Beware of the Snake Oil

Now that hemp-derived CBD is federally legal, CBD is everywhere. It’s popular among pro athletes, available on Amazon, added to burgers, and praised for its perceived ability to relieve all kinds of ailments.

But a quick Google search shows a murky picture of this miracle oil, one that may have you confused about what to believe.

Are we back in the days of the Wild West, with CBD as the new snake oil? One seller says it will cure your arthritis, while the shop down the road claims CBD will help you sleep like a baby every night. Some states have outlawed CBD and hemp, and others embrace it wholeheartedly. And each day, new stories seem to give conflicting information.

So, what’s truly going on in this new frontier? Saddle up as we take you on a ride through the state of CBD.

CBD Laws

The Wild West was often a lawless place, with everyone making their own rules and claims. The commerce of CBD, while being affected by laws all over the country, is similar. And as a consumer, you want to know what you’re buying and why.

In December of 2018, the Farm Bill was signed into law in the U.S. As a part of this bill, it became legal at the federal level to grow industrial hemp, transport it, and make CBD products from it. But the oil produced from that hemp must meet an important qualification: it can contain no more than 0.3% THC. Any higher of a concentration, and the oil is considered a marijuana extract.

There are a few issues here. First, despite federal legalization, each state can make its own rules as to whether CBD can be sold and possessed. And those state laws are changing frequently. Often, additional legislation rules in favor of hemp and CBD, as in the case of Ohio, which just last month made it legal to grow hemp and has already planted their first crop.

However, some entities retain a negative view of hemp. In large part, that’s due to hemp’s relationship to marijuana. Many states have legalized marijuana for recreational and/or medical use, but it is still illegal federally. Because hemp and marijuana are both Cannabis plants, many people have been led to believe that they’re both psychoactive substances.

It all comes down to the THC level: at 0.3% THC, a cannabis extract won’t cause a high. But as we mentioned, if the concentration goes over that level, it’s considered marijuana, at least federally.

If you live in a state where marijuana and CBD are both legal, it may not be an issue. But if your state has strict laws against marijuana, you’ll want to be aware of the specifics of those laws and of what you’re purchasing. And if you’ll be traveling across state lines, it’s important to know the laws in your destination, as well.

Another law to be aware of: CBD-infused foods and beverages are still considered illegal at the federal level. Again, states can determine their own laws in this regard, with some following the national regulations and banning CBD foods.

However, CBD’s appearance in burgers, teas, and sweet treats is part of what has made it so trendy. And they remain in high demand, even though you’re unlikely to feel any therapeutic effects from consuming a single CBD burger.

The FDA is currently reviewing CBD edibles with the intent to provide a ruling on them soon. So far, they’ve allowed states to sell CBD foods inside their borders. Many companies are watching this closely, including ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s, which wants to sell a CBD-infused ice cream.

A New Frontier in Research

The West was populated by adventure seekers, those blazing a trail for which they had no map. Heading West would prove a positive experience for some, and a negative one for others. Citizens back East might hear all kinds of tales from the West, some exhilarating and some terrifying. But what was truly out there?

The frontier of CBD is similar. All kinds of claims are being made about CBD, some based on personal experience and some as sales and marketing ploys. While many people report that the compound is helping them with various ailments, formal research studies are limited.

Female doctor speaking with patient CBD research
Now that CBD is federally legal, researchers have many more opportunities to study the compound and its effectiveness for several conditions.

Studies that have been conducted show CBD in a positive light, with much potential—but most acknowledge that further research is needed for definitive answers. Because Cannabis, and by extension, hemp and CBD, were illegal in the U.S. for so long, researchers have a lot of catching up to do.

What is interesting to note is that even with limited studies, CBD’s effectiveness has been studied for a variety of conditions. These include:

The smaller studies provide precedent for more in-depth research to come. With federal legalization, many studies are planned or have begun trials.

The Dangers of Snake Oil

Vintage Snake Oil Advertisement Poster
Popular in the U.S. during the 18th and 19th centuries, snake oil was falsely advertised as a cure-all elixir.

Part of the confusion surrounding CBD comes from how retailers are marketing it. Some sellers are making claims that CBD can “cure” ailments like arthritis, anxiety, joint pain, even cancer. This is a major issue for everyone involved in the CBD industry, from hemp growers to sellers to consumers.

Why? Well, first off, these claims are not supported by scientific evidence. Research and anecdotal reports show that CBD can reduce certain symptoms of certain conditions. For instance, CBD has been associated with reducing the amount and severity of seizures experienced by people with epilepsy. Many epilepsy sufferers who have taken CBD report fewer seizures and an improvement to their quality of life.

However, taking CBD does not cure epilepsy—it only helps patients to manage their symptoms. And it doesn’t work for all patients in all cases.

So, when a retailer says that CBD will cure epilepsy, or any other condition, it causes several problems. You as the consumer purchase a product you are told will cure your condition. And when you use it, and it doesn’t cure the problem or work the way you were told it would, it’s upsetting.

In the Wild West days, the snake oil purveyor was likely long gone by the time you determined their miracle cure was anything but. And you were stuck with a worthless (or dangerous!) product, your money long gone.

Today, you can pay by credit card. And if you’re not happy, you can request a charge back.

This means less financial risk for you, but more risk for banks. Many banks and credit card processors are staying away from CBD for this very reason.

Even though the number of chargebacks for CBD sales has not been astronomical, it has potential to be so, at least in the eyes of financial institutions. Some banks are only processing transactions for CBD companies with a certain level of annual sales. Or, they may support in store sales but not online sales, as CBD purchased online is often crossing state lines and has potential to be affected by the laws of the destination state.

What to Consider when Shopping for CBD

Woman looking confused surrounded by CBD products

It’s nothing new—when something becomes popular, whether it’s a food, item of clothing, or activity, people flock to it. Consumers want to buy it or try it, and sellers want to make money from it. But for any trend, not all sources are created equal. And that’s certainly true when it comes to CBD.

How can you identify a reputable seller? Here are few points to consider as you shop:

Are you shopping on Amazon?

Amazon is not legally allowed to sell CBD. They do offer several products labeled “hemp oil.” However, many of these products do not contain a concentration of hemp oil as advertised. There is little information about most of these products, including where they are sourced from and what ingredients they contain. This makes ordering “CBD” from Amazon a risky proposition.

Can the Seller provide documentation?

Test reports or Certificates of Analysis (COAs) are important documents to ask for from a CBD retailer. They detail the concentration of CBD in the product, presence/absence of contaminants, and levels of additional cannabinoids present in that product, which includes THC levels. Having this documentation readily available is a sign that you’re dealing with a seller who wants you to know what is truly present in the product you’re purchasing.

Is the Seller promising a cure?

As mentioned above, taking CBD doesn’t cure conditions, though it may help to relieve certain symptoms. If the seller is telling you their tincture WILL do something, they’re making an unfounded claim. Legally, we can only share what CBD has been shown to do in research studies or what our customers report it has done for them. CBD works differently for different people and may not work for everyone.

Can you determine where the hemp and CBD are sourced from?

If the seller can inform you about their hemp sources and production methods, it’s a good sign. Hemp grown in the U.S. or Europe is generally a safer choice than hemp from China. The seller should be knowledgeable and transparent about their supply chain.

As a pioneer in this new market, we’re sticking to our guns. While the landscape is still being settled, we’ve seen what CBD can do for our customers, and we’re excited to see how this industry will develop and grow.

Contact us with your questions and comments – we’ll inform and advise, and make your CBD exploration a little less wild.

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