CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant, but one that does not result in a high. It has become wildly popular during the last several months because of claims that it helps with a variety of ailments, from anxiety and diabetes to headaches and menstrual cramps.
Most states, though, have yet to change their laws to match the new federal rules, leaving local police and prosecutors in a quandary over what is legal and what is not. The result has been a gold rush of CBD marketers, a raft of online ruminations about what is permissible, and, increasingly, confusion.
In Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas, the authorities broke down the door of Ms. Wazwaz’s store, seized CBD products and thousands of dollars in cash, and confiscated employees’ personal cellphones.
But while CBD is now as common as coffee in some neighborhoods, sold in shopping malls and tested by a national hamburger chain, possession of CBD in some places can prompt an arrest.
“I’m not some mob boss,” Ms. Wazwaz said in an interview. “I’m a soccer mom with kids.”
An important issue in the discussion around cannabis-derived oils is: how much THC is a legal CBD product allowed to contain in order not to be considered a narcotic? Authorities sometimes choose to deal with these regulations in a pragmatic way, recognizing that laws once designed to control marijuana abuse may not be fully applicable to hemp. For example, in the Netherlands, a maximum level of 0.05% THC is allowed in CBD products, even though, formally, any detectable trace of THC is illegal according to Dutch narcotics laws. This approach is based on the fact that even hemp varieties of cannabis produce a small amount of THC, and therefore naturally derived CBD extracts will carry some THC in the final products.
Given the many restrictions and conditions, it can be difficult to set up a fully legal and functional pipeline for the production and sale of CBD oil. Because different countries allow different activities with regards to cultivation, processing, extracting, etc., of hemp, entrepreneurs have often set up production pipelines that span multiple countries, where hemp is cultivated in one country, while extraction takes place in another, lab testing in a third, and sales take place in yet another country. This obviously makes it harder to determine exactly where a CBD product comes from, who is responsible for its final quality, and what standards were followed. For that reason, thorough analytical testing of final products by certified third-party labs is an essential tool to guarantee the safety and composition of CBD oils.
Identifying the Real Risks
Determining risks and benefits through proper clinical trials remains highly desired, but these will take considerable time and funds. As a result, clinical data will not appear any time soon, while patients will not simply stop using the many CBD products to which they have become accustomed. Taking back regulatory control over CBD could therefore start with a more short-term and achievable approach, i.e., demanding accurate and proper labeling, reflecting in detail what each product does and does not contain, and how it was manufactured. For a clearer judgment of the potential therapeutic effects, the risks, but also the legality of a cannabis extract, it is important to know its exact composition. After all, published data from around the world has taught us that misleading labels as well as harmful contaminants are real and actual problems for CBD products. The analytical methodology and the third-party labs needed for this approach largely already exist, and could easily be optimized to quickly get a better grip on the unrestrained cannabinoid market. This approach would hold each producer strictly accountable for the quality and safety of their own products, as long as there are real legal consequences for those businesses that break the rules. Add to this a system for regular professional audits and inspections, and a crackdown on unsubstantiated health claims, and we have a reasonable system to ensure that CBD can be used responsibly by those who need it, until much needed clinical data become available.
If CBD oil was used mainly by adult, well-informed, and reasonably healthy consumers, the impact of its widespread use would perhaps be quite acceptable and limited. However, this is not the case, as CBD is actively marketed for use by children (e.g., for Dravet syndrome, ADHD, autism), elderly people (Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease), patients suffering from complex diseases (cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain), and even pets (anxiety, appetite, sleep). Indiscriminate use of CBD may lead to various issues among these consumers. For example, CBD shows an exciting potential for treating epilepsy in children, but the long-term effects of high-dose CBD on these children’s brain functions remain unclear, while there are strong clues that the endocannabinoid system is central in the proper neuronal development of the adolescent brain . In order to halt the unchecked advertising of CBD products, health authorities in various countries have begun sending official warning letters to stop producers and sellers from making unfounded health claims [24, 25].
Analysis of Dutch cannabis oil samples obtained from actual patients, comparing the claimed cannabinoid content on the product label with lab results measured in the study