Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD-infused products have been hitting store shelves across the U.S., with the hemp-derived ingredient now found in everything from food and beverage products to oils and topical creams and even pet snacks. But as these products continue to grow in popularity among consumers, a great deal of confusion persists regarding what companies can and cannot say about the health benefits of CBD (cannabidiol) products.
News of a recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) crackdown on a company's unsubstantiated CBD health claims sent shockwaves through the industry this summer, leaving some manufacturers scrambling to understand how to navigate the “Wild West” of a growing consumer market that sorely lacks guidance and regulation. While the FDA’s action may have startled the “bad actors” of the CBD industry, it was welcome news to responsible manufacturers at the forefront of clamoring for industry regulation for the fast-growing CBD space. It also came as no surprise to anyone who followed the FDA’s first-ever hearing on cannabis products, as the FDA panel aggressively called for evidence when speakers made such health-related claims, ultimately commenting that sufficient data to back up those claims simply does not exist.
By going after unproven health claims with warning letters, FDA is taking the first step in providing guidance on how CBD products should not be marketed to consumers—and where manufacturers should be placing their priorities instead.
Taking the Lead on Quality and Safety
CBD manufacturers have a responsibility to customers to ensure their products are as described on the label, just like any other product maker. FDA’s decision to target CBD claims in particular underscores the need for more clinical trials to be done on the effects of CBD products so manufacturers can ensure they are delivering products to the market that are safe in terms of both quality and dosage.
Unfortunately, reports from around the U.S. show that many CBD products on the market are not what they claim to be. Products are often labeled inaccurately, containing more or less CBD than the label claims. Some include dangerous levels of pesticides, heavy metals, or residual solvents—none of which are part of any balanced diet or nutrition plan. And some even include measurable amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the psychoactive compound in cannabis most consumers aren’t expecting or looking for in their CBD products.
The research to date on CBD is informal and incomplete at best, and this could raise red flags that threaten the future of the CBD industry—not to mention the safety of consumers.
Navigating the Unregulated Market
Simply put, manufacturers and retailers must avoid making claims and instead focus on delivering high-quality products that contain undetectable amounts of THC and are free of pesticides, heavy metals, or anything else consumers would be appalled to find in their bowl of cereal or their cup of coffee. Instead, CBD manufacturers—and the companies that buy hemp-derived ingredients from them—should hang their hat on adopting strict product standards and transparent third-party testing practices to ensure the quality of their products, not on making claims about the diseases and conditions their products can allegedly treat.
Many of us in the industry believe that hemp and hemp-derived products show tremendous promise for helping people suffering from medical conditions, but until more research is available, manufacturers must leave that up to the consumer to decide and avoid making any type of disease-treatment claims. And until that research is available, the hemp industry will continue to welcome help from federal and state government agencies to ensure that high-quality, pure, and transparent products don’t get dragged down by companies just out to make a quick buck.
Josh Epstein is the CEO of Socati Corp., a manufacturer of broad-spectrum hemp extract as ingredients for the food, beverage, and cosmetic industries.