A few months earlier, there were troubling signs of other contaminated CBD products, all the way on the other side of the country. A researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University heard about a person who felt extremely high after using a CBD vape pen. Alarmed, the researcherâ€”Michelle Peace, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of forensic scienceâ€”and her team decided to test the product to see what was going on.
â€śThere was nothing unusual looking about the products,â€ť she says. But her testing showed that, as in Utah, the vaping liquid contained a dangerous form of synthetic cannabinoid. In this case, it was 5-fluoro MDMB-PINACA or 5F-ADB, a compound that can trigger paranoia and panic attacks, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and cause convulsions, organ damage, and even death, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
AndÂ the test foundÂ something else, too: One product contained over-the-counter cough medicine dextromethorphan, which has a reputation, especially in teens, for being able to get users high.
â€śWe were not that surprised by the synthetic cannabinoid, 5F-ADB, since the effects the person had were in line with what other patients have said [with that drug],â€ť Peace says. â€śBut the dextromethorphan was a surprise.â€ť She and colleagues are testing additional samples of the same products now and hope to have results by this summer.
Those may be extreme examples, but adulterated, contaminated, or mislabeled CBD products arenâ€™t isolated occurrences. A 2017Â study published in JAMAÂ by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and University of Pennsylvania Perelman Â School of Medicine found that more than two-thirds of the products they purchased online were mislabeled, containing more CBD than listed on the label, less of it, or none at all. The tests also found some CBD products with more THC than listed on the label, sometimes much more.
And, in the last three years, tests conducted by the Food and Drug Administration of CBD products found that many did not contain the levels of CBD they claimed to contain, says Michael Felberbaum, a spokesperson with the agency. The FDA sentÂ warning lettersÂ to each. And just last month, the agency and the Federal Trade Commission cited three additional companiesâ€”Advanced Spine and Pain (dba Relievus), Nutra Pure, and PotNetwork Holdingsâ€”for making unapproved health claims that include, among other things, promoting CBD as a treatment for cancer, Alzheimerâ€™s disease, or diabetes.
As CBD has become federally legal and finds it way into the mainstreamâ€”a 2019 Consumer Reports survey found that 26 percent of Americans have tried CBD in the past two years, and two national retailers, CVS and Walgreens, say they plan to sell CBD in a handful of statesâ€”having products free of contaminants and containing what is claimed are critical. Â
â€śCBD is gaining popularity among consumers, particularly those looking for alternative care products,â€ť says CVS spokesperson Michael J. DeAngelis. The drugstore chain will sell only CBD products tested by a third party to verify they donâ€™t exceed the federal legal limit of 0.3 percent THC, or certain contaminants, DeAngelis says.
But because there are few rules about how hemp-derived CBD products should be tested, online sellers and less responsible retailers could be selling contaminated or even adulterated CBD products. And it can be almost impossible for a consumer to tell the good ones from the bad.
While federal agencies are still working out how to regulate CBD, a few states and the hemp industry itself have taken measures to better assure the safety of legal CBD products. But even then, you may need to remain vigilant, experts say. Hereâ€™s what you can do to stay safe.