Trying CBD Oil, Gummies, or More?
Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Americans have been able to legally purchase hemp-based cannabidiol (CBD) products in all 50 states (given they contain less than 0.3% THC, the chemical compound that causes a “high”). Now, at least one-third of U.S. adults have tried CBD products, and many use them regularly to help relieve conditions like anxiety, chronic pain, and insomnia.
Thanks to the burgeoning interest in CBD, a wide variety of products have been introduced to the market, from CBD capsules and gummies to CBD lotions and topical sprays. While many of these products are made with quality in mind, it appears that an equal number of CBD products (if not the majority of them) are of doubtful safety and efficacy.
The reality is that some players in the cannabis industry have been known to market questionable products. Some such products have not undergone testing. Others do not exhibit their labeled effects. Others still may even contain harmful substances, like heavy metals and pesticides.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) offers Americans one of the safest and most rigorous approval processes for medications. However, the FDA has not yet approved any over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products for consumers. Without this strict FDA oversight, the job of determining the safety and efficacy of CBD products is often left up to you—the consumer. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to distinguish safe, effective CBD products from risky imitations.
There are many factors that go into determining whether a CBD product is safe to use. Here, we’ll take a look at the 4 most important things the conscientious CBD consumer should look for when purchasing CBD products.
A certificate of analysis (“C of A”) is a legal document signed by an authorized product tester. It describes the specifications for a particular product, as well as the unique testing methods applied to it. In the case of CBD products, a C of A indicates that what’s listed on the label (in terms of CBD/THC content and purity) is accurate.
The FDA has pulled many CBD products off the market because the claims their manufacturers or distributors made on their labels could not be verified. Trustworthy CBD products should be lab-tested and undergo rigorous testing for purity and content uniformity.
The FDA enforces Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations. These regulations require food and drug manufacturers, processors, and packagers to ensure consistent quality and safe, pure, and effective products. GMP regulations apply to all CBD products—whether ingested, inhaled, or applied topically. Failure to comply with GMP could lead to recalls, product seizures, fines, and even jail time for offenders. In fact, the FDA has shut down entire factories and companies for GMP infractions.
Unfortunately, since the cannabis and hemp industry is still partly unregulated (and what regulations do exist vary from state to state), many cannabis products are not produced under GMP conditions. The good news is that the FDA is starting to prosecute GMP infractions more seriously. In March 2021, for instance, the FDA issued warning letters to two cannabis companies for mislabeling their products.
Notably, the FDA has yet to approve any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs containing CBD. No such product currently meets their stringent requirements to be legally marketed.
The FDA also requires that any substance added as an additive to an OTC product (such as the CBD in capsules) be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). This designation is subject to pre-market review and approval by the FDA. Additives that the FDA applies the GRAS label to must undergo extensive toxicology testing.
As with GMP production requirements, most cannabis companies have gotten away with marketing products containing CBD or THC as “safe” and “effective” without any FDA review or approval. Medical-grade GRAS CBD products will have undergone clinical trials and human testing.
Currently, only topical CBD products are available at national pharmacy chains. Oral CBD products can only be bought at dispensaries, regional supermarkets, or online.
So, when it comes to buying safe CBD products, your best bet is to do your own research using these factors along with availability as a guideline. Some local and online stores also offer products with a searchable history of clinical testing and approval. The most responsible and reputable sellers have products that meet common safety standards (and have the documentation to prove it).
Much of the CBD industry is still navigating uncharted territory. In this “Wild West” of CBD products, it often falls on the buyer to check whether a particular product is safe and effective.
Informed shopping is smart shopping—this applies to all industries, including the cannabis industry. Although it may seem like a challenge, knowing what to look for when shopping for CBD products (Certificates of Analysis, Good Manufacturing Practices, product safety information, and the purchase location) can help you make the best possible decision.