CBD market booming as state pushes for research, oversight

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As states push for more research and tighter oversight of the booming hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD, market to protect consumers from false advertising, shop owners say education and third-party lab tests are key to ensuring customers can bank on what they buy.

At the Arcadia CBD and Smoke Shop next to Thames Valley Relief medical marijuana dispensary in Uncasville, the shelves overflow with colorful packages of CBD-infused gummies, coffee, jerky sticks, pet snacks, soaps and lotions and oils marketed as healing and vape pen cartridges with flavors ranging from Grand Daddy Purp and Pina Colada to Fruity Pebbles and Skywalker.

“As the medical marijuana and recreational marijuana market grows, more people are interested in CBD because it doesn’t give you the high that marijuana gives you but has most of the benefits,” said David Beaulieu, co-owner of Arcadia. Consumers buying CBD often seek relief from inflammation, pain, nausea and anxiety, Beaulieu said.

The CBD market has grown substantially in the last six months since the passage of the Farm Bill, which removed cannabis products containing less than 0.3 percent of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, from a list of prohibited drugs. Companies have since ramped up production and sales of cannabis products classified as hemp, which contains large amounts of CBD but very little THC.

Late last month, state Attorney General William Tong joined a coalition of 37 state attorneys general to urge the Food and Drug Administration to research risks and benefits of CBD products to help with state-level regulations. The attorneys also pushed the FDA to partner with state consumer protection agencies as the federal government considers new guidelines guarding against sales of products with less CBD than advertised or companies marketing false medical claims.

“Cannabis-derived products are now widely available and marketed as a safe solution for various health needs, from sleep disorders and anxiety to pain relief and immune function. Consumers need access to the most complete and accurate scientific information available, including how these products may interact with other drugs and dietary supplements,” Tong said in a statement. “There is a real opportunity here for states and the federal government to partner and provide important clarity to ensure the safety of all consumers.”

The FDA and Federal Trade Commission in April sent joint letters to three companies warning them to cease claiming that their CBD products could effectively treat Alzheimer’s, cancer, fibromyalgia and other diseases. The FTC said the advertising amounted to “making false or unsubstantiated health claims.”

Several shops and convenience stores in the area display marketing noting that third parties test their CBD products to verify they contain the amounts of CBD described on labels.

“We only order from wholesalers that we have access to lab reports for,” Beaulieu said. “We make sure we always see the lab reports for the products we buy before we actually buy them.”

Beaulieu cited Colorado-based Charlotte’s Web and Oregon-based Select CBD as companies that make third-party testing results readily available to customers and shops.

Hussein Elsherif, owner of Anubis Vape and Smoke Shop on Broad Street in New London, sells CBD products made by Colorado-based Heal X Nutrition. Near 10-milligram CBD honey sticks and gummy worms containing 500 milligrams of CBD, Elsherif displays a sign on the counter noting the “pharmaceutical grade” products come “with the exact amount of CBD we say is on the label.” Each label incorporates a QR code so customers can check a certificate of analysis showing the chemical makeup of every hemp-derived product.

Lora Rae Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Consumer Protection, said last week that “this is a relatively new industry, so we have not had any major cases here as of yet.”

“However, we do certainly advise consumers to read the labels and disclosures on these products, and consult with any salespeople should they have questions,” Anderson added. She pointed to bit.ly/CThemp, where residents can find information on hemp manufacturing in the state. Customers with any complaints or concerns regarding advertisements of CBD products can email dcp.hemp@ct.gov, Anderson said.

Beaulieu said the most popular items sold at Arcadia are CBD oil tinctures — customers place a drop of it under their tongue for 30 seconds before swallowing — and gummies.

“Anything taken orally usually takes about an hour for the effects to start, but they last for six to eight hours,” he said. “If you smoke or vape, it takes effect within 10 minutes but only lasts two to three hours.”

The only negative effects customers report to Beaulieu is drowsiness, along with headaches among some customers who take high amounts of CBD. He noted that some customers say they walk into the shop almost immediately after recommendations from doctors and veterinarians.

“There needs to be more research about it,” he said, urging people to read about CBD and consult with their doctors. “They’re not going to make legitimate progress getting higher quality medicine if they don’t do research. CBD is getting a lot of traction in the states. It would be nice to have more backing to show people who are curious more about it to see how it could help them.”

Elsherif, who says he’s “never smoked in his life,” swears by CBD, saying it’s helped relieve pain in his knee and back.

“I didn’t want to take anything that would make me not normal,” he said.

He added that CBD hasn’t quite caught on in his shop, or New London, as much as other vaping and tobacco products. He added that many “more like the THC” in marijuana, while others avoid CBD fearing “it’s a drug.”

So he tries to educate customers while sharing his anecdotal experience with CBD gummies.

“It makes you sleep well. This is a good thing,” he said.

The FDA, through a spokesman, pointed to ongoing research on the safety and effectiveness of CBD, including impacts to children, the elderly, and pregnant and lactating women.

“As we learn more, we will continue to update the public about our path forward and provide information that is based on sound science and data,” Amy Abernethy, FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, said in a statement earlier this year.

The state's website on hemp is https://portal.ct.gov/hemp.

b.kail@theday.com

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