At-risk and unaware, consumers need CBD regulation
Cannabidiol — known and CBD — has gone mainstream. You can find it for sale anywhere from gas stations to grocery stores to farmers markets across the country, rocketing ahead of scientific research, regulatory oversight and consumer knowledge.
New research from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (where I am president and CEO) reveals that four-in-ten Americans who have heard of CBD believe it’s another name for marijuana. More than half (51 percent) think it can get you high. Seventy-six percent assume CBD is regulated at the federal level, including 53 percent who rest easy thinking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees CBD’s safe use and marketing.
They’re wrong on all counts.
Addressing widespread consumer confusion is one major reason why the FDA needs to move quickly to create a smart, uniform set of guidelines to regulate CBD. There are several others, including an alarming lack of science-backed research and reliable product safety information and testing.
Without regulatory oversight and little confirmable information, consumers are confronted with a Wild West-style CBD market, featuring over 1,000 CBD products that promise a dizzying array of unsupported claims.
The FDA warns that “misleading and false claims” used to market CBD products “may lead consumers to put off getting important medical care.” CBD products are being marketed as treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, among other diseases, and consumers are literally buying the hype. While most are using CBD for stress relief, pain management or as a sleep aid, 21 percent report using CBD to alleviate cancer symptoms or treat the effects of a neurological disorder.
Just last month, the Federal Trade Commission warned one CBD company for claiming its products were a “proven” treatment for autism, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s and AIDS. Warning letters are fine, but more aggressive oversight from the FDA is needed to help consumers separate legitimate products from huckster miracle cures.
For example, federal law prohibits companies from marketing CBD in food and beverages in interstate commerce. Yet CBD-infused gummies are being hyped as one of the “most powerful and versatile natural remedies in existence” featuring “truly miraculous” benefits and available in peach, apple, blue raspberry and watermelon.
Beyond fun flavors and wellness buzzwords, products like these gummies lack not only rigorous scientific data to back up the claims, but federal regulations to ensure efficacy and safety.
Writing on the Harvard Medical School blog, Dr. Peter Grinspoon warned that “without sufficient high-quality evidence in human studies we can’t pinpoint effective doses, and because CBD is currently mostly available as an unregulated supplement, it’s difficult to know exactly what you are getting.”
In the absence of federal regulation, states are stepping in, but that is adding to the confusion. Right now, 137 state bills are under consideration for regulating CBD products and hemp derivatives alone. As bills get passed, the result is a patchwork regulatory framework that leaves consumers uncertain and unsettled. Besides, public safety shouldn’t stop at state lines.
Our research indicates Americans want the federal government to help clear up the confusion. Nearly eight-in-ten Americans said CBD should be regulated at the federal level or federally in concert with the states.
That’s a clear call to urgent action — one that has echoed on Capitol Hill.
In mid-September, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) added language to an appropriations bill calling on the FDA to establish interim rules on CBD within 120 days. A bipartisan group of more than two dozen House members have issued a similar call.
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. Effective, uniform regulation will not only inform consumers, it will allow America’s most trusted brands into the CBD market — if they so choose — creating another layer of consumer confidence.
Given CBD’s explosive growth, the FDA needs to move faster. Consumers deserve federal regulation that moves at the same pace as the rapidly expanding CBD market.
Geoff Freeman is president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.