(800) 444-4860 phyto@twinlab.com

What does the FDA meeting mean for the future of CBD?

On Friday May 31st, at a packed hearing that lasted the entire day, officials from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) listened to hundreds of testimonies from scientists, consumers, retailers, marketers and advocates on the impact CBD has on their respective disciplines. 

The purpose of this meeting was to attempt to identify pathways to measure, study, market and sell CBD in the United States. But what actually resulted was nothing but more of the same.

CBD has no rules.

Hundreds of CBD companies are currently marketing CBD products. Many consumers blindly are using them because CBD has helped their friend, their grandmother and even their dog. Even though most consumers don’t know how to read the labels on the back of the products, know how much CBD they are actually taking or even if they are getting any. Because of the lack of direction and a standard pathway forward companies are being forced to disguise the CBD in their products, the industry has become ambiguous to the point of recklessness.

In lieu of this, here are my 4 biggest takeaways from the FDA meeting last Friday: 

1. There is way too much junk in the CBD market 

There were at least 20 different testimonies that referred to the industry as the “wild, wild west.” The current CBD market is inundated with sketchy products that don’t actually contain what their label says it contains. This has created urgency and the need for clear, legal pathways for marketing such products. 

2. Consumers have no way of knowing what’s legitimate 

Even those of us who write about this industry have only a few ways of knowing which brands we trust. We, like so many of the consumers, have no way of truly knowing which brands are legitimate. The first way for a consumer to double check what’s in their bottle of CBD is to check if that brand has COA’s (Certificate of Analysis) available to the public. A COA is a sort of resume that contains all the testing results of that product – this should always be provided from a 3rd party testing facility and not the company that markets the product. This is a great way to know off the bat if the company you’re buying from has accountable testing practices. A QR code on the product label is the fastest route to see these. 

3. Industry and consumers are confusing hemp-derived CBD with marijuana-derived CBD 

Here’s the thing: Hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived extracts are two completely different categories. Part of the problem is that marijuana producers are trying to modify plants to produce more CBD and CBD from marijuana is considered in a different category than CBD from the hemp plant.

There is established clinical studies that have been completed that point to the importance of the endocannabinoid system within the body and the integral and beneficial role that CBD can play interacting with the ECS. However, because hemp was considered legal until the Farm Bill was passed, it’s a “botanical” with no big money behind it and t has not been studied extensively in the USA under the same protocols as prescription pharma drugs. One of the testimonies on Friday was from a scientist who illustrated the irony of her needing federal access and a license to study CBDs in clinical studies despite the fact that her 19-year-old son can waltz into a local store and purchase CBD right off the shelf. By law, this scientist is unable to even touch marijuana CBD out of fear of losing her license. Until the FDA develops pathways for hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD it will be difficult for science to be widely conducted in the USA.

4. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t play well with the FDA 

There are many that understand the power of personal success stories. As stated before, the problem is that many scientists cannot gain access to study CBD on a large scale, so we are left with data that is highly anecdotal and products that have ingredients that can carry the health claims on the labels. There have been thousands of stories about the success that people have seen using this powerful plant cannabinoid, however, the FDA doesn’t change policy based on folk tales. Here’s the double whammy: scientists cannot gain access study it, and the FDA won’t let them because there’s not enough hard data to support moving forward with large scale studies. It’s a catch 22 that many have become alarmed and frustrated by – especially those who work in the CBD industry.

In conclusion, despite the hundreds of different testimonies, it has become apparent to me that the only thing that is clear is the urgent need for legal pathways to explore the different avenues of CBD and other plant cannabinoids.

I am left with more questions than answers: Will we continue to see CBD for sale on the shelves and online? Will scientists get the money and permission to study CBDs and all cannabinoids? Why is CBD hemp legal in Europe? How long will the FDA take to develop these pathways with thousands of businesses and consumers relying on this compound?

Some important clarifications: 

Full-spectrum vs. CBD Isolate 

It’s important to first understand the difference between CBD isolate and the full-spectrum of phytocannabinoids. To clarify, CBD is only one of over a hundred phytocannabinoids (albeit the most prevalent one). Nonetheless, the presence of other phytocannabinoids alongside CBD, results in a greater synergistic activity. People and scientists commonly refer to this as “the Entourage Effect.” In other words, if you’re just using isolated CBD, you’re not getting the benefits of the other phytocannabinoids and no magnifying effect takes place. On the other hand, “full-spectrum” hemp extract provides the full-spectrum of naturally-occurring phytocannabinoids – which includes a defined amount of CBD. 

How and why are companies producing “CBD”? 

Former Commissioner Gottlieb’s choice of words mentioned “added CBD” as the restricted ingredient in dietary supplements or foods. By saying this, he is suggesting that CBD isolate cannot be part of any dietary supplement. However, what about a plant, such as hemp, that contains naturally-occurring phytocannabinoids (of which CBD is one)? Truth be told, there are many different plants that naturally contain phytocannabinoids. Several examples include basil, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, oregano, which you can find at any local supermarket; so clearly, these plants are lawful to sell in foods or dietary supplements. Ultimately, companies looking to sell legal CBD phytocannabinoid products have adopted the position that products containing naturally-occurring phytocannabinoids from sources like hemp are not problematic.