Under the FD&C Act, any product intended to treat a disease or otherwise have a therapeutic or medical use, and any product (other than a food) that is intended to affect the structure or function of the body of humans or animals, is a drug. The FDA has not approved any CBD products other than one prescription human drug product to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy. There is very limited information for other marketed CBD products, which likely differ in composition from the FDA-approved product and have not been evaluated for potential adverse effects on the body.
Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to 15 companies for illegally selling products containing cannabidiol (CBD) in ways that violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). The FDA also published a revised Consumer Update detailing safety concerns about CBD products more broadly. Based on the lack of scientific information supporting the safety of CBD in food, the FDA is also indicating today that it cannot conclude that CBD is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) among qualified experts for its use in human or animal food.
Today’s actions come as the FDA continues to explore potential pathways for various types of CBD products to be lawfully marketed. This includes ongoing work to obtain and evaluate information to address outstanding questions related to the safety of CBD products, while maintaining the agency’s rigorous public health standards. The FDA plans to provide an update on its progress regarding the agency’s approach to these products in the coming weeks.
Violations include marketing unapproved new human and animal drugs, selling CBD products as dietary supplements, and adding CBD to human, animal foods
“As we work quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds like CBD, we’ll continue to monitor the marketplace and take action as needed against companies that violate the law in ways that raise a variety of public health concerns. In line with our mission to protect the public, foster innovation, and promote consumer confidence, this overarching approach regarding CBD is the same as the FDA would take for any other substance that we regulate,” said FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D. “We remain concerned that some people wrongly think that the myriad of CBD products on the market, many of which are illegal, have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe, or that trying CBD ‘can’t hurt.’ Aside from one prescription drug approved to treat two pediatric epilepsy disorders, these products have not been approved by the FDA and we want to be clear that a number of questions remain regarding CBD’s safety – including reports of products containing contaminants, such as pesticides and heavy metals – and there are real risks that need to be considered. We recognize the significant public interest in CBD and we must work together with stakeholders and industry to fill in the knowledge gaps about the science, safety and quality of many of these products.”
The companies receiving warning letters are:
The FDA has previously sent warning letters to other companies illegally selling CBD products in interstate commerce that claimed to prevent, diagnose, mitigate, treat or cure serious diseases, such as cancer, or otherwise violated the FD&C Act. Some of these products were in further violation because CBD was added to food, and some of the products were also marketed as dietary supplements despite products which contain CBD not meeting the definition of a dietary supplement.
CBD is marketed in a variety of product types, such as oil drops, capsules, syrups, food products such as chocolate bars and teas, and topical lotions and creams. As outlined in the warning letters issued today, these particular companies are using product webpages, online stores and social media to market CBD products in interstate commerce in ways that violate the FD&C Act, including marketing CBD products to treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses for humans and/or animals. Other violations include marketing CBD products as dietary supplements and adding CBD to human and animal foods.
The FDA is working to answer questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, particularly CBD.
The FDA continues to believe the drug approval process represents the best way to ensure that safe and effective new medicines, including any drugs derived from cannabis, are available to patients in need of appropriate medical therapy. The agency is committed to supporting the development of new drugs, including cannabis and cannabis-derived drugs, through the investigational new drug and drug approval process.
Potential harm, side effects and unknowns
Despite the 2018 Farm Bill removing hemp — defined as cannabis and cannabis derivatives with very low concentrations (no more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis) of THC — from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, CBD products are still subject to the same laws and requirements as FDA-regulated products that contain any other substance.
Unlike the FDA-approved CBD drug product, unapproved CBD products, which could include cosmetics, foods, products marketed as dietary supplements, and any other product (other than Epidiolex) making therapeutic claims, have not been subject to FDA evaluation regarding whether they are effective to treat a particular disease or have other effects that may be claimed. In addition, they have not been evaluated by the FDA to determine what the proper dosage is, how they could interact with other drugs or foods, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.
In addition to safety risks and unproven claims, the quality of many CBD products may also be in question. The FDA is also concerned that a lack of appropriate processing controls and practices can put consumers at additional risks. For example, the agency has tested the chemical content of cannabinoid compounds in some of the products, and many were found to not contain the levels of CBD they claimed. We are also investigating reports of CBD potentially containing unsafe levels of contaminants (e.g., pesticides, heavy metals, THC).
A. No. Under section 301(ll) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 331(ll)], it is prohibited to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which has been added a substance which is an active ingredient in a drug product that has been approved under section 505 of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 355], or a drug for which substantial clinical investigations have been instituted and for which the existence of such investigations has been made public. There are exceptions, including when the drug was marketed in food before the drug was approved or before the substantial clinical investigations involving the drug had been instituted or, in the case of animal feed, that the drug is a new animal drug approved for use in feed and used according to the approved labeling. However, based on available evidence, FDA has concluded that none of these is the case for THC or CBD. FDA has therefore concluded that it is a prohibited act to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which THC or CBD has been added. FDA is not aware of any evidence that would call into question these conclusions. Interested parties may present the agency with any evidence that they think has bearing on this issue. Our continuing review of information that has been submitted thus far has not caused us to change our conclusions.
 Silva, et al. Prenatal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) alters cognitive function and amphetamine response from weaning to adulthood in the rat. Neurotoxicol and Teratol 2012; 34(1): 63-71.
Under the FD&C Act, cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to premarket approval by FDA, except for most color additives. Certain cosmetic ingredients are prohibited or restricted by regulation, but currently that is not the case for any cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredients. Ingredients not specifically addressed by regulation must nonetheless comply with all applicable requirements, and no ingredient – including a cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredient – can be used in a cosmetic if it causes the product to be adulterated or misbranded in any way. A cosmetic generally is adulterated if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling, or under such conditions of use as are customary or usual (section 601(a) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 361(a)]).
17. Does the FDA object to the clinical investigation of cannabis for medical use?
These GRAS conclusions do not affect the FDA’s position on the addition of CBD and THC to food.