PORT CHARLOTTE — CBD products promise to treat conditions like pain, insomnia and anxiety. But for a recent AP investigation, reporters had 30 CBD vape products tested and found 10 of those actually contained illegal synthetic marijuana.
Synthetic marijuana is a cheap street drug where mind-altering chemicals are sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices. The drug often delivers a more intense high than natural marijuana and has been associated with a rising number of seizures and deaths.
“A lot of people get hit really wrong where they’re completely immobile,” said Justin Sullivan, co-owner of Serenity Vape in Port Charlotte. “It’s like when you smoke marijuana for the first time where you just sink into the couch and can’t do anything. That happens any time you smoke that stuff.”
Sullivan, who sells CBD vape products in his store, said he’s heard of local people unknowingly taking the drug instead of marijuana, though not in an alleged CBD product.
“I didn’t know it was popping up in CBD, which is not good at all,” he said. “It puts a really bad light on a really helpful drug.”
The AP requested information from law enforcement and found officials in nine states reported positive hits of synthetic marijuana in CBD products. Florida was not one of those states, but it was a state where synthetic marijuana was found in the independent lab test the AP commissioned.
The 350 CBD samples tested by law enforcement showed 128 positive results for synthetic marijuana, mostly in vape products. Edibles such as gummy bears accounted for 36 positives, and three samples contained the powerful opioid fentanyl.
In North Port, spokesperson Josh Taylor said the police department is not currently planning any testing of CBD products.
“Right now, things are evolving in this market,” he said. “If we now realize that a bunch of people are accidentally smoking synthetic marijuana, then yes we would be concerned. This may be something we need to look at. I think it’s a reminder for folks that many of these products are not being fully regulated. You should work to have absolute trust in whatever you are putting in your body.”
Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit officials were not available Tuesday to comment.
Dr. Joseph Ravid, an independent physician in Punta Gorda, said he’s not surprised to hear of synthetic marijuana in CBD products and expects to see the trend carry into the area before long.
“When you have an unregulated material that is extremely lucrative, there are always going to be ways to try and profit the most return on your investment,” he said. “It’s a lot cheaper to have synthetic marijuana put in instead of the real hemp oil.”
In his office, Ravid sells pharmaceutical-grade CBD for patients with anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and mild to moderate pain. He started selling the products because he was seeing a lot of patients buy lower quality versions that weren’t giving them the full benefit, he said.
“It is a little more expensive, but you get what you pay for,” he said.
Without testing the product, he said there’s no way to tell what’s really in it.
“It’s important if you are going to get CBD oil, you get it from a reputable source,” Ravid said. “You can go online and get it from wherever. You can go to your local Circle K and your pet grooming place and you can get yourself CBD oil. Everybody’s selling it… Unfortunately because there’s no laws that are governing the sale or possession of CBD, it’s the wild west out there right now. It’s a free for all.”
Justin Sullivan said he and his family always test out the items in their store before selling them. He’s bought CBD products before which turned out to actually contain little to no CBD.
“The last thing I want is to start ripping off my customers because I’m getting something and don’t know any better,” he said.
They also only stock products from companies that have lab testing done and make the results available to the public, so consumers know what they’re buying.
“It should be posted on the CBD company’s website if they have the labs done,” Justin Sullivan said. “And if not, then there’s probably something going on, or they’re such a new company that they can’t afford it yet. But it’s something that every company should have done and should have on their website or within their packaging.”
Still, his father John Sullivan, was concerned to hear the news about the synthetic marijuana.
“I’ve always wanted to help people, not hurt people,” he said. “I want to make sure my customers remain safe. We’ve researched the ones we’re currently carrying. We have the lab results for the ones we’re currently carrying. But we’re always looking for better products.”