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Hemp/CBD Beverages' Misleading Messaging - Part 1: Defining CBD / Hemp Landscape


Written by: Brian Sudano

This piece is part 1 of a 3-part series of articles regarding misleading messaging of hemp/cannabidiol (CBD) beverages in the U.S. After posting all three pieces, we will combine them into a single piece for those readers that are interested.

Much speculation is circulating around the emerging cannabis/hemp based beverage market in the United States. Some enthusiasts view them as miracle plants that can be everything from a treatment for epilepsy, as in GW Pharma's drug Epidiolex, to a non-addictive pain treatment, sleep aid and anti-inflammatory or anxiety treatment, among other things. Industrial hemp (hemp) is defined by the U.S. government as from the cannabis plant or hemp tree and containing less than 0.3% THC. Although there are very positive therapeutic data, much of it has not been through rigorous scientific testing to prove these benefits (with the exception of treating epilepsy). The same holds true regarding tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component associated with psychoactive activity in cannabis plants and the other most widely known single cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD) found in both cannabis and hemp plants. Why CBD versus other cannabinoids? The level of active CBD in hemp plants is much greater than other cannabinoids. As a result, it is the easiest to measure in preparations from hemp plants. This made it the logical molecule to isolate. Fascination with the molecule has only increased with the approval of Epidiolex, which is delivered as an oil formulation at high dose levels (compared to many neuroactive drugs) of 100 milligrams (mg) or greater twice per day. A decades-old Food Drugs and Cosmetics Act prohibits any use of or claim to the presence of (and implied or explicit benefits related to) molecules that are being developed and/or approved as a drug cannot be used in any other product including beverages and foods. This provision applies to CBD. Even public knowledge that a molecule is undergoing clinical trials towards seeking the approval as a drug triggers the above prohibition.

The enforcement of the Food Drugs and Cosmetics Act has resulted in CBD beverages being pulled off shelves in many markets. In addition, the FDA sent Cannaleaf, the large Massachusetts-based cannabis/hemp company, a warning letter to remove claims against CBD in violation of this act. Although the federal law against placing CBD on the label appears to be fairly clear, marketers continue to market products as CBD beverages at their own peril. However, states in which CBD is legal and products are grown and produced within the state, not crossing state lines are viewed as legal since they are outside the federal government's jurisdiction. From a practical perspective, this eliminates most if not all national companies from marketing CBD designated beverages as these companies have vast supply networks and the odds of them introducing a CBD beverage produced and marketed in a single state is slim to none.

The most recent farm bill legalized Industrial hemp with THC levels of less than 0.3%. This made industrial hemp and products produced from the same federally legal allowing shipment across state lines. Based on the recent development that Industrial hemp is legal while CBD is federally illegal, many marketers are changing the labeling on their products. In the early stages of category development, the industry became accustomed to listing products with the number of milligrams of CBD per serving. This practice has resulted in some products now indicating the number of milligrams per serving of hemp. But what is in the hemp (e.g. hemp solids, cannabinoids and terpenes)? Since it is not federally legal to call out CBD and most of these beverages indicate full spectrum hemp (or in some cases, full spectrum CBD), it is uncertain what exactly is in the number of milligrams. It appears that marketers may be misleading consumers as many will assume it is CBD. There also is no credible information related to the relationship between the amount of CBD consumed and any of its benefits claimed in the industry.

In the next part of this series, we will explore the different technologies used to extract hemp including the benefits and short comings of each.

For more on the hemp, CBD and THC markets including market size and implications / opportunities for the beverage industry, see Beverage Marketing Corporation's report entitled Cannabis Beverages in the U.S.

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