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Many CBD Products Still Don’t Contain Advertised Amounts, FDA Study Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jul 10, 2020   
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Product testing conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found that many CBD-infused products on sale in the United States are mislabeled, containing vastly differing amounts of CBD than advertised on the product packaging.

The results, written in an undated letter to Congress, were obtained by reporters at Hemp Industry Daily this week.

Random testing reveals wide scale issues

The FDA tested 147 CBD and hemp products selected at random, analyzing the present levels of 11 cannabinoids and quantitively determining the total CBD and THC contained in each. Additional testing for the detection of the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead was also performed.

Of the 102 products which advertised a specified amount of CBD on its label, 18 were found to contain less than 80 percent of the amount indicated. A further 46 products were within 20 percent of the amount advertised, while 38 contained more than 120 percent of the CBD indicated.

In total, across all 147 products tested, 138 contained at least some amount of CBD. Of the nine that did not contain CBD, only seven were clearly marketed as “CBD free” or contained no referenced to CBD in their labelling, meaning that two products were clearly mislabeled. Of the 147 total products, 72 were also found to contain THC or THCA above the limit of quantitation.

Of the 147 products tested, 133 were subject to heavy metal testing. From this sample size, only one product was found to contain any level of heavy metals that would present a health concern – a tincture product that was found to contain lead. The FDA stated that additional evaluation was ongoing into this product.

Validation for many industry players

In the letter, the FDA notes that it recognized the significant public interest in CBD products, and is quick to point out other similar random sampling and testing measures that the agency has conducted in previous years.

But the agency also recognized that these efforts had been limited in scope. In response, the agency chose this time to test 147 unique products, a significant rise from the 34 tested in a similar action the year before. The results from this most recent “short-term sampling plan” will feed into a longer-term testing strategy that is supposed to create a more representative sample of the current US CBD and hemp marketplace.

Members of the industry have called these testing results concerning, but also validating. Many hemp producers and advocates have been calling for increased oversight of the industry from the federal government, and with this new review they hope that the FDA could be spurred further towards taking more stringent regulatory action.

”Hemp is an industry that holds itself to the highest standards, and as a whole we would like to rid the marketplace of the bad players who improperly label products and put consumers at risk,” Marielle Weintraub, head of the US Hemp Authority, a self-regulatory agency, told Hemp Industry Daily.

“Today’s report emphasizes what we have been arguing for years: FDA needs to regulate hemp and CBD products.”

This week, budget writers for the US House of Representatives also called on the FDA to do more in regulating the nation’s CBD market.

The House Appropriations Committee set aside US$5 million in its budgeting to allow the FDA to continue its review of the marketplace, writing in an accompanying explanatory report that as things stand CBD products “continue to pose potential health and safety risks to consumers through unsubstantiated and misleading claims.”

While the House Appropriations Committee has recommended this budget, it will not be finalized until voted on and approved by the full Congress.

Not just an American problem

Similar findings to the FDA study have also been seen in other national markets.

Last year, lab tests on CBD products available on the British market found similar inconsistencies. Organized by the trade body the Centre of Medicinal Cannabis, testing of 29 randomly selected products found that more than half did not contain the levels of CBD promised on the label; only eleven came within a 10 percent margin of the advertised values.

Just as with the recent American results, almost half of the British products tested contained some measurable level of THC, which brought the legality of these products into question.

Trade bodies such as the Centre of Medicinal Cannabis have also been vocal in calling for improved oversight and overhauled testing standards. In May 2020, the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI), which represents several of the UK’s largest CBD companies, set out its first laboratory standards for detecting cannabinoids in CBD products being sold in the UK. It is hoped that these standards will ensure no products will exceed the allowable cannabinoid levels set out in the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Regulations. 


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