Could there be pesticides and other toxins in some CBD oil products?

Cannabis has long been grown with the aid of large quantities of pesticides, many of which are also associated with cancer or other severe health effects (1).  

For illicit growers or those with little knowledge of other methods and no regulatory oversight, it is easier and cheaper to spray pesticides (2). 

Meanwhile, the average consumer is often left with nothing more than vague assurances of safety from sellers and regulators.

Most consumers have a general assumption that if something is on a shelf and for sale, and buyers are paying sales tax, then the products are safe, says Jill Lamoureux, a Colorado-based grower, cannabis consultant, and entrepreneur. 

The states are using pesticides arbitrarily, and it is not backed by science at all (3). 

Although consumers may feel some consolation that any pesticide regulations are better than none, they are still unsure if the CBD oil product they purchased is clean enough or genuinely safe.

As states continue to experiment with policy, public health hangs in the balance (4). 

Diluting vs. Removing Contaminants

Dilution is the process of adding more solvent to a solution to decrease its concentration, and it is a common practice within the cannabidiol (CBD) industry. 

While this process is sometimes used to create products with varying potency, other times, it is used to make hemp oil comply with the law. Some manufacturers use dilution to keep THC levels under the legal limit. 

However, consumers should also be aware that other manufacturers may take advantage of this technique to conceal high levels of toxins, such as pesticides and heavy metals.

Contaminants, like pesticides, must be removed not diluted.

Pesticide Regulation

Using instruments, each costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, trained technicians take high-precision measurements of moisture content,  potency, residual solvents, mycotoxins, heavy metals, microbial impurities, and pesticides. 

Products that do not meet state standards cannot be sold legally (5). 

Until this point, however, there has been no federal regulation on pesticides in industrial hemp, according to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (6). 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting tolerance limits for pesticides on foods and commodities (7). 

However, because hemp was only approved recently as an agricultural commodity under the 2018 Farm Bill, the EPA has not yet officially accepted pesticides specifically for use on hemp (8). 

Then, on August 21, 2019, the EPA released a statement to obtain the public’s opinion on expanding the use of ten existing pesticides for application on industrial hemp (9).

This expansion is part of the commercial legalization of the hemp process outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill. 

The EPA is actively taking the necessary steps to roll out guidelines on pesticide use for the hemp industry, as it begins its expansion in 2020. 

Pesticide approval and regulation is good news for farmers and consumers alike, as it eliminates dangerous, and sometimes lethal, pesticides. 

However, the approved pesticides are still of concern if the residue amount exceeds the tolerance limits established.

State-Required Testing

The state-required testing for CBD often focuses only on hemp while the plants are still growing in the field or after they are harvested, says Jonathan Miller, legal counsel of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a group of over 60 CBD companies in the United States. 

The test is meant to make sure that the plants have low levels of THC, (0.3% or less) (10).

Only a few states require some additional testing. Colorado, for instance, requires manufacturers that add CBD to food to make sure that the THC levels are kept below the 0.3% cutoff.

Growers must test the first CBD hemp extract, which is later added to consumer products such as tincture, oil, or edibles. 

The test should not be only for CBD and THC levels but also for contaminants, such as pesticides and residues of the chemical solvents often used to extract CBD from hemp (11).

Look for the COA

When buying CBD products, one vital thing to look for in CBD products to ensure its high quality is certification codes. Certification authorities approve products only after some thorough screening tests. 

A certificate of analysis (COA) is a third-party lab report regarding the contents of a product. 

In the case of CBD oil, for example, a COA should include the potency of each component in a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes contained in the hemp plant extract. Other tested compounds, such as pesticides, mold, and heavy metals, must also be reflected in the report. 

Reputable CBD manufacturers make their COAs readily available to their customers, promoting transparency and consumer confidence.


  1. McPartland JM, McKernan KJ.2017. Chapter 22: Contaminants of concern in cannabis: microbes, heavy metals and pesticides. In: Cannabis sativa L.—Botany and Biotechnology. Chandra S, Lata H, ElSohly MA, eds. Cham, Switzerland:Springer; Dryburgh LM, Bolan NS, Grof CPL, Galettis P, Schneider J, Lucas CJ, et al.2018. Cannabis contaminants: sources, distribution, human toxicity and pharmacologic effects. Br J Clin Pharmacol 84(11):2468–2476, PMID: 29953631, 10.1111/bcp.13695; Russo EB. 2016. Current therapeutic cannabis controversies and clinical trial design issues. Front Pharmacol 7:309, PMID: 27683558, 10.3389/fphar.2016.00309; Voelker R, Holmes M. 2015. Pesticide Use on Cannabis. Cannabis Safety Institute. https://cannabissafetyinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/CSI-Pesticides-White-Paper.pdf [accessed 4 March 2019].
  2. Ibid.
  3. Seltenrich N. (2019, April 25). Into the Weeds: Regulating Pesticides in Cannabis. Environmental Health Perspectives. CID: 042001. Retrieved from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/EHP5265.
  4. Seltenrich N. (2019, April 25). Into the Weeds: Regulating Pesticides in Cannabis. Environmental Health Perspectives. CID: 042001. Retrieved from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/EHP5265.
  5. CC. 2019. Testing Laboratories. [Website]. https://www.bcc.ca.gov/licensees/testing_labs.html [accessed 4 March 2019].
  6. USFDA. (2018, Oct 31). Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Questions and Answers. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/pesticides/pesticide-residue-monitoring-program-questions-and-answers.
  7. EPA. (2020, Mar 17). Pesticides. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pesticides; EPA. (2017, May 23). Setting Tolerances for Pesticide Residues in Foods. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-tolerances/setting-tolerances-pesticide-residues-foods.
  8. USDA. Industrial Hemp. Retrieved from https://nifa.usda.gov/industrial-hemp.
  9. EPA. (2019, Aug 21). EPA Seeks Public Comment on Pesticide Applications for Hemp. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-seeks-public-comment-pesticide-applications-hemp.
  10. Gill L. (2019, April 15). CBD May Be Legal, But Is It Safe? Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/cbd/cbd-may-be-legal-but-is-it-safe/.
  11. Ibid.
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