UNPA wrestles with stance on CBD trade at recent meeting

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

UNPA wrestles with stance on CBD trade at recent meeting
The question of what stance to take regarding the CBD trade formed the basis of another session at a recent dietary supplement industry meeting.

The United Natural Products Alliance held its annual members retreat last week in Park City, UT. The quick CBD session takeaway: Despite all of the contradictory and confusing regulatory impediments, the CBD wave just continues to build, with no telling when it will crest. So just waiting on the sidelines to see what might happen is becoming a less and less tenable strategy.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non narcotic fraction of Cannabis sativa​. The ingredient has been researched for a variety of health benefits including pain relief and anti spasmodic properties. And there are a number of anecdotal effects, including improving sleep and relieving stress.

Regulatory hurdles

UNPA president Loren Israelsen noted in an address to his membership that significant regulatory hurdles for the ingredient remain. Cannabis sativa​, the raw material for CBD, is still a schedule 1 controlled substance on the list maintained by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. This means that in the opinion of the federal government the botanical has a high risk for abuse and no apparent medical uses.

Books have been written about why cannabis, a botanical with a history of use that stretches back into antiquity, ended up where it did within US regulation. Israelsen said rather than rue the past, it's better to look to the future and the remarkable shift in attitudes toward the botanical in recent years and even in the past six months.

“In a recent poll, 64% of Americans said cannabis should be decriminalized. Back in the year 2000 that sat at 31%,”​ he said.

Leopards changing spots

Israelsen said political observers have been treated to a rare spectacle in regard to the botanical. Former ardent cannabis opponents and Republican Party stalwarts, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and former Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, have now become dyed-in-the-wool advocates.

McConnell, the US Senate’s Majority Leader, is pushing his Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which he introduced in late March. The bill would legalize the growing of industrial hemp nationwide. The bill recently attracted Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, as a co-sponsor​. There are few issues on which those two agree, but they apparently agree on hemp.

To inject a bit of nomenclature:  ‘Industrial hemp’ is defined as those cultivars of cannabis that have less than 0.3% THC (the narcotic fraction of the plant) by dry weight. In layman’s terms, there’s no way to get high from this stuff.  It’s cultivated as a food source, a source of industrial raw material like fiber, and, of course, as a source of CBD.

And Boehner, the former Speaker of the House who reportedly at one time said he was “unalterably opposed”​ to legalization, has joined the board of a company called Acreage Holdings​. The firm is said to be one of the best capitalized cannabis companies of all.

Adding fuel to the legalization fire was Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, who reportedly said in a speech over the weekend that federal delisting of the botanical will likely come within the next four years​.

Drug development issue

If CBD had been found in any other plant, it would be hailed as a highly efficacious ingredient, not a potential pariah, according to Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council.

Federal delisting of the raw material would clear one major impediment, but wouldn’t necessarily have much effect on the other, that being FDA’s ruling that CBD is not a legal dietary ingredient. FDA made this determination because in its view CBD had first been investigated as a drug by English company GW Pharmaceuticals before other companies starting trying to bring it to market as a dietary supplement.

FDA has not budged on this ruling, but Israelsen said there appears to be some wiggle room on the other end. Israelsen said that approval of the first of GW’s drugs, Epidiolex, meant for the treatment of epileptic seizures in children whose conditions don’t respond to other medications, appears imminent. But he said the company has indicated in some back channel type communications a willingness to help find a way toward a market in which pharmaceutical and dietary supplement applications might coexist, much as they do in the world of omega-3s.

Growing market

Israelsen said a big reason why UNPA members need to take notice is the burgeoning nature of the market. New consumers flock to the category every day, regardless of whether many regulators think there shouldn’t be a category at all. If responsible companies don’t step forward to take control, others with questionable quality control, messaging, and motives, will step into the breach, potentially to the long term detriment of the market.

“This is an industry that is evolving very rapidly. The consumer is confused. The vast majority know very little about cannabis,”​ said Roy Bingham, co founder of BDS Analytics, a cannabis industry tracking firm, who also contributed to the session.

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