With opioid medication increasingly harder to obtain and other types of pain relievers often ineffective, many chronic pain sufferers have turned to cannabidiol-based medication for relief.
“This is a wake up call for the CBD industry to standardize their products,”
- Jahan Marcu, PhD
But a new study published in JAMA has found that nearly 70 percent of all cannabidiol (CBD) products sold online are either over or under-labeled. Researchers say a number of CBD products that are used to treat pain, anxiety, epilepsy and other medical conditions also contain high-levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance in marijuana that makes people high.
“The biggest implication is that many of these patients may not be getting the proper dosage; they’re either not getting enough for it to be effective or they’re getting too much,” said lead author Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, an adjunct professor of psychology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
“This is a medication that is often used for children with epilepsy, so parents could be giving their child THC without even knowing it.”
Like THC, CBD is one of the active ingredients in marijuana, but it is not generally known to produce euphoria or make people high. CBD is currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government, even though it has been legalized for medicinal use in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
Bonn-Miller says the mislabeling and poor quality control of CBD products is a direct result of inadequate regulation.
“The big problem, with this being something that is not federally legal, is that the needed quality assurance oversight from the Food and Drug Administration is not available. There are currently no standards for producing, testing, or labeling these oils,” Bonn-Miller said. “There is no way to know what is actually in the bottle. It’s crazy to have less oversight and information about a product being widely used for medicinal purposes, especially in very ill children, than a Hershey bar.”
Bonn-Miller and his colleagues searched the Internet and purchased 84 CBD products from 31 different companies. They found that four out of ten products were under-labeled, meaning they contained a higher concentration of CBD than indicated. Another 26 percent of products purchased were over-labeled, meaning they contained a lower concentration of CBD than indicated.
Only 30 percent of CBD products purchased contained an actual CBD content that was within 10% of the amount listed on the product label. THC was detected in 21% of the samples.
“This is a wake up call for the CBD industry to standardize their products,” said co-author Jahan Marcu, PhD, Chief Science Officer for Americans for Safe Access (ASA).
“CBD product manufacturers need to adopt best practices and accept guidance from AHPA (American Herbal Products Association) and other groups to improve consistency and safety for consumers.”
ASA and AHPA supports the Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program, a non-profit, peer reviewed, third party certification program for the medical cannabis industry. Products that carry the PFC label have met their standards and been certified.
“I am constantly contacted for suggestions for a safe company that sells CBD - and it would be helpful to steer people in the right direction,” said Ellen Lenox Smith, a medical marijuana user, advocate and PNN columnist.
“Although less or more CBD won't hurt you, it makes sense to develop a method for people to know they are getting the correct product that is being claimed. If THC is found in the product, then someone out there is not abiding by the law and is using a form of cannabis, thus breaking the law.”
The problem isn’t limited to CBD oils and extracts. In a previous study, Bonn-Miller and his colleagues analyzed cannabinoid dose and label accuracy in edible marijuana products and found similar discrepancies. He hopes this and future studies will call attention to the impact of inconsistent cannabis product labelling.
“Future research should be focused on making sure people are paying attention to this issue and encouraging regulation in this rapidly expanding industry,” Bonn-Miller said.
By Pat Anson for Pain News Network