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.CBD vs. FDA: Until there’s regulation, Californians should obtain their CBD products from licensed cannabis dispensaries

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As complaints continued to mount in recent months over the Food and Drug Administration dragging its feet to create a sensible and comprehensive regulatory regime for hemp, CBD and related products, the agency busily worked on ways to improve its research and data-collection efforts.

We learned last week that one initiative it came up with was … reading what stoners on Reddit had to say.

That’s a reductive description of what the FDA is up to, but it’s also accurate. It might be “seemingly bizarre,” as the pot-news site Merry Jane put it, but it’s not as if it makes no sense.

Scrolling Reddit is just one small part of the FDA’s new Cannabis-Derived Products Data Acceleration Plan, which was released last week with little fanfare. The plan is meant to gather information upon which the FDA will base its regulatory approach, which the agency has been working on since hemp was legalized as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Since then, the market for hemp-derived products—especially CBD—has exploded. It’s almost entirely unregulated. Fly-by-night CBD peddlers have proliferated.

CBD is known to have some curative properties, such as relieving certain kinds of seizures. That’s really its only fully proven medicinal use, but there are strong indications it can relieve a number of other ailments, such as pain, insomnia and anxiety. Researchers are finally delving into CBD, now that it’s fully legal to do so, but it will be some years before we know the full range of its benefits and—perhaps—its dangers. Until then, it’s the Wild West.

CBD oil can be purchased everywhere, from the counter at the local gas station to vape shops to a huge number of online merchants. Along with the hemp from which CBD is derived, it’s added to foods and beverages, cosmetics, pet foods and all manner of other products. Thanks to the lack of regulation, buyers often have no idea what they’re really getting. What’s contained in the products often isn’t what’s promised on the label.

Other than sending out warning letters now and again to handfuls of wayward CBD sellers, the FDA hasn’t done much. That’s largely because without a solid body of data to work from, there’s not much it can do. Legit hemp and CBD companies have been pleading for more regulation. Many of them recently hailed new legislation in California that will finally allow—and regulate—hemp-derived products to be legally sold in the state. But until the feds step in, skeevy vendors will continue to operate in California and across the country.

As the FDA dryly put it in announcing its research plan, “the market for cannabis-derived products continues to outpace the growth in the science and our understanding of the public health implications of these products.”

While the agency’s plan will rely largely on industry reports and scientific research, it will also encompass, basically, web-surfing. That is, looking at social-media sites like Reddit to discover what consumers are saying about such products, in order to identify issues that may not be easily captured via traditional systems.

CBD isn’t the only product the FDA will monitor. Other emerging cannabis derivatives, like CBN and hemp-derived THC such as delta-8, will also be included. Thanks to a legal loophole, a large market for delta-8 THC—which, though it’s usually derived from hemp CBD, can get people high, and is freely available from online merchants—has emerged. State governments are cracking down on delta-8, and the FDA itself, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has issued a warning about delta-8’s safety in light of some reports of illness and injury.

Advocates for marijuana reform have noted that there’s one effective way to rein in such problems: For the federal government to legalize cannabis. Until then, the best bet for Californians is to obtain their CBD products from licensed cannabis dispensaries, where all products are tested to ensure they are safe and that their labels are accurate. “We strongly recommend that consumers stick to state-regulated products consisting of naturally occurring cannabis ingredients,” said David Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML.

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