Cannabidiol, or CBD, is all the rage. The non-psychoactive cannabinoid derived from marijuana plants can be found in myriad food, beverage, dietary supplement, and cosmetic products on the shelves of major retailers across the country. Although CBD is no longer considered a controlled substance, the Food and Drug Administration is not pleased.
The FDA has regulated CBD as a drug since its June 2018 approval of the epilepsy medication Epidiolex. This means that CBD cannot legally be added to food and beverage products or dietary supplements without FDA granting an exemption (it is legal, however, to market cosmetics containing CBD). This isn’t stopping smaller food and beverage companies from moving ahead anyway taking advantage of lax enforcement due to broad public support for marijuana legalization across much of the U.S.
Larger food companies and brands (Ben & Jerry’s, Oreo, Heineken, Coca-Cola to name just a few) are proceeding with more caution but nonetheless putting the pressure on FDA to move quickly. The CBD industry fears that FDA will be much too slow to establish a regulatory framework and, if there’s one thing industry dislikes, it’s regulatory uncertainty, especially when you have a product as popular as CBD.
The FDA, though, has been quick to remind industry that it is entrusted with protecting the public from unsafe food and beverage products. And the truth is there are many unanswered questions about the “science, safety and quality” of CBD products. Take a look at CoMeta’s profile of CBD and you’ll see low general causation risk scores for neurological injuries and little else. But, as CBD use accelerates, scientists are just beginning to examine other hypotheses of injury.
The FDA, for example, noted in a recent blog that clinical trials of Epidiolex showed some potential for liver injury; they also expressed concern about how little is known regarding CBD’s effect in utero or on neonates. A peer-reviewed study published in April finds additional evidence for the liver injury hypothesis in mice, although others have noted that the CBD doses in that study are well beyond what one would typically consume in a food or beverage product. The liver injury hypothesis will debut at the end of July in CoMeta and the developmental injury hypothesis is already in place.
Now CBD-infused food and beverages may turn out to be perfectly safe ̶ provided they’re free of pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants; in the meantime, the only real harm may be that consumers are led to believe that CBD has meaningful therapeutic effects, like alleviating pain and anxiety or even treating cancer and Alzheimer’s, without adequate research to demonstrate such. But it’s much too early to conclude that CBD is either safe or effective. California and New York City apparently agree, banning the sale of CBD food and beverage products until FDA can make a determination.
CBD consumption is increasing rapidly and, as with any fast-moving phenomenon, casualty insurers are wise to take a careful look before jumping on the band wagon, especially when the country’s foremost science-based authority on food and beverage safety urges caution.