My job is to shed light. Most specifically on the great intricacies of cannabis law, policy, and regulation. The past several years have seen extensive debate about the legal status of cannabidiol (CBD). Is it legal? Was it ever a controlled substance? How is it regulated? Lawyers, industry professionals, and learned scholars debate this with so much vigor that it creates confusion, if not a misstatement of the facts. It hurts my ears and burns my eyes to hear or see an argument that identifies CBD as a controlled substance, because the law is quite clear in this regard.
The only cannabinoid mentioned in the CSA is tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. While it is specifically scheduled, courts have disagreed on whether THC needs to be synthetically or naturally derived to fall within the definition of tetrahydrocannabinol under the CSA. Six years ago, industrial hemp was for the first time ever defined separately from marijuana as holding less than 0.3 Δ9-THC percent by dry weight. The 2014 Farm Bill specifically authorized the use of industrial hemp as a legal substance for purposes of market, scientific, and agricultural-based research. The CBD industry exploded because of the “market-based research exception” — one could only study the plant with a viable market in place for its products. This position was litigated in 2018 in HIA v. DEA III and the restrictions were removed by the 2018 Farm Bill.
First, let’s look at the definition of marijuana with an “H” (marihuana), which is indeed scheduled. This comprises all parts of the Cannabis Sativa L. plant, excluding non-viable seeds stock and fiber, but including the resins and the remainder of the plant. CBD, of course, is present within the marijuana plant. If you derive CBD from the marijuana plant, it would in fact be controlled, because it came from a controlled substance. This is known as the “source rule” — the source of the material dictates its legality. But what if CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids are derived from a legal source, such as the 25 other plant species that contain levels of cannabinoids or industrial hemp?
Hemp-derived CBD oil
For something to be a controlled substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it must be specifically scheduled and assigned one of five scheduling criteria. Schedule I is the most restrictive, which indicates that this controlled substance has no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. Schedule V, the least restrictive, indicates a drug with currently accepted medical uses and treatments in the United States and a low potential for abuse. Schedule V drugs typically consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics, but not always. When one combs through the CSA, the word “cannabidiol” or “CBD” is nowhere to be found — not in the code of federal regulations or in the enacting legislation. One must look deeper to find out what is scheduled and what is not.
 Hayatbakhsh, et al. Birth Outcomes associated with cannabis use before and during pregnancy. Pediatric Research. 2012; 71 (2): 215-219.
Hemp seeds are the seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant. The seeds of the plant do not naturally contain THC or CBD. The hemp seed-derived ingredients that are the subject of these GRAS notices contain only trace amounts of THC and CBD, which the seeds may pick up during harvesting and processing when they are in contact with other parts of the plant. Consumption of these hemp seed-derived ingredients is not capable of making consumers “high.”
A. Expanded access is a potential pathway for a patient with a serious or life-threatening disease or condition to try an investigational medical product (drug, biologic, or medical device) for treatment outside of clinical trials when there are no comparable or satisfactory therapies available. Manufacturers may be able to make investigational drugs available to individual patients in certain circumstances through expanded access, as described in the FD&C Act and implementing regulations.
Children and Pregnant/Lactating Women
A. We understand that parents are trying to find treatments for their children’s medical conditions. However, the use of untested drugs can have unpredictable and unintended consequences. Caregivers and patients can be confident that FDA-approved drugs have been carefully evaluated for safety, efficacy, and quality, and are monitored by the FDA once they are on the market. The FDA continues to support sound, scientifically-based research into the medicinal uses of drug products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds, and will continue to work with companies interested in bringing safe, effective, and quality products to market. With the exception of Epidiolex, Marinol, and Syndros, no product containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds (either plant-based or synthetic) has been approved as safe and effective for use in any patient population, whether pediatric or adult.
Under the FD&C Act, cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to premarket approval by FDA, except for most color additives. Certain cosmetic ingredients are prohibited or restricted by regulation, but currently that is not the case for any cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredients. Ingredients not specifically addressed by regulation must nonetheless comply with all applicable requirements, and no ingredient – including a cannabis or cannabis-derived ingredient – can be used in a cosmetic if it causes the product to be adulterated or misbranded in any way. A cosmetic generally is adulterated if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling, or under such conditions of use as are customary or usual (section 601(a) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 361(a)]).
A. No. There are no other FDA-approved drug products that contain CBD. We are aware that some firms are marketing CBD products to treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses , and we have issued several warning letters to such firms. Under the FD&C Act, any product intended to have a therapeutic or medical use, and any product (other than a food) that is intended to affect the structure or function of the body of humans or animals, is a drug. Drugs must generally either receive premarket approval by FDA through the New Drug Application (NDA) process or conform to a “monograph” for a particular drug category, as established by FDA’s Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drug Review. CBD was not an ingredient considered under the OTC drug review. An unapproved new drug cannot be distributed or sold in interstate commerce.
15. Can I import or export cannabis-containing or cannabis-derived products?
In recent years there has been a marked growth in the use of CBD oils, tinctures, creams and other products by people seeking to relieve stress and anxiety and to reduce inflammation. A study in the European Journal of Pain suggests that skin-applied CBD can help lower arthritic pain, but there is a lack of clinical evidence for its overall efficacy, and concern over the unregulated nature of the CBD market.
“The national court must assess available scientific data in order to make sure that the real risk to public health alleged does not appear to be based on purely hypothetical considerations,” the court wrote.
Antonin Cohen, who faced the charges along with his fellow KanaVape co-founder Sébastien Béguerie, said the lack of clear regulations on CBD prevented safe market development.
“It is fundamental to develop strict quality standards in the interests of consumers in order to avoid the circulation of dangerous products,” he said. “My goal is to improve access to the benefits of plants, in a legal and secure environment.”
The court ruled that the French ban on the marketing of hemp-derived CBD products contradicted EU law on the free movement of goods.
A bottle of oils containing CBD on display in a shop in Paris. Under French law, only the fibre and seeds of hemp may be put to commercial use, not the flower. Photograph: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images
It noted that two key UN conventions classifying illegal drug do not specifically mention CBD, although they mention “cannabis extracts”.