„In the 10 hours of testimony, I think the panel was given some good information and some bad information,” said Colleen Keahey Lanier, the executive director of the Hemp Industries Association. „So, it is a risk at this point.”
The hearing Friday was the FDA’s first step in determining how it will regulate CBD — a compound derived from the hemp plant that is being widely marketed and consumed across the country, but is unregulated.
In his opening remarks, acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless expressed doubts about the compound’s safety.
„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.
„While we have seen an explosion of interest in products containing CBD, there is still much that we don’t know. What if someone applies a topical CBD lotion, consumes a CBD beverage or candy and consumes some CBD oil? How much is too much?”
Users and producers claim CBD can cure or ease a huge variety of human ailments, including pain, anxiety, insomnia — some even say it can cure cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, though no studies have borne this out.
After hemp was federally legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, the compound’s popularity exploded in the United States. As farmers rushed to convert their fields to hemp, businesses sprang up almost overnight to meet the booming demand, putting the CBD oil in foods, drinks, capsules and vape pens.
„We see consumers every day for whom it has changed their lives,” said Christian Grantham, the owner of Half Hill Farms, which produces and sells CBD oil in Kentucky.
Grantham’s farm began growing organic hemp and converting the crop to CBD oil in 2014, the year the U.S. Department of Agriculture began allowing states to authorize hemp planting on a trial basis.
„Since then, we have opened four retail stores,” he said. „That is because of CBD.”
If the FDA decides to restrict sale of the compound, he added, „it would really challenge our business. Our farm would not exist as it does today.”
Businesses across the country are in the same position.
Jim Strang, for example, recently used all his savings to move from Florida to Colorado and start a hemp farm. He made the move after seeing CBD oil first relieve his friend’s Agent Orange symptoms and then wake someone from a coma.
„We knew we were onto something big,” he said.
In Kentucky, Laura Freeman converted her farm to grow hemp and then expanded her business to extract and sell the oil. She told UPI in January that any move from the FDA that restricts producers' right to market and sell the oil as a supplement „would be a disaster for the farm community — a disaster.”
But as the market for the compound booms, scientists have urged caution in consuming the oil because they know so little about it.
There have been few studies to verify any of the health claims producers and users make. It’s also unclear to scientists whether or how to safely use the product.
„Right now [CBD products] are marketed and they are not tested under FDA-approved strategies for safety and efficacy,” Elise Weerts, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at John Hopkins University, told the panel. „The public opinion is guiding how we’re treating a number of disorders.”
The FDA-appointed panel will continue to collect comments while it determines how best to regulate the compound.
„I just have hopes about it that the FDA will see that just like herbs there is a benefit to keeping this in the hands of the people,” Grantham said. „This is a naturally occurring compound, after all.”