Not all CBD is created equal: Four dangers of unregulated products

(BPT) - As COVID-19 continues to impact our physical and mental well-being, more and more cannabidiol (CBD) products are cropping up in stores, online and in dispensaries, touting health benefits to treat a variety of conditions, from anxiety and pain management, to sleep disorders and depression. The problem is that many of these products may not actually provide the benefits their labels promise or contain the ingredients their labels claim, which can pose serious health risks. So how do you know which products to trust? Without consistent regulation or oversight, it is impossible for consumers to know.

CBD is a compound found in the cannabis plant that is currently being studied for its therapeutic benefits. While it holds great promise, CBD products should be evaluated for safety and efficacy, as well as be required to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quality standards, like any other medicine. The FDA is currently evaluating how to ensure products sold online or in stores are safe for consumer use, but to date, only one CBD product has been evaluated and approved by the FDA. Learn more about the only FDA-approved CBD product here.

Currently, no other CBD product has received FDA approval, which means unapproved CBD products currently on the market — even those found in your local drug store or dispensary — have not undergone the rigorous testing required of FDA-approved products. This testing evaluates safety, effectiveness and quality, and is needed to ensure a consumer is informed on the product they are ingesting.

Concerned about the public health risks associated with these unapproved products, the FDA recently released a statement for consumers clarifying the dangers.[1] Here are four risks to keep in mind:

1. Lack of quality and consistency standards

For any pharmaceutical product to be approved by the FDA, manufacturers are required to evaluate their products to show they actually contain the ingredients listed on the label in the amount specified, and will be the same from batch to batch. CBD products that are not FDA-approved may not be tested to meet these quality and consistency standards. If a product isn’t tested, it’s nearly impossible for consumers to know how much CBD is actually in the product they’re taking, or even if it’s really the same as the product in their last bottle. In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that over two-thirds of CBD products sold online did not contain the amount of CBD stated on the package (e.g., 26% contained less CBD than the label claimed and nearly 43% contained more CBD than shown on the label).[2] Without understanding how much CBD is actually in a product, it’s very difficult to gauge its potential effects.

2. CBD’s effects on the body

According to the FDA there is still very little known about CBD’s effects on the body.[1] Currently, there is only one CBD product with a well-studied safety and efficacy profile and that is approved by the FDA in just three specific seizure conditions. We know from the rigorous clinical studies of that CBD product that CBD can have side effects, such as the potential to impact liver function. This is one reason why anyone taking, or considering, CBD should always consult with a physician so that they can be monitored and manage any possible risks.

3. Potential drug interactions

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FDA-approved medications are studied to determine how they may interact with other medicines a patient may be taking. Those potential interactions are specified on a drug’s label, which is imperative in helping doctors and patients weigh the benefits and risks when making decisions about their healthcare.

While clinical studies have identified potentially adverse interactions between CBD and certain types of medications, CBD’s potential interactions with most medicines have yet to be investigated. Unregulated CBD products therefore pose unknown and potentially serious safety risks, especially to people who are likely to be on multiple medications for their conditions, such as those with difficult-to-treat epilepsy.

4. Risk of contamination

CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant which absorbs toxins from the soil it’s grown in at a very high rate.[3] Strict quality control measures should be in place to help ensure purity during the growing process. Unfortunately, the FDA reports that certain CBD products may contain pesticides, toxic heavy metals (such as lead, copper, zinc, and cadmium)[4], and THC, the part of the cannabis plant that can induce intoxication. Without adequate regulation and testing, it’s impossible to know if a CBD product contains harmful contaminants or unwanted THC. For example, the 2017 JAMA study found that 21% of dispensary CBD products contained unlabeled, detectable levels of THC[2] — putting many people, especially children, at risk of intoxication or acute impairment.

The bottom line

With unregulated CBD products, it’s difficult to know how safe or effective that product is. FDA approval provides assurance that what’s in the bottle is exactly what’s stated on the label.

To learn more, visit www.straightfactscbd.com.



[2] Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, et al. JAMA 2017; 318(17):1708-1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909.

[3] Seltenrich, N. Cannabis Contaminants: Rgulating Solvents, Microbes, and Metals in Legal Weed. Environmental Health Perspective. Aug 2019. PMID 31430176. [PMC free article] [PubMed].

[4] Dryburgh LM et al. (2018) Cannabis contaminants: sources, distribution, human toxicity and pharmacologic effects. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 84 (2469): 2468-2476.