Buyer beware: CBD products could be this century’s snake oil
Drive to Wynwood to indulge in CBD-infused cold brew that will take away your anxiety. Head to the Plantation farmer’s market and snap up CBD-infused honey to cure your trouble sleeping. Take a trip to a med spa in Boca Raton and pick up a CBD-infused topical cream for your shoulder pain.
South Florida has become flooded with CBD products for sale, luring buyers with promises of pain relief and medicinal aid. The buzz about CBD has been fueled by celebrities including Huntington Woods native Kristin Bell, Emma Roberts and Jennifer Aniston, who have said the CBD oils, salves and tonics relieve their sore muscles, soothe their aches, and alleviate social anxiety.
Even the Kroger Co. and a number of retailers in Michigan and nationwide are introducing topical products such as lotions, oils, creams and balms laced with CBD to its shelves.
Even with all the endorsements, though, consumers have no real knowledge of the validity of the claims of CBD’s healing powers. Some labs report that dangerous and deceptive ingredients are showing up in CDB products. The industry’s lack of regulation and transparency has opened the door for serious concerns:
- Product labels are inaccurate or misleading.
- Products contain other additives that alter your mood.
- Metals, pesticides, bacteria and solvents from cannabis plants are surfacing in products.
- Concentrations of CBD are lower than advertised.
- Many products for sale remain untested.
Nationally, there is no requirement yet that CBD products contain the ingredients manufacturers say they do, or the healing power suggested in their marketing brochures. For now, the medical science isn’t there to definitively back up the touted health and therapeutic benefits of CBD products.
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound from the cannabis plant. It is used in products like oils and edibles to provide feeling of calm, but CBD is the non-psychoactive portion of the plant and won’t give you a high.
Lack of research has sparked questions such as “How much CBD is safe to consume in a day?” and “How might CBD interact with other drugs a person might be taking?”
Renee Proffetta of Boca Raton, a proponent and user of CBD products, sees the risks. She says the CBD oils and vape help alleviate her anxiety and mood swings, improve sleep issues and allow her to cut back on pharmaceuticals. But consistency is her big concern. At times, when she has replenished her supply, the product seemed different, even from the same dispensary.
“You might not get the same effect with every batch, but you know when something isn’t right,” she said.
Should the federal government step in?
On May 31, the Food and Drug Administration held the first-of-its-kind hearing on CBD to determine if or how to regulate the industry to ensure products are safe and health claims have data to back them up. The lineup of 110 speakers included representatives of companies with a lot of money at stake, as well as researchers, scientists and organizations charged with protecting public health.
With billions at stake in how the FDA decides to regulate the compound, exactly how long the agency will need to figure it out remains unclear. The FDA will continue to accept public comments through July 2, 2019.
In the meantime, buyer beware.
“Companies aren’t following testing protocol, and some are disingenuous about what is in their product,” said Derek Thomas, vice president of business development for Veritas Farms, a Fort Lauderdale company that operates a 140-acre hemp farm and processing facilities in Colorado. “Sometimes there is less cannabinoid and sometimes more. Sometimes there are other additives like Viagra, THC, or pain-killer compounds. This is one area where there needs to be tight regulations.”
Both hemp and marijuana are sources for CBD-rich cannabis oils. Legally, Floridians need a medical marijuana card to buy marijuana CBD oils and products. However, because hemp has less than 0.3% THC – the psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the high sensation – the state does not consider it marijuana under Florida law and CBD products with it are legal.
Legal, however, does not mean regulated, standardized, safe – or even effective.
Florida will need to figure it out, too
In Florida, the industry is poised to become a booming source of growth for the economy. A bill approved by the state Legislature recently gave Florida growers the green light to create hemp programs beyond the university research setting. More hemp growing will lead to more CBD-infused wellness products. Florida, in turn, will need to get a regulatory handle on the industry. That oversight, and enforcement, could take a while, though.
With no regulation, some lab operators say they are finding odd ingredients – and lots of inconsistency.
Chris Martinez, who operates Evio Labs, an industry-accredited cannabis testing laboratory in Davie, has observed the ways in which companies are taking advantage of the absence of regulations. His lab tests CBD products for pesticides, bacteria, metal, solvents and potency (the levels of cannabis). Martinez said not all labs have the same machinery and the ability to detect smaller levels of substances.
“Some labs will run a test and show not an element is not detected, but their instrument can’t go deep into the product and the consumer doesn’t know,” Martinez said.
Martinez said while testing products he has seen results that illustrate how haphazard the industry is at this time. “We might test five bottles from a manufacturer and one has two and one has one, and one has none at all. There is no consistency in products,” he said.
Martinez said some products have substances made in China that have high levels of metals, and some have ingredients to simulate CBD. “They will put melatonin in so you will feel relaxed and think the CBD is taking effect,” he said.
When products test unsafe for consumers, Martinez said he talks with the manufacturer to try to remedy the formulation. “Ultimately that’s why we got into the business – to create a standard of safety – but legally there is nothing I can do to stop them from selling their product.”
Consumers want CBD
In Boca Raton, Alec Vindas greets a steady stream of customers who wander into Health Synergy, a CBD hemp oil dispensary that carries its own brand of products, including capsules, oils, gummies and salves.
Many patrons are seniors with anxiety, sleeping issues or aches and pains from inflammation or arthritis. They are looking for relief and have heard of CBD’s medicinal benefits. Vindas and his co-workers assess the customer’s ailment. “We make recommendations based on the condition. Different conditions require different methods of intake.”
While Health Synergy products say they are derived from organically sourced hemp plants, the ingredient lists are vague and the website offers this disclosure: “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to replace the recommendations of medical practitioners. The products sold on this website are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
Still, Sherae Duncan, a 55-year-old in West Florida, says CBD oil has been the solution to her extreme pain after dozens of surgeries resulting from a car accident. “I was on 20 pharmaceuticals and now I am on none,” she said.
Duncan said the oils that she drops under her tongue not only provide pain relief, but also help with her cognitive function. She now speaks publicly about the benefits of CBD and belongs to the CBD oil users Facebook group. But she says she only buys online directly from manufacturers who can provide third-party lab tests to ensure quality.
Like Duncan, Andrew Felix of Boca Raton said he also uses CBD products to treat pain. His stems from a blood disorder.
“I take it two or three times a day so I don’t feel the pain,” he said. After his positive experience, he convinced his grandfather to use CBD lotion for his arthritis. Felix said he will only buy the CBD products from doctors’ offices. “I will not use CBD that isn’t third-party tested,” he said.
Along with local testimonials, high-profile celebrities are bringing attention to this wellness trend. Athletes like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson chewed CBD gum at the Masters to calm their nerves. A-listers including Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, and Kim Kardashian are some of CBDs biggest proponents, openly revealing they use bath tonics, lotions and gummies to alleviate pain or anxiety.
The hype is triggering new opportunities. From candies to cosmetics to pet products, CBD is expanding to new product categories. For example, Ben & Jerry’s just announced its plan to launch a CBD-infused ice cream once CBD is legal at the federal level to add to food and beverages. The maker of Oreo cookies has expressed interest, too. Although Congress legalized the sale of CBD-infused topical products, like creams and ointments, it still prohibits CBD in anything that can be ingested.
Some states are beginning to put rules in place to help consumers better understand what’s in CBD products and how to use them. Indiana, for example, now mandates that manufacturers label CBD products with QR codes that can be scanned to show whether they contain acceptable levels of THC, CBD, pesticides and other compounds. Florida does not require labeling with a QR code at this time.
Veritas, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, considers itself one of the quality players in the industry. It sells in multiple states and puts a QR code on all products. The company operates its hemp growing and manufacturing facility in Colorado, but sees opportunity in Florida, which it calls “a huge health and wellness market and the perfect state for this industry to gravitate.”
Veritas sells many of its 50 CBD products in Florida through chiropractors, small retailers and grocers, as well as online and in CVS stores outside the state. The company is developing a skin care line, pet goods and wellness items for medical practitioners. “Ultimately our long term goal is to be the best and most trusted provider of full spectrum hemp oil products,” Thomas said.
As Veritas rolls out products nationally, Thomas said he wants FDA guidance. “This should be something that has federal oversight. Customers need to know the benefit or harm. Products should be correctly labeled, consistent and include dosage.”
The FDA knows it needs to do something
Government agencies acknowledge it may take time to figure out how to regulate an industry evolving so quickly. At the FDA hearing, acting commissioner Ned Sharpless said the FDA is aware that some companies appear to be marketing products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds in ways that violate the law.
“There are real risks associated with (THC and CBD) and critical questions remain about the safety of their widespread use in foods and dietary supplements,” Sharpless said at the May 31 hearing. “While we have seen an explosion of interest in products containing CBD, there is still much that we don’t know.”
In Florida, Bell will hold public hearings in the next few months seeking input on what should be included in the state’s guidelines for growing, manufacturing, testing and selling hemp products.
“I don’t underestimate that creating the rules and enforcing them is a big task,” she said. “We are up for the task.”
The Detroit News contributed.