Pace of FDA research frustrates CBD advocates

By Alex Halperin
Jan 13, 2021

A January article co-authored by U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn, which calls for more high-quality CBD research, is unlikely to impress many in the hemp industry. CBD advocates have long been frustrated by what they consider the slow pace of research into the cannabis derived compound. 

Over the counter CBD use has soared in recent years, with millions of U.S. consumers snapping up an anticipated $2B in products in 2020. All projections anticipate further rapid growth for the industry. 

However,  data on CBD’s benefits and potential drawbacks has remained elusive. Anecdotal evidence suggests it may benefit patients with everything from insomnia to arthritis, but little replicable science exists to back those claims. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is one of the hemp industry’s favorite punching bags for the lack of information. The agency has approved Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical containing CBD, as a treatment for several severe pediatric seizure disorders. However, professional and amateur CBD boosters, say the agency has not prioritized CBD research.

Commissioner Hahn’s article, co-written with his principal deputy Amy Abernethy, lays out several of the challenges of studying the compound which, despite having been legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, still largely exists in a regulatory gray area. The piece also lists several measures the agency has taken and sheds some light on its plans going forward.

Among other points:

  • FDA has tested and continues to test a sampling of available products and found that “many” do not contain the amount of CBD that they claim.
  • It notes that existing efforts by unspecified interested parties to study CBD “generally are not adequate to fill the outstanding knowledge gaps.”
  • The agency says it is participating in “ongoing efforts to systematically collect data” on the safety and uses for the compound.
  • Unmentioned in the latest article: the FDA has also warned about potential side-effects of CBD.

What the new post doesn’t do is offer many specifics about the research it aims to advance, when it wants to see the work completed or its partners. Furthermore, it doesn’t go into detail about about committing money or resources to expand understanding of CBD.  

Several industry observers contacted by WeedWeek shared their views:

  • “The FDA is well behind the curve,” cannabis attorney Rod Kight wrote. “The fact that there have been very few reported instances of harm based on CBD consumption makes the FDA’s most recent statement come off mostly as an excuse to continue dragging its feet.”
  • Jody McGinness, executive director of The Hemp Industries Association, compared the FDA’s article to a high school student who skips their exams and lab work and then in the last week of school, turned in an unassigned essay entitled “Things I Need in Order to Study Science.” McGinness added:“We look forward to the prospect of new leadership bringing a renewed spirit of public service and restoring the FDA to its traditional rulemaking pace.”
  • “It’s a good sign that the FDA is continuing to move forward with developing a framework for CBD regulation,” Reed Smith cannabis attorney Marc Hauser wrote. “It also suggests to me that we’re still a ways off from the FDA actually issuing that regulation, which is generally what we’ve seen over the past year.”
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