The rush to capitalize on widespread consumer interest in products that contain cannabidiol has become a stampede. Not a week goes by without news from companies looking to enter or enlarge their presence in the burgeoning CBD business, one whose reach already extends across a range of CPG categories, including health and wellness, beauty, food and beverages, even pet care. Among suppliers, the current boom is driven by both large, well-financed corporations and small, entrepreneurial enterprises; on the retail side, everyone from national chains to mom-and-pop stores have started to sell at least some CBD products.
Naturally occurring in plants in the cannabis family, cannabidiol is a nonpsychoactive substance that proponents say can be used to address a number of issues, among them anxiety, insomnia and pain. Anecdotal evidence and some scientific research support such assertions. The Food and Drug Administration last year approved GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex, a cannabidiol-based prescription product, to treat two forms of epilepsy. Wilder claims about CBD being able to do things like cure cancer remain unsubstantiated.
The paucity of solid evidence concerning the safety and efficacy of CBD casts a shadow over the market, in which developments rapidly outpaced regulations after passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The so-called Farm Bill allowed commercial hemp cultivation and removed some cannabis products from the government’s list of controlled substances, clearing the way for the current explosion of CBD products. Suppliers and retailers were quick to respond to the change in law, choosing not to wait for the blessing of the FDA and other agencies.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, predicts that government officials will have much more to say about CBD. Speaking at the recent National Community Pharmacists Association Convention in San Diego, he asserted that a regulatory reckoning is on the horizon. Indeed, the day Gottlieb made those remarks, the Department of Agriculture unveiled a framework for production of hemp in the U.S., an important step in bringing order to an unruly category.
The USDA’s interim final rule nonetheless does not address many pressing concerns. As Gottlieb noted, questions about allowable uses for CBD, good manufacturing practices, and health and benefit claims, to name just a few, need to be answered. Federal and state regulators must deal with those matters decisively in order to end the uncertainty about CBD that continues to trouble retailers, suppliers and consumers.