When Dr. Jennifer Griffith, a Washington University pediatric neurologist, drives down the street each morning, she notices what a lot of Missourians are seeing on billboards and storefronts: an explosion in the marketing of cannabidiol, better known as CBD, often portraying it as some kind of wonder supplement. For most of us, this oil extracted from marijuana's ugly cousin, the hemp plant, is more a curiosity than anything else. For doctors like Griffith, it's an opportunity for further study of potentially beneficial uses — and a cause for serious concern.
The federal Food and Drug Administration last week issued a warning to 15 companies, saying they are illegally selling or marketing cannabidiol under false pretenses. Though cannabidiol normally contains only a tiny fraction of THC, the get-high chemical in marijuana, tests of some cannabidiol supplements show significantly higher levels than what's on the label. Some products can actually be dangerous, especially to children and pregnant women.
FDA-approved prescription-only cannabidiol has helped in the treatment of epilepsy in children. More than 300 clinical trials are underway for other potential uses. But the companies currently marketing and selling unregulated CBD in local shops too often suggest their products can treat all kinds of ailments such as depression, anxiety, pain relief and even acne.
Some products are being marketed illegally as dietary supplements or aids for cancer patients. One St. Louis billboard advertises CBD ice cream and dairy products. The FDA stated emphatically last week that there is "no food additive regulation which authorizes the use of CBD as an ingredient in human food or animal food."
"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.' ..." said the agency's principal deputy commissioner, Amy Abernethy.
Griffith, speaking on a radiomd.com podcast, warned that in the absence of federal standards regulating the industry, "it's sort of every man for himself."
The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, a newsletter for medical professionals, reported last month that among 84 CBD products on the market, 58 tested as having at least 10% higher cannabidiol concentrations than what their labels indicated. Eighteen contained potentially intoxicating levels of THC. That can be a particular danger to brain development in children and fetuses. Studies show that THC can permanently depress IQ levels in adolescents.
There's good reason for self-medicating consumers to slow down, read the label, and make absolutely sure they know what they're getting into. CBD is not a wonder drug. There's enough data available to know that, at the very least, consumers should proceed with extreme caution. Just because it's on a billboard or even on the store shelf doesn't mean it's safe.
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