CBD Market Transparency Report: Only 7% of Brands Test for Pesticides, Heavy Metals and Microbes

Leafreport reviewed 4,384 products from 188 cannabidiol (CBD) brands to evaluate the state of transparency in the industry. Only 12% of brands had all their products fall within acceptable potency variance levels, and 20% of brands carried out no purity testing on their products at all. In comparison with 2021, transparency within the CBD industry appears to be stagnating and deteriorating in several critical respects.
Written by 
Emma Francis Stone, Ph.D.
|Last Updated:

Here are our findings that reflect the current state of the industry. If you’d like to compare results, here is a link to our analysis from 2021.

Summary of Key Findings

CBD purity testing for three main contaminants — microbes, pesticides, or heavy metals — is still conducted at very low rates across the board, which is a source of concern considering harmful contaminants that can be unwittingly harbored within hemp crops. Compared with 2021, the number of brands with products that measure beyond acceptable potency variance levels is rising slightly.

Here are the insights we believe reveal the most about brand transparency, quality, safety, and the current state of the market:

  • 20% of the brands we reviewed didn’t carry out any purity tests to check for the presence of microbes, pesticides, or heavy metals. In 2021, 25% of the brands we reviewed didn’t carry out any purity tests.
  • 7% of brands tested all their products for microbes, pesticides, and heavy metals, compared to 6% in 2021.
  • 42% of brands test almost all of their products for potency (90%-100% accurate) and share their third-party lab results with consumers — the same as in 2021.
  • Only 12% of brands had all their products fall within acceptable potency variance limits.
  • 88% of brands that tested their products for potency had at least one product test beyond the 10% variance for potency, in comparison to 84% in 2021.
  • 28% of brands didn’t carry out any testing at all for pesticides (such as glyphosate), 26% didn’t test for the presence of any heavy metals (such as arsenic), and 24% didn’t test for microbes (like bacteria).
  • Two brands carried out no lab testing at all for either purity or potency, compared to 3 brands in 2021.

The popularity of CBD continues to soar, thanks to consumers who cannot get enough of the psychoactive (yet non-intoxicating) cannabinoid. Growing clinical evidence suggests CBD carries a host of therapeutic benefits, which only serves to compound demand for the cannabinoid. As a consequence, more and more brands are entering the CBD space, determined to seize their share of this lucrative industry.

However, the purported efficacy of CBD is contingent upon the purity and potency of the product in question. Products with inaccurate potency levels and questionable purity may offer little therapeutic benefit,or worse still, could be harmful. A 2021 market report carried out by Leafreport suggests that too frequently, consumers do not receive what they pay for. Forty-four percent of products advertised as broad or full-spectrum CBD are mislabeled, and on average, the CBD content of products deviates from the quantity on the label by almost 25%.

This year, Leafreport reviewed 188 brands for transparency, purity, and potency — a vast increase from the 136 brands we evaluated last year. We also reviewed 4,384 products, carefully evaluating each product’s potency level, whether it fell within the acceptable reported testing variance limit of 10%, and if the product had been tested for microbes, heavy metals, and pesticides. Compared with our 2021 analysis, brand commitment to potency, purity testing, and ensuring acceptable levels of potency variance appears to be floundering.

How Leafreport evaluates CBD transparency

To complete our transparency analysis, Leafreport examined the purity and potency Certificates of Analysis (CoA) of 188 brands as advertised on their website for a total of 4,384 products.

In the absence of standardized federal regulation for the CBD industry, Certificates of Analysis provide a level of quality and safety control. Third-party testing facilities carry out the requested purity and potency tests on behalf of the brand and then send the results back as certificates. You can learn more about how to interpret CoA here.

Full disclaimer: if we have missed a brand’s COA, it’s because it was not visually accessible on the website or was difficult to access. CoA should always be easy for consumers to find.

Here are the specific aspects of potency and purity that we evaluated:

  • The percentage of the products that had been tested for potency
  • The percentage of the potency-tested products that fell within the acceptable variance level (+/-10%)
  • The percentage of the products that had been tested for pesticide residue
  • The percentage of the products that had been tested for the presence of heavy metals
  • The percentage of the products that had been tested for the presence of microbes

CBD Potency Testing: Why Is it Important to the Consumer?

Why is Third-Party Potency Testing So Important?

Third-party potency tests verify the total amount of cannabinoid content in a product, including cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other phytocannabinoids such as cannabigerol (CBG). Laboratories usually test for cannabinoid concentration using ultraviolet chromatography, although there are other methods available such as mass spectrometry.

The concentration of CBD or other cannabinoids advertised on a product label must match the concentration measured by the testing laboratory within an acceptable 10% variance level. This means the product can have a margin of up to 10% higher, or up to10% lower concentration than stated on the label.

While third-party potency testing is undertaken by independent laboratories, some larger companies may also have their own internal lab facilities regularly verify potency before their products are re-assessed by external laboratories.

“Potency lets you know the strength of the product in question,” explains Laura Fuentes, co-founder of Green Roads CBD. “CBD consumers deserve to get what they pay for! Without potency testing, you can’t be sure the label on a given package is accurate.”

According to Guy Rocourt, CEO of established cannabis wellness brand Papa & Barkley, potency testing also plays a significant role in the safe and beneficial use of CBD.

“Without accurate potency tests, producers cannot accurately produce quality products, and consumers cannot accurately gauge the efficacy levels they need to meet their particular needs,” reflects Rocourt. “This is especially important in the CBD space, where consumers need to use products consistently over time to get the most out of this plant-based medicine.”

Products that contain less CBD than promised may not be able to deliver the intended benefits, while products that contain more CBD than advertised may cause unwanted or unintended effects.

For example, high doses of CBD can promote sleep, while lower doses can make the user feel more alert. A 2020 review of CBD e-liquids found that 77.1% of the e-liquids tested significantly underestimated or overestimated the CBD quantity stated on the product label. The authors of the study noted inaccurate CBD doses could also lead to an increased risk of adverse reactions.

CBD Purity Testing: Why Is It Important to the Consumer?

While 99% of brands we evaluated undertook at least some third-party potency testing, purity testing was notably less common. Twenty percent of the 188 brands we tested failed to subject their products to any form of purity testing at all.

“Purity testing is important because customers deserve CBD products that don’t have unsafe levels of contaminants,” explains Fuentes. “It’s important that purity tests be third-party because in-house testing is a little bit like grading your own homework. Even so, it can and does happen in this industry. Green Roads uses third-party labs that are ISO certified, which means they meet an international standard.”

Pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes are the most commonly performed purity tests, though CBD brands can opt for a full panel of purity tests that can also verify if the sample has residual solvents, mycotoxins, or moisture. Heavy metals, microbes, and pesticides can all cause detrimental effects when consumed. Exposure to heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium has been linked to respiratory and organ problems, developmental problems, headaches, and certain forms of cancer.

“Hemp makes incredible plant-based medicine, and it also happens to be a bio-accumulator,” reflects Rocourt. “This means it absorbs substances efficiently from the soil it’s planted in, which is a great benefit when the earth needs to be remediated from damage. However, it also means that it can unintentionally absorb materials you don’t want to consume such as heavy metals, which is why it’s so important to test products.”

Pesticides can also be very harmful to health. Many conventional pesticides are proven carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and can also cause developmental, reproductive, and neurological damage. In a 2016 study, prominent cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo reported laboratory analysis which revealed 84.6% of a sample of legalized cannabis products in Washington State contained significant quantities of pesticides, including insecticides, fungicides, miticides, and herbicides.

Finally, improper preparation of hemp crops for CBD extraction can foster the conditions for microbial contaminants to thrive. If hemp is harvested when wet, or dried and stored in damp, humid conditions, powdery mildew, botrytis, budworm, or mites can proliferate. According to experts, these contaminants may not only affect human health but could also influence the bioavailability of CBD and its efficacy.

In the following sections, we’ll reveal the brands that are the most transparent when it comes to potency and purity testing.

CBD Brands that Test All Products for Potency and Purity

Here’s our list of the most transparent CBD brands in the industry based on their dedication to thorough third-party potency and purity testing. All of the 10 brands identified below have tested 100% of their products for potency, microbes, heavy metals, and pesticides. Their potency variance scores are also included in the breakdown.

NuLeaf Naturals

Colorado-based NuLeaf Naturals crafts their full-spectrum range of CBD products from organic hemp and USDA organic ingredients. The brand has a select range of 13 products, all of which have undergone third-party testing for potency, microbes, pesticides, and heavy metals.

The results of the brand’s third-party potency and purity testing can be found on the batch reports page on their website. What’s more, each and every NuLeaf Naturals product we checked fell within acceptable potency levels for an impressive 100% potency accuracy rate.

R+R Medicinals

R+R Medicinals regularly features at the top of Leafreport’s brand review list. The brand has established itself as a consistently reputable retailer of high-quality CBD products, several of which have USDA organic certification. While the brand only offers 11 products in total, these cover all major delivery methods including creams, gummies, tinctures, softgels, pet products, and a THC-free line.

Consumers can find R+R Medicinals’ purity and potency results on their Lab Testing page. In addition to potency analysis, the brand also carries out terpene analysis. R+R Medicinals tests 100% of their products for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, microbes, and residual solvents. All R+R Medicinal products fall within acceptable potency levels, achieving a 100% potency accuracy rate.

Root Wellness

Root Wellness retails its select range of CBD products via third-party CBD marketplaces. The brand offers a total of eight products, with full-spectrum and broad-spectrum options available. Root Wellness uses organically grown hemp to formulate its line, and even offers a raw CBD tincture for those curious about exploring the benefits of raw cannabinoids.

One hundred percent of Root’s products are tested for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes. Seven of its eight products fell within acceptable potency variance levels.

Just Live CBD

Just Live CBD markets itself as CBD designed for athletes. The brand’s Chief Science Officer is Dr. Alex Capano, a pioneer in cannabinoid science. Just Live CBD manufactures products that specifically target sleep, stress, recovery, and relief in broad-spectrum formulations free of THC.

One hundred percent of Just Live CBD products are third-party tested for potency, pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals. The brand’s Certificates of Analysis are easy to locate on the website. Eighty-three percent of the products met acceptable variance limits for potency.

Green Roads CBD

Green Roads CBD was created when founder and pharmacist Laura Fuentes began developing CBD products to help a friend with health issues. The company is now a leading CBD brand offering consumers a total of 40 different products, including a CBD-infused chocolate and coffee line, and a spa collection.

Considering the extent of Green Roads CBD’s product range, it’s noteworthy that the brand tests 100% of products for potency, pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals. Lab results are easy to find, and in addition to these major tests, Green Roads CBD also tests for residual solvents. Seventy-three percent of Green Roads CBD products fall within the acceptable potency variance limit.

Jupiter

Relative newcomer Jupiter CBD offers just a handful of products, all of which are tinctures with distinct therapeutic targets such as sleep, stress, and multi-function. All the tinctures are formulated using USDA organic certified ingredients, with the provenance of each ingredient also identified.

Jupiter tests 100% of its product range for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes. Sixty-seven percent of its products meet the acceptable variance levels. The brand shares lab test results on the website.

Koi CBD

California-based Koi CBD offers more than just CBD–the brand also has a range of hemp-derived cannabinoid products such as HHC and THC-O. While the brand doesn’t claim to use organic CBD, it sources hemp from a select handful of U.S. hemp farmers.

The brand offers 30 different products, all of which undergo testing for potency, pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals. Koi also states on its website all products are subjected to a full-panel analysis, which includes residual solvents and terpene concentrations. Sixty-three percent of its products fall within potency variance limits.

+PlusCBD Oil

+PlusCBD Oil offers CBD products created using clinical formulations. The brand offers a range of 27 products available in diverse delivery methods, including a unique spray formula.

On the +PlusCBD Oil website, the lab reports page states that all products are tested for the presence of pesticides, fungicides, plant growth regulators, residual solvents, heavy metals, and microbial contaminants. In addition to 100% of the brand’s products being subjected to purity testing, all +PlusCBD Oil products also undergo potency tests. However, only 52% of the brand’s products fall within the acceptable variance limits.

High Falls Hemp

High Falls Hemp hails from New York State, with products crafted using hemp cultivated in the Hudson Valley. The brand offers 33 distinct products in full-spectrum and broad-spectrum formulations.

One hundred percent of High Falls Hemp products are subjected to third-party potency, pesticide, heavy metal, and microbe testing. However, more than half of their products — or 55% —do not meet the acceptable variance levels.

FOCL

FOCL CBD offers a range of CBD products blended with adaptogens, other hemp-derived cannabinoids, and botanical compounds such as lion’s mane mushrooms. On the website, the brand states that it formulates products using organic, non-GMO hemp.

One hundred percent of the FOCL product range undergoes third-party testing for potency, pesticide, microbes and heavy metals. However, only three of the brand’s seven products meet acceptable potency variance limits.

King Kanine

King Kanine, a dog-focused CBD brand, offers a range of products such as topicals, treats, and oils that aim to promote calm and ease pain in dogs.

All King Kanine products are tested for potency, pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals. However, only three products of the brand’s seven-product range fall within the prescribed potency variance.

Cornbread Hemp

Wholesomely named Cornbread Hemp hails from Kentucky. The brand formulates a range of full-spectrum CBD products with the input of a board of advisors that includes pharmacists and medical experts.

While the brand is meticulous, testing all its products for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes, their product variance levels are less consistent. Only 42% of Cornbread Hemp’s products meet the accepted variance levels.

MAXCBD Wellness

MAXCBD Wellness offers CBD consumers the ability to access expert advice while shopping, with a free consultation option. The Florida-based brand has a select range of products, including a line that focuses on skincare.

One hundred percent of MAXCBD Wellness’ eight products are tested for pesticides, microbes, heavy metals, and potency. However, only 38% of their product range falls within the accepted potency variance levels.

CBD Brands That Tested 100% of Products for Potency

Here is our compilation of the remaining most-transparent CBD brands in the industry. Each of the brands identified below tested 100% of their products for potency. However, it’s important to note that although these brands undertake thorough potency testing, some of them have exceeded or fallen short of the acceptable 10% variance margin.

The vast majority of these brands (with the exception of four) also tested at least some of their products for the presence of microbes, heavy metals, or pesticides.

A breakdown for each brand is provided below.

Austin and Kat

Austin and Kat have 16 products in total in their range. All of their products fall within the acceptable variance limit. While they test 94% of their products for microbes, they only test half of their products for heavy metals and pesticides.

Penelope’s Bloom

All Penelope’s Bloom CBD products fall within the prescribed potency variance levels. The brand also tests all products for heavy metals, 89% for pesticides, and 78% for microbes.

SabaiDee CBD

SabaiDee CBD products all meet the acceptable potency variance levels. They also test all products for pesticides, and 57% of their products for microbes and heavy metals.

Urth CBD

Urth CBD products all fall within the acceptable variance levels. The brand carries out no purity testing for heavy metals, pesticides, or microbes.

CBDMEDIC

Ninety-three percent of CBDMEDIC products meet the accepted variance limits. The brand does not test any products for heavy metals, pesticides, or microbes.

Populum

Ninety percent of Populum products meet the accepted potency variance levels. The brand also tests 60% of its products for pesticides and heavy metals, and 20% for microbes.

Honest Paws

Eighty-nine percent of animal-focused Honest Paws products fall within the accepted variance. The brand also tests all of its products for heavy metals, 96% for microbes, and none for pesticides.

Green Gorilla

Green Gorilla offers 27 CBD products, with 85% meeting acceptable potency levels. The brand also tests 100% of its products for pesticides and heavy metals, and 89% for microbes.

Envy CBD

Envy CBD has 24 products in its range, and 83% of them fall within the prescribed 10% potency variance margin. The brand also carries out purity testing with 75% of products tested for pesticides and heavy metals, and 92% tested for microbes.

CBD Pure

CBD Pure offers six products in total, with five of them falling within the accepted variance levels (83%). The brand also tests 100% of its products for pesticides and 83% for heavy metals and microbes.

Extract Labs

81% of Extract Labs CBD products meet the prescribed variance guidelines. The brand also tests 78% of its products for pesticides, 81% for heavy metals, and 67% for microbes.

TONIC CBD

New York-based TONIC CBD offers consumers a range of 15 products, 12 of which meet accepted potency variance levels. Eighty percent of the brand’s products are also tested for pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes.

Pachamama CBD

Pachamama CBD has 20 products in total, with three quarters meeting the accepted range of variance for potency. Sixty-five percent are tested for pesticides, 75% are tested for heavy metals, and 45% are tested for microbes.

Leaf Remedys

Seventy-four percent of Leaf Remedys’ 23 CBD products fall within the prescribed variance range. The brand also checks 91% of its products for pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes.

SOL CBD

Six of SOL CBD’s seven products meet the accepted potency variance levels (71%). Fourteen percent are tested for pesticides and 86% are tested for microbes and heavy metals.

Five CBD

Five CBD offers a range of 20 products, 14 of which meet accepted potency variance levels (70%). Ninety-five percent of the brand’s line is also tested for pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes.

Pure Hemp Botanicals

Pure Hemp Botanicals has a range of 25 products, with 68% of the product range falling within acceptable potency variance levels. Forty percent of products are also tested for pesticides, and 88% are tested for heavy metals and microbes.

CBD Dog Health

Sixty-seven percent of CBD Dog Health products fall within the accepted potency variance levels. The brand also tests 40% of its products for pesticides, 33% for heavy metals, and 47% for microbes.

CBDfx

CBDfx has an extensive range of 58 CBD products, with 66% meeting accepted variance levels. The brand tests 81% of its products for pesticides and 79% for heavy metals and microbes.

Seabedee

Sixty-five percent of Seabedee products meet the acceptable variance levels. Only 12% of its products are tested for the presence of pesticides, heavy metals, or microbes.

Made by Hemp

Made By Hemp has a diverse range of 39 distinct products, with 64% meeting acceptable potency levels. Only 15% of Made by Hemp products are tested for pesticides, microbes, or heavy metals.

Absolute Nature

Eight of the 11 Absolute Nature CBD products falls within accepted potency variance levels (64%). Seventy-three percent of all products are tested for pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals.

Premium Jane

Sixty-four percent of Premium Jane’s wide range of CBD products meet the accepted potency variance levels. Sixty-four percent of the brand’s products are also tested for pesticides, 59% for heavy metals, and 73% for microbes.

Paw CBD

Pet-focused Paw CBD has a total of 28 products, 61% of which fall within acceptable variance levels. Eighty-nine percent of its products are tested for pesticides and heavy metals, and 100% are tested for microbes.

Tommy Chong’s CBD

Fifty-eight percent of Tommy Chong’s CBD line falls within the accepted potency variance margin. All of the brand’s products are tested for heavy metals, none are tested for pesticides, and 25% are tested for microbes.

PureKana

Fifty-eight percent of PureKana CBD products meet accepted variance levels for potency. Ninety-seven percent of the product range are tested for microbes, 95% are tested for heavy metals, and 92% are tested for pesticides.

CaniBrands

CaniBrands offers consumers a selection of 19 CBD products, 11 of which fall within acceptable variance levels. Just 21% of the range is tested for pesticides, 63% are tested for heavy metals, and 53% are tested for microbes.

Lily Hill CBD

Just over half of Lily Hill CBD products meet acceptable variance levels (56%). The brand carries out no purity testing at all.

fourfive CBD

Half of fourfive CBD products meet acceptable variance levels. Thirty-eight percent of products are tested for pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals.

Binoid CBD

Fifty percent of Bionoid’s product range meets accepted potency variance levels. Thirty-three percent of its products are tested for microbes, heavy metals, and pesticides.

cbdMD

CbdMD has one of the largest ranges of CBD products on offer: a total of 96 products. However, only 46% meet accepted potency levels. Seventy-seven percent are tested for pesticides, 76% are tested for heavy metals, and 78% are tested for microbes.

HolistaPet

Only 43% of HolistaPet’s CBD products fall within the accepted 10% potency range. None of the brand’s 35 products are tested for pesticides, microbes, or heavy metals.

Betoken CBD

Betoken CBD offers just five products, with two of these meeting the accepted potency levels. Three of its product range are tested for microbes, but none are tested for pesticides or heavy metals.

Redeem Therapeutics

Forty percent of Redeem Therapeutics’ product line falls within acceptable potency levels. Eighty percent are tested for pesticides and heavy metals, while 50% are tested for microbes.

Smile CBD

Thirty-eight percent of Smile CBD products fall within acceptable variance limits. The brand tests 13% of its products for pesticides, 25% for heavy metals, and 38% for microbes.

Coastal Clouds

Only 30% of Coastal Clouds CBD products fall within the accepted potency variance margin. Seventy percent of its products are, however, tested for pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals.

Dope CBD

Dope CBD offers consumers a selection of 10 products; however, only three fall within accepted potency variance levels. Sixty percent of its product range is tested for pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals.

Zadaka

Only one of Zadaka’s 16 products meets the accepted variance levels. None of its products undergo any form of purity testing.

Final Thoughts on the State of the CBD Industry

Only 7% of the 188 CBD brands we surveyed in 2022 tested their complete product range for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbes. This lack of consistency undermines consumer trust, particularly as many brands claim to subject their products to third-party potency and purity testing. Testing some products is not the same as testing all products. This trend underlines how important it is for consumers to check Certificates of Analysis to ensure that the product has been subjected to the full panel of tests if that is what has been claimed. Products that do not pass purity tests may be harmful to health.

For the most part, the industry seems to be stagnating or worsening on some counts. Forty-two percent of brands tested 90% to 100% of their products for potency, and shared their third-party lab results with consumers — the same as 2021. Eighty-eight percent of brands had at least one product measure beyond acceptable potency variance levels in 2022 in comparison to 84% in 2021. Inaccurate potency can make accurate dosing difficult and influence the effects of CBD products.

However, it is important to acknowledge there have been some modest improvements in comparison to 2021. For example, the number of brands that carry out no purity testing has dropped from 25% to 20%. The number of brands that carry out absolutely no testing at all has dropped from three brands in 2021 to two this year.

Papa & Barkley CEO Guy Rocourt believes we are seeing standards slipping among CBD companies, with some bypassing their duty of care to consumers. “The CBD industry is worsening its standards in relation to transparency and quality for a couple of reasons,” he points out. “First, we’re seeing a race to the bottom with brands over-refining their CBD products, which is moving it away from true plant-based medicine. We’re also not seeing the industry provide accurate standards or sufficient regulations to inform consumers.”

Green Roads CBD Co-Founder Laura Fuentes also asserts that the CBD industry has a long path to tread to attain transparency. “While top brands in the industry embrace transparency and accountability, there are still many, many brands who only do the bare minimum that is required by law,” she reflects. “While legislation is certainly helpful, the best way consumers can protect themselves is by choosing reputable CBD brands.”

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Dr. Emma F. Stone is passionate about plant medicine and the potential it holds in transforming the current medical paradigm. She has written extensively for Leafly, Weedmaps, Flowertown, Psychedelic Science Review, and contributed to industry reports and fact sheets detailing cannabis medicine, dosage, and delivery methods for diverse conditions. She’s currently working on a book exploring plant medicine and its uses.

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