The lack of a federal agency or any standardized body to regulate the cannabis industry, too, has had its impact. Many CBD products on the shelves may not contain the levels of CBD promised, or worse, may not contain CBD at all. One 2017 study led by a researcher at Penn University found that nearly 70% of CBD products sold online are mislabeled.
If you’re looking to buy a CBD product but are unsure how to navigate the nuances of labels, lab results and misleading products, then search no further. Here are the top 3 claims you should look out for when shopping for CBD.
Don’t trust a product that makes any health claims
One of the largest obstacles CBD faces is the FDA. You see, the FDA is just as unhappy as consumers when it comes to misleading products. And since CBD research is only in its infancy it’s easy to understand why the FDA is concerned. There are some things we’re still unsure of when it comes to how CBD affects us in the long term, for instance.
In short: the FDA hasn’t determined whether CBD is ‘GRAS’ (generally recognized as safe) for human consumption.
So how does the FDA attempt to curb misinformation? They’ve created a rather strict set of rules for CBD/hemp brands that dictates how they can advertise and sell products. These rules are derived from the 1938 FD&C Act (Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) and were designed with product safety in mind.
The primary rule states that CBD can not be marketed in any way that suggests it may, “…treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses for humans and/or animals.” Secondary rules mandate that CBD products can not be marketed or sold as dietary supplements or added to human or animal food.
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Companies that don’t comply with these rules can be subject to strict FDA citation. In fact, 15 brands received FDA warning letters in November of 2019.
So if you see a product that makes any kind of health claim—whether it’s as basic as “guaranteed to put you to bed” or as wild as the next cure to cancer—put it down and walk away. That’s not a CBD product you can trust.
But just exactly what do those kinds of claims look like? Let’s do a deep dive and explore a few of the most common offenders.
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Claim #1: Claims a product will help you sleep better
But wait, you might be thinking. Doesn’t CBD help with sleep? Why is a company saying that a CBD product will help you sleep somehow wrong?
It’s all about the way the claim is made rather than the claim itself. Companies that are aware of the FDA’s regulations take great care to ensure their copy never promises anything. This kind of marketing copy can say things like, “may help improve the quality of sleep”, and that’s OK. Or “help support sleep” (which is how we frame it.)
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Where things are not OK is when a product makes a direct claim such as this:
“Our CBD capsules are a simple sleep aid that increase the quality and quantity of your sleep.”
This kind of statement is likely to be in violation of the FDA’s FD&C act. Despite all the research we have on CBD no manufacturer can make outright health claims.
Look for products whose copy is FDA-compliant. Here’s one way you can talk about sleep in a compliant manner:
“Easy to use tincture for promoting a relaxing and restful sleep.”
Again, the keyword here is “promoting.” The idea is to never promise an effect to consumers. If a CBD company isn’t vigilant about what the FDA guidelines are, they probably aren’t vigilant about their products. Don’t trust CBD products that make these claims.
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Claim #2: A CBD product will help you lose weight
As much as we all wish CBD’s effects extended to weight loss, there isn’t currently enough research to support this dream.
Unfortunately that doesn’t stop manufacturers from trying to sell this idea to consumers. These CBD products may claim anything from “CBD can help increase energy levels” to “CBD can help you lose weight.”
Be extremely wary of these types of products as: 1) claims about CBD and weight loss aren’t substantiated 2) claims are likely to be in FD&C violation.
Here’s an example of what those claims can look like on a “Buy Now” page:
“These ultimate CBD Capsules are designed to support weight management and burn stubborn fats. These CBD Capsules combine 20mg of Premium Broad Spectrum CBD per capsule with powerful ingredients to help burn fat and increase energy.”
Don’t trust CBD products that make these claims. In fact, run very far away if you see any language like that.
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Claim #3: Claims a full spectrum CBD product contains 0% THC
Cannabis plants, including CBD-rich hemp plants, contain over 400 unique compounds. These compounds include cannabinoid types (i.e. CBD, THC) as well as terpenes, aromatic compounds found in cannabis with their own therapeutic properties.
By definition, a full spectrum product is one which contains all of the plant’s various compounds. This means a full spectrum product should contain multiple cannabinoids as well as terpenes, and will likely contain THC. CBD is just one type of cannabinoid at play; other minor cannabinoids include Cannabigerol (CBG) and Cannabinol (CBN).
A broad spectrum product is similar to a full spectrum one. The only difference is a broad spectrum product does not contain significant amounts of THC. It may still contain trace levels of THC, however.
Full spectrum CBD products have a huge advantage over CBD isolate products. They don’t stop working after a certain dosage…but isolate products do.
Products made with chemically isolated CBD are attractive to consumers who are worried about drug testing. This is because both full and broad spectrum products may cause a user to test positive on a drug screening. (This is rare, but it happens.)
Each type of cannabis product, then, has its place. So if you ever see a product claiming to be full or broad spectrum but containing 0% THC you know something fishy is up. You can’t have 0% THC in a full spectrum extract, and if a brand is making this claim what else are they lying to you about? There’s no way to know for certain because consumer trust has been eroded. In short, don’t trust CBD products that make these claims.
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The Take Away
At the end of the day CBD consumers are left to fend for themselves until a legislative CBD body emerges. This is why it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re educated and up to date on CBD laws and policies. Be sure to always shop for products that have lab results available (Certificates of Analyses) from a certified third party to ensure you know what you’re getting.
Janelle Lassalle is a writer and content creator that specializes in cannabis. She’s also an insanely passionate advocate and expert in all things CBD. You can find her work featured in a variety of publications such as Healthline, The Huffington Post, Leafly, Forbes, and High Times. Check out her portfolio, or follow her on Instagram @jenkhari.