On a recent night in Hartford’s Parkville neighborhood, curious shoppers stopped by a social hour to try out drinks, treats, and more that the vendors said contained CBD, the chemical found in marijuana and hemp plants that’s surging in popularity thanks to claims it can help with a litany of medical issues.
Although CBD, short for cannabidiol, comes from the cannabis plant, it does not get you high. As long as it’s derived from hemp, it’s legal to buy over the counter.
People tell NBC Connecticut that they’re using CBD as a natural remedy for all kinds of health issues, ranging from pain and inflammation to anxiety and depression.
Jocelyn Cerda started the “So Chill CBD Social Hour” after she started using CBD herself.
“I have Crohn’s and colitis, so I use it on a regular basis just to keep my symptoms under control,” Cerda said.
Hemp products became easier to buy and sell after a change to federal law last year, but they’re also unregulated. Yet public demand for CBD is growing and companies are cashing in. The industry is projected to hit the billion dollar mark this year.
Chris Martinez, the president and co-founder of Evio Labs, said his laboratory has tested CBD products for more than 400 companies.
“There’s a lot of inconsistencies in the market right now,” Martinez said.
To see if you’re getting what you pay for, NBC stations in Miami and New York partnered with Martinez to blind-test three brands of CBD oil and four brands of candy gummies that were purchased over the counter in stores and online.
The results showed that a product’s contents sometimes did not match its label. More than half of the samples contained less CBD than advertised.
“They were significantly lower – sometimes three times less than what was stated on the label,” Martinez said of the results.
The lab rejected samples from two brands of oils for not meeting California standards for quality control.
Evio Labs flagged one of our samples, labeled as a Lazarus Naturals product, for containing high levels of lead according to FDA standards.
“It had four times the amount of lead than is approved. If a child gets their hands on these products, it could be life-threatening,” Martinez said.
NBC 4 New York purchased the sample from an independent seller on Groupon. Lazarus Naturals said they could not verify that the sample was actually their product because they have experienced a problem with counterfeit products sold on unapproved marketplaces.
Another sample purchased from CBDistillery contained an amount of a pesticide that exceeds California’s acceptable standards. A company spokesperson told NBC 4 New York that they had the batch in question tested by “an accredited third party lab,” and that the amounts of the pesticides detected passed that laboratory standards.
NBC 4 New York also purchased several vials of Jolly Green CBD oil online and in a store.
Every sample contained less than half of the advertised amount on the packaging, according to the lab results. The company did not respond to NBC 4 New York’s requests for comment.
Only one brand of gummies, Green Roads, contained the amount of CBD advertised on the packaging. Of the other three brands, one brand contained zero CBD.
Gummies purchased from a surgery recovery website called, “Dani’s Doll House,” were marketed as the “strongest” CBD gummies.
“All five of those samples had zero CBD in them,” Martinez said.
The website’s owner told NBC 6 Miami that they purchase the gummies from a distributor and apply their own label for resale, adding in an email follow up that she is “going to try to get to the bottom of this.”
Samples of gummies from Hemp Bombs and Gold Line had less than the amount of CBD advertised, according to the lab results.
Hemp Bombs told NBC 6 Miami that they couldn’t verify those results. A spokesperson said the gummies were made using an older manufacturing process that involved “sprinkling CBD on them.” They said the company now “infuses the CBD hemp extract into the gummies.”
Test results for Gold Line brand gummies, which were purchased online, had less than half the amount of CBD advertised on their website at the time of purchase. The company told NBC 6 Miami that they put the "wrong photo" online and called it an "innocent mistake." They removed the product from their website.
"Until there is some type of regulation that levels off the playing field, patients are being duped. Patients are buying products that aren't really going to benefit them," Martinez said.
Before making any purchases, Martinez suggested asking sellers for lab results from within the last 30 days. Industry experts also advise making sure products are tested for heavy metals, pesticides and toxins.
Some companies put QR codes on their labels for buyers to scan and pull up results right on their phones.
"I tell the vendors, ‘Hey, bring those lab results,’" Cerda said. The goal of her monthly social hour is to connect people with local vendors making their own CBD, she said.
We did not test any of the products available there.
CBD products for sale at dispensaries to medical marijuana patients are different from the hemp products available over the counter, and the only FDA-approved use for CBD is in a treatment for severe forms of epilepsy.
Cerda said she now uses a CBD product that is only available at medical marijuana dispensaries, but she said access to CBD is necessary for people who do not have health conditions that qualify them to use medical marijuana in Connecticut.
With some caution, and a little trial and error, she said CBD's pros can outweigh the cons.
"It's a gray area. These are uncharted waters. You just gotta go out there and give it a shot," Cerda said.