cannabinoids and terpenes but also unwanted waxes, chlorophyll, and other impurities that a CO2 extraction would leave behind. This can be compensated for with additional solvent rinses and time spent in a vacuum oven but these add both time and money to the process, driving up the price even further.
THC or No THC?
During the solvent process the manufacturer must also decide what type of CBD products to create: “Full spectrum”, “broad spectrum”, and/or “CBD isolate”. We talk about these in more detail in our “What is CBD” article but each contain a specific amount (or lack thereof) of THC and terpenes included with the extract – Full spectrum CBD contains terpenes and a scant amount of THC, broad spectrum CBD contains terpenes without THC, and pure CBD isolate is nothing but 100% concentrated CBD.
Each of these products has their own unique manufacturing requirements, and takes a dedicated staff of knowledgeable workers to both operate and discover the right formula of solvent + pressure + heat to use. For all other expenses involved in running a CBD manufacturing business the cost of labor is often one of the most important.
CBD Oil Ready for Sale
After the CBD oil has been finalized it then needs to be packaged and labeled for sale – All things that require additional time, money and staff. Any reputable CBD concentrate manufacturer will also have their product tested by a third-party laboratory, both ensuring compliance with local/federal laws and to guarantee the quality & safety of their extract.
Third-party testing is not mandatory under federal law but it is an excellent sign that you’re buying product from a reputable supplier, and we would recommend against purchasing any CBD product that isn’t backed by a third-party test – There are a lot of con artists out there trying to make a quick buck off the CBD oil boom (more on them in a bit), and a lack of testing certificates is a quick way to weed out potential fraudulence.
Sales & Advertising Restrictions
Each state has its own laws and legalities when it comes to selling and promoting any cannabis-related products, including CBD.
Many states won’t allow for the advertisement of cannabis products in mainstream venues; television, radio, magazine and newspaper advertisements may or may not be barred depending on which state you live in/operate out of. Likewise, independent of state law, retail outlets may have a blanket prohibition on marketing cannabis products, THC, CBD or otherwise; Walmart and Target are prime examples.
Restrictions such as these mean CBD oil needs to be advertised and sold via alternative channels; social media, targeted advertisement buys on relevant websites, and specialty shops/web outlets all need to be sought out by the manufacturing team.
These factors can make it difficult for a CBD oil producer to find a market – Lack of traditional advertising means people are unaware of your product, while retail restrictions mean an interested buyer might not be able to find your extract even if they have heard of it before. This need to hunt for outlets also takes up time, in a process that would be much easier if selling an unregulated product.
Not All CBD Products Are the Same
By the time the CBD concentrate finally reaches the consumer’s hands a hefty price tag needs to be attached to help offset the costs of production. And while the statement “if it’s more expensive it must be better” doesn’t apply to everything in life, in general the more expensive a CBD product is the more likely it is to be of higher quality. Unfortunately this leaves a gap in the market for manufacturers with less of an eye for perfection to slip into place, selling product that is often misleadingly labeled and produced under less-than-optimal conditions.
Due to the largely unregulated nature of CBD in the United States as a “dietary supplement” deceptive packaging and poor-quality goods are common place in the market; clever use of buzzwords and grandiose terminology can go a long way to fooling someone under-educated into buying an inferior product, and for those with no scruples there is a lot of money to be made selling cheap, poorly manufactured CBD oil.
How to Spot High Quality CBD Products
Sniffing out a snake oil sales outfit can be tricky even on the best of days, but there are things to look out for when purchasing CBD products that can help you make more informed purchases.
Lofty Claims Are a Warning Bell
First, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of outfits touting their CBD oil as a miracle cure-all; while CBD is being studied as a potential remedy for a number of ailments and conditions using grandiose, flowery language, spirituality, or unverified claims to sell a product is usually a sign that the manufacturer might be lacking in their morals.
A Bargain Isn’t Always a Bargain
Likewise if the price seems too good to be true, it’s wise to be wary. As mentioned above expense does not always equate to value but for CBD related products it’s a good idea to stay away from ultra cheap products, no matter what they may claim. If it was cheap to produce high-quality CBD oil then there would be little reason for most of the rest of the CBD products on the market to be so expensive. Bargains can be had on occasion but on the whole? Stay away from ridiculously low prices.
Check The Certifications
Look for certification labels on the packaging that say things such as “CO2 extracted”, “Organic”, or “Fair Trade Certified”. Many low-budget CBD products will use hemp that has been shipped in from overseas, often grown in poor conditions; this hemp usually has much less quality control applied than hemp grown in the USA (and can even contain additional contaminants from pollution in the air and soil), so looking for certification guaranteeing your CBD oil was made in the United States is also a recommended idea.
A lack of third-party testing can also be a gigantic red flag. Again, third-party testing is not mandatory under federal law but it is standard practice for nearly every major CBD producer on the marketplace. Unless the concentrate you’re going to purchase has easily verifiable testing available we recommend giving it a pass.
Only Buy CBD Products From Trusted Retailers
Lastly, though it should go without saying, always do your research. If purchasing pure CBD oil from a store or vendor you’re not familiar with look them up online – Search out customer reviews and see what others think of their products.
If you can’t find many reviews for a vendor that’s as much of a red flag as negative reviews – This could mean they’re too new to have much feedback, or it could mean that they’ve carefully curated their reviews across the internet and gotten rid of bad ones where able.
Also remember that anything on the internet can be faked; if a review comes across sounding stilted or too glowing, there’s a non-zero chance it might be a fake review bought & paid for by the company in question. Stay sharp online, and read reviews with a critical eye.
Will CBD Oil Always Be This Expensive?
Thankfully, at least as far as the high prices go, the question of “why is CBD so expensive?” may soon become “why is CBD so cheap?” Promises of a massive CBD demand have so far not materialized, leaving many farmers with crops of CBD hemp that simply haven’t sold.
Market Stabilization or Bursting Bubble?
Reasonings for this lack of demand are numerous, varied and somewhat scattershot. An over-saturated market with very little oversight, leading to cases of fraudulence as mentioned above, has left consumers unsure of how to pick out quality products, and with some brands of CBD extracts attempting to claim their product will cure everything from insomnia to the common cold it’s understandable how CBD could come to be viewed as snake oil.
Whether or not these trends indicate a bursting CBD bubble or simply a normalization of the marketplace is yet to be seen, but we expect the price of CBD products to continue dropping for at least the near future. This is bad news for the farmers who have switched their production chain entirely over to hemp to support the CBD “boom” that was supposed to be coming, but good news for the average consumer.
The Wrap Up
CBD products are – or at least have been – expensive, this is nothing new. But as to the question of why is CBD so expensive? Turns out there are plenty of sound reasons. And even though the raw hemp is, as of this article’s publication, abundant, the price of running a CBD farm or processing facility hasn’t changed; the ingredients may be cheaper but the kitchen still needs the same amount of electricity, if you’ll pardon the metaphor.
While we do expect the cost of CBD products to continue dropping the question of how much isn’t one we’ll be able to answer until it happens. What we do know is that if you’ve been interested in trying out CBD as a supplement or medical aid there’s never been a better time to give it a shot than now. Just remember: Read your labels, check for reviews online, and if you have any questions make sure to ask your sales clerk – They’re there to help, after all. Enjoy!