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Column: CBD merchants tout medical wonders but the reality is troubling

By: Columbus Dispatcher Jan 18, 2020 

The marketing of products with cannabidiol, or CBD as its commonly known, is booming. Last year, Americans purchased $500 million worth of CBD-infused lotions, food items, beauty products, pet treats and apparel, and that number is expected to reach $1.8 billion by 2022.

Retails shops throughout Ohio are advertising these products, leading Ohioans to believe they will make a significant difference in health and well-being. A quick internet search will yield unfounded claims that these CBD products will alleviate migraines, seizures, inflammation, psychological disorders and other health conditions.

There is an enormous gap between marketing and reality. The vast majority of CBD products on the market today have not been scientifically evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and fail to meet the safety and efficacy standards that have protected our health for decades. In fact, the FDA has recently confirmed CBD is not designated as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) and is thus unapproved as a food additive, and in violation of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.

What does that mean for consumers? Your CBD gummies are now officially illegal.

A new coalition, Consumers for Safe CBD, established by the National Consumers League in partnership with the Consumer Federation of America and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, recently launched a campaign to engage consumers, policymakers and other stakeholders in a “buyer beware” conversation about the potential dangers of CBD in this unregulated marketplace.

Voters in Ohio support these efforts. New public opinion research conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found that a broad consensus of Ohio residents surveyed — a significant 93% — agree that CBD products should be safe, backed by proven science and work as advertised. Nationally, 83% of adult Americans support allowing the FDA to evaluate and regulate CBD products.

The research also indicated that ensuring the safety and effectiveness of CBD grows even stronger among those who have used CBD products or describe themselves as very familiar with them.

Those surveyed also said these concerns will be top of mind when they vote next November. More than half — 55% — would vote for candidates supporting requiring the FDA to regulate CBD products.

Why does the public support FDA stepping in? Consumers are vulnerable and risk illness, exposure to contaminants and more from untested, unregulated CBD products. CBD product labels are frequently misleading and inaccurate in ingredients and potency. CBD itself has potential risks, including liver toxicity, fatigue and harmful interaction with other drugs. These products are often marketed as having little or no THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. However, some products have enough THC to produce a positive result on a drug test, which has led to workers losing their jobs.

We believe the FDA must take strong, effective, and prompt action to protect the American public from the harms posed by these products. Though FDA recently has taken steps to help protect consumers — issuing warning letters to 15 companies for illegally selling various products containing cannabidiol and highlighting a variety of safety concerns and stating that CBD in food is illegal — much more needs to be done.

Consumers for Safe CBD is asking the FDA to:

  • Educate consumers about the current CBD marketplace, including improving consumers’ understanding of CBD, its potency and safe concentration levels.

  • Enforce current regulations against CBD products that make medical claims that pose a high risk to consumers.

  • Establish a clear distinction between approved medicines and other consumer products.

  • Encourage further research for FDA-approved treatments so that consumers can have more options and more trust in the marketplace.

  • Consumers in Ohio and across the country deserve the gold standard of protection that the FDA has provided for decades. We want and need access to sound, reliable information about CBD.

We need to know the risks involved in untested, unapproved products. As the CBD business accelerates, so must efforts to protect health and safety.

Ernest Boyd, R.Ph., is the executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association and a member of the National Consumer League’s Health Advisory Council.

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