With CBD on the rise, regulators are finding it difficult to test and control the large number of CBD products hitting the market daily. These regulation gaps have resulted in the creation of unsafe products by operators who substitute real CBD for cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana, also called K2 or Spice.
While natural CBD products boast a wide variety of health benefits, such as stress management and pain relief, adulterated products can cause severe health issues ranging from organ damage to convulsions and death.
Synthetic marijuana has been blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe as well as recent cases in the United States. In 2018, an 8-year-old boy from Washington was hospitalized after consuming CBD oil his parents ordered online in hopes it would help his seizures. Similarly, in South Carolina, a man fell into a coma after just two puffs of what he thought was CBD. In both cases, the product contained a powerful, man-made street drug.
Laboratory testing performed by the Associated Press analyzed the vape the man used along with 29 other high-risk vape products marketed as CBD. Analysis showed that ten of the suspect products contained synthetic marijuana. Similarly, at least 128 samples out of more than 350 tested by government labs had synthetic marijuana in products marketed as CBD. In one instance, authorities discovered fentanyl, the opioid involved in about 30,000 overdose deaths last year. (Because testing focused on suspect products, the results are not representative of the overall market.)
Cutting corners can result in large profits for the distributors. One website advertises synthetic marijuana for as little as $25 per pound - the same amount of CBD costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
“It’s Russian roulette,” said James Neal-Kababick, director of Flora Research Laboratories, which tested the products.
Prosecuting the people behind the spiked vapes has proven to be difficult. Much of the product packaging doesn’t identify company names and their brands have very little online presence.
“People have started to see the market grow and there are some fly-by-night companies trying to make a quick buck,” said Marielle Weintraub, president of the U.S. Hemp Authority, an industry group that certifies CBD cosmetics and dietary supplements.
Despite the safety concerns, the CBD industry has many reputable companies. Consumers are advised to do their own research before making a purchase.
Most hemp used in CBD products sold in the U.S. comes from Colorado, Oregon, or Kentucky. These states, which have deep roots in the cannabis industry, also have the most robust hemp programs. The state’s agricultural program will frequently test THC levels and investigate the potential use of any illegal pesticides based on complaints. To assure that their product falls under these standards, customers should ask the manufacturer or distributor where the hemp used in their product was grown.
Customers should also ask to see a product’s COA, or Certificate of Analysis, before committing to a product. This document shows how a product performed on tests that checked for levels of THC and CBD as well as the presence of contaminants. If an online manufacturer or a retail store doesn’t have the information, or refuses to share it, avoid the product and the retailer.