New foods and beverages can be fun and interesting to try. Certainly, those with added benefits such as those that provide alertness or induce calmness can add another layer of intrigue. New options that provide these behavioral inducements are becoming available very frequently; one of the more popular ones include cannabinoid ingredients. Cannabinoids are substances derived from the cannabis plant – also referred to as hemp, and include both the psychoactive and non-psychoactive compounds Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), respectively.
Depending on where you live, you may have seen grocery stores and pharmacies carrying products containing CBD. Many of us may live in states that permit the sale of products containing THC from designated dispensaries. You may wonder what the differences are between products containing these two compounds, how they are regulated for safety and what further actions food regulatory agencies plan to take to formulate more structure around the sale of both types of products. Let’s walk through these components to answer some foundational questions.
CBD and THC: What’s the Difference?
While both CBD and THC compounds come from the cannabis plant, concentrations of both substances can vary between plant strains, and from plant to plant within the same strain. Additionally, even within one plant compound, concentrations can differ from one section to another; specifically, the flowering tops of female plants contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids. CBD is present in both male and female plants, while THC is found only in female Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants.
As mentioned above, CBD is non-psychoactive, while THC is psychoactive. Psychoactive compounds can influence how your brain works and result in changes in mood, emotion, awareness and behavior. In contrast, non-psychoactive compounds can impact the brain in a way that can change mental processes but do not change perception or behavior. Thus, each compound has very different chemical properties and being ingested results in different effects. CBD ingestion in standard amounts found in store shelf products can result in appetite growth, body relaxation and nausea relief. Alternatively, THC is able to produce an elevated mood or “high” that reportedly has anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects; it can also treat chronic pain.
How are Regulations Shaping Up?
It is likely that growth in interest and availability of CBD and THC containing products in the past few years is linked to the change in legal status of hemp within the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp products and removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances. This means that cannabis plants and derivatives that contain no more than 0.3 percent of dry weight delta-9- THC are no longer controlled substances under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). While hemp meets this definition and is no longer controlled under the CSA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated products containing hemp must still meet applicable requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for regulating the agricultural position of hemp, but the FDA regulates food production and the commerce of consumable hemp products. Since CBD has been increasingly popular in food products, the FDA has rapidly introduced guidance and regulation for CBD-containing products. The FDA has classified some hemp-seed-derived ingredients as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and therefore acceptable for use in food products. However, products that have had extracted CBD or THC added directly to them are illegal for interstate commerce; it is therefore important to be vigilant when purchasing CBD-containing food products.
Food industry news has recently been showcasing a demand for the FDA to more specifically regulate manufacturing practices in the production of CBD products in order to reduce adverse abnormalities in final products that could be harmful to consumers, such as the inadvertent introduction of toxic heavy chemicals and/or inconsistent strength – either of which could aid in adverse effects including negatively interacting with other supplements or medications that consumers may be taking. Increased regulation in manufacturing practices could potentially grow the number of large retailers carrying CBD-containing products.
Earlier this year, the FDA stated: “…FDA is aware that some companies are marketing products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds in ways that violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and that may put the health and safety of consumers at risk. The agency is committed to protecting the public health while also taking steps to improve the efficiency of regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of appropriate cannabis and cannabis-derived products.” The FDA has published extensive guidance for products containing cannabis and/or cannabis-derived compounds, including CBD. There have also been demands from manufactures for the agency to outline more details on interstate commerce and regulation of CBD as a dietary supplement.
Are Cannabis-Derived Products Right for You?
You may be wondering if you should consider trying CBD products (this might be what drew you into reading this article). The FDA has not hidden the fact that there are still some unknowns linked to the safety of CBD and many other cannabis-derived compounds. Additionally, the FDA has also spoken about work to build more science-based knowledge around adverse reactions such as liver injury, gastrointestinal distress and slowing brain activity that may be associated with CBD products. The agency is also conducting more research related to the risks associated with the long-term use of CBD products; therefore since these unknowns have been established, it is key to use discretion if you do decide to purchase CBD products.