FDA regulation of CBD products faces new challenges as the market develops. Questions and answers about FDA regulation of cannabis and cannabis-derived products The FDA is working to answer questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, particularly CBD.
High Hopes for FDA Regulation of CBD Products
FDA regulation of CBD products faces new challenges as the market develops.
Move over Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson: Some purveyors of cannabis products announced that their products provide a hipper, happier cure for COVID-19.
In March 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning letter to Cannafyl, a cannabis product company, because it marketed its products containing cannabidiol (CBD) as products that could prevent or cure COVID-19. These products are still available for purchase, but Cannafyl’s website now contains a disclaimer noting that its CBD products “are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
When the landscape for products in the food or health sectors changes, FDA often decides which products are safe for Americans. But recent developments show that markets tend to move faster than regulators, raising questions about what products FDA should leave the market free to make available to consumers.
Over the past several years, CBD, one of the compounds found in marijuana that is psychoactive but does not produce a “high,” has been used in products as varied as chocolate, mascara, and lotions.
Some studies have concluded that CBD mitigates ailments, including anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and addiction to substances such as nicotine and heroin. FDA, however, has warned consumers that CBD can have potentially harmful side effects, such as liver injury. At a minimum, the potential for harm from CBD seems to call for balancing costs and benefits of specific products.
Sales of these products are illegal under federal law enforced by FDA, but because FDA is not able to crack down on every sale of a food product or dietary supplement containing CBD, companies continue to sell CBD products. Furthermore, many of these products reportedly contain dangerous ingredients or are marketed falsely as cures for diseases such as COVID-19.
FDA studies which CBD products fit within the current legal framework and which pose excessive health and safety risks. The growing market for marijuana-related products, however, generates financial opportunities that create pressure on Congress and states to expand options for legal sales regardless of FDA’s findings.
In 2018, President Donald J. Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 into law. Under this law, CBD products containing less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound that produces a “high,” are no longer classified as controlled substances that are categorically illegal under federal law. Instead, the 2018 legislation authorizes FDA to regulate sale of CBD products pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).
The FDCA makes it illegal to sell food or dietary supplements that contain an “approved drug” ingredient without explicit FDA approval. When FDA approved Epidiolex, a CBD seizure medication, CBD became an approved drug ingredient. Although this action makes use of CBD in most products illegal without FDA approval, FDA has not issued a regulation drawing clear lines between approved and unapproved uses of CBD in other products.
Even though selling CBD products without FDA approval is technically illegal, companies continue to sell them in what has become a burgeoning U.S. market for CBD products. This growth in current and potential earnings creates strong financial pressures for making CBD uses lawful.
FDA has explained that its delay in issuing regulations on CBD is necessary to investigate the side effects of CBD. It takes time to conduct research that could provide FDA with enough evidence to decide whether a drug ingredient should be approved for use in food products—and, at present, research on the benefits of CBD is mixed.
FDA formed a CBD Policy Working Group in April 2019. In the ensuing year and a half, FDA has issued a few non-binding guidance documents related to CBD products—but, citing the need for additional research, no regulations.
Limits on FDA’s research budget have posed problems during the time FDA has had CBD-related issues on its docket because FDA’s resources have been strained by demands associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Even without adopting more detailed directions on many CBD-containing products, FDA has warned some companies not to market unapproved products with assertions that the products’ CBD ingredients help treat Alzheimer’s Disease or stop cancer cell growth.
As FDA considers issues related to CBD products, some state governments are endeavoring to substitute their own rules for these products, and Congress is considering steps to reduce or remove FDA constraints. States such as California have passed CBD-related guidance that appears to contradict the FDCA’s ban on the use of CBD in food and dietary supplements. Meanwhile, other states are taking actions to crack down on improper sales of CBD products. For example, last April, New York’s attorney general sent a cease-and-desist letter to a CBD company that claimed its products would help fight COVID-19.
Some members of Congress have introduced bills to address CBD products. Two bills introduced this year in the Senate, the Hemp Access and Consumer Safety Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, and one in the House of Representatives, the Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act of 2021, would change federal regulation of CBD products. The proponents of these bills argue that there needs to be federal legislation or further FDA action to clarify the treatment of CBD products under federal law will be treated.
Yet it is equally evident that, without regulatory enforcement actions by FDA, the budding market in CBD products will flourish. Those who are producing and selling CBD products and those who seek access to them will likely endeavor to secure favorable changes in law. Even if there are sound reasons for FDA to take more time before adopting regulations for these markets, delay almost certainly will give rise to conditions that make a cautious, product-by-product determination of legality more politically difficult for FDA.
In the end, time will tell whether FDA believes in the high hopes for CBD—and, if so, how FDA will change its regulatory approach.
FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD)
There is a significant interest in the development of therapies and other consumer products derived from cannabis and its components, including cannabidiol (CBD). FDA recognizes the potential opportunities that cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds may offer and acknowledges the significant interest in these possibilities. However, FDA is aware that some companies are marketing products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds in ways that violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and that may put the health and safety of consumers at risk. The agency is committed to protecting the public health while also taking steps to improve the efficiency of regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of appropriate cannabis and cannabis-derived products. FDA has a number of resources available that address cannabis and cannabis-derived products, such as CBD, and the agency wants to ensure that consumers and other stakeholders have access to these resources in a centralized location.
Questions and Answers
Below are a number of frequently asked questions and answers on this topic.
1. What are cannabis and marijuana?
A. Cannabis is a plant of the Cannabaceae family and contains more than eighty biologically active chemical compounds. The most commonly known compounds are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Parts of the Cannabis sativa plant have been controlled under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) since 1970 under the drug class “Marihuana” (commonly referred to as “marijuana”) [21 U.S.C. 802(16)]. “Marihuana” is listed in Schedule I of the CSA due to its high potential for abuse, which is attributable in large part to the psychoactive effects of THC, and the absence of a currently accepted medical use of the plant in the United States.
2. How does the 2018 Farm Bill define hemp? What does it mean for FDA-regulated products?
A. At the federal level, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-334, (the 2018 Farm Bill) was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018. Among other things, this new law changes certain federal authorities relating to the production and marketing of hemp, defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” These changes include removing hemp from the CSA, which means that cannabis plants and derivatives that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis are no longer controlled substances under federal law.
The 2018 Farm Bill, however, explicitly preserved FDA’s authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the FD&C Act and section 351 of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act). FDA treats products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds as it does any other FDA-regulated products — meaning they’re subject to the same authorities and requirements as FDA-regulated products containing any other substance. This is true regardless of whether the cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds are classified as hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill.
3. Has FDA approved any medical products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds such as CBD?
A. To date, the agency has not approved a marketing application for cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition. FDA has, however, approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products. These approved products are only available with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.
FDA has approved Epidiolex, which contains a purified form of the drug substance CBD for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome in patients 1 years of age and older. It has also approved Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with tuberous sclerosis complex in patients 1 year of age or older. That means FDA has concluded that this particular drug product is safe and effective for its intended use.
The agency also has approved Marinol and Syndros for therapeutic uses in the United States, including for the treatment of anorexia associated with weight loss in AIDS patients. Marinol and Syndros include the active ingredient dronabinol, a synthetic delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is considered the psychoactive component of cannabis. Another FDA-approved drug, Cesamet, contains the active ingredient nabilone, which has a chemical structure similar to THC and is synthetically derived.
4. Aside from Epidiolex, are there other CBD drug products that are FDA-approved? What about the products I’ve seen in stores or online?
A. No. There are no other FDA-approved drug products that contain CBD. We are aware that some firms are marketing CBD products to treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses , and we have issued several warning letters to such firms. Under the FD&C Act, any product intended to have a therapeutic or medical use, and any product (other than a food) that is intended to affect the structure or function of the body of humans or animals, is a drug. Drugs must generally either receive premarket approval by FDA through the New Drug Application (NDA) process or conform to a “monograph” for a particular drug category, as established by FDA’s Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drug Review. CBD was not an ingredient considered under the OTC drug review. An unapproved new drug cannot be distributed or sold in interstate commerce.
FDA continues to be concerned at the proliferation of products asserting to contain CBD that are marketed for therapeutic or medical uses although they have not been approved by FDA. Often such products are sold online and are therefore available throughout the country. Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the law, but also can put patients at risk, as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective. This deceptive marketing of unproven treatments also raises significant public health concerns, because patients and other consumers may be influenced not to use approved therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.
Unlike drugs approved by FDA, products that have not been subject to FDA review as part of the drug approval process have not been evaluated as to whether they work, what the proper dosage may be if they do work, how they could interact with other drugs, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.
The agency has and will continue to monitor the marketplace and take action as needed to protect the public health against companies illegally selling cannabis and cannabis-derived products that can put consumers at risk and that are being marketed for therapeutic uses for which they are not approved. At the same time, FDA recognizes the potential therapeutic opportunities that cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds could offer and acknowledges the significant interest in these possibilities. FDA continues to believe that the drug approval process represents the best way to help ensure that safe and effective new medicines, including any drugs derived from cannabis, are available to patients in need of appropriate medical therapy. The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) is committed to supporting the development of new drugs, including cannabis and cannabis-derived drugs, through the investigational new drug (IND) and drug approval process (see Question #16).
5. Why hasn’t FDA approved more products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds for medical uses?
A. FDA is aware that unapproved cannabis or cannabis-derived products are being used for the treatment of a number of medical conditions including, for example, AIDS wasting, epilepsy, neuropathic pain, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and cancer and chemotherapy-induced nausea.
To date, FDA has not approved a marketing application for cannabis for the treatment of any disease or condition and thus has not determined that cannabis is safe and effective for any particular disease or condition. The agency has, however, approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products (see Question #2).
FDA relies on applicants and scientific investigators to conduct research. The agency’s role, as laid out in the FD&C Act, is to review data submitted to the FDA in an application for approval to ensure that the drug product meets the statutory standards for approval.
The study of cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds in clinical trial settings is needed to assess the safety and effectiveness of these substances for the treatment of any disease or condition. FDA’s December 2016 Guidance for Industry: Botanical Drug Development provides specific recommendations on submitting INDs for botanical drug products, such as those derived from cannabis, in support of future marketing applications for these products. The agency’s July 2020 draft guidance, Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds: Quality Considerations for Clinical Research Guidance for Industry, highlights quality considerations for anyone wishing to conduct clinical research in this area, particularly those who are less familiar with the FDA.
The FDA will continue to facilitate the work of companies interested in appropriately bringing safe, effective, and quality products to market, including scientifically-based research concerning the medicinal uses of cannabis. Additional information concerning research on the medical use of cannabis is available from the National Institutes of Health, particularly the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
6. What is FDA’s reaction to states that are allowing cannabis to be sold for medical uses without the FDA’s approval?
A. The FDA is aware that several states have either passed laws that remove state restrictions on the medical use of cannabis and its derivatives or are considering doing so. It is important to conduct medical research into the safety and effectiveness of cannabis products through adequate and well-controlled clinical trials. We welcome the opportunity to talk with states who are considering support for medical research of cannabis and its derivatives, so that we can provide information on Federal and scientific standards.
7. Has the agency received any adverse event reports associated with cannabis use for medical conditions?
A. The agency has received reports of adverse events in patients using cannabis or cannabis-derived products to treat medical conditions. The FDA reviews such reports and will continue to monitor adverse event reports for any safety signals, with a focus on serious adverse effects. Consumers and healthcare providers can report adverse events associated with cannabis or cannabis-derived products via the FDA’s MedWatch reporting system, either online or by phone at 1-800-FDA-1088. For more information, please see the FDA’s webpage on MedWatch.
Information from adverse event reports regarding cannabis use is extremely limited; the FDA primarily receives adverse event reports for approved products. General information on the potential adverse effects of using cannabis and its constituents can come from clinical trials that have been published, as well as from spontaneously reported adverse events sent to the FDA. Additional information about the safety and effectiveness of cannabis and its constituents is needed. Clinical trials of cannabis conducted under an IND application could collect this important information as a part of the drug development process.
8. Is it legal for me to sell CBD products?
A. It depends, among other things, on the intended use of the product and how it is labeled and marketed. Even if a CBD product meets the definition of “hemp” under the 2018 Farm Bill (see Question #2), it still must comply with all other applicable laws, including the FD&C Act. The below questions and answers explain some of the ways that specific parts of the FD&C Act can affect the legality of CBD products.
We are aware that state and local authorities are fielding numerous questions about the legality of CBD. There is ongoing communication with state and local officials to answer questions about requirements under the FD&C Act, to better understand the landscape at the state level, and to otherwise engage with state/local regulatory partners.
9. Can THC or CBD products be sold as dietary supplements?
A. No. Based on available evidence, FDA has concluded that THC and CBD products are excluded from the dietary supplement definition under section 201(ff)(3)(B) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(ff)(3)(B)]. Under that provision, if a substance (such as THC or CBD) is an active ingredient in a drug product that has been approved under section 505 of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 355], or has been authorized for investigation as a new drug for which substantial clinical investigations have been instituted and for which the existence of such investigations has been made public, then products containing that substance are excluded from the definition of a dietary supplement. FDA considers a substance to be “authorized for investigation as a new drug” if it is the subject of an Investigational New Drug application (IND) that has gone into effect. Under FDA’s regulations (21 CFR 312.2), unless a clinical investigation meets the limited criteria in that regulation, an IND is required for all clinical investigations of products that are subject to section 505 of the FD&C Act.
There is an exception to section 201(ff)(3)(B) if the substance was “marketed as” a dietary supplement or as a conventional food before the drug was approved or before the new drug investigations were authorized, as applicable. However, based on available evidence, FDA has concluded that this is not the case for THC or CBD.
FDA is not aware of any evidence that would call into question its current conclusions that THC and CBD products are excluded from the dietary supplement definition under section 201(ff)(3)(B) of the FD&C Act. Interested parties may present the agency with any evidence that they think has bearing on this issue. Our continuing review of information that has been submitted thus far has not caused us to change our conclusions.
When a substance is excluded from the dietary supplement definition under section 201(ff)(3)(B) of the FD&C Act, the exclusion applies unless FDA, in the agency’s discretion, has issued a regulation, after notice and comment, finding that the article would be lawful under the FD&C Act. To date, no such regulation has been issued for any substance.
Ingredients that are derived from parts of the cannabis plant that do not contain THC or CBD might fall outside the scope of this exclusion, and therefore might be able to be marketed as dietary supplements. However, all products marketed as dietary supplements must comply with all applicable laws and regulations governing dietary supplement products. For example, manufacturers and distributors who wish to market dietary supplements that contain “new dietary ingredients” (i.e., dietary ingredients that were not marketed in the United States in a dietary supplement before October 15, 1994) generally must notify FDA about these ingredients (see section 413(d) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 350b(d)]). Generally, the notification must include information demonstrating that a dietary supplement containing the new dietary ingredient will reasonably be expected to be safe under the conditions of use recommended or suggested in the labeling. A dietary supplement is adulterated if it contains a new dietary ingredient for which there is inadequate information to provide reasonable assurance that the ingredient does not present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury (see section 402(f)(1)(B) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. 342(f)(1)(B)]).
Numerous other legal requirements apply to dietary supplement products, including requirements relating to Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) and labeling. Information about these requirements, and about FDA requirements across all product areas, can be found on FDA’s website.
10. Is it legal, in interstate commerce, to sell a food (including any animal food or feed) to which THC or CBD has been added?
A. No. Under section 301(ll) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 331(ll)], it is prohibited to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which has been added a substance which is an active ingredient in a drug product that has been approved under section 505 of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 355], or a drug for which substantial clinical investigations have been instituted and for which the existence of such investigations has been made public. There are exceptions, including when the drug was marketed in food before the drug was approved or before the substantial clinical investigations involving the drug had been instituted or, in the case of animal feed, that the drug is a new animal drug approved for use in feed and used according to the approved labeling. However, based on available evidence, FDA has concluded that none of these is the case for THC or CBD. FDA has therefore concluded that it is a prohibited act to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which THC or CBD has been added. FDA is not aware of any evidence that would call into question these conclusions. Interested parties may present the agency with any evidence that they think has bearing on this issue. Our continuing review of information that has been submitted thus far has not caused us to change our conclusions.
When this statutory prohibition applies to a substance, it prohibits the introduction into interstate commerce of any food to which the substance has been added unless FDA, in the agency’s discretion, has issued a regulation approving the use of the substance in the food (section 301(ll)(2) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 331(ll)(2)]). To date, no such regulation has been issued for any substance.
Ingredients that are derived from parts of the cannabis plant that do not contain THC or CBD might fall outside the scope of 301(ll), and therefore might be able to be added to food. For example, as discussed in Question #12, certain hemp seed ingredients can be legally marketed in human food. However, all food ingredients must comply with all applicable laws and regulations. For example, by statute, any substance intentionally added to food is a food additive, and therefore subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by qualified experts under the conditions of its intended use, or the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive (sections 201(s) and 409 of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. §§ 321(s) and 348]). Aside from the three hemp seed ingredients mentioned in Question #12, no other cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredients have been the subject of a food additive petition, an evaluated GRAS notification, or have otherwise been approved for use in food by FDA. Food companies that wish to use cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredients in their foods are subject to the relevant laws and regulations that govern all food products, including those that relate to the food additive and GRAS processes.
11. In making the two previous determinations about THC, why did FDA conclude that THC is an active ingredient in a drug product that has been approved under section 505 of the FD&C Act? In making the two previous determinations about CBD, why did FDA determine that substantial clinical investigations have been authorized for and/or instituted, and that the existence of such investigations has been made public?
A. THC (dronabinol) is the active ingredient in the approved drug products, Marinol capsules (and generics) and Syndros oral solution. CBD is the active ingredient in the approved drug product, Epidiolex.
The existence of substantial clinical investigations regarding THC and CBD have been made public. For example, two such substantial clinical investigations include GW Pharmaceuticals’ investigations regarding Sativex. (See Sativex Commences US Phase II/III Clinical Trial in Cancer Pain )
12. Can hulled hemp seed, hemp seed protein powder, and hemp seed oil be used in human food?
A. In December 2018, FDA completed its evaluation of three generally recognized as safe (GRAS) notices for the following hemp seed-derived food ingredients: hulled hemp seed, hemp seed protein powder, and hemp seed oil. FDA had no questions regarding the company’s conclusion that the use of such products as described in the notices is safe. Therefore, these products can be legally marketed in human foods for the uses described in the notices, provided they comply with all other requirements. These GRAS notices related only to the use of these ingredients in human food. To date, FDA has not received any GRAS notices for the use of hemp-derived ingredients in animal food (see Question #25).
Hemp seeds are the seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant. The seeds of the plant do not naturally contain THC or CBD. The hemp seed-derived ingredients that are the subject of these GRAS notices contain only trace amounts of THC and CBD, which the seeds may pick up during harvesting and processing when they are in contact with other parts of the plant. Consumption of these hemp seed-derived ingredients is not capable of making consumers “high.”
The GRAS conclusions can apply to ingredients for human food marketed by other companies, if they are manufactured in a way that is consistent with the notices and they meet the listed specifications. Some of the intended uses for these ingredients include adding them as source of protein, carbohydrates, oil, and other nutrients to beverages (juices, smoothies, protein drinks, plant-based alternatives to dairy products), soups, dips, spreads, sauces, dressings, plant-based alternatives to meat products, desserts, baked goods, cereals, snacks and nutrition bars. Products that contain any of these hemp seed-derived ingredients must declare them by name on the ingredient list.
These GRAS conclusions do not affect the FDA’s position on the addition of CBD and THC to food.
13. What is FDA’s position on cannabis and cannabis-derived ingredients in cosmetics?
A. A cosmetic is defined in 201(i) as “(1) articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body or any part thereof for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance, and (2) articles intended for use as a component of any such articles; except that such term shall not include soap.”
Under the FD&C Act, cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to premarket approval by FDA, except for most color additives. Certain cosmetic ingredients are prohibited or restricted by regulation, but currently that is not the case for any cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredients. Ingredients not specifically addressed by regulation must nonetheless comply with all applicable requirements, and no ingredient – including a cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredient – can be used in a cosmetic if it causes the product to be adulterated or misbranded in any way. A cosmetic generally is adulterated if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling, or under such conditions of use as are customary or usual (section 601(a) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 361(a)]).
If a product is intended to affect the structure or function of the body, or to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent disease, it is a drug, or possibly both a cosmetic and a drug, even if it affects the appearance. (See Question #3 for more information about drugs.)
FDA can take action if it has information that an ingredient or cosmetic product is unsafe to consumers. Consumers can report adverse events associated with cosmetic products via the FDA’s MedWatch reporting system, either online or by phone at 1-800-FDA-1088, or by contacting your nearest FDA district office consumer complaint coordinator. For more information, please see the FDA’s webpage on how to report a cosmetic-related complaint.
14. Will FDA take action against cannabis or cannabis-related products that are in violation of the FD&C Act?
A. The FDA has sent warning letters in the past to companies illegally selling CBD products that claimed to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure serious diseases, such as cancer. Some of these products were in further violation of the FD&C Act because they were marketed as dietary supplements or because they involved the addition of CBD to food.
When a product is in violation of the FD&C Act, FDA considers many factors in deciding whether or not to initiate an enforcement action. Those factors include, among other things, agency resources and the threat to the public health. FDA also may consult with its federal and state partners in making decisions about whether to initiate a federal enforcement action.
15. Can I import or export cannabis-containing or cannabis-derived products?
A. General information about the import/export of drug products regulated by FDA can be found online here. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the controlled substance laws and regulations in the U.S. and, as such, should be consulted with respect to any regulations/requirements they may have regarding the import or export of products containing cannabis. Please see here for information about importing or exporting food ingredients.
Regarding imports, if it appears that an article is adulterated, misbranded, in violation of section 505 of the FD&C Act, or prohibited from introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce under section 301(ll) of the FD&C Act, such article will be refused admission (see section 801(a)(3) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 381(a)(3)]).
Research and Expanded Access
16. What is FDA’s role when it comes to the investigation of cannabis and cannabis-derived products for medical use?
A. To conduct clinical research that can lead to an approved new drug, including research using materials from plants such as cannabis, researchers need to work with the FDA and submit an IND application to the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). The IND application process gives researchers a path to follow that includes regular interactions with the FDA to support efficient drug development while protecting the patients who are enrolled in the trials. For research for use as an animal drug product, researchers would establish an investigational new animal drug (INAD) file with the Center for Veterinary Medicine to conduct their research, rather than an IND with CDER.
As discussed above (see Question #2), the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the CSA. This change may streamline the process for researchers to study cannabis and its derivatives, including CBD, that fall under the definition of hemp, which could speed the development of new drugs.
As also discussed above (see Question #5) the agency also issued a draft guidance in July 2020, Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds: Quality Considerations for Clinical Research Guidance for Industry, for individuals considering clinical research in this area.
Conducting clinical research using cannabis-related substances that are scheduled by the DEA often involves interactions with several federal agencies. This includes: a registration administered by the DEA; obtaining the cannabis for research from NIDA, within the National Institutes of Health, or another DEA-registered source; and review by the FDA of the IND or INAD application and research protocol. Additionally:
- For a Schedule I controlled substance under the CSA, DEA provides researchers with investigator and protocol registrations and has Schedule I-level security requirements at the site cannabis will be studied.
- NIDA provides research-grade cannabis for scientific study. The agency is responsible for overseeing the cultivation of cannabis for medical research and has contracted with the University of Mississippi to grow cannabis for research at a secure facility. Cannabis of varying potencies and compositions is available. DEA also may allow additional growers to register with the DEA to produce and distribute cannabis for research purposes.
- Researchers work with the FDA and submit an IND application to the appropriate division in the Office of New Drugs in CDER depending on the therapeutic indication. Based on the results obtained in studies conducted at the IND stage, sponsors may submit a marketing application for formal approval of the drug.
17. Does the FDA object to the clinical investigation of cannabis for medical use?
A. No. The FDA believes that scientifically valid research conducted under an IND application is the best way to determine what patients could benefit from the use of drugs derived from cannabis. The FDA supports the conduct of that research by:
- Providing information on the process needed to conduct clinical research using cannabis.
- Providing information on the specific requirements needed to develop a drug that is derived from a plant such as cannabis. In December 2016, the FDA updated its Guidance for Industry: Botanical Drug Development, which provides sponsors with guidance on submitting IND applications for botanical drug products.
- Providing specific support for investigators interested in conducting clinical research using cannabis and its constituents as a part of the IND process through meetings and regular interactions throughout the drug development process.
- Providing general support to investigators to help them understand and follow the procedures to conduct clinical research through the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s Small Business and Industry Assistance group.
18. How can patients gain access to cannabis or cannabis-derived products for medical use through expanded access?
A. Expanded access is a potential pathway for a patient with a serious or life-threatening disease or condition to try an investigational medical product (drug, biologic, or medical device) for treatment outside of clinical trials when there are no comparable or satisfactory therapies available. Manufacturers may be able to make investigational drugs available to individual patients in certain circumstances through expanded access, as described in the FD&C Act and implementing regulations.
19. Can patients gain access to cannabis or cannabis-derived products for medical use through Right to Try?
A. Information for patients on Right to Try (RTT) is available on our website. RTT is designed to facilitate access to certain investigational drugs through direct interactions between patients, their physicians and drug sponsors – FDA is not involved in these decisions. Sponsors developing drugs for life-threatening conditions are responsible for determining whether to make their products available to patients who qualify for access under RTT. If you are interested in RTT, you should discuss this pathway with your licensed physician. Companies who develop drugs and biologics, also known as sponsors, can provide information about whether their drug/biologic is considered an eligible investigational drug under RTT and if they are able to provide the drug/biologic under the RTT Act.
Children and Pregnant/Lactating Women
20. Does the FDA have concerns about administering a cannabis product to children?
A. We understand that parents are trying to find treatments for their children’s medical conditions. However, the use of untested drugs can have unpredictable and unintended consequences. Caregivers and patients can be confident that FDA-approved drugs have been carefully evaluated for safety, efficacy, and quality, and are monitored by the FDA once they are on the market. The FDA continues to support sound, scientifically-based research into the medicinal uses of drug products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds, and will continue to work with companies interested in bringing safe, effective, and quality products to market. With the exception of Epidiolex, Marinol, and Syndros, no product containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds (either plant-based or synthetic) has been approved as safe and effective for use in any patient population, whether pediatric or adult.
21. Does the FDA have concerns about administering a cannabis product to pregnant and lactating women?
A. The FDA is aware that there are potential adverse health effects with use of cannabis products containing THC in pregnant or lactating women. Published scientific literature reports potential adverse effects of cannabis use in pregnant women, including fetal growth restriction, low birth weight, preterm birth, small-for-gestational age, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admission, and stillbirth. [1, 2, 3] Based on published animal research, there are also concerns that use of cannabis during pregnancy may negatively impact fetal brain development. [4, 5, 6 ] The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue cannabis use. In addition, ACOG notes that there are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of cannabis use on breastfed infants; therefore, cannabis use is discouraged when breastfeeding.  Pregnant and lactating women should talk with a health care provider about the potential adverse health effects of cannabis use.
22. What does the FDA think about making CBD available to children with epilepsy?
A. The FDA has approved Epidiolex, which contains a purified form of the drug substance CBD, for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome in patients 1 years of age and older. It has also approved Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with tuberous sclerosis complex in patients 1 year of age or older. That means the FDA has concluded that this particular drug product is safe and effective for its intended use. Controlled clinical trials testing the safety and efficacy of a drug, along with careful review through the FDA’s drug approval process, is the most appropriate way to bring cannabis-derived treatments to patients. Because of the adequate and well-controlled clinical studies that supported this approval, and the assurance of manufacturing quality standards, prescribers can have confidence in the drug’s uniform strength and consistent delivery that support appropriate dosing needed for treating patients with these complex and serious epilepsy syndromes.
23. What should I do if my child eats something containing cannabis?
A. With the exception of products such as the hemp seed ingredients discussed in Question #12, which have been evaluated for safety, it is important to protect children from accidental ingestion of cannabis and cannabis-containing products. FDA recommends that these products are kept out of reach of children to reduce the risk of accidental ingestion. If the parent or caregiver has a reasonable suspicion that the child accidentally ingested products containing cannabis, the child should be taken to a physician or emergency department, especially if the child acts in an unusual way or is/feels sick.
Pets and other Animals
24. I’ve seen cannabis products being marketed for pets. Are they safe?
A. FDA is aware of some cannabis products being marketed as animal health products. We want to stress that FDA has not approved cannabis for any use in animals, and the agency cannot ensure the safety or effectiveness of these products. For these reasons, FDA cautions pet-owners against the use of such products and recommends that you talk with your veterinarian about appropriate treatment options for your pet.
Signs that your pet may be suffering adverse effects from ingesting cannabis may include lethargy, depression, heavy drooling, vomiting, agitation, tremors, and convulsions.
If you have concerns that your pet is suffering adverse effects from ingesting cannabis or any substance containing cannabis, consult your veterinarian, local animal emergency hospital or an animal poison control center immediately.
While the agency is aware of reports of pets consuming various forms of cannabis, to date, FDA has not directly received any reports of adverse events associated with animals given cannabis products. However, adverse events from accidental ingestion are well-documented in scientific literature. If you feel your animal has suffered from ingesting cannabis, we encourage you to report the adverse event to the FDA. Please visit Reporting Information about Animal Drugs and Devices to learn more about how to report an adverse event related to an animal drug or for how to report an adverse event or problem with a pet food.
25. Can hemp be added to animal food?
A. All ingredients in animal food must be the subject of an approved food additive petition or generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for their intended use in the intended species. If an animal food contains an ingredient that is not the subject of an approved food additive petition or GRAS for its intended use in the intended species, that animal food would be adulterated under section 402(a)(2)(C)(i) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 342(a)(2)(C)(i)]. In coordination with state feed control officials, CVM also recognizes ingredients listed in the Official Publication (OP) of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as being acceptable for use in animal food. At this time, there are no approved food additive petitions or ingredient definitions listed in the AAFCO OP for any substances derived from hemp, and we are unaware of any GRAS conclusions regarding the use of any substances derived from hemp in animal food. Learn more about animal food ingredient submissions here.
With respect to products labeled to contain “hemp” that may also contain THC or CBD, as mentioned above it is a prohibited act under section 301(ll) of the FD&C Act to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any animal food to which THC or CBD has been added.
26. Can approved human drugs containing CBD or synthetic THC be used extralabel in animals?
A. The Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994 (AMDUCA), permits veterinarians to prescribe extralabel uses of approved human and animal drugs for animals under certain conditions. Extralabel use must comply with all the provisions of AMDUCA and its implementing regulation at 21 CFR § 530. Among other limitations, these provisions allow extralabel use of a drug only on the lawful order of a licensed veterinarian in the context of a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship and only in circumstances when the health of an animal is threatened or suffering, or death may result from failure to treat.
In addition, under 21 CFR 530.20, extralabel use of an approved human drug in a food-producing animal is not permitted if an animal drug approved for use in food-producing animals can be used in an extralabel manner for the use. In addition, under 21 CFR 530.20(b)(2), if scientific information on the human food safety aspect of the use of the approved human drug in food-producing animals is not available, the veterinarian must take appropriate measures to ensure that the animal and its food products will not enter the human food supply.
For more information on extralabel use of FDA approved drugs in animals, see Extralabel Use of FDA Approved Drugs In Animals.
 Gray, et al. Identifying Prenatal Cannabis Exposure and Effects of Concurrent Tobacco Exposure on Neonatal Growth. Clinical Chemistry. 2010; 56(9): 1442-1450.
 Gunn, et al. Prenatal Exposure to cannabis and maternal and child health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2016; 6:e009986.
 Hayatbakhsh, et al. Birth Outcomes associated with cannabis use before and during pregnancy. Pediatric Research. 2012; 71 (2): 215-219.
 Silva, et al. Prenatal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) alters cognitive function and amphetamine response from weaning to adulthood in the rat. Neurotoxicol and Teratol 2012; 34(1): 63-71.
 Trezza, et al. Effects of perinatal exposure to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on the emotional reactivity of the offspring: a longitudinal behavioral study in Wistar rats. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2008; 198(4): 529-537.
 Campolongo, et al. Perinatal exposure to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol causes enduring cognitive deficits associated with alteration of cortical gene expression and neurotransmission in rats. Addict Biol 2007; 12(3-4): 485–495.
What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD
The FDA is working to answer questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, particularly CBD.
- Cannabis is a plant of the Cannabaceae family and contains more than eighty biologically active chemical compounds. The most commonly known compounds are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the component that produces the “high” associated with marijuana use. Much interest has been seen around CBD and its potential related to health benefits.
- Marijuana is different from CBD. CBD is a single compound in the cannabis plant, and marijuana is a type of cannabis plant or plant material that contains many naturally occurring compounds, including CBD and THC.
- The FDA has approved only one CBD product, a prescription drug product to treat seizures associated with Lennox Gastaut syndrome (LGS), Dravet syndrome (DS), or tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) in people one year of age and older.
- It is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement.
- The FDA has seen only limited data about CBD safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered before taking CBD for any reason.
- Some CBD products are being marketed with unproven medical claims and are of unknown quality.
- The FDA will continue to update the public as it learns more about CBD.
Potential harm, side effects and unknowns
- CBD has the potential to harm you, and harm can happen even before you become aware of it.
- CBD can cause liver injury.
- CBD can affect how other drugs you are taking work, potentially causing serious side effects.
- Use of CBD with alcohol or other drugs that slow brain activity, such as those used to treat anxiety, panic, stress, or sleep disorders, increases the risk of sedation and drowsiness, which can lead to injuries.
- Male reproductive toxicity, or damage to fertility in males or male offspring of women who have been exposed, has been reported in studies of animals exposed to CBD.
- CBD can cause side effects that you might notice. These side effects should improve when CBD is stopped or when the amount used is reduced.
- Changes in alertness, most commonly experienced as somnolence (drowsiness or sleepiness).
- Gastrointestinal distress, most commonly experienced as diarrhea and/or decreased appetite.
- Changes in mood, most commonly experienced as irritability and agitation.
- There are many important aspects about CBD that we just don’t know, such as:
- What happens if you take CBD daily for sustained periods of time?
- What level of intake triggers the known risks associated with CBD?
- How do different methods of consumption affect intake (e.g., oral consumption, topical , smoking or vaping)?
- What is the effect of CBD on the developing brain (such as on children who take CBD)?
- What are the effects of CBD on the developing fetus or breastfed newborn?
- How does CBD interact with herbs and other plant materials?
- Does CBD cause male reproductive toxicity in humans, as has been reported in studies of animals?
Unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality
You may have noticed that cannabidiol (CBD) seems to be available almost everywhere, and marketed as a variety of products including drugs, food, dietary supplements, cosmetics, and animal health products. Other than one prescription drug product to treat seizures associated with Lennox Gastaut syndrome (LGS), Dravet syndrome (DS), or tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) in people one year of age and older, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any other CBD products, and there is very limited available information about CBD, including about its effects on the body.
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 is working on answering these questions through ongoing efforts including feedback from a recent FDA hearing and information and data gathering through a public docket.
Despite the 2018 Farm Bill removing hemp — defined as cannabis and cannabis derivatives with very low concentrations (no more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis) of THC — from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, CBD products are still subject to the same laws and requirements as FDA-regulated products that contain any other substance.
The FDA is concerned that people may mistakenly believe that using CBD “can’t hurt.” The agency wants to be clear that we have seen only limited data about CBD’s safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered. As part of the drug review and approval process for the prescription drug containing CBD, it was determined that the risks are outweighed by the benefits of the approved drug for the particular population for which it was intended. Consumer use of any CBD products should always be discussed with a healthcare provider. Consumers should be aware of the potential risks associated with using CBD products. Some of these can occur without your awareness, such as:
- Liver Injury: During its review of the marketing application for Epidiolex — a purified form of CBD that the FDA approved in 2018 for use in the treatment of two rare and severe seizure disorders — the FDA identified certain safety risks, including the potential for liver injury. This serious risk can be managed when an FDA-approved CBD drug product is taken under medical supervision, but it is less clear how it might be managed when CBD is used far more widely, without medical supervision, and not in accordance with FDA-approved labeling. Although this risk was increased when taken with other drugs that impact the liver, signs of liver injury were seen also in patients not on those drugs. The occurrence of this liver injury was identified through blood tests, as is often the case with early problems with the liver. Liver injury was also seen in other studies of CBD in published literature. We are concerned about potential liver injury associated with CBD use that could go undetected if not monitored by a healthcare provider.
- Drug Interactions: Information from studies of the FDA-approved CBD drug Epidiolex show that there is a risk of CBD impacting other medicines you take – or that other medicines you take could impact the dose of CBD that can safely be used. Taking CBD with other medications may increase or decrease the effects of the other medications. This may lead to an increased chance of adverse effects from, or decreased effectiveness of, the other medications. Drug interactions were also seen in other studies of CBD in published literature. We are concerned about the potential safety of taking other medicines with CBD when not being monitored by a healthcare provider. In addition, there is limited research on the interactions between CBD products and herbs or other plant-based products in dietary supplements. Consumers should use caution when combining CBD products with herbs or dietary supplements.
- Male Reproductive Toxicity: Studies in laboratory animals showed male reproductive toxicity, including in the male offspring of CBD-treated pregnant females. The changes seen include decrease in testicular size, inhibition of sperm growth and development, and decreased circulating testosterone, among others. Because these findings were only seen in animals, it is not yet clear what these findings mean for human patients and the impact it could have on men (or the male children of pregnant women) who take CBD. For instance, these findings raise the concern that CBD could negatively affect a man’s fertility. Further testing and evaluation are needed to better understand this potential risk.
In addition, CBD can be the cause of side effects that you might notice. These side effects should improve when CBD is stopped or when the amount used is reduced. This could include changes in alertness, most commonly experienced as somnolence (sleepiness), but this could also include insomnia; gastrointestinal distress, most commonly experienced as diarrhea and/or decreased appetite but could also include abdominal pain or upset stomach; and changes in mood, most commonly experienced as irritability and agitation.
The FDA is actively working to learn more about the safety of CBD and CBD products, including the risks identified above and other topics, such as:
- Cumulative Exposure: The cumulative exposure to CBD if people access it across a broad range of consumer products. For example, what happens if you eat food with CBD in it, use CBD-infused skin cream and take other CBD-based products on the same day? How much CBD is absorbed from your skin cream? What if you use these products daily for a week or a month?
- Special Populations: The effects of CBD on other special populations (e.g., the elderly, children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women).
- CBD and Animals: The safety of CBD use in pets and other animals, including considerations of species, breed, or class and the safety of the resulting human food products (e.g., meat milk, or eggs) from food-producing species.
Unproven medical claims, unsafe manufacturing practices
Some CBD Products are Being Marketed with Unproven Medical Claims and Could be Produced with Unsafe Manufacturing Practices
Unlike the FDA-approved CBD drug product, unapproved CBD products, which could include cosmetics, foods, products marketed as dietary supplements, and any other product (other than Epidiolex) making therapeutic claims, have not been subject to FDA evaluation regarding whether they are effective to treat a particular disease or have other effects that may be claimed. In addition, they have not been evaluated by the FDA to determine what the proper dosage is, how they could interact with other drugs or foods, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.
Misleading, unproven, or false claims associated with CBD products may lead consumers to put off getting important medical care, such as proper diagnosis, treatment, and supportive care. For that reason, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the best way to treat diseases or conditions with available FDA-approved treatment options.
In addition to safety risks and unproven claims, the quality of many CBD products may also be in question. The FDA is also concerned that a lack of appropriate processing controls and practices can put consumers at additional risks. For example, the agency has tested the chemical content of cannabinoid compounds in some of the products, and many were found to not contain the levels of CBD they claimed. We are also investigating reports of CBD potentially containing unsafe levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides, heavy metals, THC).
CBD products are also being marketed for pets and other animals. The FDA has not approved CBD for any use in animals and the concerns regarding CBD products with unproven medical claims and of unknown quality equally apply to CBD products marketed for animals. The FDA recommends pet owners talk with their veterinarians about appropriate treatment options for their pets.
The FDA’s top priority is to protect the public health. This priority includes making sure consumers know about products that put their health and safety at greatest risk, such as those claiming to prevent, diagnose, treat, mitigate, or cure serious diseases. For example, the agency has warned companies to stop selling CBD products they claim are intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, mitigate, or cure serious diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, psychiatric disorders and diabetes. While we have focused on these types of products, we will continue to monitor the marketplace for any product that poses a risk to public health, including those with dangerous contaminants, those marketed to vulnerable populations, and products that otherwise put the public health at risk.
Evaluation of the regulatory frameworks
The FDA is Continuing to Evaluate the Regulatory Frameworks for Products Containing Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds
The FDA continues to believe the drug approval process represents the best way to ensure that safe and effective new medicines, including any drugs derived from cannabis, are available to patients in need of appropriate medical therapy. The agency is committed to supporting the development of new drugs, including cannabis and cannabis-derived drugs, through the investigational new drug and drug approval process.
We are aware that there may be some products on the market that add CBD to a food or label CBD as a dietary supplement. Under federal law, it is illegal to market CBD this way.
The FDA is evaluating the regulatory frameworks that apply to certain cannabis-derived products that are intended for non-drug uses, including whether and/or how the FDA might consider updating its regulations, as well as whether potential legislation might be appropriate. The information we have underscores the need for further study and high quality, scientific information about the safety and potential uses of CBD.
The FDA is committed to setting sound, science-based policy. The FDA is raising these safety, marketing, and labeling concerns because we want you to know what we know. We encourage consumers to think carefully before exposing themselves, their family, or their pets, to any product, especially products like CBD, which may have potential risks, be of unknown quality, and have unproven benefits.
Our Consumer Update includes a practical summary of what we know to date. As we learn more, our goal is to update you with the information you need to make informed choices about CBD products. Also, as the regulatory pathways are clarified we will take care to inform all stakeholders as quickly as possible.