Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, may be the wonder drug that its users and advocates hope and claim it to be, offering relief for everything from anxiety and arthritis to Parkinson’s disease and other chronic health problems. But right now too little is known about its effectiveness, side effects and interactions with prescribed drugs. Federal regulators need to move quickly to remedy that lack of knowledge, both for the sake of consumers and for a booming new industry.
CBD is a naturally occurring, non-psychoactive compound extracted from hemp and marijuana. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp, spurred rapid growth in the industry but didn’t provide a clear framework for overseeing the manufacture and marketing of CBD products. It’s legal in Oregon and other states that have approved the sale and use of recreational or medical marijuana. The remaining states have adopted a confusing patchwork of regulations guiding its availability.
This summer, the Food and Drug Administration held a hearing and solicited public comments on how to best regulate CBD products. Although it’s staked out regulatory authority over CBD, the FDA has done little beyond issue warnings to companies that make unproven therapeutic claims, such as cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. So far, the FDA has approved only one CBD-derived prescription drug, Epidiolex, for use by children with rare forms of epilepsy.
Full regulation of CBD oil and its various products could take years to develop, but greater oversight is needed sooner than that. CBD is already a billion-dollar industry, and some experts expect it to reach $22 billion in just three years. Major corporations such as Coca-Cola are poised to introduce CBD products if and when the federal government approves using the extract in food.
As The Register-Guard recently reported, CBD can be found in a variety of products in the Eugene area and throughout Oregon, including CBD-infused drinks, baked goods, snacks, gummies and tinctures.
In Oregon, CBD products sold through dispensaries are tested for potency and pesticides. Those sold at gas stations and other venues, however, are not.
“A lot of it is snake oil,” says Sean Beeman, owner of Eugene-based Genesis Pharms, a grower of cannabis and manufacturer of CBD products. He and many others in the industry welcome scrutiny from regulators so that customers can find safe, reliable products.
“There should be required testing of pesticides, additives, potency, heavy metals for all CBD products,” Emma Chasen, a Portland-based cannabis educator and industry consultant, told The Register-Guard. “The analytical testing laboratories should be required to receive federal accreditation with universal operating procedures.”
In concert with FDA oversight, the federal government should fund more scientific research of CBD and other marijuana and hemp compounds. Several studies point to genuine therapeutic benefits, but more work, including clinical trials, is needed. In 2017, the National Institutes of Health supported 300 pot-related research projects, including $15 million on CBD.
Federal regulators need to clear the way for more universities to engage in that research. Only one school, the University of Mississippi, has received federal authorization to study the potential medical benefits of marijuana. Other universities and companies have expressed interest in research partnerships but say they’ve yet to get approval.
Continued uncertainty over CBD’s safety and benefits could seriously damage the industry long term. Consider the recent trouble — unrelated to CBD products — encountered by the vaping industry following several fatalities and hundreds of consumers falling ill with a severe lung illness. Investigators think there may be a link to a chemical called vitamin E acetate in some products containing THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. Oregon officials have asked dispensaries to review their products.
The products aren’t the same, but they do have one thing in common — a lack of clarity about and consistency in content. The FDA needs to move swiftly to ensure that all CBD products undergo, at a minimum, the same level of scrutiny that they do at Oregon dispensaries and that the information is readily available online. The risk is too high to CBD users and makers to roll out regulations slowly.
In the meantime, CBD users would be wise to research the source of what they buy and ask questions about the content and quality of products before they consume them. Local sellers are eager to provide their bona fides. So should any seller, anywhere.