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Maybe you know of cannabidiol (CBD) as the tamer little sister of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both compounds are found in the cannabis plant, but CBD is federally legal and won’t get you high. That means you can buy products containing CBD just about anywhere. But should you?

CBD products are marketed to relieve almost every ailment, from pain to stress. There is research supporting its use to treat epilepsy and its potential to help with a number of other conditions, but the studies are mostly preliminary.

With so much optimism and interest in the therapeutic effects of CBD, many retailers are jumping to add their products to the market. But not all CBD lotions and potions are created equal. It’s important to do your research and get the highest-quality products you can find from a trusted source.

Here’s our review of California-based CBD brand Papa & Barkley, founded by Adam Grossman in 2014. The company is named for Grossman’s dad and pup, as if that isn’t just the cutest.

CBD glossary

Here’s your cheat sheet for interpreting all that lingo swirling around the CBD business:

  • Cannabinoid is the umbrella term for more than 100 compounds found in cannabis plants. CBD and THC are just two of those compounds.
  • Isolate refers to products that contain only the compound CBD.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD products contain all the cannabinoids in cannabis except THC.
  • Full-spectrum products contain all the cannabinoids, including up to 0.3 percent THC (the maximum amount of THC allowed by federal law in the United States).
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Papa & Barkley has positioned itself as a “caretaker” brand, with its origins in Grossman’s effort to concoct a CBD product that would relieve his father’s debilitating back pain. The company was founded in 2014, so it’s an OG in the relatively young legal market for CBD-containing products.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate CBD products like prescription medications, it will issue a letter of warning to companies that use misleading claims to sell products that don’t contain the stated level of CBD. Papa & Barkley has never received one of these warning letters.

Papa & Barkley is transparent about its process and the quality of its products. In fact, the company positions quality as one of its top selling points. The company’s process is illustrated on its website:

  1. Source organically grown cannabis plants.
  2. Test the plants for pesticides and heavy metals.
  3. Soak the plants in oil.
  4. Press the infused oil.
  5. Test again.
  6. Blend with other ingredients.
  7. Test a third time.
  8. Package.
  9. Certify the product to show analysis of its purity and quality.

Keeping up with manufacturing standards

All drug manufacturers, including CBD companies, are required to follow the FDA’s current good manufacturing practices (CGMPs). CGMPs set minimum standards for methods, facilities, processing, and packing of products like CBD. They’re meant to ensure the safety and accurate content of drug products.

Manufacturers also have the option to have their CGMP adherence certified by a third party. Papa & Barkley does not appear to be currently CGMP certified.

Testing you can trust

Papa & Barkley products are tested by CannaSafe, an ISO 17025-certified third-party laboratory. Each product page on the website has a link to its CannaSafe analysis.

Papa & Barkley products are tested for:

  • pesticides
  • residual solvents
  • heavy metals
  • microbials
  • mycotoxins (molds)
  • foreign matter

The analysis also provides the amount of individual cannabinoids (like CBD and THC) and terpenes in each product.

Papa & Barkley makes full-spectrum CBD products in four categories:

Product prices range from $30 to $80. The company offers a subscription service for a 10 percent discount, and you get to choose how often you want the product delivered.

Looking for a satisfaction guarantee? Papa & Barkley will refund your money within 30 days of purchase if you’re not satisfied.

But it seems that customers are overwhelmingly satisfied. Papa & Barkley has more than 1,100 reviews on Trustpilot, with an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. Many reviewers praise the customer service and mention pain relief from using the topical products.

Papa & Barkley has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and has not received any complaints.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $40
  • $$ = over $40

Releaf Body Oil

Price$
CBD typefull-spectrum
CBD potency400 mg per 60-mL bottle

Use this as a massage oil on any part of your body. It contains cannabis grown in Colorado, MCT oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E oil (which is good for your skin too!), and these essential oils: eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, and lavender. Reviewers give it 4.9 out of 5 stars.

Buy Releaf Body Oil online.

Releaf Drops

Price$
CBD typefull-spectrum
CBD potency450 mg per 30-mL bottle or 900 mg per 60-mL bottle

Made from hemp extract and coconut oil, Releaf Drops come in two flavors: natural and lemongrass ginger. They’re intended to be used daily for stress relief and relaxation. The dropper is marked so you can find your ideal dose without guessing. Drops are usually taken under the tongue for the fastest relief.

Buy Hemp Releaf Drops online.

Releaf Balm

Price$–$$
CBD typefull-spectrum
CBD potency180 mg per 15-mL jar or 600 mg per 50-mL jar

This balm contains hemp extract, coconut oil, beeswax, vitamin E oil, terpenes, and an essential oil blend of eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, and lavender. Papa & Barkley says this product is good for tension, headaches, cramps, muscle soreness, and aches. More than 300 reviewers give the balm 5 stars on the Papa & Barkley website.

Buy Releaf Balm online.

Releaf Capsules

Price$$
CBD typefull-spectrum
CBD potency30 mg per capsule

These capsules, intended to help with sleep and relaxation, contain only coconut oil and hemp extract. Be careful if you take them during the daytime, because you might get really sleepy!

Buy Releaf Capsules online.

Releaf Repair Cream

Price$$
CBD typefull-spectrum
CBD potency450 mg per 30-mL bottle

Releaf Repair Cream is a face and neck moisturizer that Papa & Barkley says is good for all skin types. It contains many more tongue-twisting ingredients than the company’s other simply formulated products, including squalane, ethylhexyl palmitate, glyceryl stearate, glyceryl glucoside, cetearyl olivate, and benzyl alcohol.

Latin names of botanical ingredients make the list confusing, but we’ve interpreted a few for you: apple extract, jojoba, oat bran extract, orange peel oil, rice bran, sunflower extract, jasmine oil, tuberose, and rosemary extract.

Buy Releaf Repair Cream online.

Releaf Body Lotion

Price$$
CBD typefull-spectrum
CBD potency750 mg per 75-mL tube

For use all over, Releaf Body Lotion contains hemp rosin and the moisturizing ingredients jojoba oil, shea butter, and mango seed oil. It has a citrus scent. Papa & Barkley says that, in addition to moisturizing, it can soothe minor skin irritation and relieve aches.

Like the Repair Cream, this lotion contains a number of botanical ingredients.

Buy Releaf Body Lotion online.

Choosing a CBD product starts with the question of what kind of relief you need. If you’re looking to reduce stress or sleep better, a product taken orally (drops or capsules) is your best bet. To treat pain, an externally applied product (oil, cream, balm, or lotion) may provide the most relief.

Always follow package instructions. But here are some general guidelines for use of different CBD-containing formulations:

  • Drops: Allow to absorb under your tongue for the fastest effect. Drops can also be added to drinks or swallowed straight but will take longer to work that way.
  • Capsules: Swallow with water as directed. Be careful taking them in the daytime, because they may cause sleepiness.
  • Balm: Apply a small amount to the painful area.
  • Lotion, cream, or oil: Apply locally to painful body parts or all over your body as directed. Rub in until fully absorbed.

Check your labels carefully for dosage, and increase the amount you use slowly.

According to the World Health Organization, CBD is low toxicity and has low potential for abuse. CBD is generally considered safe, but people do sometimes experience side effects.

The most common side effects are sleepiness and diarrhea. Some people taking the CBD-based epilepsy drug Epidiolex have experienced liver problems.

While people on Epidiolex are medically monitored for complications, taking CBD products on your own can be a little more risky. According to a 2017 analysis of 84 CBD products, 26 percent contained substantially less CBD than the label claimed, and almost 43 percent contained significantly more CBD than the label indicated.

It’s also worth noting that what you take CBD with could impact its potency. In a 2020 study, researchers found that taking CBD with a high fat/high calorie meal, whole milk, or alcohol increased exposure to CBD compared with taking it on an empty stomach.

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you try CBD products, especially if you take prescription medications that could interact with CBD.

The market for products containing CBD is kinda like the Wild West right now. Many companies are trying to strike gold with their formulations, and it’s worth it to do your research to find a manufacturer that’s established and up-front about its manufacturing processes and ingredients.

Papa & Barkley has been around since 2014 and has earned the respect of many satisfied customers with its small line of simple products to treat pain and stress.