Medical cannabis is now legal in thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, CBD is legal nationwide thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. One would think that cannabis’ legal status in the U.S. would allow producers a little more freedom in talking about the medical benefits of their products. That is not the case. Producers still have to be very careful about what they claim.
When we talk about producers, it is not just cannabis growers being referenced. Producers also include processors and product manufacturers. The three groups combined are responsible for getting cannabis into the hands of consumers by way of raw plant material or products derived from it.
Why are producers limited in what they can say about cannabis? There are two big issues: a lack of scientific data and conflicting rules. Treating chronic pain with cannabis provides the perfect illustration. Even if Washington were to decriminalize cannabis today, FDA rules would limit what producers can claim about cannabis as an effective pain treatment.
Patients Say It Works
Setting aside research data for one moment, untold numbers of patients have said that cannabis works as a chronic pain treatment. Reputable organizations like Utahmarijuana.org agree. As an organization that helps patients obtain medical cannabis cards in Utah, Utahmarijuana.org hears positive reports from patients all the time.
Patient reports are useful whenever researchers are trying to understand the benefits of a particular therapy. But the scientific community does not recognize such reports as valid scientific data. It constitutes anecdotal data and nothing more. The FDA follows that same principal.
FDA regulations do not allow producers of any product to make unfounded medical claims. Any and all medical claims must be verified by scientific data before they are allowed. Making medical claims without such data leads to a warning letter from the FDA, at minimum. It could also lead to prosecution.
The other issue, conflicting rules, is extremely frustrating to producers. Jim Higdon, a CBD brand owner and Marijuana Times contributor, wrote a piece in late 2021 discussing how his brand cannot make any claims about CBD’s ability to help manage chronic pain. Higdon cited survey data from real patients who swear that CBD has helped them.
According to Higdon, his industry has been lobbying the FDA for years to classify CBD as a health supplement. That would allow brands to at least discuss anecdotal evidence published by reputable sources. The FDA says it cannot do so. Why? Because they have already approved at least one CBD drug. They claim that a substance cannot be both a drug and a health supplement simultaneously.
What does this have to do with claiming that CBD helps manage chronic pain? The FDA says that any substance capable of doing that would be a drug. Yet CBD is not recognized as a drug by the agency. The one drug they have approved is not straight CBD. Rather, the drug is CBD-based.
A Federal Stalemate
Higdon describes the current situation as a federal stalemate. Interestingly enough, what’s true for CBD is also true for medical cannabis and THC. There are conflicting CBD rules just at the federal level alone. But where cannabis and THC are concerned, there are also conflicts between federal and state law. Until those conflicts are resolved, the stalemate continues.
Producers and consumers are ultimately left holding the bag. Producers have to be extremely careful about medical claims. Meanwhile, consumers have a challenging time understanding whether cannabis could help them medically. It is an unfortunate situation that doesn’t look to be resolved any time soon.