One of the shortest routes the products take lands them at CBD of Lawrence. It sits on Massachusetts Street, the heart of the college town’s boutique and local shopping.
There, customers eyeing a bottle of tincture or packet of vape cartridges can whip out a smartphone and scan QR codes on the packaging. That takes them to a Google Drive copy of third-party chemical analyses by a lab in Massachusetts that tests the materials Quiet Trees uses.
Pharmacist Dustin Hothan wants that transparency. The co-owner of CBD of Lawrence says he won’t stock anything without independent lab results.
He pores over product reviews online, looking for any quality complaints about the CBD capsules, beverages and more on the shelves of his store.
Still, Hothan once got a tip that a product he stocked contained detectable amounts of THC, the compound in cannabis that can get you high, or, in smaller, non-intoxicating doses, still make you fail a drug test even weeks after discontinuing use.
“So we sent it off for testing,” he said. “It turned out, it did contain THC.”
The label had promised otherwise. The original lab results, too. Hothan dropped the product.
How can mistakes like these happen? Lab quality varies. The quality of manufacturers in this rapidly ballooning industry does, too. Even the best-intentioned retailers must figure out which names to trust, homing in on labs and brands that prove themselves.
All retailers great and small
Nationally, market analyst Brightfield Group estimates the value of the U.S. CBD industry multiplied seven times over in 2018. In a new report this month, it pegs the market at nearly $24 billion by 2023.
After all, national retailers have joined the action. Customers not drawn to vapes and tinctures will find new takes on old products, Brightfield says. Anti-aging creams. Dog treats. Bottles of multi-vitamin.
The state of Kansas tracks neither the value of CBD sales in the state nor the number of vendors. One hemp advocate guesses the compound is now available at hundreds of locations statewide.
Kelly Rippel, co-founder of Kansans for Hemp, has mixed feelings about that.
“There’s got to be an understanding from all institutions that it can’t be stigmatized anymore,” he said. “But it has to be done in a way that is going to protect public health.”
In reality, neither the state nor federal government check the contents of the tinctures, vapes and more flooding Kansas stores.
The sole FDA-approved use is Epidiolex, a CBD drug that proved itself in clinical trials as a treatment for rare types of epilepsy.
As for the booming wellness market, the FDA wants answers to questions about the effects of taking CBD long-term, and about product safety and reports of contamination by pesticides or heavy metals.
“We are looking into this,” the agency said in a recent consumer update.
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and other institutions bought more than 80 CBD products online and found fewer than a third were accurately labeled.
CBD levels were off, and some products that claimed not to contain THC actually did.
Legal quandary and quagmire
Vince Sanders, CEO of national CBD retailer American Shaman, would love to talk about what his products do. But the risk for drawing ire from federal regulators held him back in a recent interview.
“Honestly, up until relatively recently, I said a lot of stuff I probably shouldn’t have in retrospect,” he said.
American Shaman recently pulled down thousands of testimonials from its website, Sanders said, to avoid any potential legal liability.
“Positive effects.” “Pain management.” “Beneficial qualities.” CBD “helps in recovery from conditions,” the site says, but doesn’t specify any.
Yet, Sanders said in the interview: “There’s overwhelming evidence of what CBD does. … I can’t say it. I wish I could.”
Instead, he suggests, go to PubMed.gov, type in your condition, the keyword CBD, and hit enter. Or just drop by an American Shaman store for a sample. “They work very quickly,” he said. “If you find some relief during the 15 minutes or so you’re there, then you have a good idea.”
Indeed, the National Library of Medicine’s online research database, PubMed, offers a dazzling array of CBD articles, but far too few clinical trials to back the wide-ranging claims about the substance’s abilities.
Much of the work involves animals and petri dishes, or small-scale trials. CBD shows some promise for helping with pain, anxiety, and even schizophrenia, says Bauer, of the Mayo Clinic. But benefits in studies often came only with exceptionally high doses of CBD — and sometimes side effects.
The fact that “natural” substances can cause problems gets lost at times amid excitement for herbal remedies. St. John’s Wort shrub can help some people with depression, for example, but also messes with birth control.
Bauer, who founded and directs research at Mayo’s program for integrating alternative medicines such as acupuncture into health care there, recommends against CBD for young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and patients taking many medications. CBD can screw up dosage levels of certain prescriptions. Talk to your doctor if you plan to take it.
THC vs CBD
State laws bar Kansans from getting marijuana legally. So is CBD just a poor substitute?