Navigating the Online World of CBD: from Amazon to Alphagreen

The CBD industry: one of the fastest-growing markets of the 21st century

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Having been significantly popularised over the past 5-10 years, the CBD market is one of the fastest-growing wellness product categories worldwide. The forecast for the global market value of CBD predicts revenue of $23.6 billion over the next five years (Grand View Research). In the UK alone, it is estimated that 8 million people are purchasing CBD products, spending a total of £150 million in the first four months of 2020 (research conducted by Alphagreen, 2020). The UK Cannabidiol market value is expected to reach $1bn by 2025 (CMC, 2019).

Given these promising statistics, it is not at all surprising that high numbers of new and existing businesses are jumping on the CBD bandwagon. Big-name brands such as Planet Organic, Holland & Barrett, Amazon and Boots, as well as various supermarkets, health food stores and pharmacies have seen a vast increase in demand for full-spectrum hemp oils in recent years. Although, it has become apparent that there is a greater demand for CBD products within the e-commerce industry, with more people opting to buy products online than in-store.

What’s the hype all about?

Despite its exponential rise to popularity, it is predicted that this trend in CBD use is not just a fad, that the current hype is here to stay. Indicators of this include a broad demographic of CBD consumers of different age groups and classes, not just trendsetting millennials; and the benefit of hemp cultivation to the economy of the global farming industry; and an increase in healthcare professionals prescribing CBD products for managing chronic, and sometimes otherwise untreatable, conditions.

So, what is CBD?

CBD, short for Cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. Cannabis Sativa is better known for its two dominant strains: hemp and marijuana. Hemp, from which CBD is derived, is distinguished from marijuana because of its low levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that causes a psychoactive effect.

How does it work?

Cannabidiol works by altering the functions of the brain.

In particular, it has been found to enhance the activation of serotonin receptors, which regulate the release of hormones, including cortisol and oxytocin. Cortisol is responsible for regulating the brain’s reaction to stress, as well as metabolism. Oxytocin is a chemical messenger that affects social interaction and human behaviour: key factors such as reproduction, bonding, trust, anxiety, addiction and stress. Serotonin receptors also control mood, appetite and cognitive function.

What is it used for?

In enhancing the function of serotonin receptors, it is possible that CBD can disrupt cognitive habits which cause chronic psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, insomnia and schizophrenia.

Also, the interaction of CBD with endocannabinoid receptors in the brain has been found to cause an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effect. This has proved beneficial in managing conditions that cause chronic pain such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, musculoskeletal issues and cancer symptoms.

CBD’s pain-relieving, calming effects have even been found to positively influence sex-drive. It is also widely used to treat epilepsy, migraines, nausea, psychosis and for sports recovery.

A recent study conducted by Alphagreen revealed that 42% of CBD consumers in the UK are using the chemical to manage pain, whilst 21% use it to treat insomnia, and 19% are seeking to reduce anxiety. It is important to point out that CBD is not currently a drug that is officially prescribed by physicians, it is used most commonly as a supplementary therapy - 38% of CBD users were found to be taking it alongside conventional medicine.

Because CBD is not classed as a conventional medicine that is prescribed by GPs, it is essential to know how to check the authenticity of the product.

Quality check for CBD

As CBD is increasingly becoming a product that is in high demand, there are more and more vendors on the market selling Cannabidiol products at competitive prices. However, a significant number of these vendors are not transparent about the true quality of the product that they are advertising. These disreputable vendors often make false claims about their products and use misleading or ambiguous language to dupe customers into believing that they have stumbled upon a high-quality bargain. It has become a minefield for deciphering which vendors are trustworthy and which should be avoided.

When it comes to choosing a reputable manufacturer for CBD products, an independent third-party lab report that is transparent and readily available for the customer to read is essential.

What is third-party lab testing?

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Third-party lab tests are carried out by independent agents that are not affiliated with the CBD industry. This means that the information provided in these tests is entirely unbiased, fact-based data that cannot be skewed to suit the interests of the seller.

The lab report itself is a quantitative record of the chemical compounds present in the CBD product, detailing exact doses of THC and CBD and the potency of the product. The third-party lab will also test for other compounds present in the oil, including levels of toxins, solvents, pesticides and heavy metals. This can be especially helpful if you are looking to buy a product that has been cultivated organically, avoiding contamination and use of pesticides.

It is also common for sellers to claim that their product is lab-tested but not disclose the report. If a vender is not providing a lab report, this should be a red flag that the product is not legitimate.

Products that hold certifications supplied by a third-party and provide academic research-backed information tend to be found on specialist CBD websites, such as the Alphagreen marketplace. You will notice that the majority of Cannabidiol products being sold on mass-marketplaces like Amazon and Holland & Barrett do not follow suit.

Why it is not always a good idea to trust the “big guys”

Holland & Barrett, one of the UK’s biggest health chains, is an example of a CBD vendor that does not provide third-party lab testing. This has proved to be a fatal error for the company’s reputation, as it has recently come to light in the media that the CBD oil sold by H&B contains illegal levels of THC.

Tests were conducted on all of the CBD products sold at H&B by research company Fera Science Limited (part-owned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) in February 2020, discovering that ten products out of a total of 31 were above the legal limit for THC. In 2001, the Misuse of Drugs Regulations set the legal limit for THC in any product to be 1mg. Nevertheless, some of the products were found to contain 4.4mg, 12.5mg and even 24mg of THC. These are alarmingly high concentrations that could cause harm to normal cognitive function.

Despite these worrying findings, Holland & Barrett continues to successfully sell CBD products because of their universally recognised brand name that is generally deemed trustworthy by the masses and prices that are lower than those of specialist sellers.

To find out more about the CBD sold at H&B, read this.

To the contrary, another universally recognised brand, Amazon, prohibits the sale of CBD products.

Let’s take a closer look at Amazon.

The Amazon Rainforest? No, the multi-billionaire tech company

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Amazon is an American conglomerate tech company that is most widely known for its e-commerce site, the world’s largest online marketplace, founded by Jeff Bezos. The e-commerce site, launched in 1994, allows for businesses and individuals to advertise and sell products to customers across the world. It has grown from being what was a humble online bookseller, to one of the most powerful brands in the world, generating an annual revenue of $296.274 billion (for the twelve months ending March 31st 2020).

Why shouldn’t I buy CBD on Amazon?

Officially, it is against Amazon’s Terms of Service to sell CBD on its platform. But, when searching for CBD using the Amazon search engine, countless products will pop up. This means that the CBD products that are advertised on Amazon are either not adhering to the Terms of Service (and will probably be kicked off the site by the administrators before you’ve even got through to the payment page) or they are not selling legitimate CBD oil.

To quote Amazon’s Seller Code of Conduct, the sale of the following items is prohibited:

  • “Products containing Cannabidiol (CBD) or other cannabinoids.
  • Full-spectrum cannabinoid extracts, such as extracts from hemp plants, including the flowers, leaves and stalks.
  • Hemp products that make unauthorised health or medicinal claims.
  • Hemp gummies and other similar hemp products”.

Despite Amazon making it explicitly clear that the sale of “hemp products that make unauthorised health or medicinal claims” is not allowed, this is exactly the sort of product that you will find if you search for CBD on their platform.

Essentially, there is a loophole

Sellers of CBD on Amazon tend to use vague language to avoid being removed from the site, which adds to the confusion of evaluating a product’s quality. The product listings include vocabulary such as “high strength”, “premium”, “organic”, “vegan” and quote the health benefits that CBD oil provides. They make claims of ludicrous CBD concentrations such as 10.000mg, 25.000mg or even 50.000mg per 30ml bottle for scandalously low prices. These claims are utterly unrealistic considering that real, high-quality CBD products tend to have a concentration of around 2000mg.

More often than not, the so-called CBD oils that you will find on Amazon are not CBD at all. Many of the CBD products are labelled as “hemp seed oil” but claim to deliver an equal profile of health benefits as CBD.

Cannabinoids (such as CBD and THC) are produced in the leaves and stem of the cannabis plant, not the seeds. Therefore, whilst they do come from the same plant, hemp seed oil and CBD oil are frankly not the same.

CBD may be one of the biggest trends in wellness, but there is a certain lack of knowledge

Because of CBD’s recent rise to fame as a global wellness trend, there has been a significant surge in the variety of CBD and hemp oil products available on the market. Unfortunately, there is a lack of sufficient academically backed information and clarity on the different strains of the Cannabis Sativa plant. The disparity in governmental legislation for the growth of Cannabis Sativa also adds to this confusion.

It has become apparent that many manufacturers and marketplaces selling CBD and hemp products take advantage of this uncertainty and lack of education to sell their products under false premises at inappropriate prices. CBD has recently come to be a sort of buzzword to do with wellness that is used by vendors as a form of advertisement because it is considered trendy, a valuable tag in online marketing. Customers are drawn to products based on the vocabulary used, without being informed on the properties of different types of Cannabis-related products.

Let us clear a few things up for you…

What is the difference between hemp seed oil and CBD oil?

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Despite substantial socio-political scrutiny, research into the Cannabis Sativa plant has progressed considerably over the past 30 years, enabling the isolation of key active ingredients. This means that distinct compounds of Cannabis Sativa can be categorised based on their properties. Therefore, from the Cannabis Sativa plant, we have hemp and marijuana.

Hemp seed oil uses

Hemp seed oil or extract is made from pressing hemp seeds. It is a highly nutritious oil that is commonly taken as a food supplement or used as a cooking oil. Hemp seeds contain around 30% oil and 25% protein (edestin and albumin), as well as essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamins E, B, B1 and B2, sodium, sulphur, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium. Hemp seed oil is 80% polyunsaturated fatty acids, a good source for omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega 6 (linoleic acid).

Hemp seed oil is also used in skin lotions and soaps because of its moisturising effect. Other uses include fibre for clothing, rope and paper.

Hemp seed oil is significantly cheaper than CBD oil because its extraction method is not as complex and requires less resources. Hemp seed oil is produced by a simple cold-pressing method, whilst the more complicated extraction of CBD requires specialist equipment and lots of energy, which means high running costs.

CBD uses

CBD oil is extracted from the flowers and leaves of the hemp plant. This is where phytocannabinoids (molecules synthesised by plants) such as THC and CBD, in addition to terpenoids (large organic compounds produced by plants) like β-caryophyllene (BCP) and limonene, collect.

Cannabidiol oil is distinguished from marijuana because of its low THC levels. Yet, it appears to offer many of the same health benefits that can be experienced with taking medical marijuana, without causing an intoxicating effect. There is a growing body of clinical research to suggest that CBD may be a promising therapeutic alternative to standard pharmaceuticals for treating chronic pain conditions, epilepsy, nausea, sleep disorders and Tourette syndrome. There are also theories, based on pilot and preclinical studies, that CBD may be useful as an anti-inflammatory and for treating migraines, depression and anxiety.

Hemp seed oil is often used as a carrier for CBD oil, producing a super-food substance that boasts the health benefits of both ingredients.

Damage to CBD’s reputation

Ultimately, if you are looking to buy CBD oil and not hemp oil, Amazon is not the place to look. So-called CBD oil advertised on Amazon is essentially a placebo oil, that is contributing to an ill-informed negative public perception of CBD. Cheap, inauthentic CBD products sold on Amazon undercut the prices of good quality products and lead people to believe that CBD is an overpriced “snake oil”.

CBD: worth the price tag?

CBD oil is an expensive product for a reason. Here’s why:

From harvesting the plants to producing oil, the process is incredibly labour-intensive.

CBD is made from the Cannabis Sativa, a strain of the cannabis plant, which is used to make hemp. Hemp is distinguished from the strain of cannabis that is used to produce marijuana, as it contains just 0.2% of THC (the phytocannabinoid that induces a psychoactive high). Despite its clear distinction from marijuana, there remains a stigma surrounding the industrial cultivation and transportation of hemp. In many countries, industrial hemp farming is restricted, or sometimes against the law. Therefore, many manufacturers import hemp crops from overseas. This is an expensive process because the import of hemp must be approved by the government, as well as standard transportation costs.

What’s more, the quality of the hemp plants can vary significantly, and this will affect the price of the end product. Where the plants were grown can affect the price and quality of the product. Locally grown hemp is more likely to be quality-checked by the manufacturer; have the potential to be grown organically, and be part of a fair-trade agreement in which the cultivators and labourers are paid a fair wage. Whilst outsourced hemp cultivation retains the expense of transporting the crops; it is perhaps less likely that the workers are paid well and that the hemp is of good quality.

An expensive process

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Likewise, the manufacturing of CBD is an expensive, complex and labour-intensive procedure. The extraction method involved with producing a high-quality oil that is totally solvent-free is called CO2 extraction. This is the most expensive method, but it produces a superior product due to its ability to remove all contaminants, whilst maintaining a full profile of cannabinoids and a naturally high concentration. Therefore, any product that is produced with a less expensive extraction method runs the risk of containing potentially harmful contaminants.

The final stage of the process, lab testing, is another cost that must be considered. For reputable vendors to earn their badge of respect, they must pay for their products to undergo third-party lab tests. This means that they will be able to provide a lab report proving the quality of the CBD and that it is safe to use.

If the CBD oil is being sold at a low price, it is highly likely that it does not meet the quality-check described above. If you’ve found a CBD bargain, it probably is too good to be true…

CBD bargains sold on Amazon should be avoided at all costs

We strongly advise that it is not a good idea to purchase CBD oil from Amazon due to the huge number of hemp products that are falsely advertised on the site, and the lack of clarity regarding these products’ ingredient specifications.

However, the multibillion-dollar net income corporation also attracts a certain amount of controversy regarding its ethics.

Amazon: the unavoidable evil?

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It seems, in this modern world of globalisation, hyper-connectivity and instant gratification, Amazon is an unavoidable superpower that has thrived for a reason. Amazon’s outlandish variety of products being sold at reasonable prices and with guaranteed 24-hour delivery is all too appealing to the weak-willed consumer. Despite its questionable ethics, Amazon continues to grow at an exceptional rate.

Most well-known for its online selling platform of goods and unbelievably efficient logistical system that enables products to be received by customers within a minimum click-to-door time of 24 hours, Amazon is not a one-trick pony. In fact, the corporation generates more than half of its total operating income through its cloud computing software, Amazon Web Services, at $2.1 billion of a total $3.7 billion. It uses the profits generated by AWS to subsidise the goods it ships to customers. This enables it to keep prices low and competitive, undercutting less dominant, but perhaps more morally grounded, retail opponents.

Not only does Amazon dominate the retail market and cloud computing industry, but it is also a successful advertising business, television and movie producer, book publisher, fashion designer and operates a crowdsourcing platform for micro-labour tasks.

Amazon really is everywhere.

Sub-standard salaries for Amazon employees

Given its fruitful accomplishments and generous profits, one would assume that the company’s ethics are in check too.

Alas, no. Unfortunately, Amazon is also known for its shockingly low wages and poor working conditions. Employees at Amazon are paid significantly less than other tech workers.

To put things into perspective, in 2017 the median salary for an Amazon worker was around $30,000 (recorded in the company’s annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission) whilst the median salary for an employee of Facebook, another tech giant, in 2017 was more than $240,000.

Considering that the founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has been named the richest man in the world (worth $146.9 billion according to Forbes’ list of billionaires May 2020), it seems utterly implausible that the company’s mid-range of salaries sits at such a low value.

With a name like “Amazon”, one would assume it to be a green-collared company, right?

Unfortunately not. To add to Amazon’s list of indecencies, its response to the climate crisis has been judged as “inadequate” by its employees and some investors. When speaking at a press conference in 2019, Bezos said, “We want to use our scale and our scope to lead the way”. Amazon has a tremendous amount of potential to positively change the way that e-commerce across the globe functions in order to reduce carbon emissions. It is a shame that this opportunity is not being used to its full capacity.

What is Amazon doing to reduce its carbon footprint?

In September 2019, the company pledged to purchase 100,000 electric courier vans (this is significant, as Amazon relies on planes and vans to transport goods across the globe in record time); is planning to run 100% of its global infrastructure on renewable by 2030, and; to be entirely carbon neutral by 2040. It has also invested $100 million in reforestation efforts.

An activist group formed by Amazon workers, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, has criticised Bezos’ intentions to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, under the premise that it is not enough.

When you look at how much money and thought is going into Jeff Bezos’ other developments, the amount of energy being put into positive climate action is diminutive. For example, he has invested notably more money into his private space-exploration company, Blue Origin, than into his “Right Now Climate Fund” for reforestation. He has also been known to work with oil and gas companies to optimise fossil fuel extraction and donates to politicians and lobbying groups that deny the reality of climate change.

All in all, these expenditures do not paint a good picture of a businessman that is committed to reducing carbon emissions.

Time for change

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Amazon’s poor track record in terms of ethics could be detrimental to its success.

As of late, there has been an increase in shareholder activism targeted at the company. More and more shareholder resolutions are being submitted that urge the company to address issues concerning human rights and the environment. It appears that investors are realising that reputation and civil rights are more important than short-term profits.

It is predicted that, if Amazon does not take climate change issues more seriously, it could lose out on human capital – its ability to attract and hold on to talented employees. Therefore, it seems Amazon is on borrowed time as it continues to neglect ethical matters before the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate begins to collapse.

The bottom line

Consumers have power too. Whilst it seems almost impossible to avoid Amazon in this day and age, boycotting such an iniquitous company might not be a bad idea. Support small-scale, independent vendors that sell good-quality products at ethically-sound prices. Shopping locally is another fruitful action that you, as a consumer, can choose to make: avoiding the greenhouse gas emitting courier service and supporting your local economy.

If not from Amazon, where can I buy CBD?

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Even though Amazon is one of the largest e-commerce sites in the world, there are definitely other, more credible sites to visit when it comes to buying CBD online.

Since the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis has established that the majority of CBD consumers are buying their products online, it is especially important to know how to check a manufacturer’s credibility. The e-commerce world can be a minefield to navigate: avoiding scams, comparing products and making judgements based on anonymous reviews can certainly be tedious.

As mentioned earlier in this article, a third-party lab test is a sure sign of credibility. Brands that routinely check every batch of CBD with a certified independent mediator, and actively encourage customers to take a look at the report, are deemed more reliable. Without a doubt, honesty and transparency are valuable qualities to look for in a company that sells health products. Furthermore, the manufacturer must produce its products in line with GMP standards to ensure that the product is safe to consume.

A final note to add: it may be sensible to be wary of brands that make bold medical claims to promote their CBD products. CBD is not a medicine, and should not be used to treat or cure diseases - it is a supplement that can be used to manage symptoms, and its effectiveness may be subjective: differing from person to person.

TL;DR

  • CBD is one of the fastest-growing wellness trends of the 21st century: it is estimated that 8 million Brits are buying CBD, mostly online, with the UK market value set to reach £1b by 2025.
  • The CBD hype is here to stay - not just a fad.
  • CBD is a chemical compound derived from the Hemp plant, a strain of the Cannabis Sativa plant.
  • CBD will not get you high - it contains very low concentrations of THC.
  • CBD can be used to treat inflammation, pain and psychological issues, conditions such as arthritis, depression, anxiety, migraines, epilepsy and nausea.
  • A third-party lab report is an essential quality check for choosing a CBD product.
  • CBD sold by Holland & Barrett is not necessarily reputable.
  • Amazon prohibits the sale of CBD, so any products advertised on their platform are most likely to be hemp oil, not CBD oil.
  • Hemp oil and CBD oil are not the same things.
  • High-quality CBD comes with a price tag - the importing, extracting, manufacturing and lab testing processes are expensive to produce CBD that is high-quality and safe to consume.
  • Amazon is not the place to buy CBD oil: questionable ethics, lack of prioritisation for the environment, poor wages for employees and high risk of being scammed.
  • Specialist CBD marketplaces that are honest and transparent in their approach, by providing the customer with academically backed information are most recommended.
  • Alphagreen is a good place to start.

Verified by a Healthcare Professional

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.