When CBD first came on the market, it was immediately marketed as a cure-all for all manners of ailments, from depression to premenstrual cramps to opioid addiction. Yet as the market has expanded, so too has the number of distributors peddling phony or even dangerous products, prompting the FDA to issue an emergency warning on Tuesday urging consumers to use caution when buying CBD products.
In the statement, FDA principal deputy commissioner Dr. Amy Abernethy issued a warning to 15 companies illegally selling CBD products, and to the public at large. Generally speaking, it is not illegal to sell products that are not approved by the FDA, but it is not legal to claim they have therapeutic benefits if they are not approved by the FDA for that purpose.
“We remain concerned that some people wrongly think that the myriad of CBD products on the market, many of which are illegal, have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe, or that trying CBD ‘can’t hurt,’” she said in the statement. “Aside from one prescription drug approved to treat two pediatric epilepsy disorders, these products have not been approved by the FDA and we want to be clear that a number of questions remain regarding CBD’s safety.”
Short for cannabidiol, one of the primary components of cannabis, CBD is a compound with non-psychoactive effects, meaning that it does not induce a high in users. Over the past few years, it has been sold in a wide range of products, from supplements to lattes to dog treats to tampons Under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, CBD derived from hemp that contains no more than 0.3% THC is legal, but CBD derived from the marijuana plant is not.
Although many people swear by the therapeutic benefits of CBD, the effects of CBD, as the FDA statement notes, are largely unproven. (There are also many open questions regarding its safety.) To date, the FDA has only approved one CBD product: Epidolex, a medication for treating two rare forms of epilepsy. During clinical trials, researchers found that the medication could cause liver damage in some patients, prompting the FDA to caution users that it could cause injury under unsupervised use.
Further, there have been reports of people getting sick or even dying after using black market CBD products. In its statement, the FDA cautioned that many CBD products had been found to contain pesticides and heavy metals, writing that there are “real risks that need to be considered” associated with its use. Earlier this year, dozens of people in California went to the emergency room after using CBD vapes spiked with synthetic marijuana. The outbreak was found to be connected to a similar spate of illnesses caused by tainted CBD vapes in Utah last year, which led 50 people to present at emergency rooms complaining about hallucinations and even seizures.