People buying a medicinal marijuana extract over the internet often don't get what they paid for, a new study warns.
Nearly 7 out of 10 cannabidiol (CBD) products tested did not contain the amount of marijuana extract promised on the label, researchers report.
"We wanted to see if they are accurately describing what is in their product," said lead researcher Marcel Bonn-Miller.
"We found that generally speaking, no, they're not. There are some people that are doing it right, but the majority of people in the industry are not," said Bonn-Miller. He is an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
What's more, 1 in 5 CBD products also contained THC, the active intoxicating compound in marijuana, the researchers found.
Cannabidiol is a naturally occurring non-intoxicating chemical found in marijuana. Research has shown that CBD can help control epileptic seizures and spasms related to multiple sclerosis. People also use it to relieve anxiety or pain.
Cannabidiol "doesn't get people high, but according to the (U.S.) Drug Enforcement Administration it's still classified as a schedule 1 substance," because it is a marijuana extract," Bonn-Miller explained.
As a result, CBD products fall into a regulatory gray area. They can be purchased in the 29 states where medical marijuana is legal, but aren't being regulated by a federal government that deems them an illegal drug.
Bonn-Miller and his colleagues tested 84 CBD products purchased online to see if they contained the amount of extract promised on the label. The products included oils, tinctures and vaporization liquid for use in e-cigarettes.
"You were considered accurately labeled if you were plus or minus 10 percent," Bonn-Miller said. "We're giving people essentially a 10 percent room for error, and looking for people outside that."
Nearly 43 percent of products contained too little CBD, while about 26 percent contained too much, Bonn-Miller said.
Patients buying these CBD products to treat epilepsy or multiple sclerosis may not be getting the proper dosage, Bonn-Miller said, either not enough for the extract to work or too much.
More disturbing, about 20 percent of the products also contained the intoxicating pot chemical THC.
"THC has a different side effect profile altogether from CBD," Bonn-Miller said. "THC has been associated with development of psychosis and schizophrenia for people that have genetic vulnerabilities. If I had a first-degree relative that had schizophrenia, the literature would suggest stay away from THC." A first-degree relative is a parent, sibling or child.
People purchasing medicinal CBD should exercise caution, and only buy from state-approved dispensaries or pharmacies, said Yasmin Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City.
"You have to make sure you really investigate the companies selling these things and if possible try to buy it from your local dispensary or a pharmacy," Hurd said. "Work within the law that exists in your state so at least you can be more assured that you're consuming what you think you have purchased."
People also should stick to brands that have a track record of quality, Bonn-Miller said.
"It's about identifying those brands and supporting those brands that are accurately labeling their product," Bonn-Miller said.
It would be good if patients actually sent their CBD products to a lab for quality testing, Bonn-Miller said. But Hurd noted that many people don't have the means to either find a lab or pay for testing.
The best-case scenario would involve the federal government rescheduling CBD as a legal drug, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could regulate it, Bonn-Miller concluded.
"It would definitely help because now it's up to the states, and the states are not equipped to provide the oversight at the level the FDA does," Bonn-Miller said.
There also needs to be more research done on cannabidiol to hone in on proper dosages, Hurd added.
"People are buying it without knowing what concentrations are effective for their particular symptoms," Hurd said.
The findings were published online Nov. 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
For more on medical marijuana, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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