New study points to risks from mislabeled unregulated cannabidiol products

Study findings highlight need for manufacturing and testing standards and federal government oversight


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – Growing consumer demand for cannabis-related products purported to have medicinal benefits has created an environment where people are using mislabeled cannabidiol (CBD) products sold online. While medicinal marijuana is legal in several states and the District of Columbia, it remains illegal under federal law. Therefore, it and related products such as CBD do not receive quality assurance oversight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As a result, the oils, tinctures, and vaporization liquids offered online have varying levels of CBD, and listings of ingredients on the labels are unreliable.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine authored by Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD and co-authored by RTI International’s Brian F. Thomas, Ph.D., and others, published this week in JAMA, found labeling inaccuracies in nearly 70 percent of CBD products obtained online. The study notes a continued need for federal and state regulatory agencies to take steps to ensure label accuracy.

“The results of our study are consistent with observations made by the FDA in 2015, 2016, and again in November 2017, and speak to the need for increased regulatory guidance and specifications for cannabinoid-related products,” said Thomas, principal scientist in Analytical Chemistry and Pharmaceutics at RTI International. “Some of those products could be useful, but only after safety and efficacy have been established.”

The study purchased and analyzed 84 CBD products available online from 31 companies. Laboratory analysis showed 43 percent of products contained more CBD than indicated on the label, 26 percent contained less, and 31 percent were accurately labeled (within 10 percent). This degree of mislabeling poses safety and efficacy issues for consumers, particularly given the fact that these unapproved CBD formulations are often used to treat children with intractable epilepsy.

Thomas has more than 25 years of experience in analytical chemistry and pharmacology and is an expert in the preparation and analysis of drugs of abuse and abuse treatment medications. He is co-author of The Analytical Chemistry of Cannabis: Quality Assessment, Assurance, and Regulation of Medicinal Marijuana and Cannabinoid Preparations and the Series Editor of Emerging Issues in Analytical Chemistry.

RTI International has depth and breadth of expertise in cannabinoid chemistry and pharmacology. For more than 40 years, RTI researchers have studied the risks and benefits of marijuana. Recently, RTI has explored the increasing use of marijuana, the potential risks and benefits of marijuana edibles, changing perceptions of marijuana, and marijuana in relationship to other forms of drug use.