Health and Science

FDA warns about lack of research, possible risks of CBD

Key Points
  • FDA is concerned that some people "wrongly" think CBD "can't hurt."
  • Consumers should be aware that the FDA still has questions about the safety and quality of CBD products, the agency says.
  • CBD has been widely touted as a harmless treatment — without much evidence to back it up.
A matcha shop that offers drinks with drops of CBD oil.
Angelica Lavito | CNBC

CBD might not be as safe as the companies selling it say it is, the Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers.

The cannabis compound has been widely touted as a harmless way to treat a slew of ailments, such as anxiety, pain and possibly even cancer — without much evidence to back it up. CBD products flooded the market this year after Congress legalized hemp last December.

"We remain concerned that some people wrongly think that the myriad of CBD products on the market, many of which are illegal, have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe, or that trying CBD 'can't hurt,'" FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy said in a statement Monday.

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Abernethy leads a working group at the FDA tasked with crafting regulations to bring legal CBD products to market. The FDA is under intense pressure from the public, as well as lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to come up with a solution.

There are still "a number of question regarding CBD's safety — including reports of products containing contaminants, such as pesticides and heavy metals — and there are real risks that need to be considered," Abernethy said.

Companies are adding CBD to creams, oils, food and beverages. However, it's currently illegal for companies to sell CBD-infused food and beverages across state lines and to market any CBD products with health claims the FDA has not evaluated.

The FDA said it "has seen only limited data about CBD safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered before taking CBD for any reason." The agency lays out possible risks of using CBD, such as liver injury, drug interactions and possibly even negative effects on male reproductive health.

"This week, FDA provided an update for consumers about CBD," Abernethy said in a tweet Tuesday. "Importantly, consumers should know there is limited available information about CBD, including about its effects on the body."

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In addition to the health risks CBD itself may pose, the FDA cautioned consumers to be aware of product quality. The industry is largely unregulated. The FDA said it has tested the chemical content of CBD in some products and found "many" did not contain the amount of CBD they said they did. The agency is also investigating reports of CBD containing "unsafe" levels of contaminants, such as pesticides, heavy metals and THC.

The FDA on Monday also issued warning letters to 15 privately owned CBD companies for illegally advertising their products as treating diseases, selling products as dietary supplements and adding CBD to human and animal foods.