CBD: Confusion, Bureaucracy, Delays

Compared to deciphering the current cannabidiol (CBD) scene, achieving a lunar landing can seem quite straightforward.

It’s helpful to remember that humans have been using CBD -- from both hemp and cannabis crops -- for thousands of years, because it has some amazing health and wellness benefits. Now that the modern world is finally starting to catch up (including the federal government), not a week goes by without another announcement of CBD being added to drinks, foods and topicals.

The flood gates were opened by passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, with which the federal government declassified hemp as a controlled substance. You often see the words “hemp” and “cannabis” seemingly used interchangeably. The key distinction in the Farm Bill is that CBD from the cannabis plant (cousin to the hemp plant) can’t contain more than 0.3% of TCH, the stuff that gets users high.

It’s pretty hard at this point for consumers to know exactly what they’re getting for their money when they purchase something containing CBD. Add to this state-by-state regulatory confusion that has marketers big and small holding back from planting a stake in the edible CBD field by exercising caution because their brand reputations will be on the line if they don’t deliver effectiveness.

Right now, the Food and Drug Administration won’t allow hemp- or cannabis-derived CBD to be added to food products because it approved the substance as the active ingredient of GW Pharmaceuticals' Epidiolex. Thus CBD can’t legally be added to food or dietary supplements or marketed to treat health conditions without companies navigating the FDA's approval processes to determine safety and efficacy guidelines -- even though CBD edibles are growing in number everywhere you look.

In the meantime, state-by-state regulations can’t help but confuse consumers -- as in California, where marijuana-derived CBD is okay, but CBD from hemp is not.

One of CBD’s big selling points is that it’s natural. But how do you know whether it’s effective?

Two anecdotes in this regard. In the first: You’re at an outdoor music festival and they’re selling packages of CBD-infused gummies, 10 milligrams each, with the promise of inducing relaxation, among other things. So you buy $20 worth and eat two of the gummies because hey, who doesn’t want to relax?

Two hours later you certainly feel relaxed -- but was it the gummies or the two craft beers or cups of wine you had in the interim? Or the combination of both?

When you get home, you browse the internet and read that 500 to 1,000 milligrams can be considered a “therapeutic” dose of CBD. At least the gummies tasted good (think: very expensive candy).

A bit farther up the food chain price-wise, a 27-year-old female with a corporate job in the pharmaceutical industry was hoping that CBD oil would help ward off frequent nightly anxiety so she wouldn’t have to turn to prescription meds. A trusted friend recommended a vial of oil costing around $200, so the woman made a purchase online and crossed her fingers.

Did the CBD lessen her anxiety? “I think at first I felt like it was doing something,” she says. “But you really can’t ever tell when it comes to anxiety. It’s not like physical pain in your hand where you use CBD and your pain decreases and you can use your hand again. It’s really hard to measure its effectiveness.”

During recent Congressional testimony, Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports, shared the results of a survey of 4,355 adults showing that 46% of respondents were “extremely” or “very confident” that there are FDA regulations in place to make sure CBD is tested for safety and efficacy. There are no such regulations.

One obvious question is whether the smaller CBD brand pioneers marketing dubious products will mess things up for the big companies -- among them Oreo maker Mondelez, which has been eyeing the market with great interest -- before they decide to join the game.

Edible Arrangements founder Tariq Farid plans to launch Incredible Edibles, which would contain CBD -- but, as reported by Forbes, he’s moving very cautiously and slowly.

Moving on to cannabis, the federal government continues to view it in the same regulatory light as heroin (Schedule 1 substances) and prohibits it from being advertised. (Yes, the same government that has been criticized for seeming to look the other way in the walkup to the prescription opioid epidemic.)

Accordingly, a patchwork of local and state laws where recreational use has been approved puts cannabis marketers on a legal tightrope when it comes to advertising.

Earlier this year, data from consumer research firm MRI-Simmons’ National Cannabis Study showed that 36 million Americans ages 18+ are cannabis consumers, and 10% of them also use CBD products.
While Congress is busy trying to figure out where and how quickly to go on potential cannabis legalization, the industry has already made at least one very smart move by labeling its interests as “cannabis.” Just as we don’t have a “liquor” industry (we have a “spirits” industry) and it’s the “gaming” industry (not “gambling”) it would have been foolhardy to promote a “marijuana,” “pot” or heaven forbid “reefer” (equals madness) industry.

As veteran political consultant and pollster Frank Luntz put it, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.”

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