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5 Things We Learned From the FDA Update on CBD Foods

5 Things We Learned From the FDA Update on CBD

Outgoing FDA Commissioner Gottlieb released his 2nd letter concerning the legal fate of Cannabidiol (CBD) in the last 6 months

Outgoing FDA Commissioner Gottlieb released his 2nd letter concerning the legal fate of Cannabidiol (CBD) in the last 6 months

Earlier this year I wrote an article in response to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s update on the regulatory status of CBD. As I explained, despite the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill (which legalized hemp as an agricultural commodity) CBD is still illegal as a food ingredient under FDA regulation.

Alarmed by the widespread misinterpretation of the 2018 Farm Bill and the FDA regulations concerning CBD,  the outgoing FDA commissioner released another statement on April 2nd, 2019.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. The FDA Is Targeting CBD Products Which Make Drug Claims

The FDA appears most concerned with CBD-product manufacturers who make claims about the ability of CBD to cure or treat disease (aka ‘drug claims’). They have issued warning letters to several brands of CBD foods, including Relievus, Nutra Pure, and PotNetwork for illegally stating the therapeutic affects of CBD without sufficient evidence and the required FDA approval. These companies have made unsubstantiated claims related to CBDs ability to treat addiction, alzheimer’s disease, tumors, cancer, among other ailments.

The imminent concern of the FDA is this: a consumer reads those drug claims and purchases a CBD product to treat a serious health ailment. If this individual chooses to treat their disease with CBD over a drug whose effectiveness has been endorsed by the FDA, that individual’s health might deteriorate. 

Gottlieb vowed that the FDA will continue to go after companies making these illegal drug claims on CBD products.


2. Expect Enforcement of Most CBD Foods to be Minimal


If you read the statement closely, you’ll find great news for the majority of CBD food producers.

As it relates to CBD products which do not contain egregious drug-claims, the FDA described their enforcement in milder terms. The agency offered a tepid commitment to “monitor the marketplace and take enforcement action as needed to protect the public health”. CBD products which do not make drug claims and which contain reasonable doses of CBD are not a major public health concern. It appears that the FDA will not invest resources in taking down the manufacturers and retailers of CBD food products, for now at least.

3. The FDA Still Isn’t Convinced CBD is Safe

Gottlieb outlined some concerns related to CBD in his statement. When CBD was successfully trailed as an active ingredient in the epilepsy drug Epidiolex, it was administered in specific dosages under medical supervision and marketed with FDA labeling. Because scientists currently don’t understand the effects of high consumption levels or the cumulative effects of CBD over time, the risk assessment of CBD as a food ingredient remains incomplete. The commissioner also noted a possibility of liver damage resulting from ongoing CBD usage, which needs to be explored further.


4. The FDA is Clarifying their Current Stance and Seeking Possible Paths Towards Legal CBD in Food

In a nod to the opacity of their own regulation, the FDA has promised to update their website with plain-language explanations of CBD regulation and an FAQ section. They also outlined two steps towards considering the lawful marketing and sales of CBD products: the creation of an internal agency group tasked with exploring regulatory pathways to legality and an upcoming public hearing to gather stakeholder input about cannabis-derived products.

The agency also re-affirmed their commitment to building a transparent regulatory framework surrounding CBD and cannabis-derived products. While the FDA regulations are mind-numbingly convoluted and the legal nuances of CBD outshine most prospective food ingredients under FDA consideration, I am hopeful that their efforts can provide clarity on this popular issue.

5. The FDA Won’t Undermine Its Own Policies to Legalize CBD

As stated in my previous article, there are many reasons why the FDA currently assesses CBD as unfit to be a food ingredient. In his statement, Gottlieb reaffirmed that CBD would have to comply with all facets of regulation — including the FD&C Act and the standards set for new dietary ingredients and food additives— before they give CBD the green light. While the allocation of agency resources may expedite this process, CBD will have to fit into the regulatory framework of the FDA and not visa versa.

Conclusion


It appears that CBD is on the pathway towards legal acceptance as a food ingredient. Despite political pressures, the process may take a year or more as it navigates the standard regulatory path for a innovative food ingredient.

The short term viability of CBD food products may hinge on the willingness of major retailers to carry CBD-containing products, which are still illegal. As of February 2019, Whole Foods included CBD on their list of banned ingredients while the FDA commissioner criticized CVS and Walgreens for continuing to carry CBD products.

 
CBD and FDA Food Regulation

What You Need to Know about CBD and the FDA

The FDA Regulation on CBD is not as lenient as the widespread presence of CBD would lead you to believe

The FDA Regulation on CBD is not as lenient as the widespread presence of CBD would lead you to believe

CBD is a Drug Ingredient, Not a Food Ingredient or a Dietary Supplement

CBD (Cannabidiol) is an active ingredient in an FDA-approved drug (Epidiolex) which was subject to the rigorous drug-approval process. According to FDA regulation, substances which are active ingredients in a drug cannot be introduced as ingredients into food or marketed as dietary substances.

Even if the FDA hasn't yet approved the drug yet, its active ingredients are typically disallowed as food or dietary supplement ingredients insofar drug trials are underway and publicly known.

This is the crux of the FDA's argument for disallowing CBD in food products prior to the June 2018 approval of Epidiolex, a CBD-based epilepsy drug. In 2017, the FDA sent warning letters to producers of CBD-infused food and cosmetic products, arguing that the use of CBD was illegal because publicly known drug trials for Epidiolex were already underway.

CBD Dietary Supplements are easy to come by

CBD Dietary Supplements are easy to come by

There is an exception to the rule: if the substance in question was marketed as a dietary supplement or conventional food ingredient before it became an drug ingredient, then it may continue to be used as a food ingredient. In the case of CBD, the FDA has determined that there isn’t sufficient evidence of it’s historic use as a food ingredient.

Still, in late 2018, the FDA acknowledged that they have the authority to approve the use of a pharmaceutical ingredient in a food or dietary supplement. And according to the commissioner’s statement in December 2018, they are currently deciding whether to pursue this as it relates to CBD (and THC too). What would compel the FDA to allow CBD in FDA-regulated foods? At this point, it’s unclear.

Bottom Line: It is unlawful to sell any food or dietary supplement containing CBD if that product enters interstate commerce.

CBD-Containing Cosmetics are Actually Drugs — even if they don’t make any claims

The difference between a cosmetic and a drug is whether the product "affects the structure or function of the body." Simply, if the product causes any sort of physiological change that is beyond "cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance", then it is considered a drug.

For example anti-perspirant is considered an over-the-counter drug because its effects are not merely cosmetic: anti-perspirant causes a physiological change -- it blocks our pores-- which prevents the wearer from sweating.) While deodorant would be considered a cosmetic (it’s merely perfume), sunscreen is considered a drug.

Of course CBD has a physiological effect on the body —it’s the active ingredient in the FDA-approved prescription drug Epidiolex — so any product containing CBD would be classified as a drug. Even if you argued that the CBD served a cosmetic purpose or made no claims about the effects of CBD, it has a well known therapeutic use and this would classify it as a drug.

Does this mean CBD-containing Cosmetics are illegal?

Yes. Unless the FDA changes how they regulate CBD specifically, any producer of a CBD-containing cosmetic would need to submit a New Drug Application and receive pre-market approval from the FDA.

Still, CBD-containing cosmetics are widely available both online and in retail locations nationwide. It’s unclear when and how the FDA will crack down on the illegal sale of these drugs. Typically, they go after brands who make false claims about their drug’s ability to treat or cure a disease. CBD brands who list the therapeutic effects of CBD or directly state its ability to alleviate certain symptoms will no doubt be the first to receive an FDA warning letter.

How will retailers react? We’ll have to wait and see.

FAQ - CBD and FDA Regulation

Does it matter that the CBD is hemp-derived?

No. Regardless of the origin of the CBD, substances which are active ingredients in a drug cannot introduced as ingredients into food or marketed as dietary substances.

What if my CBD/THC product doesn't enter interstate commerce?

If a food product's packaging and ingredients (including the CBD) were sourced entirely in-state and your product is sold in-state, then the product may not be considered as participating in inter-state commerce.

In this case, the product would not be subject to FDA regulation. (Learn more in our article Does the FDA Regulate My Food Business?)

However, this doesn't mean you're in the clear -- check with your state and local health authorities to confirm there's no local law that automatically adopts FDA regulation at the local level or expressly prohibits CBD as a food ingredient.

Why are some companies allowed to sell CBD in foods?

They're not. Many food companies are operating in violation of FDA regulation. The FDA has sent warning letters to food products which contain CBD or cannabis-derived ingredients. However, due to the reactive nature of the FDA and a large array of responsibilities, not all of these companies have been approached.

The FDA regulates all types of new ingredients that are added to food. Whenever any sort of new compound (either a dietary supplement or something that wasn't considered "food") is added to a food, the FDA must first approve that new dietary ingredient.

Can hemp be used as a food ingredient if it doesn't contain CBD or THC?

Yes. There are hemp products that do not contain CBD or THC, such as hemp-seed-derived food ingredients. Three of these products have been added to the list of "generally recognized as safe (GRAS)" ingredients. They are:

1. Hulled hemp seed

2. Hemp seed protein powder

3. hemp seed oil

The reasoning is that they do not contain CBD or THC. If these food ingredients are manufactured in a way that is consistent with FDA regulations, then they are allowed as ingredients in FDA-regulated foods.