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Signs selling unregulated CBD, like this one in Aurora, are popping up in Colorado.EXPAND
Signs selling unregulated CBD, like this one in Aurora, are popping up in Colorado.
Nina Petrovic

Colorado Health and Ag Officials Tackle CBD Gray Areas

Driving around the residential streets of Colorado, you might see signs that look like they're about to announce a garage sale but instead are advertising hemp or CBD oil. Like the homemade one pictured here, on Iliff Avenue in Aurora, hawking 1,444 milligrams of CBD oil for $60.

“There’s a lot of concern, or growing concern, as we see a lot of the CBD market grow and grow,” says Hollis Glenn, director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture's inspection and consumer services. “You see CBD being sold in places like gas stations, and the industry is so new that there’s no directive on how it should be manufactured.”

As noted, some of these products aren't even sold at licensed retail establishments; they're being sold out of someone's home, without licensing from state regulators or local health departments. We called the number listed on the Iliff Avenue sign, but there was no response. It's not the only one that's been seen around town or online, though: Just look at Craigslist.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is conducting an investigation into the homemade advertisements in Aurora, with a warning to consumers that buying products from the black market is potentially harmful.

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"We are currently in the process of doing an investigation on the seller," says Jeff Lawrence, director for the CDPHE division of environmental health and sustainability. "We inspect manufacturers of CBD products, oils, tinctures, extracts and food for compliance with the regulations to protect public health. When we become aware of non-compliant product or unapproved products, we take appropriate action, up to and including destruction of the product."

However, state and local regulators are having a hard enough time keeping up with licensed CBD companies, let alone black market operators.

The CBD trend has exploded across many industries over the past few years as the public softens on marijuana and hemp has received federal approval. The existence of products from CBD water offered at gyms to CBD doughnuts and pet food give the impression that the cannabinoid is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (a recent Grocery Manufacturers Association poll showed that 76 percent of Americans believe it is), but that's not the case.

Hemp-derived CBD products not meant for consumption (lotions, salves, etc.) are sold nationwide, but CBD products intended for human or animal consumption are still outlawed by the FDA. Only one consumable CBD product, Epidiolex (a prescription seizure medication), has been approved by the FDA. States with legal marijuana and laws allowing hemp-infused foods, such as Colorado, provide a haven for companies that manufacture hemp-derived CBD — but the FDA's prohibition still makes them illegal at the federal level.

“Everyone is waiting to see what the FDA is going to do,” says Kara Lavaux, Food and Cannabis Supervisor at the Denver Department of Health and Public Environment. “The FDA could regulate CBD as a supplement, as a drug or as a food. But in the meantime, hemp and the CBD industry are just exploding."

Glenn says that without any regulation from the FDA, it’s up to the state to make sure that consumable products made with CBD are produced through safe, sanitary measures and have the proper labeling guidance for consumers. Not all CBD is created equal, as regulators and consumers are starting to find out.

“We’re seeing CBD coming in from China or India, and sometimes disguised as coming through Canada,” Glenn says. “We don’t know if they have good, safe manufacturing procedures, and we’re still not sure if it’s an adulterated product [with THC or additives].”

At the city level, Denver inspectors check "to see if the CBD product came from a licensed and inspected facility,” Lavaux confirms, adding that there are currently no state testing requirements for CBD. “As for what’s actually in the CBD product," she says, "we really have no idea.”

CBD sold on the street could pose a further health risk, regulators warn.

“Ingesting anything from a street source is risky, whether it’s candy or CBD,” Lavaux says. “There could be something in it that’s potentially harmful. ... You really don’t know what you’re putting into your body.”

Colorado state departments and industry stakeholders are working on more detailed hemp and CBD regulations — including labeling requirements, testing standards, ethical manufacturing practices and consumer education — through the Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan, known as the CHAMP Initiative. The initiative is also restructuring state hemp regulations to further align with the federal government's.

“Everything is still new on the processing side,” Glenn says. “It’s a concern from the state as we begin to set up this industry to establish good manufacturing and labeling requirements.”

In the meantime, Lavaux advises consumers to research CBD products and their ingredients, along with any reported health benefits — such as the treatment of anxiety, insomnia or inflammation — before using them.

“Nothing has proved that CBD can cure all these ailments,” she says. “At the end of the day, we don’t really know what’s in these products and their long-term effects, especially if they're bought from a place that doesn’t look safe and doesn’t check if its products are safe.”

Marijuana dispensaries sell high-CBD products that were tested for THC and CBD content and contaminants by state-licensed laboratories, but all of those products must contain some amount of THC, even if it's as little as 0.5 milligrams.

There are CBD brands whose products undergo third-party testing and bear labeling that shows they came from hemp that was grown in Colorado. State health officials recommend that consumers look for label markers that prove lab testing and state certification.

“We want to come up with a strategic plan for Colorado producers so people can look for Colorado CBD,” Glenn says.

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