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Unregulated Hemp-derived CBD and THC Products are Often Mislabeled and May Contain Toxic Metals

August 4, 2022

Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill and the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act that effectively legalized hemp-derived CBD and THC products, there has been growing concern over the safety and accuracy in labeling of these products. The concern mainly comes from both bills providing no regulatory framework for testing standards and protocol to ensure accuracy of potency and potentially harmful additives.

A recent study from Johns Hopkins University found that 76% of hemp-derived CBD products found online and in national retail stores contained mislabeled products for potency, despite the study using a  +/- 10% margin of error from “established standards for US Pharmacopeia herbal products and emerging cannabis industry standards.” It is important to note that these are not required nor evidence-based guidelines for cannabis or hemp.

Another study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that hemp-derived CBD and THC products contained heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and several other metals. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has highlighted numerous studies with similar findings of mislabeled products with potentially harmful materials.

Heavy metals and other contaminants may be present in hemp-derived products since hemp and cannabis plants contain properties that naturally cleanse soil. Consequently, CBD and THC derived products from hemp plants grown in heavy metal-contaminated soil, while reducing the contaminants in the soil, may also contain those harmful heavy metals.

This line of research highlights the need for a clear, uniform, and federal approach to testing standards for cannabis products. The FDA currently provides a Q&A and resource page for the hemp industry but provides no required standards for lab testing and product safety. Without standardized guidelines for businesses to follow, cannabis product quality and safety is likely to vary within and across cannabis dispensaries and from state to state.

State run medical and adult use programs like those in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have significantly more rigorous standards for testing, but are still not without issues of their own, such as test result shopping, inconsistent sampling methods, and inconsistent or non-existent audit processes.

Ultimately, a clear and nationally uniform approach to testing standards may only come with federal legalization like the recently proposed Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.