Does the FDA Regulate CBD?

February 25, 2020

Do you think that the FDA regulates CBD products, safeguarding their safety and ensuring the claims of potency on the label are accurate? If you answered yes to this question, unfortunately, you'd be wrong. But you certainly wouldn't be alone.

Survey

A recent survey by the Grocery Manufacturers Association revealed that nearly three quarters of Americans share this belief, despite the fact that it has no basis in reality. That's right, the FDA does not regulate CBD products meaning companies can put just about anything they want in their products, they can lie about the ingredients, they can mislabel the CBD content, and they can mislead customers about what they are getting with little fear of reprisals.

“We remain concerned that some people wrongly think that the myriad of CBD products on the market, many of which are illegal, have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe," said FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy in a recent FDA press release.

In reality, just about the only thing that can currently get a CBD company in trouble with the FDA is making health claims. While scientific studies are certainly returning extremely promising results that suggest CBD may be helpful for a wide variety of health issues, until CBD has undergone the extensive process of getting approval as a drug, it's illegal to claim it can diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent any disease.

Medical CBD

"Under the FD&C Act, any product intended to treat a disease or otherwise have a therapeutic or medical use, and any product (other than a food) that is intended to affect the structure or function of the body of humans or animals, is a drug," says the FDA.

The FDA recently issued some stern warning letters to 15 CBD companies for violating the FD&C act. Some of these unscrupulous companies were promising cures for cancer, autism, epilepsy and a host of other serious health conditions.

This certainly wasn't the first time the FDA stepped in to push back on these kinds of claims. The FDA has sent a total of 67 such letters since 2015, although some of them are duplicates since the FDA sends a separate letter for each product from a company that is in violation. Given the sheer number of CBD companies cropping up, that number actually seems quite low.

Spelling Failure

As the FDA wryly noted, some of the companies issued warning letters can't even spell “cannabidiol” (that's what CBD stands for!) or “inflammation” right. That's a level of incompetence that verges on the ridiculous. Do you really want a company that doesn't know how to spell out the name of its own product making a something you are going to put in your body?

CBD is the new gold rush and companies are popping up left and right to profit from it. Many of these companies are just in it to make a quick buck and they capitalize on the fact that the FDA currently has little to no oversight.

Gold Rush

In a previous blog post, we covered the large scale scam presented by so-called CBD products being sold on Amazon which, in fact, generally contain zero actual CBD thus ripping customers off in droves. The regulatory vacuum created by the lack of FDA oversight is a magnet for profiteers who plan on capitalizing on the burgeoning market for as long as they can, and, since they don't plan to stick around, they are more than willing to cut corners. As Jonathan Miller, general counsel to the U.S. Hemp Roundtable noted, "The current lack of regulation actually benefits scammers with fake products."

"Currently, the FDA does not regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. So you cannot know for sure that the product you buy has active ingredients at the dose listed on the label. In addition, the product may contain other (unknown) elements," wrote Dr. Peter Grinspoon on the Harvard Health Blog.

Dr. Grinspoon very clearly points out the issues consumers face when trying to select CBD products in the current, unregulated market.

CBD Market

"The FDA has pledged to give consumers the information they need to make smart choices about CBD products — but estimates that it could take up to five years to establish federal CBD regulations. That timeline is unacceptable for a booming market," wrote Geoff Freeman in an op-ed piece for The Hill.

It may be unacceptable, but it's the current reality. The real question is, what can you do in the meantime to protect yourself?

Follow these tips to find the most trust worthy products:

  • Avoid CBD companies that are new to the market. They are more likely to have popped up to take advantage of the booming CBD market and to be only in business to make a quick buck without actually knowing what they are doing or investing in real product research and development.
  • Take a good close look at a company's product packaging, their label, their website, anything you can review to determine how professional and experienced the company is that you are dealing with. If you see any signs of a fly-by-night company that has just thrown together it's product or website with little real thought or research, move on.
  • Only buy CBD products from reputable companies that have been in business for at least five years. They are more likely to care about their products, their brand and their reputation and they generally have a proven track record that you can research for yourself.
  • Make sure that the CBD you purchase comes with lab testing from an independent laboratory proving the CBD content is as stated on the label. One study found that a mere 30% of CBD products on the market were accurately labeled for CBD content and over a quarter of them had no actual CBD in them at all!
  • Make sure that any CBD product that you use lists the manufacturer along with the manufacturer's address right on the bottle. An investigative report from the Associated Press found that "the packaging and labeling (of adulterated products) typically fails to identify the manufacturers of the products." It's pretty easy to understand why.
  • Don't buy CBD from Amazon. Amazon policy prohibits the sale of any product that contains CBD yet the company looks the other way when sellers exploit a loophole that allows them to tag their fake CBD product so it will pop up when you search for CBD on Amazon, leaving customers with the clear impression that they are buying CBD instead of just overpriced hemp oil or worse. Buying CBD from Amazon guarantees you will not be getting real CBD and you will also be dealing with unscrupulous companies to boot.
  • If you can, buy USDA certified organic CBD products. You'll avoid a lot of potential nasties that can wind up in your CBD due to hemp's bioremediation properties and you'll know the company has had its facility, ingredient traceability and handling procedures reviewed by the organic certifier. Just be sure to keep an eye out for fake organic CBD, yet another scam!

CBD Emoji

The Grocery Manufacturers survey also reported another interesting finding. Approximately 23% of the respondents who had purchased CBD products did so because they mistakenly thought they could use them to get high. Unfortunately, that's another myth, although one that's just likely to end in disappointment rather than the giggles or the munchies. As CBD myths go, it's a lot less potentially harmful.



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