Now, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill which legalized industrial hemp, CBD is also now legal across the United States. Although the industry was certainly waylaid by the 35-day shutdown that began just two days after the bill’s passage, it is expected to begin in earnest in the coming months.
Martin A. Lee - Director of Project CBD - a nonprofit organization promoting research into the medical uses of the cannabinoid - and the author of ‘Smoke Signals,’ told Civilized that while there is “a lot to be excited about” when it comes to the growing CBD industry, not all CBD products will be made alike.
“It’s definitely a fad right now,” he said, explaining that while the cannabinoid certainly does have a variety of applications, some of that is clearly just hype. "I mean, mascara? It's unclear how that would help anything."
“The problem is, there’s a lot of corruption going on. A lot of profiteering,” he said, noting that these problems can largely be attributed to a lack of proper regulation.
The Need for Proper Regulation
“Right now there are less regulations for CBD than there are for kitty litter, and that has to change.”
Although there are there are some states that do regulate hemp and cannabis within their own borders, the lack of federal input up to this point has made it difficult to establish a consistent regulatory framework. Lee notes that while the 2018 Farm Bill could be a “great catalyst” for a shift in regulations, many of these changes will have to come from within businesses themselves.
“Unfortunately, in the CBD business, there are a lot of players who don’t want strict regulation,” he said. “I think that would be a great detriment to public health—those who need CBD should know that the product is clean and heathy.”
Therein lies the biggest problem with the industry, according to Lee—the consumer doesn’t always know exactly what they’re getting.
“A very high percentage of the products coming out have been found to have some mislabeling,” said Lee. “Whether that’s incorrect CBD content, or even incorrect THC content, people might not know what is actually in their product.”
Besides the mislabeled dosage, Lee adds there are often pesticides, corn syrup or synthetic flavoring agents found in these products as well, which could have a negative impact on the customer’s health.
“These things should not be in any kind of product, especially not one that people are buying to improve their health,” he said.
This is not to suggest that CBD is unsafe. Taken on its own, the cannabinoid is “unlikely to be dangerous,” Lee explained. He added that CBD can be consumed “in very large quantities with no ill effect.”
“It’s very safe, and it’s non-addictive, but it can be as dangerous as the drug it’s being combined with,” he said. “If you’re taking a dangerous pharmaceutical, for example, it can magnify those dangers just as easily as it can mitigate them.”
On its own, however, it is unlikely to provide any ill effects to the consumer’s health.
“It is completely safe up to 2000 milligrams a day,” he noted. “But if you need that, it is likely that there’s a serious problem that CBD just can’t fix.”
Could Bad Products Kill the Trend?
Besides public health, Lee says that he is mostly concerned that a mishandled roll-out might potentially add to the misinformation surrounding the cannabinoid, thereby dampening the public’s enthusiasm for what could be an extremely beneficial substance.
“Hype products, or products that are not what they’ve purported to be, could do a lot of harm for the image of CBD,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, or if it has a negative effect, obviously it’s going to discourage people from pursuing therapeutic options that could really benefit them.”
Nevertheless, Lee says that he remains confident that the industry will survive these early challenges.
“While there are problematic products, there are a lot of good, quality products out there as well,” he asserted. “I think sooner or later, things will shake out. There will be some kind of significant consumer report-oriented studies to keep checks and balances.”
Until that time, Lee thinks the onus will be on the customer to do their research and ensure that they are getting the most out of the product. For him, that starts with knowing who you’re buying from.
“I think a person can feel more confident about a product that they’re getting if they purchase it in a licensed dispensary in a state that has marijuana laws and regulations," he said. "If you have that kind of regulatory regime, you’re more likely to have a better product in the end.”