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Federal Agency Issues CBD Health Advisory

A new health warning has been issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) concerning CBD use by Americans.

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the cultivation of hemp and the manufacture and sale of hemp-derived products, concerns over the health and safety of hemp products like CBD have prompted lawmakers and regulatory agencies to take action regarding how to best safeguard the public from any potentially dangerous side effects of these offerings.


For the first time this week, a federal agency published a new advisory on the “potential harms, side effects, and unknowns” of CBD. As first reported by Marijuana Moment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the brief advisory not as a comprehensive assessment of CBD and its medical potential but rather as a general guide to warning the general public about “the risks and harms of CBD, especially those sold over the counter.”


In the report, the agency acknowledges the meteoric rise in the popularity of CBD. With offerings ranging from CBD-infused topicals, fabric, food and beverages, the versatile hemp-based offering can now be found at over 270,000 retailers nationwide. Likewise, as many as 1 in 3 Americans reported using CBD products in 2020, according to a survey conducted SingleCare.


Those substantial usage numbers are one of the main reasons why the agency produced the advisory. In the report, the agency identifies many dangers, including a lack of safety standards, poor labeling accuracy and haphazard quality control. These deleterious concerns directly result from the federally unregulated status of CBD and all other hemp-derived products.


As the agency states in the report, CBD concentrations “may be more or less than advertised and, because of a lack of quality control, the manufacturing process may introduce harmful biological and chemical contaminants, including the psychoactive [cannabinoid] THC.”


"(CBD concentrations) may be more or less than advertised and, because of a lack of quality control, the manufacturing process may introduce harmful biological and chemical contaminants, including the psychoactive [cannabinoid] THC.”

- SAMHSA Advisory on CBD


According to the report, other health and safety issues concerning CBD use include adverse drug interactions, liver toxicity, and reproductive and developmental effects. In addition, the agency says more scientific research is necessary to decide whether CBD products are safe and effective.


However, the message from SAMHSA is not all bad news for CBD users and industry stakeholders. Part of the advisory includes information on where consumers prefer to purchase their CBD products. Citing 2019 survey data, the agency found that 40% of CBD users purchased products from cannabis dispensaries, while 34% bought CBD from a non-cannabis retail store. Finally, 27% shopped online for their items and 12% purchased their CBD from another source.


One of the more telling admissions by the agency was its conclusion that marijuana dispensaries may provide higher quality and safer CBD product offerings than their national retailer counterparts. Because they are typically licensed and heavily regulated at the state level, cannabis retailers are a more reliable source for CBD, according to the SAMHSA report.


The advisory says, “Although regulations and enforcement vary from state to state. CBD products purchased from dispensaries may be subject to some form of oversight and standardization.”


"Although regulations and enforcement vary from state to state. CBD products purchased from dispensaries may be subject to some form of oversight and standardization.”

- SAMHSA Advisory on CBD


While the report from SAMHSA comes as a welcome guide for other regulatory bodies and consumers, it is still a far cry from the type of meaningful action many lawmakers and industry advocates have been calling for in recent years. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf last September calling his agency to task for continued inaction on adopting regulations for the CBD market.


In response, the FDA issued a statement in January, doubling down on its approach to the CBD question, declaring that current federal safety guidelines are insufficient to regulate the young industry. The agency further stated that Congress would need to get involved by creating new rules for CBD products through legislation.


The continued game of political “hot potato” concerning CBD only serves to frustrate further and economically hobble CBD manufacturers and retail outlets who believe that the current FDA regulatory infrastructure for dietary supplements and foods and guidelines for the manufacturing, labeling and marketing of products is sufficient for regulating the CBD market.


When Congress included the seemingly innocuous portion of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp and hemp-derived products, its members could not have foreseen the enormity of that action just five years later. At the end of 2021, the CBD market was valued at $4.9 billion. That number is expected to balloon to over $47.22 billion by 2028.


With that kind of economic impact, not to mention the potential health and wellness benefits CBD may provide, the leadership in Washington must follow SAMHSA’s lead and work on creating a timely and effective framework for a safe and economically viable CBD industry.


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