How to Find Sustainable CBD Supplements that Are as Good for You as They Are for the Planet

Amy Arani

Even deep in the heart of Texas, where yours truly resides, it seems like a new CBD shop opens every week. With the rising popularity of this mostly unregulated substance, it can be difficult to navigate the myriad of brands and recommended dosages. Further, since CBD is a supplement, what’s on the bottle often doesn’t match what’s inside. 

Instead of creating another missive touting CBDs health benefits, we wanted to talk about sustainability. Cultivation and extraction methods vary, and some are downright toxic. Here’s how to navigate the murky green world of CBD when you’re committed to a sustainable lifestyle. 

Hemp, the Ultimate Sustainable Crop?

CBD can be extracted from industrial hemp, and industrial hemp is one of the most sustainable crops on earth. It pulls toxins out of the soil, stops erosion, and can grow in almost any condition. So why has it taken so long for it to be legalized? As they say, history repeats itself. Immigrants — specifically, asylum seekers. 

From the 1600s to the 1890s, hemp production was in full swing in the U.S. In 1619, Virginia even passed legislation requiring farmers to grow hemp. But after the Mexican Revolution, people fleeing the violent aftermath arrived on U.S. soil and brought recreational cannabis with them (via PBS). 

The same anti-immigrant sentiment we see today played a huge part in the demonization of hemp. People blamed marijuana for everything from insanity (“Reefer Madness”) to sex crimes. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act effectively banned cannabis cultivation. Aside from a short resurgence during WWII, it was outlawed until 2014, with the passing of the Agricultural Act, which included the Hemp Farming Pilot Program. In 2018 the Hemp Farming Act made industrial hemp farming fully legal. 

Industrial Hemp Isn’t the Best Source of CBD

CBD is legal in all 50 states, provided that it’s derived from industrial hemp. At surface value, extracting CBD from industrial hemp sounds like the best of both worlds. 

“Farmers often sell what is known as unused hemp biomass to a business that wants to extract CBD from the leftovers, with this “dual-use” practice becoming widespread among large-scale hemp growers in Canada, as an example.”

Healthy Hemp

Industrial hemp provides many benefits to the land. In fact, hemp bioremediation has improved land quality at Superfund sites such as Chernobyl. Unfortunately, that means that hemp is good at pulling toxins out of the soil. CBD made from industrial hemp can have high levels of contamination. For the best quality CBD, go for brands that are certified organic. Leave the chemically-contaminated hemp for synthetic plastics and paper

Extractive Methods: The Good and the Chemical 

As if contamination with pesticides weren’t bad enough, chemical extraction methods are also common. Hexane, or crude oil, is one chemical of choice. Butane is the other. That’s right, folks. Lighter-fluid. 

Neither of these chemicals is environmentally friendly, and consuming them (which you will be because there’s no way to fully get them out of the product) is questionable at best.

Luckily, there are safer alternatives, such as supercritical CO2 extraction. Although on the surface, it might sound like a bad idea since CO2 is a greenhouse gas, supercritical CO2 extraction is generally considered safe for the environment. It’s also up to 96% recyclable. Other acceptable extraction methods are ethanol (alcohol) and olive oil (read more here). 

The Cannabis Waste Problem

The Seattle Stranger reported that during the years of 2014-2017, the industry created 1.7 million pounds of cannabis waste, much of which landed in landfills. Due to complex regulations, disposal requirements vary from state to state, and composting can be challenging if not impossible. But although laws make cannabis hard to compost, that’s not the worst of it. 

The industry heavily relies on plastic. No. 5 plastic in particular. In California, “all cannabis and cannabis products be sold in child-resistant packaging.” And other states have similar laws. 

Plastic pollution is one of the most significant problems facing our planet today. It takes 400 years to decompose, and it’s filling up our land and waters. When considering which CBD companies to patronize, ask whether they compost. In addition, pick brands that use renewable or reclaimed plastic packaging.  

Is Your Favorite CBD Supplier Sustainable?

Here are a few ways to determine the sustainability of your favorite brand.  

  • Look for organically grown, non-GMO hemp.

 If you pick organic, not only will you be avoiding pesticide contamination, you’ll be keeping pesticide-laden hemp waste out of our landfills.

  • Choose supercritical CO2 or olive oil extraction.

From our research, these seem to be the most eco-friendly extraction options.  

  • Go for glass.

Plastic packaging isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but you can begin to stem the tide of plastic waste by insisting on glass packaging. If your favorite brand doesn’t use glass packaging, suggest that they do. 

  • Skip the pump.

Whenever possible, choose products that don’t have plastic pumps, or ask your favorite brand to provide refill options. Plastic pumps are notoriously unrecyclable.

  • Look at the lab tests.

Reputable companies will happily provide 3rd party-verified results proving that their products are chemical-free. 

There's no reason you should have to choose between the health benefits of CBD and your commitment to a sustainable lifestyle. The more green, the better!