CBD Isn't Just a Harmless Health Fad, FDA Warns

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The Food and Drug Administration still isn’t cutting cannabidiol, or CBD, much slack. This week, the agency updated their stance on the cannabis-derived ingredient, warning the public that most products made with CBD on the market are untested, unregulated, and have the “potential to harm” users. It also issued more than a dozen warning letters to companies they claim are illegally selling CBD products.

The FDA’s admonishment of CBD comes in the midst of a scientific debate over its health benefits. While animal and lab studies have suggested that CBD could help with everything from treating type 2 diabetes to killing cancer cells, the evidence in humans is much shakier or non-existent. And the agency itself has struggled with how to regulate its use.

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In June 2018, it approved the very first CBD-based drug, called Epidiolex, for people with certain types of seizures. Later that year, the U.S. government legalized farming and selling cannabis hemp crops that contain CBD but little to no THC, the ingredient that makes cannabis a mind-altering drug.

But the FDA announced soon after that the new law did not legalize the use of CBD in consumer products, particularly in things like food or supplements. Since then, it’s reportedly been working on new regulations meant to clarify when and how CBD can be sold to the public over-the-counter. During that same time, it’s been going after the most egregious peddlers of CBD hype, who often explicitly claim their products can treat medical conditions.

The FDA’s new batch of warning letters—15 in total—follow in the vein of these previous takedowns. They accuse the named companies of “marketing CBD products to treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses for humans and/or animals,” as well as “marketing CBD products as dietary supplements and adding CBD to human and animal foods.”

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But the agency’s updated message to the public goes further in telling people to stay away from CBD, at least for the time being.

“The FDA recognizes the significant public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, particularly CBD. However, there are many unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing CBD,” the agency said in its advisory released Monday.

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As evidence, the FDA cites its own testing showing many consumer products oftentimes don’t have the amount of CBD they’re advertised to contain (other studies, including one released last week, have found similar results). According to the agency, it’s also received reports of CBD contaminated with toxic metals, pesticides, and THC. Some studies have also suggested that it could affect men’s fertility, cause liver injury, or interfere with other existing medications if taken in high or chronic enough doses. And there’s always the risk you could end up paying way too much for your gym clothes.

“The FDA is concerned that people may mistakenly believe that trying CBD ‘can’t hurt.’” the agency said.

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Anyone thinking of trying out CBD, the advisory added, should first talk with their doctor at least.

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About the author

Ed Cara

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere