Ask Our Experts: What’s the Deal with CBD?


Q: I am seeing CBD all over the place (in drugstores, grocery stores, gas stations, and the airport), yet I hear that it’s illegal. What is the deal?

By New Frontier Data

A: Cannabidiol (CBD) seems to be nearly everywhere these days, available and marketed in a variety of products including drugs, snacks, dietary supplements, cosmetics, pet products, and even clothing. Yet as of January 1, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its use in only one (1) product — as a prescription drug (Epidiolex) to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy.

After the psychotropic compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol or delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD is the second-most popular among active ingredients of the cannabis plant. While the federal government prohibits the sale of cannabis products (including concentrates and extracts) with more than 0.3% THC, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, a variety of cannabis which contains less than 0.3% THC on a dry-weight basis.

Thus, hemp-derived cannabinoids are legal, and the market for CBD and its derived products has seen explosive growth, with CBD fitting into a new conception of health, wellness, and functional foods. Nevertheless, the FDA has not formally studied and approved any other CBD products, and to date there is very limited scientific information available about CBD or its effects on the body. Lacking reliable controlled trials (with federal prohibition of cannabis, most research was outlawed), there is simply not enough available information to understand all the interactions.

Nevertheless, mass-marketed items are being increasingly sold, and there are more than 1,000 CBD-infused products available online for a virtually endless list of reasons. The multibillion-dollar market is growing quickly, with countless big brands lining up to compete in the space (including mainstream retailers like CVS, GNC, Kroger, and Walgreens). Last summer, a Gallup poll found that one in seven Americans reported using CBD for a range of medical and therapeutic purposes.

New Frontier Data’s own research has found that nearly a third (30%) of cannabis consumers are using CBD products. Such consumers also tend to be women (57%), especially under the age of 35 (43%), consistent with much of the current marketing of CBD products as health-and-wellness brands targeted specifically to women. With that kind of consumer base, the stakes are high.

Unfortunately, the market has been described as the Wild West by industry stakeholders and policy experts who seek federal regulation to ensure both accuracy in labeling and quality standards for the sector. When CBS News took a random sampling of products for testing, they found that product labels were misleading, at best. Some of the samples had only 60% of the advertised amount of CBD, while others had more than double what was claimed (raising issues of unintended side effects). Further, tests of imported CBD products have found concerning levels of contaminants that could pose risks to public health.

Developing a new product with CBD can be daunting, given the issues related to sourcing, regulatory environment, food science, and confirmation of product claims. Despite this, many companies are proceeding undeterred, and with experts saying that it could take years to draft and implement market-wide regulations. Meantime, consumers will need to be diligent about selecting brands which focus on quality and safety.

As access to CBD products increases, it is expected that a broader base of consumers will integrate it both to their daily lives and as a complement to their general cannabis consumption. But until industrywide standards and testing are in place, may the buyer beware.