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'Steer Clear' Of CBD Products, Says National Consumer League

Leon Neal
Getty Images
Among all of the CBD products sold in the United States, only one has actually been approved by testing through the Food and Drug Administration.

If you drive around Milwaukee or any other city, you're bound to come across a cannabidiol (CBD) shop. In addition to these shops, you can also find many CBD products — oils, drinks and food — in places like drug and grocery stores.

CBD products use cannabinoids that come from hemp plants and are not supposed to contain any psychoactive properties. These products may have benefits ranging from stress and anxiety relief to reducing pain and inflammation.

However, out of the hundreds of CBD products available only one has actually been approved by testing through the Food and Drug Administration. It's a prescription drug used to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

The FDA announced that these products are not "generally recognized as safe," which means it's illegal to market CBD by adding it to foods or labeling it as a dietary supplement. While there are current enforcement efforts, Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League (NCL), says more needs to be done.

"Essentially what you're looking at is the wild west on the grocery shelf."

"Essentially what you’re looking at is the wild west on the grocery shelf or the drug store shelf or the specialty store shelf," she says. "Nothing has been through that rigorous testing, and that’s really what we’re concerned about."

A recent poll conducted by the NCL found that 90% of Wisconsinites support the regulation and testing of CBD products.

While CBD products aren't supposed to have THC in them, some testing has found higher than legal levels of THC that potentially have psychoactive properties, according to Greenberg. She also says testing on animals have found liver toxicity issues, potential damage to the male reproductive system, and found to be contaminated with arsenic, lead, and toxic mold.

In the most extreme, unsubstantiated claims from companies making CBD products that can help treat diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer, or HIV, the FDA has administered cease and desist orders.

"That said, that falls far short of actually setting regulatory standards for CBD products that are out there and that's what we're asking the FDA to do," notes Greenburg. "We need rules of the road for both companies and consumers, and right now we don't have any assurance that the products with CBD that we're buying are either safe or effective or have therapeutic benefits."

The "unexpected explosion" of the products on the market has been challenging for regulators. Greenberg says the NCL is encouraging retailers to proceed with great caution in selling these products and spreading the word to consumers that labels can't be trusted: "So, for now, steer clear."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.