The FDA is concerned that people may mistakenly believe that using CBD “can’t hurt.” The agency wants to be clear that we have seen only limited data about CBD’s safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered. As part of the drug review and approval process for the prescription drug containing CBD, it was determined that the risks are outweighed by the benefits of the approved drug for the particular population for which it was intended. Consumer use of any CBD products should always be discussed with a healthcare provider. Consumers should be aware of the potential risks associated with using CBD products. Some of these can occur without your awareness, such as:
The FDA recognizes the significant public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, particularly CBD. However, there are many unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality of products containing CBD. The agency is working on answering these questions through ongoing efforts including feedback from a recent FDA hearing and information and data gathering through a public docket.
Unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality
CBD products are also being marketed for pets and other animals. The FDA has not approved CBD for any use in animals and the concerns regarding CBD products with unproven medical claims and of unknown quality equally apply to CBD products marketed for animals. The FDA recommends pet owners talk with their veterinarians about appropriate treatment options for their pets.
Potential harm, side effects and unknowns
The FDA’s top priority is to protect the public health. This priority includes making sure consumers know about products that put their health and safety at greatest risk, such as those claiming to prevent, diagnose, treat, mitigate, or cure serious diseases. For example, the agency has warned companies to stop selling CBD products they claim are intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, mitigate, or cure serious diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, psychiatric disorders and diabetes. While we have focused on these types of products, we will continue to monitor the marketplace for any product that poses a risk to public health, including those with dangerous contaminants, those marketed to vulnerable populations, and products that otherwise put the public health at risk.
We are encouraged by the many groups that are interested in helping to develop better data on the use and safety of CBD products, but also note that existing efforts generally are not adequate to fill the outstanding knowledge gaps. For example, observational studies that are too small or that do not include techniques to ensure data quality or methodological rigor are of limited use for public health decision making.
It is important to note that there are research questions for which RWD research projects are unlikely to substitute for certain types of traditional studies. We do not expect that analyses of observational data will substitute for other types of studies in certain contexts. For example, appropriately designed animal studies can address toxicological issues that are difficult to study in humans, such as chronic, developmental, and reproductive toxicity.
Here, we describe a framework for the FDA’s work in the development of research projects that lay the methodological groundwork for high quality RWD science on the safety and use of CBD products. These research projects would be aimed at building upon currently existing independent state and national quality and safety monitoring efforts, observational study data models, and novel data sources to develop more robust capabilities and methods for CBD data collection and analysis.
A Practical Framework for Robust, Collaborative CBD Data Projects to Inform Public Health Decisions
The FDA evaluates CBD just like any other substance we regulate, under a regulatory framework defined by law and with rigorous scientific evidence as a basis for both our regulatory approach and information we communicate. We’ve consistently communicated concerns and questions regarding the science, safety, and quality of many of these products based on currently available evidence. We still don’t have clear answers to important questions such as what adverse reactions may be associated with CBD products and what risks are associated with the long-term use of CBD products. Better data in these areas are needed for the FDA and other public health agencies to make informed, science-based decisions that impact public health.
In December 2018, a change in the law made the FDA’s work on CBD issues particularly important. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (also known as the 2018 Farm Bill) removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). This means that cannabis plants and derivatives that contain no more than 0.3 percent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a dry weight basis are no longer controlled substances under the CSA. While hemp that meets this definition is no longer controlled under the CSA, FDA-regulated products containing hemp must still meet applicable requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act.
Challenges in current capabilities for collecting data regarding the use and safety of CBD
When the 2018 Farm Bill was enacted, we recognized the importance of engaging with the community of stakeholders interested in CBD. We held a public hearing in May 2019 and issued a call to stakeholders to work with the agency to develop high-quality data on CBD. The FDA re-opened the May 2019 public hearing docket, and will keep it open in the future as one mechanism for stakeholders to share data. In July 2020, we gathered stakeholder and industry input regarding the challenges surrounding quality, safety, and monitoring of the current marketplace. We also held a multidisciplinary scientific conference in November 2020 to provide further insight into the scientific evidence supporting the presence or absence of sex and gender differences in use and responses to CBD and other cannabinoids. The FDA also conducts regular listening sessions with stakeholders willing to share their perspective and data with us.
We see an important public health opportunity in using novel sources of data and rigorous analytical methods to build a more robust base of scientific evidence on the safety profile and use of CBD products. The FDA is uniquely situated to contribute its expertise in evaluating data from different sources to inform regulatory decision-making. We think that real-world data (RWD) on CBD use and safety has a crucial role alongside data from other types of studies to fill in the current gaps in our understanding.