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Building trust and assurance in CBD products

The growth in CBD products raises concerns for consumers and brands. What are the issues and what can be done to improve assurance?

10 February 2023

Can we trust CBD Supplements?

CBD is now found in many items such as drinks, food, oils, body lotions, and even pet products. With the emerging resolution of regulatory issues around the world, CBD will find wide acceptance as part of daily consumer products and become a common ingredient in F&B, dietary supplements, and personal care products.

With the influx of new products entering the market on a daily basis, can we trust that they are safe to use, contain the advertised ingredients, and are free from contamination?

The CBD market for supplements is growing, with global retail sales amounting to USD$ 5bn last year, and expected to rise to $11 billion by the year 2027 if the FDA begins regulating the market by the year 2024, according to Brightfield Group.

What are the main concerns?

According to research carried out by the Consumer Brands Association, 84% of US consumers were concerned about CBD product safety once they learned there is no federal agency monitoring the products. 70% were clear that they would be more confident in the safety of CBD products if they were manufactured by a large, well-known brand.

The accuracy of labelling is a particular concern regarding CBD content and is the consumer getting what is listed on the product label. Label accuracy is important for the consumer to clearly understand the amount of CBD that they are consuming with each serving. The inadvertent consumption of unknown ingredients or the amount of ingredients could cause health risks or be a cause for concern for anyone who is subject to workplace drug testing.

Several research studies have indicated that this concern is justified. According to an extensive study by Leafreport, only 7% of the CBD companies they evaluated undergo legitimate contamination testing for pesticides, heavy metals, and microbiological contamination.

84% of products tested were found to contain THC

Research highlights persistent problems with CBD quality and assurance

Regulatory Issues with Hemp-based Food and Food Supplements on the Irish Market (2020)

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) carried out a survey of food supplements on the Irish market that consist of or contain hemp (Cannabis sativa) or hemp-derived material. the number of food samples selected (38) was considered representative of the Irish market.

  • 84% (32/38) of products tested were found to contain THC.

  • 41% (15/37) contained CBD levels which differed from the declared content by ≥50%, (one product did not declare CBD levels).

  • 92% of products differed from the declared CBD content by ≥10%. Some products contained trace levels of CBD, despite the fact that significant levels were declared on the label.

Labelling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online, Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, PhD, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2017)

Eighty-four products were purchased and analysed (from 31 companies) to determine the need for manufacturing and testing standards, and oversight of cannabis products.

  • 42.85% of products were under-labelled

  • 26.19% were over-labelled

Penn Study of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online (2017)

Researchers purchased and analysed 84 products from 31 different companies to determine label accuracy claims and levels of quality assurance.

  • 70% of products tested were mislabelled.

  • 42% of products were under-labelled, meaning that the product contained a higher concentration of CBD than indicated.

  • 26 percent of products purchased were over-labelled, meaning the product contained a lower concentration of CBD than indicated.

FDA Sampling Study of the Current Cannabidiol Marketplace (2020)

Random testing of 147 tinctures, oils, capsules, edibles, drinks and pet products containing CBD to determine the extent that products are mislabelled or adulterated.

  • Testing identified that 49% contained some THC.

  • Of the 102 products that listed a specific amount of CBD, 18% of products contained significantly less than the amount indicated and 37% contained significantly more than indicated.

  • Of the 20 edible and beverage products tested that had an amount of CBD marketed on their labels, five had less than 80% of the amount of CBD indicated and six had more than 120% of the CBD marketed on its label.

Cannabinoid Content and Label Accuracy of Hemp-Derived Topical Products Available Online and at National Retail Stores (2020)

In a study, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers tested 105 CBD products available online and at retail stores, and found significant evidence of inaccurate and misleading labelling of CBD content. It also revealed that some of these non-prescription products contained amounts of THC.

  • Only 89 (85%) of the 105 tested products listed the total amount of CBD in milligrams on the label.

  • Of the 89 products, 16 (18%) contained less CBD than advertised, 52 (58%) contained more CBD than advertised and 21 (24%) were accurately labelled.

  • On average, the in-store products contained 21% more CBD than advertised and the online products contained 10% more CBD than advertised, though CBD label accuracy varied widely across products.

  • THC was detected in 37 (35%) of the 105 products, though all were within the legal limit of 0.3%. Four (11%) of those 37 were labelled as “THC free,” 14 (38%) stated they contained less than 0.3% THC and 19 (51%) did not reference THC on the label.

CBD product contamination: Quantitative analysis of THC concentrations found in commercially available CBD products. (Shanna Babalonis, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, 2022)

  • The study evaluated the risk of Δ9-THC contamination in 80 unregulated products with comparison to a regulated control.

  • Of the 80 unregulated products, THC was detected above the limit of quantification (LOQ = 0.005 mg/mL) of the assay in 52 samples.

  • 21 of the products tested were labelled as “THC-Free”, yet 5 contained detectable levels of THC ranging from 0.015 mg/mL to 0.656 mg/mL.

Kent Scientific Services laboratory finds illegal substances in 'majority' of CBD products (2022)

A study by Kent Scientific Services was carried out on behalf of several local authorities in the UK, to assess products for safety. The results on 61 products showed that:

  • 44 samples (72%) contained one or more of the psychoactive elements of cannabis. These are controlled drugs and therefore are illegal

  • Several contained significantly less CBD than claimed on the pack. Up to 99% deficient.

  • 2 did not claim to contain any CBD but did. Neither of these contain any controlled drugs

Building market trust in CBD

While regulation has not kept pace with the growth of the CBD market, these studies highlight the issues of inaccurate and misleading labelling. Consumers are therefore taking CBD products without understanding the risks of unintentional consumption. The accidental use of THC could have negative effects on health and safety as well as potential legal consequences from child custody to impaired driving), as drug test findings could impact employment, military, and sport eligibility status.

Brands are at risk of reputational damage without the adoption of recognised quality assurance programmes. The use of credible third-party laboratory testing cab demonstrate that products are free from contaminants, residual solvents, and pesticides. While certification underpins the traceability from raw materials to finished commercial product.

Introducing INFORMED Choice certification

INFORMED Choice is a global quality assurance and testing program for products in the Health and Wellness industry such as dietary supplements. The presence of the INFORMED Choice quality mark indicates to the consumers that the product has been regularly tested for prohibited substances in dietary supplements as well as CBD and ∆9-THC. The mark lets consumers know that the product has been produced in an environment with quality systems appropriate for the stringent demands of the dietary supplement and sports nutrition manufacturing.

INFORMED Choice is a global quality assurance program designed to minimize the risks of dietary supplement products being inadvertently contaminated with prohibited, and potentially harmful, substances.

All products certified by Informed Choice undergo a rigorous pre and post-certification process to minimize the risk of contamination. This process has been developed over 55-years of expertise in anti-doping in sport.

Enhance trust in your CBD products

INFORMED Choice tests and certifies your products. This means improved quality assurance, giving customers greater reason to trust your brand.

Find out more

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