Inhaling the CBD craze. (
The rising popularity of these products — which range from oils and gummies to topical salves and most everything in between — is staggering, especially when one considers that much of the public had never even heard of CBD two or three years ago.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of over 100 distinct compounds found in the marijuana plant. Unlike THC, it is not significantly mood-altering. Instead, many consumers believe the compound helps treat pain, anxiousness, and other ailments.
But Americans’ exuberance for CBD could well be short-lived. That’s because many products currently marketed under the CBD banner are of low or variable quality.
Back in 2017, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that only 31 percent of commercially available CBD products contained percentages of cannabidiol that accurately reflected the products’ labeling. Since then, little has changed.
An October 2019 analysis of 30 leading CBD products by the watchdog group LegitScript.com reported that two-thirds possessed significant deviations in CBD content from what was advertised. Typically, these products contained far lower percentages of CBD than the manufacturer promised — a finding that is woefully consistent with prior analyses.
Investigators also reported that some of the products evaluated in the LegitScript analysis tested positive for either solvent residue or elevated levels of heavy metals — findings that are also similar to those of prior reports.
Other analyses have identified even more problematic issues. Some CBD products, for instance, have tested positive for the presence of THC, the primary psychoactive constituent in cannabis, despite being advertised as “THC-free” — an oversight that could cost customers their jobs if they fail a drug test they expected to pass.
Most concerning, some CBD products have tested positive for added psychotropic adulterants — such as dextromethorphan or synthetic cannabinoid agonists. Exposure to these latter agents, typically found in illicit so-called “synthetic marijuana” products like Spice, can lead to serious health consequences.
All this is rapidly creating a “buyer beware” environment for consumers — and potentially placing them at risk.
This situation persists because the federal government — and the Food and Drug Administration in particular — doesn’t regulate either the manufacturing or testing of these products. Despite the presumption of most Americans, the commercial CBD market is entirely unregulated by the FDA.
This is because, until recently, federal law defined all cannabis-derived products as illicit. Now, the FDA and other agencies are playing catch up, with the federal regulators estimating it could take years before the FDA finalizes rules governing the commercial CBD market.
This intransigence is