Health & Wellness

Fake CBD, and Other Dangers

By Marc Lewis
Micaela Parente/Unsplash

Cannabidiol (CBD) has the potential to improve lives. It may treat inflammation, relieve anxiety, and improve sleep. There is also a tremendous business opportunity in the emerging cannabis market. Some sources believe CBD will soon be a billion-dollar industry.

With such enormous potential comes danger. Companies are incentivized to cut corners, rush products to market, and stretch supplies.

What are the dangers of CBD?

If you are interested in trying CBD products to treat a condition, or simply to relax, there are a few things you should know.

1. Product testing is unregulated, infrequent, and easily falsified

Hemp is a tricky plant to use for medicine because it sucks anything and everything out of the soil. This includes heavy metals or pesticides. We encourage people to check brand websites for a Certificate of Analysis, or CoA, on the hemp that went into the product.

These test results should be recent. We like to see tests within the last quarter—and at least within the last six months.

Some brands allow customers to access a database of tests by a batch number. This is a gold standard offered by Bluebird Botanicals and Charlotte’s Web.

But test results posted on a website are not always correct. They can be falsified by a brand looking to cut corners or by a lab that has more test requests than it can handle.

Recently, a lab admitted falsifying test results on marijuana products. On the issue, Joe Devlin, Sacramento’s chief of Cannabis Enforcement, told KRCA3 in Sacramento, “The shortage of labs has really created a bottleneck in the supply chain across the state.”

And that’s in a state that is prepared for the broad availability of cannabis.

Lab science in the cannabis space is, in many places, as new as the cannabis industry. We spoke with several labs across the country and even the more established labs are adding new tests, getting new equipment, and busy with an influx of requests.

When you check a CoA on a brand site, do a quick search of the lab, look at the documents, and pick another brand if anything looks fishy.

2. Fake products are flooding the market

People are buying cannabis and hemp products at a record pace. In the marijuana space, counterfeiters have gained access to surplus labels and cartridges to create knock-offs that mimic products from reputable brands.

As the cannabis space grows, many of the issues that affect the marijuana industry will affect CBD.

Tonic recently reported that tests “detected synthetic marijuana and a compound in cough syrup in some of Diamond CBD’s products.” Among the synthetic compounds was K2.

According to a WebMD resource on K2, “between 2011 and 2017, U.S. poison control centers received more than 31,000 calls related to synthetic cannabinoid effects.”

These synthetic cannabinoids are full of mystery chemicals, some even showing signs of an ingredient used in rat poison.

Here are side effects associated with synthetic cannabinoids:

  • Racing heart
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting

Fake or synthetic CBD oil sickened 52 people in Utah. Many of those people bought a brand called YOLO CBD oil.

A leading brand told us they have trouble keeping products stocked because of the limited amount of quality, safe hemp. This is a national brand with a developed supply chain that struggles to find enough good hemp. So imagine what the supply chain might look like—or how it may be supplemented—by an upstart brand that is trying to catch the cannabis wave.

You want to look for companies who have roots in the space. Make sure the brand puts names and faces behind its story. Then shop with companies who will talk to you, the customer, about their products. A quick call to a brand is a great way to see if you want to put a product that brand makes in your body.

3. Mislabeling can lead to a failed drug test

A study published in JAMA found that 30% of CBD products are mislabeled. Vape products were mislabeled most often.

This mislabeling means consumers are often getting less CBD than they paid for or more THC than they bargained for—and that is a major risk.

No one wants to take a product to improve their sleep only to fail a drug test that could impact work, insurance, or other commitments.

There is a risk when taking hemp-derivatives with no or very low THC when it comes to drug testing, but the risks of a failed test are low. This risk increases dramatically if a consumer buys a product that has elevated levels of THC.

4. Beware of bargains

There is a lot of money to be made on a product that promises amazing benefits with few side effects. Features on national news outlets like TODAY have also helped legitimize and destigmatize CBD as a natural remedy.

But neither research nor oversight has increased alongside awareness and availability. This is an unregulated market.

If you see a product that stands out as being dramatically cheaper than every other brand, think twice.

Brands with detailed, transparent testing protocols spend six figures a year on tests. Safety and quality are not cheap. If you find a company selling products for a lot less than the rest of the market, those savings are coming from somewhere.

A person shouldn’t get sick trying to get well.

We don’t talk about the dangers of fake or mislabeled CBD to scare people away. We have talked to enough people who feel their lives changed using hemp derivatives to think these products can do a lot of good.

But it’s worth a couple extra minutes to read reviews and study a brand’s history before you make a purchase.

How many of us check our bag before we pull away from the fast food drive-thru window? We want to get what we paid for. Yet in a space like CBD, people click and buy products touted as medicine without a second thought. Stay smart and protect yourself.

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