Buyer beware: False medical claims about CBD and COVID-19
As we all continue to navigate this challenging “new normal” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers need accurate information about effective precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
No proven treatments exist yet for COVID-19, nor is there a vaccine. That is why social distancing and good hygiene practices are so important to prevent the spread of the virus.
Across the United States, people are rising to the challenge, but a cynical minority has seized on the crisis to promote unscrupulous, and frankly dangerous, marketing claims about CBD products conferring immunity against the coronavirus and providing relief for those infected.
These false claims touting unproven medical benefits are nothing more than craven attempts to take advantage of fearful consumers. Moreover, it spreads misinformation among consumers anxiously seeking ways to stay safe and healthy amidst the coronavirus crisis.
A CBD store in Portland, Oregon was ordered by the office of the state’s attorney general to remove signs claiming that its products could boost immunity against COVID-19. Last month, New York’s attorney general ordered a company to immediately cease and desist the marketing of their product as a means of curing the coronavirus.
There have been numerous reports of a fabricated news story promoting CBD oil as a treatment for the virus that was shared across the country through texts and social media, pointing unsuspecting consumers to a CBD sales site. Former All-Pro NFL offensive lineman, Kyle Turley, was promoting CBD products in the fight against COVID-19. Turley received warnings from the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission, and since then, these false claims have — thankfully — stopped.
During this time of heightened attention on wellness and prevention, consumers must be aware that CBD products have not been tested or evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Recent studies have also found potential harmful side effects from consuming cannabis products with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) if a patient is infected with COVID-19. Studies have shown that many unregulated CBD products have been found to contain THC — the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana — though the labels may not disclose this.
Unregulated, untested CBD products present an increasing threat to public health. Consumers risk illness, exposure to THC and contaminants including lead, arsenic, pesticides and toxic mold. The vast majority of CBD on the shelves today fail to meet even the most basic safety and efficacy standards. CBD carries potential risks, including liver toxicity, fatigue and harmful interaction with other drugs. Not one scintilla of credible scientific evidence indicates that CBD products prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Consumers need to know these facts.
A recent report from the FDA to Congress underscores many of the warnings expressed by Consumers for Safe CBD and the Consumer Federation of America. While the FDA report is a step in the right direction, coupled with the agency’s warning letters to companies illegally selling various products containing cannabidiol and updates on a variety of safety concerns, much more work remains to protect consumers.
Consumers deserve the gold standard protection that the FDA has provided for decades. We want and need access to sound, reliable information about CBD. Today more than ever, the FDA must stop bad actors from making false medical claims and encourage the further testing of CBD.
In these uncertain times, we urge consumers to take precautions and follow CDC guidelines, practice social distancing and avoid untested, unregulated products. As we collectively adjust to the realities of this global pandemic, we must increase efforts to protect consumer health and safety.
Sally Greenberg is the executive director of the National Consumers League. Thomas Gremillion is the director of Food Policy for the Consumer Federation of America.