Health Canada Paves the way for Over-The-Counter CBD Regulations
A new study aims to get the attention of the FDA on CBD.
As every American CBD maker can tell you, despite a robust market for CBD in the States, guidance from the FDA, which regulates most drugs and foods in the United States, is severely lacking, leaving most major retailers and manufacturers in a holding pattern with regards to its adoption. While the FDA did reassure CBD companies that they would look into guidelines for placing the molecule into over-the-counter products, guidance has not emerged from the agency (although the agency still fires off cease-and-desist letters to both CBD and delta-8 companies on occasions). This makes the recent release of the Health Canada-commissioned report by the Science Advisory Committee on Health Products Containing Cannabis particularly important for the future of CBD in all its forms. Mandated in 2019 to give its recommendations for how CBD could be safely sold over-the-counter, the Committee released its findings in July for products intended for both pets and humans. From there, Health Canada can begin devising its framework for all CBD products to follow — and, perhaps, get the FDA to take notice.
Throughout the report, the committee, selected by Health Canada, consistently acknowledged the relative dearth of information available on CBD (to say nothing of other trace cannabinoids in the plant such as CBC and CBG) towards most chronic yet manageable conditions. In particular, the committee noted how much of the research examined did not pull in a diverse enough population to make statements that could apply across the board. In particular, pregnant women, patients with underlying medical conditions that were taking specific medications, and specific ethnic groups and gender identities were not represented in the studies. Plus many of the studies used products and concentrations that ran the gamut, which confounded specific conclusions about, for instance, how much CBD to put into a topical vs. a beverage. Regardless, the Committee did come to some conclusions that will shape what products you may get in the future:
- Recommendation A: CBD is safe for short-term use (less than 30 days), and people could take anywhere from 20 milligrams per day to up to 200 milligrams per day.
This, of course, is qualified by the cautious committee. They also recommend that any medications or pharmaceuticals should be discussed with one’s pharmacist.
- Recommendation B: CBD should not be recommended for pregnant women, or those with allergies or hypersensitivity to cannabinoids.
- Recommendation C: Manufacturers should warn CBD consumers about CBD’s potential side effects and acknowledge that higher doses can exacerbate these side effects.
According to the committee, any natural product can have variable effects on the body, depending on the person. For CBD, they include such things as lethargy and decreased appetite, nausea and disordered thinking and there can be interactions with other drugs the person is taking.
- Recommendation D: CBD should not be used to wean oneself off of opioids or alcohol. Insufficient evidence exists towards its role as a treatment for addiction. However, CBD by itself is not habit-forming.
This observation has been most famously echoed by the World Health Organization, which found no evidence for CBD’s abuse by humans. The committee did acknowledge some promising research happening with CBD’s use in addiction, but this field is still in its infancy.
Recommendation E: The public has to be informed about what is and isn’t known about CBD at this time, including subjects like safety and the risk/benefit ratio.
Recommendation F: CBD consumers should be encouraged to report adverse effects, in order to assist further research. Finally, CBD products should be distributed in pharmacies, considering potential issues with other medications the consumer may be taking.
The committee also suggested that most, if not all, of the information requested in these recommendations should be communicated to the consumer, either on the bottle itself or inserts. Perhaps the last recommendation is the most jarring — those hoping to snag a CBD milkshake at their closest Tim Horton’s will be sorely disappointed.
Regardless, the recommendations do propose a path forward for CBD that allows consumers to access it outside of the dispensary and doctor prescription avenues they must currently take. It also opens up the floodgates to exports from countries such as the US. Health Canada has yet to decide on its choice to move forward with a regulated CBD industry, and even if it does, it will take lots of discussions and horse-trading with various players — including dispensaries deeply covetous of their monopoly on the CBD market — before a larger CBD industry, however tentative, is finally unleashed. But the ball is in motion, for even the committee recognizes that there is still a lot more to learn about CBD. “The recommendations provided are based on the scientific evidence available at the time of the committee's review and will evolve as the information on CBD continues to develop,” it concludes. “We strongly encourage Health Canada to review these recommendations on a regular basis as further high-quality research is conducted on cannabis for health indications and as experience is gained on the use of health products containing cannabis in Canada and internationally.”