Welcome to the wild, wild west of CBD.
The tremendous growth in the marketplace for hemp-derived products, including cannabidiol (CBD), has been equaled by a rise in labels that don’t match their contents. Sometimes, these discrepancies are relatively benign, as in products that don’t actually contain any cannabinoids. But other times, rogue products with dangerous concentrations of pesticides and heavy metals hit store shelves. Some even contain dangerous compounds that could come from anywhere.
That’s why this moment is so critical. As we head this week into the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing on “products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds,” it’s abundantly clear the hemp industry needs regulation. That regulation must strike a balance: It must land in a “Goldilocks Zone” that’s strong enough to ensure consumer safety, clear enough to give choice and empower confidence and flexible enough to promote investment and growth.
At stake lies one of the most important issues facing business today, across all sectors: trust. The hemp industry is growing with tremendous speed — especially since the 2018 farm bill legalized industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. Analysts predict a bright future, as rapid growth continues over the next several years.
But that expansion won’t happen without a system that engenders trust and provides verification. Producers need manufacturers to trust their processes and their products. Manufacturers need consumers to trust their ingredients and their labels. And everyone needs regulators to promulgate standards that strike the balance described above.
Putting strong, meaningful regulation in place takes time, but we need expeditious action, because waiting any longer could have serious consequences for the industry and for consumers.
Without clear guidance and smart regulation, the hemp industry and all the promise that came along with its meteoric rise will be lost. We’ll see a race to the bottom as those companies looking for a quick buck offer consumers big promises and dangerous outcomes. Consumers will lose interest, and face undue risks as more stories about rogue products pop up across the country. People will miss out on the potential benefits of hemp-derived products, including CBD. And many companies — including the responsible ones — could have a hard time keeping the lights on.
With the right regulation, we can ensure that responsible actors can build the trust we all need to deliver the growth we’ve promised.
So, what does that look like?
Once CBD-infused products are widely available, consumers will expect them to be made like others they routinely consume, using good manufacturing practice and quality standards with enforceable oversight. They’ll want labeling that is standardized, accurate, relevant and clear.
To get there, we believe the FDA can rely heavily on existing analogs from the food, beverage and supplement industries to build a regulatory framework, with the added benefit of regulatory efficiency.
First, FDA should require — at a minimum — that CBD producers demonstrate quality manufacturing through Safe Quality Foods certification. We also believe that labeling guidance is a must, especially around industry terms like “THC-free,” “broad spectrum” and “full spectrum.” Regulators also should require appropriate disclosure of the desired and undesired components in CBD-containing products, and the types and amounts of these components. In terms of undesired components, such as heavy metals and pesticides, the regulations governing food ingredients are sufficiently strict to protect consumers and foster that all important trust.
At Socati, a leader in providing broad-spectrum hemp extract for other companies to use in their products, we believe in a regulatory framework that sets a high bar for everyone, while also encouraging investment in quality, choice and innovation.
It’s clear that consumers want products containing hemp-derived compounds, including CBD. That’s why they’re so omnipresent. To truly serve those consumers, this industry needs to get its act together. And we can’t do that without some help — and some guardrails — from FDA. The faster we can get there, the brighter the future will be for producers, manufacturers and consumers.
Josh Epstein is the CEO of Socati, a leading producer of broad spectrum hemp extract, which has THC removed to levels below most labs’ ability to detect.