The federal Food and Drug Administration sent letters to companies selling CBD-laden health products — including some marketed for pets — telling them to stop making medical claims that weren’t proved.
Let’s say your dog has seizures or chronic pain from arthritis. Living in pot-friendly Western Washington, you figure he might benefit from medical cannabis.
You look around and find a handful of new companies offering cannabis-infused biscuits and capsules made for pets. That’s quite a lucky find for Fido, right?
Not so fast, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency recently sent warning letters to such companies based in Seattle and Sultan.
But it’s not CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, that the feds complained about. The FDA took issue with the companies’ marketing, specifically claims that the products help with symptoms of cancer, dementia and asthma.
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Companies in other states marketing similar products to people received letters from the FDA, as well, but the agency gave no indication how it would treat the growing, legally gray market for CBD oil.
In its letter to Seattle’s Canna-Pet, the FDA noted that the company promotes its product as especially beneficial for pets with “nausea, chronic pain, cancer, seizures,” among other maladies.
The FDA’s letter to Canna Companion, based in Sultan, Snohomish County, cited similar concerns.
Jeff Ventura, a senior adviser at the FDA, said in an email that the companies were selected for warning letters “in part, based on the egregiousness of the therapeutic claims made about their products and the determination that inaction posed a potential risk to public health.”
Lisa Anderson, a co-owner of Canna Companion, reiterated Wednesday that the warning letter was not about the company’s products, but about the wording of claims about health benefits.
She said the company was adjusting its website and working with the FDA to fix any problems, but she said that the company believes in its products and that it’s not just the CBD that helps ease symptoms, but other compounds in the formula help as well.
Messages and emails to Canna-Pet requesting comment were not returned Wednesday.
Justin Prochnow, a Colorado attorney who specializes in food and drug safety, said the focus on marketing was revealing. He said the FDA could have used the letters to give the industry its opinion on CBD. “There’s some gray area whether CBD oil is a permissible ingredient in supplemental products … these letters were silent on that,” Prochnow said.
Instead, he said, the agency chose a soft target: Blatant drug claims are problematic for any substance if it hasn’t undergone a drug-approval process.
University of Washington Assistant Dean of Law Sean O’Connor said agencies such as the FDA are realizing they need policies on cannabis.
“Federal agencies can’t just hide behind the Department of Justice and say the whole thing’s illegal and DOJ should step in,” he said.
“What they’re mainly trying to focus on now, is look: If someone’s blatantly trying to make medical claims out to the public, we can’t not do anything anymore,” he said.
Martin Lee, the director of Project CBD, an organization focused on cannabis science and therapeutics, said unregulated companies making CBD oil are “popping up all over the place,” and he added that lack of regulation makes it difficult to figure out who is legitimate.
“The fact that these reprimands were handed down by the FDA are indications of the amateur nature of these companies,” Lee said. “You can’t make claims; everybody knows that.”
Lee said those who want to produce CBD oil also a face a legal quagmire because federal prohibition of marijuana and hemp makes most production of CBD oil either illegal or not practical.
Moreover, he said, the latest research shows CBD and THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, work together to provide therapeutic effects. “It’s not just about CBD; THC is important, too,” Lee said.
He said the FDA is handcuffed politically because of positive news stories about CBD’s therapeutic qualities.
“It puts them in an awkward spot to move against this stuff,” Lee said.
That might change. On Tuesday, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., proposed a bill that would overhaul how the U.S. government treats cannabis, downgrading the psychoactive version of the drug from Schedule I to Schedule II, which would allow for more research. It also would drop some high-CBD cannabis from federal regulation.
The FDA tested the products of both companies making products for pets.
According to the results published on the FDA’s website, CBD accounted for just a tenth of a percent of a Canna Companion capsule.
Three Canna-Pet products were tested. No CBD was found in the company’s dog biscuits, Canna-Pet for Cats contained 0.5 percent CBD and the company’s “MaxCBD” capsules had about 2.6 percent CBD.
Randy Oliver, Chief Scientist at Analytical 360, a state-approved marijuana-testing lab, said it’s difficult to know if trace amounts of CBD have an effect on animals because there’s so little information on the biological effects of CBD on animals.
Oliver said he was “floored” that companies would market and sell products with such low levels of CBD, or none at all.
“That would infuriate me as a consumer if I was trying to treat my dog and the product didn’t have anything in it,” Oliver said.
Patricia Talcott, professor and veterinary diagnostic toxicologist at Washington State University, said she isn’t aware of any controlled studies that have been published dealing with the use of CBD products for animals.
Cherri Trusheim, a veterinarian at Urban Animal in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, said it was, “Only a matter of time before we started talking about medical marijuana for pets. There’s so much money being made from people’s love of pets.”