Former FDA chief warns consumers that all forms of CBD in food is actually illegal

The CBD droplets you may be adding into your brunch cocktail are not actually legal, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned on CNBC on Friday.

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a compound found in the cannabis plant that’s boomed in the retail industry in the past year, with many touting its stress relieving benefits despite limited evidence. Coffee shops, bars and restaurants have all rushed to cash in on adding CBD to foods and beverages. However, the Food and Drug Administration is looking to put a stop to that, citing safety concerns.

“You can’t just put it in the food supply,” said Gottlieb, who left the FDA in April. “Right now, all the CBD is illegal that’s being put into food or dietary supplements.” Gottlieb, a resident fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, is also a physician who consults for and invests in biopharmaceutical companies. He joined Pfizer‘s board of directors earlier this summer.

In Friday’s “Squawk Box” interview, Gottlieb said that when it comes to the marketplace, products widely vary on quality, dosing and concentration, so one can never be sure what they’re getting. “A lot of it does have high concentrations of THC. When you get CBD online, a lot of times it has high concentrations of THC.” Short for tetrahydrocannabinol, THC is the ingredient in marijuana that gives users a high.

Last year, the FDA said it was looking for ways to legalize the sale of CBD oil in food and beverages, a move that would require the agency to outline manufacturing conditions.

In a commentary in The Washington Post last month, Gottlieb wrote that the possible solution in weighing public health concerns and consumer demand could be for the FDA to “approve the sale of some CBD products immediately, while effecting a framework for their safe and proper regulation and a pathway for an enforceable market for these goods.”

Gottlieb also pointed out that the drug Epidiolex, made by GW Pharmaceuticals and approved by the FDA in 2018 to treat seizure disorders, is the only legally available purified form of CBD.

The CBD confusion lies in that most cannabidiol products were made legal when President Donald Trump signed the $867 billion farm bill in December 2018. The new law removed industrial hemp from the federal government’s list of controlled substances, making it a legitimate agricultural commodity. However, the FDA still currently prohibits firms from adding CBD to food, drinks and supplements, and from making therapeutic claims about their products.

With all that said, Gottlieb is not entirely against CBD. “I think this is going to be an opportunity going forward,” he explaind. “But we really need to sort out the regulation.”

— CNBC’s Angelica LaVito contributed to this report.

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