CBD products often mislabeled, some containing THC: what you need to know

  • Topical CBD products are often mislabeled, with some products containing different levels of CBD than what is listed on the label.
  • Other CBD products may contain THC, the main psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis, although they are labeled “THC-free”.
  • Mislabeled ingestible and transdermal CBD products can pose health risks, especially for people taking certain medications, experts say.
  • Knowing how to identify a reputable CBD manufacturer can help consumers inform their decisions when purchasing CBD products.

CBD (cannabidiol) is often marketed as a panacea, but most products are unregulated.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a single CBD product, Epidiolex, for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

According to a new study, many topical CBD products available online or in retail stores do not contain the amount of cannabidiol listed on the label. The research, recently published in Open Jama Networkshows that some CBD products may even contain THC — the main active ingredient found in cannabis that induces a “high” — despite claims that it does not contain THC.

“Misleading labels can lead people to use poorly regulated and expensive CBD products instead of FDA-approved products that are established as safe and effective for a given health condition,” Tory Spindle, PhD, co-author of the new study and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a press release.

CBD and THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) are the best known compounds in cannabis. While THC can produce a high, CBD does not.

Under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the Farm Bill), CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC are not considered illegal under federal law. This has led to the proliferation of questionable CBD products that have not been thoroughly tested to ensure they contain what the label claims they contain.

However, some CBD products containing THC indicate on the labels that they contain 0.3% or less THC. This can vary depending on whether the CBD product is full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or a CBD isolate.

In the new study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore tested 105 topical CBD products – including lotions, creams and patches – purchased online and in retail stores in 2020.

According to the researchers, only 85% of products listed the amount of CBD in milligrams on the label. Of the products listing the amount of CBD, only around 25% were accurately labeled.

In contrast, more than half contained more CBD than stated on the label, while almost 20% contained less CBD than stated on the label.

The researchers also detected THC in 35% of the 105 products, although all were within the legal limit of 0.3%. However, four products containing THC were still labeled THC-free and 19 did not mention THC at all on the label.

Previous research has found similar inaccurate and misleading labeling of CBD products.

In a study 2017, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania tested 84 CBD liquid extracts purchased online. About 30% contained the amount of CBD stated on the label. However, over 40% contained more CBD than stated on the label, and approximately 25% contained less CBD than stated on the label.

Additionally, the researchers detected THC in more than 20% of the products.

Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH, founder and medical director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education in Del Mar, Calif., said mislabeled CBD products are definitely a problem, but the health risks can depend on the product and how it’s done. how it is mislabeled.

Inaccurate amounts of CBD and THC

If you use a CBD product that contains more CBD than stated on the label, especially for ingestible products, higher amounts of CBD could enter your bloodstream. Still, topical CBD products like lotions or creams, including those with 0.3% or less THC, are unlikely to produce a “high.”

According to Corroon, the mislabeled CBD topicals that may pose a higher risk are transdermal products — similar to nicotine patches — which are designed to move the compounds into the bloodstream through the skin.

Of course, the presence of THC in a transdermal or ingestible CBD product presents different risks.

For example, a person who ingested a mislabeled CBD product “could drive a vehicle when the effects [of the THC] beatings, and that could get them in trouble,” Corroon said. “It is also possible that they will fail a drug test.”

Indeed, a 2019 study by Johns Hopkins researchers found that using CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC can result in a positive urine drug test. .

Possible drug interactions

Experts have expressed concern that the amount of CBD in a product could interact with prescription medications a person is taking, such as antibiotics, blood pressure medications, cholesterol medications, and painkillers. .

Corroon said that for accurately labeled CBD products, the risk of a drug interaction is “pretty low” unless the person consumes an entire bottle of CBD extract or uses a high-potency CBD product. “Nevertheless, the risk exists,” he said.

Drug interactions with CBD can occur during the metabolization process. CBD is metabolized in the body by a family of enzymes called cytochrome P450 (CYP450). Within the CYP450 family is an enzyme called CYP3A4, which also metabolizes about 60% of prescription drugs.

However, CBD can interfere with CYP3A4 and inhibit the breakdown of a drug in your system. If your body metabolizes a drug too slowly, it could mean that you end up with more of the drug in your system than you need, which can lead to unwanted or harmful side effects.

The FDA does not regulate CBD products like it does prescription drugs, although the agency will send warning letters companies if they break the law.

However, this lack of upfront regulation can make it difficult for people to find quality CBD products. One way to choose a high-quality CBD product is to ask a medical professional you trust for their recommendations.

While there are no standard lab tests on CBD products, Corroon said some companies go the extra mile to ensure their products meet certain quality standards. Those who do do not hide this information, he added.

“There are manufacturers that allow you to easily view a certificate of analysis, for example by linking it from a QR code on the label,” Corroon said. “This would hopefully be more accurate than the label, especially if the analysis was done by an independent third party.”

Another sign that a CBD manufacturer cares about quality is that they don’t make health claims on their products – these types of claims are not cleared by the FDA for CBD products.

According to Corroon, companies that want to stay in the market for the long term tend to pay close attention to FDA and other government regulations for CBD products.

“If a company makes a lot of claims, to me that’s a red flag,” he said. “So any company that says ‘we can treat this’ or ‘we can cure that’, I would avoid them.”

Research shows that many CBD products are mislabeled, with some containing THC despite being labeled THC-free. But many CBD products with 0.3% or less THC are transparent about the THC content on the labels.

Although the health risks of mislabeled CBD products remain low, some people, such as those taking medication for certain health conditions, may face a high risk of a negative interaction.

Familiarizing yourself with CBD labels and looking for a certificate of analysis can help ensure that you are buying a quality CBD product that has undergone some degree of verification. You will also want to avoid any CBD products making health claims.

Additionally, experts like Corroon advise being careful where you buy your CBD. “Convenience stores and gas stations are probably not the best places to find your CBD products,” he said. “At least to find those that have an accurate representation of the content on the label.”


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