2020 Food & Health Trends: CBD in Foods, Beverages, and Much More

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This is part four of a 10-part series defining the top food & health trends of 2020.

CBD was one of the top-selling supplements in 2019 with end-of-year sales expected to exceed $1 billion, a 133% increase over 2018 sales. And this type of growth is only expected to continue. In fact, CBD sales are predicted to exceed $10 billion by 2024 as more consumers gravitate toward more natural ways to address health issues like stress and anxiety.

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Right now, most CBD products can be purchased in forms like oils, capsules, and topicals. So it makes sense that food manufacturers would be eager to jump into the market with CBD-fortified foods and beverages with the demand we've seen. A few smaller companies have done this, but other food manufacturers have been a bit more tentative, keeping possible product formulation under wraps. The reason is that adding CBD to food products is murky, because the FDA still hasn't defined a process or guidelines around the extract.

The Red Tape

More specifically, the holdup is because adding CBD to foods and drinks complicates an already-gray area of legislation and regulation. This all started when the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the sale of hemp that contains 0.3% or less of the cannabinoid THC. Both hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis plant and contain compounds known as cannibinoids. The difference is that marijuana contains much higher levels of THC, which has psychoactive properties. Hemp contains significantly less THC but contains higher levels of the cannabinoid CBD, which does not have psychoactive effects and has been associated with potential therapeutic benefits.

The Farm Bill also gave states the right to determine their own regulation. Most all states have since passed some type of legislation that broadens the sale or usage of hemp-derived CBD, which makes it hard to keep legislation straight among states. But when it comes to adding CBD to food and beverage, the primary complication stems from CBD no longer being a controlled substance. It now falls under the FDA's realm of oversight for dietary supplements and foods. Since this happened, the FDA has been working to clarify regulation, since it's currently illegal to sell CBD as a dietary supplement or food product. Confusing, right?!

One reason the FDA hasn't moved more swiftly to green light food and beverage uses is that there's still limited research on CBD's safety and efficacy due to its previous designation as a controlled substance. Granted, available research is promising, but most studies were small and done in labs or with animals. A lack of regulation and quality control in CBD production is another reason why the FDA has been slow to loosen regulations around food. Currently, the majority of states don't have any testing or oversight of what is in CBD products. The result is that when researchers at Penn Medicine analyzed online CBD products, they found that 70% had either more or less CBD than what the product label indicated. Some also contained THC amounts greater than 0.3%.

So What’s Next?

Currently, manufacturers put themselves at risk for FDA disciplinary action if they sell dietary supplements or foods with hemp-derived CBD. In fact, the FDA sent warning letters to 15 companies in November 2019 for selling CBD as supplements and/or adding CBD to food. But demand for products like these continues to grow, and this will likely cause the FDA to take a stand. We predict 2020 to be the "Year of CBD Foods." But… it's undetermined if this will be due to new regulations that sometimes allows for the addition of CBD, or due to the FDA increasing disciplinary action for manufacturers not following the regulations.

In the meantime, there are a few things to keep in mind if you choose to use CBD supplements or CBD-fortified food products.

Don't use it in place of current medications.
Never use CBD as an alternative to your current medications. Consider it a way to possibly augment what you are already doing, and make sure your doctor is aware to prevent any potential drug interactions.

Start small.
With little quality control in manufacturing, this means CBD (and potentially THC) content can very greatly even among products of the same brand.

Choose one that has quality control testing done by an outside lab.
But this still doesn't ensure that the product actually contains what is specified on the label.

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