In April 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant became the site of the worst nuclear accident in human history. Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 exploded, releasing a minimum five percent of the radioactive core into the atmosphere. In all, 30 deaths were directly attributed to the disaster and much of the area around the Ukrainian plant was deemed uninhabitable.

A few years later, a Russian team of scientists had an idea to plant hemp as a means of cleaning the contaminated fields near the power plant. What they found, and what has since been replicated in environmental hot spots across Europe, was that the hemp provided excellent phytoremediation properties. Put another way, it sucked the contaminants out of the soil and held onto them, not unlike a sponge soaks up surrounding liquids.

The plant’s remarkable capacity is good news for environmental cleanup to be sure. But it also underscores a serious issue when it comes to products derived from hemp if proper testing and growing protocols are not in place.

“The cannabis plant is an accumulator,” said Jason Martin, CEO of Little Rock-based Tree of Life Seeds. “Anything that’s in the soil or anything that it’s fed, whether it’s a nutrient line, a pesticide or something already in the soil, the plant is going to draw that out.”

The potentially damaging ramifications for CBD products are obvious, a literal representation of the legal term “fruit of the poison tree.” Martin is quick to point out that while most farmers wouldn’t intentionally expose their hemp crop to dangerous substances, many are unaware of their soil makeup and therefore what’s making its way into the plant.

“You can go get a license to grow hemp in the Delta,” he said. “If you follow most other crops grown there, you’re going to find you have toxins in the soil.”

Martin said his company maintains strict testing protocols and growing guidelines for its suppliers, the only manner in which the purity of the CBD oil being harvested can be ascertained. Unfortunately, not all manufacturers are willing to take on such cost and workload. And in the case of foreign-grown hemp, a large portion of which comes from China, such safety protocols are difficult if not impossible to enforce.

“I would not say that everything that comes in from China is bad, but I would definitely say that as a consumer and going back to consumer safety and consumer protection, they’re one of the most polluted countries in the world,” Martin said.

Of course, most of this is lost on the American consumer who is used to the protections of the FDA and other governmental watchdogs when it comes to most products. Very few understand how little oversight is given to CBD products, Martin said.

“You go buy a product and it’s sitting on a retailer’s shelf and you think, ‘Man, the retailer surely did their homework. They wouldn’t be putting a product on their shelf that would possibly be bad for me,’” he said. “The fact is, if the manufacturer hasn’t had the product tested by a U.S.-certified, third-party laboratory, the retailer has no idea what’s in that product either.”

“It goes back to the manufacturer. It goes back to the morals and ethics of that company to make sure, as we have, that they’ve done soil samples everywhere and that the end product is completely free of any pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, pollutants or contaminants from its soil. I hate to say it about the industry, but there are way more questionable products on the shelves than there are great products.”

So what’s the consumer to do? Dig in and do your research before you buy. Ask manufacturers to explain their protocols for testing their products and whether they retain an independent, third-party lab for certifying purity. Look for products derived from American-grown hemp – while it’s not an iron-clad guarantee of quality, the odds are more in your favor that at least some safeguards have been put in place.

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