Hemp based CBD is in a strange limbo right now. It’s floating around in a legal gray area — still viewed by many as a “woo-woo” pseudo-medicine, inseparably intertwined with the cannabis discussion, and promoted by health food stores, yoga spas and your incense-crazy Aunt Dynah.
But CBD is a real medicine. And it’s hot right now almost everywhere in the nation. According to Rolling Stone, the CBD market is on track to become a $22 billion industry by 2022, and some speculate that its profitability could even surpass legal marijuana in the not-so-distant future.
People want their CBD. They know it works — it reduces pain, helps treats epilepsy, combats anxiety, reduces the risk of diabetes and even fights cancer — and they know it’s a healthy, organic alternative to pharmaceuticals.
Except, the CBD market is still unregulated. Despite being sold in almost every state, there are still no agencies keeping tabs on the quality of CBD circulating the US; no one responsible for checking the authenticity of CBD products, their claims or the honesty of their advertisements.
And, perhaps most dangerously, there’s no requirement that these products are tested for toxic contaminates. Which leaves the door open wide for scoundrels and con-men to, not only take advantage of people, but to potentially harm them as well.
Chris Hudulla is the Founder and CSO of ProVerde Labs, an accredited CBD testing laboratory that provides both testing and consulting services. Hudulla has seen some shit over the years. Everything from simple innocent product contaminations, to large scale dissemination of carcinogenic CBD products, quality fraud and test certificate forgery.
It’s the wild west out there. And Hudalla is in the thick of it.
“There’s no state regulation for CBD hemp products,” he says. “And so, with no oversight, with no regulatory safety agency looking over this, it’s a free-for-all.”
People are confused, Hudulla says. There are a lot of excited entrepreneurs leaping madly into this CBD frenzy, who know nothing about chemically processing hemp or buying and selling CBD products. There’s a lot of innocent ignorance, among many — people who contaminate their products accidentally because they simply don’t understand the process, or because they made an honest mistake.
“They just don’t know, what they don’t know,” Hudulla says.
On the other hand, there are also a lot of people jumping in because they know it’s a cash grab in an unregulated market. Bad players, cheating the system at the expense of The People — fiends who don’t care if they sell toxic products or forge certificates so long as they can get their cut and get out.
In one instance Hudulla described, he discovered a CBD product that was actually more poison than panacea.
“We saw this sample and it had a very toxic fingerprint of residual solvents, and then I kept seeing the same exact pattern in different samples,” he recalls. When Hudulla reached out to the producer (who was nearly impossible to get in touch with) he discovered the source of that toxic fingerprint: Naphtha paint stripper. This producer had been using paint stripper to make their CBD isolate, and then sold it to distributers in several different states. “My guess is this was a producer who did a very big batch and that batch was distributed nationwide.”
Paint stripper, for the curious, is not good for human beings. It is in fact a dangerous carcinogen. Meaning any poor soul who spent their hard-earned cash on that CBD product, hoping to treat their chronic pain, epilepsy or cancer, was doing quite the opposite.
Image credit, ProVerde Labs
“If you look at the food and pharma industries, they use toxic solvents in their production all the time,” says Hudulla. “But in those industries, they have the ability, through very expensive instrumentation, to remove it all. And they also have the ability to test it to make sure that they remove it all. Because, they have the FDA looking over their back and if they don’t remove it all, then the FDA is going to come down hard on them.
“In this [CBD] industry there’s nobody policing the quality or safety of these products, like that.”
Which seems absurd. Why wouldn’t our government try to regulate this erupting market?
I reached out to Michael Felberbaum, the public affairs specialist for the FDA, to find out. I explained the situation, how people were being taken advantage of and being sold contaminated, carcinogenic products, and asked why the government wasn’t making efforts to monitor the CBD market.
“Because it [CBD] is illegal under federal law. So, the products shouldn’t be sold in the first place,” Felberbaum said, matter of factly. “That’s why.”
Of course. CBD, according to these people, is a dangerous narcotic, a drug that is highly addictive and has no known medical use — a schedule I substance, just like heroine and meth. Even though hemp-derived CBD with less than .03 percent THC is legally considered hemp and not cannabis, according to the feds, this stuff is dangerous and illegal and shouldn’t be sold anywhere.
Felberbaum declined to speculate on whether or not the FDA would ever try and regulate CBD on a federal level.
Hudulla doesn’t have a lot of hope that they will, though. At least, not in the near future. It’s why he always recommends what is called “full panel testing” for any CBD producer who wants to ensure they’re offering a quality product, and for that matter, for anyone buying CBD products in bulk, who wants to make sure they’re getting a quality product.
Full panel testing entails testing the product for everything. Not just for CBD content, but also for heavy metals, mold, salmonella, pesticides, residual solvents, the works! Leave no stone unturned. That way, Hudulla says, if there’s a contaminate in your product, you’ll know about it before it gets to consumers.
Products tested at labs like ProVerde usually receive a certificate of authenticity to prove that they’ve been tested by an accredited lab, and what they were tested for. But even this has been challenged by rogue contenders trying to hoodwink consumers.
Hudulla described an example:
In Texas, a company was advertising that they had “the best CBD products on the market” and challenged buyers to “find a higher quality CBD product anywhere”. Naturally, someone called Hudulla to authenticate that company’s test certificates, which had been provided by ProVerde Labs.
Hudulla checked their records and, strangely, discovered something amiss.
“Our original tests had shown a significant amount of pesticides in their CBD,” Hudulla says. “But when I looked at the ProVerde test certificate that they posted on their website, it had the pesticide results totally whited out.”
They had tried to whitewash their credentials! One of the oldest tricks in the book.
And one that took some sizable testicles to try and pull off. They knew their product was contaminated, tried to cover it up by fudging their certificate, and then advertised their product as the highest quality CBD on the market — even challenging people to test that claim!
There’s a fine line between ballsy and stupid, folks.
Anyway, Hudulla called the company (after reporting them to the attorney general’s office) and asked them what the hell was going on. They politely apologized for the trespass and promised to that the phony certificate would be taken down. But that wasn’t enough for Hudulla. He suggested that they recall their contaminated product, entirely, so as not to poison people with pesticides.
“The guy hung up the phone on me, and by the next day, the phone number was disconnected and the website was gone entirely,” Hudulla says.
The business had vanished into thin air.
Which these businesses are apparently pretty good at doing. According to Hudulla, online providers caught scamming the system or selling bad CBD products, will almost always go dark and disappear, only to later pop up under a different name. It’s like a maligned game of whack-a-mole.
Contamination isn’t all prospective CBD purchasers should be weary of, either. Because, perhaps not surprisingly, without oversight and regulation, the CBD content in a lot of these products is also something some producers are trying to augment. They play games with semantics advertising their products as high-potency CBD, saying things like, “99.9% Hemp Oil”, which, according to Hudulla, means absolutely nothing.
“As a chemist who’s been working in this field for almost six years now, I don’t know what ‘hemp oil’ is. It could be hemp seed oil, which contains no CBD, or it could be the resin extracted from the plant, which would be predominantly CBD” he says. “I think that people are using that term to mislead customers.”
Hudulla explained how one customer sent him a picture of an order of “high-purity CBD product” that they had just dropped $2000 on, asking if ProVerde could test the stuff. Hudulla took one look at the picture and knew, this was going to be a problematic product, “The picture was of a yellow oil,” Hudulla says.
High purity CBD would be a white crystalline solid.
“I had them send me a sample, and there wasn’t a bit of CBD in it. Somebody was basically selling vegetable oil as ‘99% CBD oil’ when there was no CBD in it. There’s no regulation and if you’re buying it online, what’s your recourse?”
People are getting taken. They’re losing money. And, perhaps worst of all, people are consuming dangerous and toxic substances, when they think they’re ingesting medicine.
Which, really strikes the heart of this issue. The fact that CBD is starting to be recognized as a real alternative to big pharma drugs is a huge deal in America. It represents a shift away from the medicinally clinical towards something more wholesome and organic. CBD can help countless Americans suffering from epilepsy, anxiety, chronic pain, and cancer to treat their ailments, and, it has the potential to be a huge, multi-billion-dollar industry.
But when snakes like these try to flummox the system by selling vegetable oil instead of CBD oil, and by peddling carcinogenic potions to people who are suffering and just seeking relief, they are bringing evil into something fundamentally good. They are harming people. And, beyond that, they are offering fodder to anti-alternative, anti-cannabis, pro-big-pharma, big businesses who would love to see CBD scuttled and rejected as a silly fad.
Unfortunately, without any real hope for some kind of federal regulatory watchdog emerging, the burden of resolution, here, falls largely on producers and distributors. It is going to be up to businesses to prove to their customers that their products are genuine.
“I think it really comes down to more transparency,” says Hudulla. “Producers who are doing full panel testing… those producers are the ones that I think have the strongest potential for the future. Because they’re doing everything they can to put out a high-quality product, and they’re willing to spend the money to prove it to their client base.”
So, consumers beware. This is a wild time for CBD in America. And until State or Federal entities step up to offer oversight, it’s only going to get wilder and weirder. CBD will continue to float around this strange and dangerous limbo, and its quality will remain as opaque as it’s legal status.