Because of the success of well-known brands of cannabis and CBD, there are now a lot of new, less trustworthy brands on the market. These so-called “bad actors” in CBD advertise products that are not manufactured under current good manufacturing practices (cGMP), which help to ensure that all products are consistently produced and controlled according to specified quality standards. cGMP helps guard against the risks of adulteration, cross-contamination, and mislabeling to guarantee product quality, safety, and efficacy.
CBD products that lack cGMP regulations are frequently mislabeled and misleading to consumers. In fact, Johns Hopkins Medicine found a lot of evidence that CBD content labels on more than 100 CBD products sold online and in stores were wrong or misleading. Having so many of these brands on the market not only makes people less confident in CBD, but it also slows the growth of the sector as a whole. Fortunately, CBD consumers and retailers can easily discriminate between a well-tested, reputable brand and inferior bad actors with a few straightforward minimum requirements to look out for when selecting a product.
Why are “bad actors” a problem for consumers and the industry?
Bad actors in the CBD industry sell products that are not produced under cGMP conditions and are typically not tested by third-party laboratories to ensure identity, purity, quality, strength, and composition. This means they are not verified for contaminants, impurities, label claims, or product specifications. This often leads to misleading ads with wrong amounts of cannabinoids or traces of compounds like THC that aren’t listed on the label. To combat this, the FDA issues warning letters to companies that market products allegedly containing CBD—many of which are found not to contain the claimed levels of CBD and are not approved for the treatment of any medical condition. Still, bad actors manage to slip through the cracks and deceive consumers.
Bad actors that put anything in a bottle and make unsubstantiated medical claims hurt the reputable operators that strive to create safe and high-quality products. It is easy for consumers to be drawn to CBD products with big medical claims and lower prices, only to be disappointed when the product does not produce the advertised results. If a product isn’t labeled correctly, it might have more cannabinoids than expected or ingredients like Delta-9 or Delta-8 THC that the buyer might not want to eat. Along with unexpected levels of THC, many CBD products available now are not as pure as advertised, with one in four products going untested for contaminants like microbial content, pesticides, or heavy metals.
Also, when products and their ingredients aren’t labeled correctly, consumers can’t figure out how CBD affects their bodies as a baseline, leaving them open to having different experiences in the future. Such a poor experience can turn consumers off to the category as a whole, drawing their trust away from not only the bad actors but also the reliable, reputable brands on the market. The saturation of the market with these disreputable brands delegitimizes a category that has only just begun to break down the stigma, creating stagnation rather than growth as consumers remain wary of low-quality products.
How can consumers identify bad actors in CBD?
There are several simple ways to identify a bad actor among CBD products and make certain that both consumers and retailers purchase quality, reliable, and safe brands through legitimate sales channels. To start, consumers should avoid all CBD products that are marketed with unsubstantiated medical claims. This is a significant area of abuse, as brands that relate any form of CBD product to a disease state, like cancer, should not be trusted. The science to support such medical claims has not been completed yet, but product marketing is years ahead of the evidence needed to support such claims. Unsupported medical claims could also mislead consumers who may need more serious medical intervention.
Also, people need to look at the packaging, which should have a supplement fact label with nutrition information on it. The label should include the serving size, the number of servings per container, a list of all dietary ingredients in the product, and the amount of each ingredient per serving. All labels should include a net quantity of contents, a lot number or batch ID, the name and address of the manufacturer, and an expiration or manufacturing date. These signs of a reputable brand are easy to look for and can save consumers from the trouble of selecting the wrong CBD product.
What to look for when selecting a CBD product
With this in mind, there are a few key ways to tell if a product comes from a trusted brand that has been tested. Reputable CBD companies already follow FDA rules for nutritional supplements, which include putting a nutrition or supplement facts panel on the packaging, just like vitamins. The information in this panel should include all the active cannabinoids in the product, both per serving and per package. Clear potency labeling gives people the confidence to choose products that meet their needs and lets them know what the baseline effects of CBD concentration are on their bodies. This helps them customize their experience by choosing products carefully.
Reputable brands also have a QR code on the packaging that lets you link the product to a certificate of analysis that shows the testing results to show that the product meets the standards and claims on the label. When it comes to the ingredients, people should be wary of high concentrations of “flavor of the month” minor cannabinoids, which are often linked to medical claims that haven’t been proven. Current scientific research has set its focus on major cannabinoids like CBD and delta-9 THC, leaving additional research necessary for understanding minor cannabinoids. Minor cannabinoids are typically included in full-spectrum products at concentrations found naturally in the cannabis plant, which is a safer approach to consuming CBD until more research is completed.
Consumers should not let the existence of unreliable, untrustworthy brands curtail their confidence in the CBD sector—there are many high-quality, safe, and trusted brands on the market. Consumers and retailers can easily choose high-quality CBD products that millions of people have found to improve many aspects of their health and well-being if they know what to look for and have a good eye. Looking ahead, clear federal regulations for CBD products that require mandatory product registration and compliance with product labeling, packaging, and cGMP will be crucial in weeding out bad actors and will allow compliant companies to gain consumer trust and responsibly grow the CBD category.