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CBD product mislabeling

While the “Farm Bill” enabled the marketing of hemp-based products, it left the regulatory status of CBD unsolved. With the increasing popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) comes a growing concern of CBD product mislabeling and therefore questionable quality. For every reputable manufacturer, there will be at least one other disreputable one looking to profit by exploiting the wave of interest in CBD products and the lack of regulations to sell substandard products. 

A recent research study collected 25 CBD products across the US State of Mississippi, and chemically tested them to determine their CBD content and compare the test results to the respective labels. As such, the aim was to determine the standard of available CBD products, in order to give us a better picture of the current CBD marketplace. While there have been a number of such studies in the past, monitoring the quality of the CBD market is essential, especially for the sake of the honest CBD sellers.

The legal background of CBD mislabeling

In the last ten years, many states and countries have legalized medical marijuana and CBD, the non-psychoactive compound obtained from cannabis. This has dramatically opened the market for CBD-based products, which claim an enormous range of health and well-being benefits. 

In the US, the “Farm Bill” passed by Congress in 2018, approved the growing of hemp variants with a less than 0.3% delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content by dry weight. Hemp-derived CBD products are now widely available in both brick and mortar and online pharmacies and health food stores, to vape stores and gas stations. 

However, manufacturers cannot legally describe CBD products as a drug or a dietary supplement. As such, the lack of any regulation means that some manufacturers will exploit this loophole to make a quick profit from an unsuspecting and unaware customers.

The research study

The National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi conducted the study. At the time of the study, according to DEA guidelines, the University had to receive the samples from law enforcement. As such, the scientists purchased altogether 25 hemp-based CBD oil and vaping products from various retail outlets in Mississippi to test them in the laboratory. They assessed CBD and other contents and compared their findings against the label claims.

Findings: CBD product mislabeling

Following detailed chemical analysis, 3 of the 25 products (12%) contained no measurable phytocannabinoids at all. For the remaining products containing CBD, the quantity of CBD varied greatly. Five products (20%), all of which were vaping liquids for electronic cigarettes, did not provide any quantitative information on the label. Three of these were the ones that had no CBD, whilst the remaining two had 17 mg and just 0.02 mg, respectively. Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of these products provided the manufacturer’s name or details.

Of the 20 products that provided a CBD content on the label, uniformity with the label claim ranged from 0.06% to 168%. Only 3 (12%) were within ±20% of the stated amount, while 13 (52%) were less than 50% of the claimed amount.

When tested for the active THC levels, three products had more than 0.3%, and one contained 45% THC! Concerns for health arose when it turned out that four of the products contained deliberately added synthetic cannabinoids (three being in e-cigarette vaping liquids). In total, just two of the products (8%) were within acceptable quantity limits (±20%) and did not contain synthetic cannabinoids, or more THC that is allowed by the Farm Bill.

Watch this 4:08 minute video “CBD Product Tests: Results Can Be Alarming | NBC 4 I-Team”.  

A wake-up call?

The research carried out by Mississippi University provides a timely and informative insight into the state of the current CBD marketplace, and should provide a “wake-up call” to policymakers and regulators. 

Given the public’s legitimate desire to access the known and proposed beneficial effects of CBD, it seems unacceptable that some manufacturers are able to deceive consumers with sub-standard and adulterated products, with little fear of regulation.

Therefore, consumers need to be aware that there is a high possibility that the labels on CBD-containing products do not accurately represent the product they are buying. CBD quantity and the natural or synthetic origin of the compounds may be deliberately hidden or over/under-estimated. 

In terms of consumer protection (overseen by the Federal Trade Commission in the US), “over-labeling” misrepresents the product and is a fraudulent practice. “Under-labeling” of content, on the other hand, poses potential health risks of chronic over-exposure to CBD, or even unwanted (and/or illegal) exposure to THC.

Why is CBD product mislabeling important?

One could argue that the widespread and unregulated availability of CBD products is undesirable, and even “ill-advised”, given that the “jury is still out” regarding the evidence on the many beneficial claims for CBD. This position is stronger when we can observe the true nature and poor quality of the products offered to the public. 

However, this situation does a disservice to honest CBD manufacturers and sellers, not to mention people with certain health conditions who seek relief of their conditions by using CBD.

CBD-containing vaping liquids were clearly the worst offenders in the tests. Their adulteration with synthetic cannabinoids (“designer drugs” meant to mimic THC effects of marijuana) is a major concern. Synthetic cannabinoids pose serious toxicological threats to health, ranging from agitation, psychosis, arrhythmia, seizures, and death.

Given their dubious manufacture (and therefore unknown toxicity), as well as the way users may unpredictably react to them, the risks of taking them unknowingly is very high. Whilst vaping is considered relatively safe (or at least safer than smoking), the addition of synthetic cannabinoids may worsen the potential of vaping for health damage as a result.

Summary

In summary, the majority of CBD products were mislabeled in the State of Mississippi. Unfortunately, one must presume that the situation is probably similar elsewhere in the US. Many products contained more than 0.3% THC (which of course did not appear on the label). In addition, some contained potentially dangerous synthetic cannabinoids. 

The findings further strengthen the need for regulation and related enforcement to protect the both the consumers and the legitimate CBD product manufacturers and sellers. We have strong hopes for the passing of the much needed hemp-CBD dietary supplement bill introduced in September of 2020.

Reference

Gurley BJ, Murphy TP, Gul W, Walker LA, ElSohly M. Content versus Label Claims in Cannabidiol (CBD)-Containing Products Obtained from Commercial Outlets in the State of Mississippi. J Diet Suppl. 2020;17(5):599-607. doi: 10.1080/19390211.2020.1766634. Epub 2020 May 20. PMID: 32431186.

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