Growing national concern over the safety of unregulated CBD is prompting state health officials to target retailers selling products appealing to children and marketed for vaping.
Health Director Bruce Anderson said the state is going to be more aggressive in removing those CBD products, which are not tested for purity or potency and could contain dangerous contaminants.
“CBD seems to be available almost everywhere. We are very concerned about the safety of CBD products on the market. The entire industry has grown exponentially in a very short amount of time,” Anderson told lawmakers at a legislative briefing Thursday focusing on improving the safety of cannabis and CBD, a popular derivative currently banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in food, drinks and dietary supplements. “We’re going to be looking at products that are targeted towards kids, like gummy bears and candies that are shaped like animals, and of course any vaping products that has CBD, given the history of illness associated with that.”
The DOH earlier this week announced it is investigating Hawaii’s first suspected case of severe respiratory illness related to vaping following the hospitalization of a Hawaii island youth for a “serious lung injury.” More than 450 cases of severe lung injuries, including at least six deaths — many related to illicit cannabinoid products, such as THC — have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unlike Hawaii’s highly regulated medical pot industry, there is no oversight of CBD. The Health Department recently warned that it is illegal to sell CBD here except in the dozen cannabis dispensaries statewide. The DOH cautioned the public and retailers that untested CBD products have potential health risks and are not considered safe. The department also visited 110 establishments this summer to warn them about the risks of the drug, often marketed in health and wellness products.
“Every state struggles with this issue. Some have swept shelves and tried to get it off the shelves; others are basically hoping the problem’s going to go away and are not doing anything,” Anderson said. “Our state is … trying to figure out how we can responsibly move forward and remove those products which are potentially hazardous or harmful. Because it’s a prescription drug and it’s being added to foods, it is technically unapproved, and any food is adulterated if it contains CBD. We have the enforcement authority to basically pull everything that has CBD in it.”
However, the problem is a lack of resources.
The DOH has only a half-dozen workers in its Food and Drug Branch to monitor thousands of retailers, Anderson said.
“We’re struggling really to figure out exactly what the next steps might be,” he said.
Marijuana researcher Michael Backes, author of “Cannabis Pharmacy,” explained the health risks of unregulated CBD, which inhibits some enzymes responsible for drug metabolism in the body and can increase the levels of prescription medicines in the blood.
“The big issue with unregulated hemp products has to do with (the fact that) we don’t know where the CBD is coming from. Hemp is a spectacular plant for bio-
remediation of contaminated (areas). This stuff is not tested,” he said. “It comes in in 75-gallon drums of CBD isolate powder to ports all over the U.S. every single day, then is shipped across the U.S. into states like Hawaii.”
While most products have less CBD than what the label claims, some have dangerous levels of the drug, he added.
“It’s a snake-oil market,” he said. “If it’s not tested, really, they don’t belong on shelves. A lot of things can cause the kind of pneumonia showing up and killing people, which should be scary to you. It really, honestly poses a general threat.”
The 2014 Farm Bill allowed states, including Hawaii, to begin growing hemp as part of research pilot programs. So far, the Department of Agriculture has granted 30 licenses to companies interested in growing hemp and possibly producing CBD, which the industry claims can help with anxiety, muscle pain, sleeping problems and even acne.
The market for CBD products is expected to grow from $618 million in 2018 to $22 billion in 2022, according to Brightfield Group, a cannabis and CBD market research firm. But a bill that would have created a permanent commercial hemp program in Hawaii was vetoed in July by Gov. David Ige.
Backes urged lawmakers to “take control of the state’s production of CBD,” as with the state’s medical cannabis program, and make it easier for more laboratories to open here to test the products.
“The idea of using your incredible agriculture expertise to take control of the quality of your own products produced in-state is by far the best approach. Basically, stop other states and countries from selling into the Hawaiian population,” he said. “The CBD craze is getting ridiculous. It’s in everything. It’s all over the place. It’s not getting better, so it’s time to get on top of it. You have to be given enforcement resources to make it have real teeth. The truth is it’s all medical cannabis.”