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Research for Medicines vs. Research for Marketing

“Research as marketing” is a practice where a company sponsors or publicizes methodologically weak research to convey that their products are safe and/or effective, when in fact they have not been clinically proven to accomplish their stated therapeutic benefits. According to a recent study, this deceptive marketing practice is very common among cannabis manufacturers.

The study found that the tactics cannabis and CBD companies use are designed to avoid traditional regulatory review and rigorous testing in order to make it appear that their therapeutic claims are backed by science. This ill-conceived “research as marketing” practice misleads consumers into thinking a product has been put through the typical regulatory procedures we have all come to trust around medicine, food, and other products. The reality is there is limited research, minimal clinical trials, and a considerable lack of consistent, long-term scientific evidence to back the claims most of these cannabis and CBD companies make.

The comprehensive research that goes into developing FDA-approved products and the research involved in marketing unregulated cannabis products are nothing alike. The trouble is that on the shelves at the store, there’s nothing to distinguish this for consumers.

Traditional pharmaceutical companies take a drastically different approach to bringing products to market, meeting strict regulatory standards including years of scientific research and large-scale randomized controlled trials to ensure FDA’s gold standard for consumer protection. Translational research, the research that transforms scientific discoveries in laboratories and clinics into treatments that benefit patients, must be published in peer-reviewed journals, including publication of early (pre-clinical) to late phase (phase III) clinical research to demonstrate safety and efficacy of new medicines.

Unfortunately, almost none of the current cannabis products marketed for health and wellness follow this approach. According to the newly released study, “these companies explicitly use research findings to assert that their products are safe and effective, possibly relying on the notion that most consumers are unaware of or will undervalue the limitations of a given study.”

Consumers should not be duped by the thousands of health claims in the current cannabis marketplace touting “pseudo-science,” and the FDA should help ensure these false claims and misleading marketing tactics are put to rest.

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