2018 was the year CBD was on everyone’s lips, thanks to plenty of media buzz and the suddenly-ubiquitous presence of an array of CBD-infused beverages, lotions and self-care products. It was also the year “CBD gummies” reached No. 3 on Google’s most popular search terms.
Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis, is being touted as a natural remedy for chronic pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety, among other conditions. The research to prove CBD’s medical outcomes is still largely forthcoming. But even without the science, it’s no wonder that adults over 50, who suffer most from these conditions, are behind one of the fastest growing market segments for CBD products.
Two landmark developments from this past year will make it a lot easier for older adults to satisfy their appetite for CBD in the year to come
In a historic reconsideration of cannabis’ Schedule 1 classification, the FDA proved willing to acknowledge that a component of cannabis actually does have therapeutic value. Riding the coattails of GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex, the first cannabis-based drug to receive FDA approval, CBD was rescued from Schedule 1 exile, joining cough syrup and anti-diarrhea remedies in the comfortable Schedule 5 mainstream.
Late 2018 also saw passage of the Farm Bill, which could ultimately guarantee a steady, domestic supply of CBD sourced from hemp. Like the FDA, Congress acknowledged that not all cannabis compounds are equal, and removed hemp (cannabis sativa with THC levels under 0.3%) from the restrictions of the Controlled Substance Act.
With the availability of new hemp strains specially bred for high CBD content, American farmers, processors and many others along the revenue stream are eager to produce and distribute as much of this lucrative substance as the fast-growing market can accommodate. And with CBD sales in the US expected to reach $22 billion by 2022, as projected by the cannabis market research company, the Brightfield Group, Congress’ re-regulation of hemp has presented a good reason for many to celebrate.
The FDA, however, was quick to rein in the anticipated hemp-fest. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement  just before Christmas declaring that, despite the new classification for hemp, any product containing cannabis or CBD is still subject to FDA regulation and prohibited for interstate commerce.
Still, a visit to any health food store or online search will show that the FDA’s warnings have been largely ineffectual in stanching the flow of CBD products. To stay on the safe side, manufacturers simply avoid making any explicit claims of therapeutic benefit on their product labels. This can leave older consumers dependent on the internet and social media for guidance on how, or at what dosage, a product can potentially benefit them. And because CBD products tend to be pricey, this becomes an expensive proposition with unclear outcomes, particularly for those older adults who may least be able to afford them.
With CBD products currently residing in the regulatory gray area between dietary supplements and medicine, there is good reason for older consumers to be cautious. A recent study  evaluating the accuracy of labelling information on CBD products purchased online, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that only about 30% of products sampled were accurately labelled regarding the levels of CBD and THC they contained. Some were found to have CBD levels so low that any potential clinical value was negated. Others had THC levels high enough to give the unsuspecting consumer a slight buzz. And for the many older adults who are strongly averse to experiencing any psychoactivity from a cannabis-sourced medication, a CBD product might deliver more than what they bargained for.
Recognizing the urgency of this challenge, FDA Commissioner Gottlieb will soon be convening a public meeting to discuss CBD with interested stakeholders. What is certain is that, until the authorities can figure out how to respond to the groundswell of demand for CBD products, consumers will need to find out on their own how to evaluate and best administer the products they encounter. For older adults, this can be an extremely daunting task. In the meantime, it’s clear that, at the start of 2019, the need for uniform standards for manufacturing, testing, labelling and dosing of CBD products is already a pressing public health concern.
Keywords: CBD, Recent, FDA
Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online
Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, PhD; Mallory J. E. Loflin, PhD; Brian F. Thomas, PhD; et al JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708-1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909