Many Commercially Sold CBD Products Contain Synthetic Marijuana

Many Commercially Sold CBD Products Contain Synthetic Marijuana

It doesn’t take long to realize it’s everywhere: CBD candies. CBD beverages. CBD lotions, creams, oil — even pet snacks. But can you believe what’s on the packaging? An investigation by the Associated Press revealed that ten out of 30 commercially marketed CBD products tested positive for the presence of synthetic cannabinoids, similar to what is found in illicit products like ‘Spice,’ ‘K2,’ and other controlled substances. These synthetic agents are illegal under federal law, and consumption has been associated with serious adverse health issues. CBD is a hot marketing item, rife with unsubstantiated claims of unlimited health wellness potential.

The AP investigation revealed that adulterated CBD products in question were marketed commercially in 13 states, including Florida, Maryland and Texas. The investigation also noted that traceability is nil — packaging and labeling usually fails to identify the product manufacturer, which is a generally standard label requirement with cannabis regulatory agencies. Additionally, lab testing initiated by the Associated Press this summer showed a type of synthetic marijuana has been attributed for at least 11 deaths in Europe.

In other cases, several products studied in the AP investigation either tested negative for CBD or contained minute amounts of the compound, a result that is consistent with previous reports. Similarly, a September 12 Hawaii News Now report found bacteria, THC and trace amounts of CBD in products sold by retailers on the islands — and not a single product tested actually had the amount of CBD advertised on the packaging.

In the AP investigation, however, reporters bought brands identified by law enforcement testing or online discussions as ‘hot’. Because the testing focused on specific products they are not a true representation of the overall market. Out of the hundreds of products available in a burgeoning industry marketplace, there are bound to be a few shady people out there looking for a quick buck.

CBD regulations vary. Products infused with CBD sold at state-licensed dispensaries are usually subject to state regulations that includes lab testing. Products infused with CBD and commercially marketed, however, are not subject to any hard and fast federal regulations, meaning third-party testing often reveals inconsistencies with the amount of CBD advertised and the actual amount in the product. Other cases showed the presence of THC, which could put some in an awkward legal position, including arrest or loss of employment (in the event of a failed drug test, for example).
In March 2019, an NBC 4 New York news team found in their own testing investigation that some products had no CBD in them at all, and others tested positive for elevated levels of lead and pesticides. In other words, “I’ll take the CBD gummy but hold the CBD . . . and please add a dollop of lead and a pinch of pesticides.”

In May, the non-profit organization National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) gave written testimony to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), urging the agency to quickly provide regulatory guidelines relating to best practices for manufacturing, standardization and guaranteeing purity of CBD-infused products.

NORML, who aims to legalize cannabis by influencing public opinion as it relates to normalization of the plant, wrote to the FDA, “For years, producers of these products have navigated in a grey area of the law — manufacturing products of variable and sometimes questionable quality and safety. Now, it is time for the FDA to craft benchmark safety and quality standards for hemp-derived CBD products in order to increase consumer satisfaction and confidence as this nascent industry transitions and matures into a legal marketplace.”

While the FDA has approved one CBD-based medicine for treating seizures related to two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, the FDA is struggling to specify and enforce regulations — it says it cannot be added to food, drinks or dietary supplements — but then warns manufacturers against making unsubstantiated health claims.

The combination of events means it is hard for consumers to know just how much CBD they may or may not be consuming in products. Adding to the problem is that federal and state regulators rarely test the contents, trusting quality control to the manufacturers.

About Brian Ellis

With 6 years' experience in business journalism, Brian is the person we turn to for anything related to the business of cannabis. His news coverage spans topics including marijuana business and finance. Brian's work features on, and