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Medical Claims and Cannabis: Read the Fine Print

Earlier this year, news stories across the country reported on a study claiming that cannabis prevents the transmission of COVID-19. A recent fact-checking article found the study was fraught with misinformation – in fact, it had not even been done on humans.

Thorough research, in-depth studies, and several clinical trials are necessary to ensure safety and efficacy of any consumer product making therapeutic claims. What we’ve seen lately, however, reflects a disturbing and dangerous trend that circumvents traditional science-based research required by the FDA – the gold standard in consumer protection.

A recent study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that several cannabis manufacturers have made health claims about their products that are not substantiated by science-based research or rigorous testing.

The study identified nearly 1,000 health claims indicating that consumer cannabis products can help mitigate symptoms or treat serious ailments - from mental health issues to cancer. However, the extensive research and multi-phase clinical trials required to validate such claims were few and far between.

Many health claims were based on foundational, observational studies and cited news sources and reference sites as legitimate documentation for some medical indications. “Research-related health claims may mislead patients and the public into believing that these products have proof of safety and efficacy before causal evidence has been brought to bear,” according to the study.

While FDA has issued warning letters about false health claims, the practice remains. According to the study, “The breadth and persistence of health claims on company websites suggest that the current FDA strategy of issuing Warning Letters may be insufficient to rein in inappropriate medical-cannabis marketing.”

Newly confirmed FDA Commissioner Dr. Califf has an important task to help protect the public from untested, unregulated CBD and cannabis products that are making misleading claims. The risks are significant if the agency fails to act soon.

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