The Quest For Transparency In The CBD Wild West How The New Senate Bill Could

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This article was originally published on Leafreport and appears here with permission.

CBD has spawned a craze that has swept across the U.S. the world at large–comparable to the way American cowboy pioneers moved across the Western frontier amidst a landscape of lawlessness and unruliness. 

These days, it seems as though everyone is looking for a panacea–and if it’s natural or plant-derived, all the better. Among the superfoods, supplements, and nutraceuticals competing on the wellbeing market, cannabidiol (CBD) stands out as a unique compound. 

Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp-derived CBD products have proliferated throughout the United States. As a non-intoxicating cannabinoid boasting anti-anxiety, antiemetic, and seizure-suppressing qualities, CBD has piqued the interest of researchers. Studies into CBD are growing, with evidence to suggest that CBD holds therapeutic properties that could benefit a range of different conditions and disorders. It’s also established a solid fan base among consumers who swear by it as a sleep aid and anti-anxiety supplement.

However, true of any rapidly-moving emerging market, rules and regulations are required to separate the snake oil from the real deal. As the popularity of CBD has escalated and CBD lines diversify and expand, consumers are increasingly vulnerable to low-quality brands that promise potency and quality–but don’t deliver. 

Ironically, those who can potentially benefit most from CBD can also be most at risk. Inferior CBD can have devastating consequences for vulnerable populations such as the elderly or chronically ill. 

With the FDA still ironing out the details of the guidelines surrounding the commerce and advertising of CBD, CBD consumers need independent insights into this nascent market from reliable sources. 

While people are excited by the genuine therapeutic promise of this cannabinoid, so too are unscrupulous manufacturers and retailers who see the potential to cash in. CBD topicals, edibles, tinctures, balms, and capsules are exploding onto the market, alongside niche CBD-infused drinks, foods, skincare, pet care, and hair care products, with many making unfounded claims about wellbeing benefits. The global CBD market is tipped to reach USD 3.5 billion in 2021 -but as Leafreport industry reports have shown, many of these products do not measure up to their promises of potency or quality.

Although the FDA is scrambling to develop a regulatory framework, there are a number of factors which render the regulation of the CBD space challenging. For starters, CBD is a category-bending compound in many ways. It’s a cannabinoid that is non-intoxicating but psychoactive. The FDA currently views CBD as a drug or “active ingredient” although hemp (containing 0.3% THC or less) is legal at a federal level, which means its inclusion in foods and beverages has been fraught with regulatory complications. At this stage, however, the FDA has only approved a single CBD product–Epidiolex–for the treatment of seizures in certain forms of childhood epilepsy.

The FDA is currently fine-tuning its stance concerning CBD, exploring available research on its therapeutic benefits, side effect profile, long-term use, and dosage guidelines. Recently, the FDA cracked down on the illegal marketing of CBD products in food as a prevention or treatment for disease or as a cure for specific health issues. However, until the FDA releases definitive guidelines for the retail and use of CBD, consumers must navigate CBD products (and their sometimes murky claims) on their own.

While there is no clear regulation of CBD brands and products at a federal level, many brands endeavor to carry out their own (voluntary) third-party potency and purity testing to show consumers that their products are transparent and measure up to their promises. Third-party potency and purity testing currently stands in as an independent measure of quality in this presently unregulated landscape—which is a feature Leafreport consistently checks for when reviewing CBD brands and products.

Finally, a further complicating factor contributing to the current chaos of the CBD industry are the significant discrepancies between states and federal government regulations. While some states such as California allow diverse CBD products to be widely available for over-the-counter purchase, other states such as Idaho enforce far more stringent rules regarding the use and sale of the cannabinoid. At a federal level, CBD sourced exclusively from hemp plants containing 0.3%THC or less is legal, but CBD derived from cannabis plants is not. In sum, a patchwork of rules governs the sale and consumption of CBD, creating confusion for consumers.

Collectively, the factors discussed above contribute to a chaotic industry, where too frequently, CBD consumers are not getting what they pay for. While it’s understandable that the FDA is taking time to review the available data regarding the safety and efficacy of CBD, consumers need guidance and reliable insights now. 

The current instability and inconsistency between state and federal regulations of CBD have created a sloppy patchwork of rules that can detrimentally affect both consumers and the industry at large. 

The recent introduction of the Hemp Access and Consumer Safety Act of 2021 could be the linchpin that brings order to the chaos. If enacted, the bill would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&CA) and allow hemp-derived CBD to be classified as a food and supplement ingredient. 

At present, the FDA views hemp-derived CBD as a drug. The regulatory framework surrounding the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (The FD&C Act) prevent the FDA from setting clear regulatory frameworks for hemp and hemp-derived CBD when it’s used as a food and supplement ingredient. This landmark legislation would subject foods and dietary supplements containing hemp (and CBD) to all of the protections afforded by FDA’s current food and dietary supplement regulatory frameworks. 

In addition, the bill would prioritize consumer safety, mandating that manufacturers comply with all existing federal regulations for the products that contain CBD, and ensure that these products are properly labeled.

If passed, this new bill could herald significant positive changes for both consumers of CBD, and companies within the space. Consumers would be assured of a more standardized set of guidelines and regulations governing the manufacture, use, and sale of CBD at a federal level, and sub-par CBD brands and products would be systematically weeded out–separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Furthermore, in the absence of federal regulation of hemp-based CBD, the industry has been characterized by thousands of “smaller players” entering the market. Many larger players have refrained from entering the CBD space until the FDA clarifies its stance on CBD. If this bill is passed, the introduction of larger, more mature businesses in the space could contribute to greater standardization and quality across CBD products.

The upshot? The changes ushered in by this bill would lead to more consistent and concise guidance and enhanced quality of CBD products at a national level: a shift that can only benefit this rapidly growing industry.

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