Insight on CBD’s vulnerability to adulteration & mislabeling, and how to authenticate “natural” CBD

As with the flavors and fragrances industry, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers must be cautious of ingredient adulteration of cannabidiol-based (CBD) products that claim to be 100% natural-sourced, or in other words, fully sourced from biobased ingredients. CBD, which is a naturally occurring compound extracted from the Cannabis plant, is experiencing an increase in demand for its use in various products such as essential oils, personal care, and cosmetic items.1 However, due to the high prices associated with CBD extract, CBD products are vulnerable to both economically motivated adulteration and false “natural” labeling.2 To steer clear of selling or purchasing counterfeit “natural-sourced” CBD items, natural product testing through carbon-14 analysis is used to detect ingredient adulteration by differentiating between biological-derived and fossil fuel-derived sources. This analysis, thus, is also a powerful tool for authenticating 100% biobased CBD.

Carbon-14 dating laboratory Beta Analytic’s recent discussion with This Works, a market leader in the natural skincare industry, provides insight on the role of carbon-14 as a powerful tool to authenticate biomass-derived CBD ingredients.

Adulteration of CBD

The global CBD market is anticipated to witness lucrative growth with high demand for the natural-derived extract due to its healing properties in the wellness and medical sectors. In 2018, the global market was valued at USD $4.6 billion with a forecasted compound annual growth rate of 22% by 2025.1

In parallel with the increasing popularity of products that contain CBD ingredients, there has also been a rise in class action lawsuits with consumers testifying their CBD products are mislabeled or include misleading information. While some cases focus on false advertising in terms of the amount of CBD in a specific product, other allegations are based on the mislabeling of products claiming “all-natural” or “100% natural” CBD ingredients. This reflects similar cases of counterfeit “natural-sourced” products within the food and beverage, flavors and fragrance, and nutraceutical industries.3

Adulterating CBD with fossil fuel-derived ingredients often coincides with goals for financial gain. The substitution of plant-derived constituents with less expensive fossil fuel ingredients is a form of economically motivated adulteration, financially incentivized intentional adulteration. 4 As unscrupulous manufacturers and distributors are substituting natural CBD with fossil fuel-derived alternatives, quality assurance is a challenge for many companies.

Carbon-14: A tool to avoid mislabeling & ingredient adulteration

In an effort to evade potential mislabeling and adulteration of CBD products, developing regulations that focus on product quality, marketing, and labeling is critical. Currently, in the United States, cosmetic items containing CBD ingredients are subject to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act. According to this act, a product is considered misbranded if the product label provides false or misleading information.5,6 This includes counterfeit 100% natural-sourced CBD claims.

To confirm CBD products labeled natural-sourced are indeed biomass-derived, third-party verification of product ingredients is essential. Skincare company This Works demonstrates third-party verification to ensure their CBD ingredients come from biomass sources through the use of isotopic analysis, verifying the ratios of carbon isotopes with the product are representative of modern-day carbon levels.7 This Works views the carbon-14 method as “invaluable as part of a suite of testing and auditing to ensure This Works is using a pure and natural source of CBD within our products.”

Carbon-14 analysis plays a key role in differentiating between plant-derived sources and fossil fuel-based sources. The test is performed based on standards such as ASTM D6866 and ISO 16620-2, which are methods established to determine the biobased content of material using radiocarbon dating. 8,9 Since the carbon-14 isotope is present in all living or recently expired material, any biobased (biomass-derived) source contains a portion of carbon-14 content. Analyzing for the presence of carbon-14 in a CBD product claimed as natural-sourced through accelerator mass spectrometry provides results that either authenticate the use of biobased ingredients or demonstrate ingredient adulteration. Carbon-14 analysis yields results of 0% biobased carbon if a sample is completely fossil fuel-based, 100% biobased carbon if a sample is only biomass-derived, or a percentage in between for samples that are a mixture of biological and fossil fuel sources. 10

This Works conducts carbon-14 testing, along with several other analyses, on both its starting material and finished products, allowing for ingredient transparency throughout the entire process.

Carbon-14 test results have provided This Works with a means to clearly communicate with the end consumer on “content and purity of the CBD within its products, as well as compliance to the relevant legislation in the markets where they are sold.”

Carbon-14 analysis plays a key role in differentiating between plant-derived sources and fossil fuel-based sources.

CBD Industry Outlook

This Works describes its outlook in regards to adulteration of naturallysourced CBD by saying, “As with any industry, the temptation to use cheaper synthetic analogues or adulterants is present.” Through the use of C-14 and other analytical techniques This Works ensures that the CBD material used in their products is pure and biobased.

To combat the threat of potential ingredient adulteration among the CBD industry, “vigilance is required,” states This Works, who further explores the importance of staying “abreast of the latest developments in analytical techniques in order to utilize them, where needed, to deliver on the brand promise of pure and natural CBD across its product ranges.”

As demonstrated by This Works who incorporates the testing of each batch of CBD and finished product to their testing protocol, carbon-14 testing plays a key role in authenticating biobased ingredients and acts as a means to address adulteration challenges.

By Haley Gershon, Marketing Manager, Beta Analytic
This Works


  1. Grand View Research. Cannabidiol Market Size, Share & Trends Report Cannabidiol Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Source Type (Hemp, Marijuana), By Distribution Channel (B2B, B2C), By End Use, By Region, And Segment Forecasts, 2019 – 2025. (2019 Dec). Accessed:
  2. Green, I. How To Spot Fake CBD. Green Market Report. (2019 July 29). Accessed:
  3. Gilmer, Z. INSIGHT: Defenses for CBD Companies Sued for False Labeling, Advertising. Bloomberg Law. (2020 March 9). Accessed:
  4. Everstine, K., Spink, J., Kennedy, S. Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA) of Food: Common Characteristics of EMA Incidents. Journal of Food Protection 1 April 2013; 76 (4): 723–735. doi:
  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Labeling Requirements – Misbranding. (2017 October 27). Accessed:
  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD). (2020 March 11). Accessed: regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd
  7. This Works. This Works CBD Skincare Solutions. (Accessed 2020 June 11). Accessed:
  8. ASTM International. ASTM D6866 – 20, Standard Test Methods for Determining the Biobased Content of Solid, Liquid, and Gaseous Samples Using Radiocarbon Analysis. (2020). Accessed:
  9. International Organization for Standardization. ISO 16620-2:2019 Plastics — Biobased content — Part 2: Determination of biobased carbon content. (2019 Oct). Accessed:
  10. Beta Analytic. Understanding Carbon-14 Analysis. (Accessed 2020 June 11). Accessed:

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