What an unregulated industry means for CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) supplements are enjoying unprecedented popularity right now. Made from hemp, CBD is the most useful non-intoxicating compound in the plant. Extracts can be used to make edibles, vape juices, concentrates, regular tincture oils and more. These products can then be taken as a natural alternative to anything from chronic pain to concentration issues.

CBD products are effective as they capitalize on the newly discovered endocannabinoid system (ECS). Researchers have identified that cannabis and hemp is therapeutic, largely because of how it interacts with this system, which regulates a bunch of mental and physical health variables. However, as there is so far a lack of clinical evidence supporting CBD’s benefits, companies are only permitted to sell CBD products as food supplements, and not medicines.

The CBD industry is also unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, a situation that makes it more difficult for consumers to find quality products. So, how did we get here, and what can customers do to protect themselves when buying and using CBD products?

How the CBD industry started

The CBD industry emerged as recently as 2014, and it wasn’t exactly planned. The Agricultural Act of 2014, which became law under the Obama Administration, allowed for the sale of hemp-based products, where psychoactive THC made up less than 0.3 percent of the overall weight. What this legislation clearly did not consider, since it wasn’t mentioned, was the cannabinoid CBD. This therapeutic component of hemp does not have psychoactive properties, but is beneficial as an ECS supplement, and perhaps as a treatment for many conditions.

Therefore, sensing an opportunity, manufacturers started to make products with high concentrations of CBD – and the market loved it! At this point, the hemp-based CBD industry was still a legal grey area, as the cannabinoid continued to be restricted as a Schedule 1 substance when derived from marijuana. Hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC was no longer classed as cannabis following the signing of the 2014 bill. But the law was still conflicting, and an updated version of the bill, passed by the Trump administration in 2018, finally gave a definitive legal nod to CBD products.

The importance of third-party lab reports

However, just because CBD now has legal certainty, doesn’t mean that product quality has improved overnight. The lack of regulation has made it possible for cowboy companies to sell low-quality and even fake products, and essentially get away with it. This was a bigger problem in the early days of the CBD market, when there were few established brands. But top manufacturers like CBDfx have been forced to go the extra mile, to confirm to customers that their products are legit.

This is where third-party lab reports come in. By submitting a product to an external lab for testing, CBD companies can authenticate their products and distinguish them from brands that are basically selling snake oil. A comprehensive lab report will confirm the exact amounts of CBD and THC present, in addition to other cannabinoids, and maybe even terpenes in the case of a full-spectrum CBD product. The best CBD companies then make these results accessible to potential customers on their website, free of charge.

A company selling quality products has nothing to hide, and grifters are unable to replicate that transparency. However, there are a couple of other tricks to be aware of. Some companies may claim to have been third-party approved, but then not make the results easily available. There are also brands that claim to test their products ‘in-house’. But why would a company take this approach if they didn’t have something to hide? If you are sceptical about a CBD brand, it’s often best to trust your instinct, or at least make contact to get some assurance.

Will the FDA eventually regulate CBD?

There have, unsurprisingly, been plenty of calls for the FDA to regulate CBD products. This isn’t just to root out the dodgy brands, but also to guarantee that all the products being sold in the American market are safe for consumption. The House of Representatives passed a bill in June 2019 that may push the FDA in the direction of CBD regulation.

The FDA is also concerned about companies that are making overstated claims about the effects of CBD, with ex-FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, suggesting that the “CBD craze is getting out of hand.” It appears that the FDA is starting to make moves, but in the world of politics, there’s no guarantee that reform will come anytime soon.