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Earlier this month, the New York City-based coffee roaster Gregorys Coffee took to its Twitter account with a snarky message to its growing fan base regarding their CBD lattes. “We were as thrilled as you all were when the Farm Bill was passed. That being said, we have suspended sale of CBD at our NYC shops pending a final determination from the good folks @nychealthy.” That Twitter handle belongs to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which has been cracking down on businesses selling food and drinks containing CBD.
“The Health Department is responsible for promoting the safety of the food available to New Yorkers,” the Department wrote in a statement sent to Muscle & Fitness. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised that it is unlawful to add cannabidiol (CBD) to food or drink. We are currently informing businesses in New York City that may sell food and drink about this regulation, and have implemented an educational period to help them achieve compliance.”
That window to achieve compliance has been extended through June 30. After that, the Department says it will embargo food and drinks containing CBD and will begin issuing violations subject to fines beginning October 1.
So, why is the Department cracking down on CBD now? Suzanne Robotti, the only consumer representative on the FDA’s Drug, Safety and Risk Management Committee, has an idea. “My assumption is the seizure of foods containing CBD oil by the Department of Health in New York City has been promoted widely in order to encourage exactly the kind of response that Gregorys Coffee has that ‘I don’t need marshals marching in here. I don’t need my products seized, and I don’t need the potential fines that I could get from that,’” Robotti tells M&F. (Gregorys Coffee did not respond to us as of press time).
She says the timing of the shakedown also stems from CBD simply getting “out of control.” “The distribution and use of CBD oil has really gotten way ahead of the research and regulation. It’s just becoming ubiquitous,” Robotti says. “When your local bakery is putting it in the chocolate icing and your local chain of Gregorys Coffee is putting it in their coffee, it’s becoming very common. And people already do see it as a benign substance, a mild herbal remedy. You really cannot assume that herbal remedies are benign. They’re medicines, and they have power just like chemical medicines do.”
NYC isn’t alone with this swift movement. States like Maine, Ohio and North Carolina are also cracking down on CBD products being sold by businesses. On a federal level, Robotti says all extracts of cannabis are illegal with the exemption of medical use. That being said, she says CBD falls in a gray area because it could come from hemp, which is now federally legal to grow, use, and extract. “So, CBD oil from hemp should be legal, but there’s no way to know once you’ve extracted CBD oil if it came from a marijuana plant or a hemp plant,” says Robotti.
And that’s just part of the potential problems CBD carries. “What makes me concerned about the oil is that there’s no oversight or regulation of it,” continues Robotti, who’s also the founder of the MedShadow Foundation, which focuses on the side effects of medicine. “That’s actually true of every supplement and vitamin that’s out there in the marketplace. The FDA really has no ability to review or withhold a supplement from the marketplace—they don’t even have to look at it—until or unless it causes harm or a lot of complaints.”
She adds: “So, people can put out anything and call it CBD oil. They can put out CBD oil and say it will cure cancer, as long as they put that little disclaimer on the bottom of the box. They could put out olive oil and call it CBD oil and you have no way of knowing what you’re putting in your body.”
Consumer products with CBD allege benefits of aiding in anti-inflammation and lowering anxiety, but Robotti says the current research on it is too thin to substantiate those claims. Last June, however, the FDA did approve Epidiolex, a drug containing CBD that researchers found helps to lower the amount of seizures in small children with epilepsy.
However, with more robust research to draw from, Robboti believes additional benefits from CBD can be verified in the future. “If we could get decent research, I personally would be surprised if we don’t see health benefits from CBD oil,” she says, “from marijuana plants in general, in totality.”