January 13, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
It is rare that 83 percent of voters agree on anything about our government these days. But in the case of the unregulated cannabidiol market, there’s one federal action that this large majority of voters want: better regulation.
Despite wide consumer interest in the $500 million dollar CBD product market and the ubiquitous presence of these items in gas stations, strip malls and online, American voters — when told these products are untested and unapproved by the feds — are clear that more needs to be done to protect their safety from contaminated and potentially dangerous CBD products and ensure products work as advertised.
New public opinion research conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found an overwhelming consensus: 83 percent of registered U.S. voters agree that the Food and Drug Administration should be doing more to test and regulate CBD products. They’re wondering why no one is bringing an element of safety and oversight to an “anything goes” marketplace.
In today’s fractious environment, we don’t see an overwhelming consensus like this very often. In this case, though, the facts warrant it. Many CBD products on the shelf today fail to meet safety standards and are not scientifically tested. CBD product labels are frequently inaccurate in their listing of ingredients and potency.
The need for effective federal intervention is obvious. CBD itself carries potential health risks, including liver toxicity, fatigue and harmful interactions with other drugs. Manufacturers and marketers often make exaggerated claims about the health benefits gained from CBD usage.
Independent testing of the 240 top-selling CBD products found that 70 percent were contaminated with various substances including lead, arsenic, pesticides and even toxic mold. And even though these products are supposed to, by law, have little or no THC — the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — some consumers have been made sick by high levels of synthetic marijuana in products they believed to be safe. Even the minimum amount of THC allowable has caused workers to lose jobs from failing drug tests.
Nonetheless, CBD is increasingly integrating itself into our lives. Sales of products made with CBD are exploding. The industry is expected to hit $1.8 billion in sales in 2022.
Now, polling tells us that the American public is saying it is time for action. The FDA is a critical part of this overdue solution.
Consumers for Safe CBD, a new coalition established to engage policymakers and the public about the dangers of the current environment and the need for safeguards, has asked the FDA to take actions well within its existing charter, including:
— Educating consumers about the current CBD marketplace including understanding the potential dangers of unregulated, untested products.
— Enforcing current regulations against manufacturers that make medical claims that can’t be verified while offering high-risk products.
— Establishing a clear distinction between approved medicines and other consumer products, including defining safe concentration levels of CBD.
— Encouraging further research on treatments that can gain FDA approval so that consumers can have more safe CBD options.
That last request of the FDA is an important one. The potential for CBD to be a critical component in new effective treatments and therapies for illnesses should be fully explored.
The single FDA-approved drug containing CBD has been successful in controlling types of infant seizures. We will benefit if more safe and effective CBD therapies make their way through the drug development pipeline.
For now, though, Americans in search of health solutions shouldn’t have to blindly maneuver through an uncharted minefield to find an effective product that won’t make them ill. And our public opinion research confirms they want something better. There is a broad consensus among consumers that we need reliable information about CBD in addition to safe packaging, accurate labeling and confidence that concentration levels are not harmful.
Voters told us they are even willing to take these concerns to the ballot box in November. More than half — 55 percent — would vote for candidates who support requiring the FDA to regulate CBD products (just 12 percent less likely).
It’s time to bring this wild, wild west of a marketplace into the 21st century. The risks involved in untested, unapproved products is clear.
Yes, the CBD industry is growing exponentially, but with that growth must come efforts to protect health and safety. The American people are demanding it.
Sally Greenberg is the executive director of the National Consumers League.
David Walker is the senior vice president of GQR Research.
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