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FDA To CBD Retailers: Don’t Make Unfounded Health Claims

Hemp grows at a farm in Lafayette, Colorado.
Esther Honig
Harvest Public Media file photo

Federal agencies are scrambling to establish regulations for hemp and hemp products as farmers in the Midwest and around the country start growing the crop. 

In the meantime, the government is warning companies not to make health claims about CBD they can’t back up. 

The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letterto Massachusetts-based cannabis company Curaleaf on July 22, saying essentially: Stop making unproven and illegal claims about CBD products and start labeling it correctly or we can take immediate legal action against you, “including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.”

The notorious CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound extracted from cannabis flowers. And it’s become a retail star partially because of its numerous health claims, many of which have not been proven.

Curaleaf claimed CBD effectively treats Parkinson’s disease, is tied to treating Alzheimer’s disease, can kill breast cancer cells, limits the spread of cancer and can be a “natural alternative” to depression and anxiety medication, among many other cures. The company’s CBD products for pets even came under FDA scrutiny due to claims that the products could relieve the animals’ anxiety and ease their pain.

“Americans expect the decisions made by FDA are informed by the best possible information about safety,” FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Dr. Amy Abernethy said at a Senate committee hearingon July 25. “The FDA learned that CBD is not a risk-free substance. CBD can harm the liver, create a sense of exhaustion and affect your appetite.”

Abernethy said providers who legally prescribe drugs can monitor patients. But, she said, if someone is unmonitored and using CBD lip balm, eating CBD lozenges and drinking CBD tea regularly for months, that could be harmful.

“What is the risk if you’re pregnant? Breast feeding? A child? Elderly? Taking other medicines? Or suffering a major illness?” she said, highlighting all the unknowns that are still part of the CBD industry. 

This isn’t the first time the FDA has issued warnings against unlawful CBD health claims. Three other companies received warning letter this year, all on March 28. Those companies also made claims ranging from curing Lou Gehrig’s disease to cancer.

Curaleaf said it would comply with the recent FDA order and make a plan to remedy the claims on its website within 15 business days. However, it did say that several of the products “had previously been discontinued.”

“Curaleaf is committed to being an ethical and responsible company and working with the FDA to being a leader in our industry,” it said in a statement.

The FDA also warned against CBD-infused food products, which it notes are still technically illegal to sell across state lines.The agency said it will continue to try and protect consumers, even as CBD continues to be marketed as a cure-all and sold more frequently around the country. 

Follow Madelyn on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

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Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative. Beck is from a small cow ranch in Manhattan, Montana. Her previous work was mostly based in the western U.S., but she has covered agriculture, environment and health issues from Alaska to Washington, D.C. Before joining Harvest and the Illinois Newsroom, she was as an energy reporter based in Wyoming for the public radio collaborative Inside Energy. Other publications include the Idaho Mountain Express, E&E News/EnergyWire, KRBD Rainbird Radio, the Montana Broadcasters Association, Montana Public Radio and the Tioga Tribune.