CBD products offering to help with a variety of ailments are legal in Illinois but largely unregulated, which means there’s little oversight once they are offered online or make it to store shelves.
In 2018 CBD sales in the U.S. were estimated at more than $600 billion. That market shows no signs of slowing down.
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To find out what’s in these highly popular so-called miracle products the I-Team tested some of the many items widely available.
CBD products are sold with no oversight, but medical marijuana and hemp crops must meet state standards.
The I-Team bought samples from online retailers, specialty shops and gas stations and delivered them to ACT Labs in downstate Morton, Illinois. ACT Labs is accredited and certified for testing cannabis in Illinois.
Eight of the items were submitted with their identities hidden from technicians.
The lab tested for overall cannabinoids including THC, the substance that can make you high, and the less controversial CBD.
Legally, hemp derived products should contain 0.3% or less of THC. But even small amounts could cause a positive test for marijuana, costing some people their jobs.
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Richard Miller, Professor of Pharmacology at Northwestern Medicine, studies drugs that work on the brain. He said it’s possible for even small amounts of THC to build up in a person’s system.
“I think it’s almost impossible to completely, you know, isolate CBD from plants and not bring any THC with you. Some of the contaminating THC that is with CBD could start to accumulate in tissues,” Miller said.
He also explained how it could take time for THC to work its way out of a person’s system.
“These substances like cannabidiol, particularly THC, are very fatty substances,” he explained. “They are what we call lipids. And so they like to dissolve, actually, in fatty tissues, so when you take them in your blood a lot of the substances will partition into your tissue, that means it will dissolve in it and once it’s in there it will take time to drain out.”
Watchdog groups routinely warn of the sometimes illicit and low quality CBD on the market.
And, as the I-Team has reported, there have been Chicago area cases of unsuspecting employees losing their jobs with claims that the CBD they were taking triggered a positive drug screen for marijuana.
THC is the psychoactive substance found in both cannabis plants, hemp and marijuana. But the very scant amounts in hemp products would not cause a person to get high.
In all eight samples the I-Team submitted, the THC levels met the legal limit.
Bu, in two of the hemp extracts, technicians told the I-Team the overall amount of cannabinoids, including THC, was higher than stated on the label.
Dakota Detwiler, Lead Lad Technicians at ACT Labs, said there is good reason to want to know how many cannabinoids you are getting.
“If you are actually getting two times as much CBD as you think you are getting you might run into the problem where you have twice as many metabolites in your system, and could still cause you to, you know, fail a drug test,” he said.
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A container of mints claiming to have 10 milligrams of CBD tested at almost double that amount.
But three of the products, including a CBD tincture bought at the gas station, was nearly spot-on with package labeling.
The remaining two products had noticeably less than what was promised on the label, including a container of gummy bears that was bought online. Lab technicians were baffled by the product and said they could not detect anything remotely associated with hemp.
“Advertised as 1000mg of hemp oil in there and we literally detected none in there at all, not even like traces of any so, it really, like, this is a snake oil,” said Detwiler.
Jeff Cox is the Bureau Chief of Medicinal Plants at the Illinois Department of Agriculture. With the lack of regulation and standardized testing he recommends people do their research.
“Try to find somebody that seems reputable, that is willing to provide you lab reports and is going to show you that this does not have THC in it, that it doesn’t have pesticides, that it is clean, doesn’t have microtoxins, fungus, or anything else in it,” Cox said. “Because, again, the lack of standardized requirements does make it a little bit shaky right now.”
Illinois’ top law enforcement official is also concerned about the lack of regulation. Kwame Raoul recently joined 35 attorneys general in urging CBD oversight from the Food and Drug Administration.
“We are charged with protecting people in the state from deceptive advertising and products that put consumers at risk,” he said. “A public safety question as well that needs to be answered and it needs to start with regulation from the FDA.”
The Food and Drug Administration is now weighing how to regulate CBD in the long term.
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