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Morning Consult Opinion: The FDA Can Help Keep Consumers Safe When It Comes to CBD

BY SALLY GREENBERG October 12, 2021

In recent years, cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis and derived from the hemp plant, has taken this country by storm. CBD consumer products have popped up everywhere — from the supermarket to the gym to the spa to the pet store — and they are being promoted by all kinds of celebrities and influencers. The problem is that this is not a risk-free compound. Consumers who use CBD products should be aware that the industry may not be accurately or sufficiently testing, marketing or labeling these products.

In the midst of this, Congress continues to work on cannabis legislation and federal regulators are gathering data, clinical research and expert perspectives to determine how best to protect public health, without stifling the innovative ways CBD can be used to promote health. If Congress wants to legislatively deem CBD a lawful dietary ingredient (though such action would establish a troubling precedent), it must include health and safety protections, most notably directing the Food and Drug Administration to establish a safe limit of CBD in consumer products. Only the FDA has the scientific expertise necessary to establish a safe, enforceable limit on the amount of CBD that can be contained in an individual product. Because of its availability and the marketing behind these products, many people assume that CBD is a harmless substance. However, we know that this isn’t necessarily true.

The FDA recently rejected two new dietary ingredient notifications for full-spectrum hemp extracts, noting that CBD is the active ingredient in an already approved pharmaceutical and therefore cannot be marketed as a dietary supplement, and that the manufacturers failed to demonstrate their products would be safe for their intended use.

Despite the FDA’s safety concerns and authority, dietary supplement industry manufacturers, marketers, retailers and their trade associations recently argued against the FDA’s setting a safe level of daily intake for CBD. As a leading consumer advocate organization, National Consumers League is working to protect consumers by promoting the values of access to safe, thoroughly tested, high-quality consumer CBD products — and calling attention to circumstances when that may not be the case.

We created Consumers for Safe CBD in 2019 to champion the rights of consumers to safe products, urge the FDA to enforce regulations and call on Congress to protect consumer safety as part of any legislative action.

Because CBD has been developed as a prescription medicine through a comprehensive drug development program, we know that there are potential safety risks associated with its use, including liver injury, drug interactions and other adverse effects. When CBD is administered as a prescription drug under the FDA, with ongoing, careful physician oversight, these risks can be managed. However, no such oversight exists in the consumer market. With that, consumers may experience harm from consuming CBD without being aware of it.

There is also further risk from cumulative exposure of CBD. Walk down any commercial street and you will see CBD products advertised in everything from oils to muffins to CBD-infused drinks. As a result, consumers might be ingesting CBD from several sources, every day, without knowing what safe levels are.

The FDA’s findings in the New Dietary Ingredient Notification objection letters demonstrate the risks posed by CBD. Unfortunately, most supplement products are able to sidestep any pre-market review due to loopholes in the law.

In order to protect consumers, it is imperative that Congress clarify the rules and regulations about CBD through legislation. Lawmakers should direct the FDA to establish safe CBD levels and require products to undergo pre-market safety evaluation. Clear labeling with dosage levels and ingredients is essential. If legislation authorizes CBD in supplements, the FDA should also be given sufficient resources to enforce dosage levels and conduct pre-market safety evaluations.

NCL supports Congress and the FDA’s acting within their authority to protect consumers from unsafe levels of CBD. Consumers for Safe CBD will continue our work to educate consumers, policymakers and regulators about the many concerns around the unregulated CBD products proliferating the market. Consumers deserve to know the risks. Read the full piece on Morning Consult here.