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FDA Objects to CBD Being Sold as a Dietary Supplement; Industry Leaders Speak Out

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FDA Objects to CBD Being Sold as a Dietary Supplement; Industry Leaders Speak Out

By Steven Hoffman

FDA’s recent decision to reject New Dietary Ingredient applications for full-spectrum CBD from Charlotte’s Web and Irwin Naturals casts a cloud of market uncertainty; passage of Congressional legislation is only option, say industry leaders

Despite months of diligent communications with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the submission of volumes of data demonstrating the safety and efficacy of full-spectrum, hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD), FDA in a letter posted on August 10 rejected two New Dietary Ingredient notification (NDI or NDIN) applications for CBD submitted by pioneering CBD brand Charlotte’s Web and leading natural supplement brand Irwin Naturals.

The decision, based on the agency’s 2020 ruling to treat CBD as a drug, casts a continuing cloud of uncertainty over the market for dietary supplements and functional food and beverage products made with hemp-derived CBD. FDA’s objection only adds to consumer confusion and investor hesitancy, resulting in stunted market growth, say industry leaders, despite rising interest from U.S. farmers to grow hemp and from consumers in using CBD as a safe and effective dietary supplement and herbal remedy alternative.

It was a disappointing, if not surprising, decision by an agency that has historically shown an aversion to dietary supplements and cannabis-derived products, and that has been criticized for being under the outsized influence of the pharmaceutical lobby. 

However, given the FDA’s continuing objection to allowing CBD to be sold as a dietary supplement, the only option left is for the hemp industry to advocate for Congressional legislative action, such as H.R. 841 in the House of Representatives and S. 1698 in the Senate, to mandate the FDA to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement and allow for the growth of the emerging hemp-derived CBD market. See U.S. Hemp Roundtable’s legislative guide to take action.

Writing in New Hope Network, Rick Polito reported, “The agency had signaled willingness to work with brands via the NDI process, but in the end appeared intent on delivering a predetermined verdict that CBD, whether as an isolate or as a component of a full-spectrum hemp supplement, is legally identical to the CBD compound as used in Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical drug used to treat epilepsy. The Food Drug and Cosmetic Act ‘exclusionary clause’ holds that supplements cannot contain pharmaceutical ingredients.” 

“Why did the FDA put them through the months of doing this dance back and forth?” Steve Mister, CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, asked New Hope’s Polito, emphasizing that Irwin Naturals and Charlotte’s Web were diligent in the NDI process. 

“The FDA’s absence, in all measurable forms of leadership, has not only left the CBD market unregulated, it has also cost the hemp industry hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in lost revenue and investments, and created obstructive barriers and bottlenecks throughout the entire hemp supply chain,” said Morris Beegle, President of We Are for Better Alternatives and producer of NoCo Hemp Expo.

Read on to hear what Charlotte’s Web and other hemp industry leaders and advocates had to say in response to FDA’s decision.

Charlotte’s Web Official Statement
“Today the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) published an “objection” to Charlotte’s Web’s New Dietary Ingredient notification (NDI) submitted for our full spectrum hemp extract (FSHE), due largely to its drug preclusion provision. This response from the FDA indicates to Charlotte’s Web that without legislation by Congress, this market will remain unregulated…

Over the last 18 months, Charlotte’s Web collaborated with the FDA, providing information about the cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, use and safety behind our proprietary FSHE with naturally occurring levels of CBD. We also supplied research evidencing our FSHE to be different from purified CBD in isolate form which is an FDA-approved drug.

The FDA letter asserts that a FSHE cannot be used in dietary supplements because it is precluded and expresses safety concerns. Regarding safety, the conclusions drawn by the FDA do not appear to be based on the data provided in our NDI application … We requested the FDA correct the record to reflect that data…

The FDA objection to the NDIN does not impact the existing business operations of Charlotte’s Web but does provide useful guidance about what’s required to secure a regulatory framework for FSHE as a dietary supplement.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced bills that would legislate hemp CBD as a dietary supplement. We believe this legislation is a critical step to protect consumers and to establish guidance for manufacturers, and Charlotte’s Web intends to stay at the forefront of these efforts. Our vertically integrated supply chain and category leadership uniquely position us to work effectively with Congress, and the FDA, to ensure this critical path forward for the hemp industry.”

See Charlotte’s Web’s full statement here.

Jonathan Miller, General Counsel, U.S. Hemp Roundtable, Member-in-Charge, Frost Brown Todd, Washington, DC
“There has been general support for our legislative efforts at U.S. Hemp Roundtable, but there have been some holdouts saying, ‘Let’s give the FDA time to sort it out.’ But this latest NDIN rejection puts that argument to bed. The FDA is clearly not going to take steps to regulate CBD unless Congress tells it to do so. FDA’s objection makes it clear that our top priority is securing passage of legislation such as H.R. 841 and S. 1698.

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable is deeply disappointed to witness FDA’s rejection of two dietary ingredient notifications (NDINs) recently submitted for full-spectrum hemp extracts. FDA’s actions send a discouraging message to the entire hemp and CBD industry, especially in light of the fact that these firms provided more than ample safety data and cooperated with FDA’s requests throughout the process.

When held to the same regulatory standards as other dietary supplements and food ingredients, hemp-derived CBD products have a strong safety profile; the dangers to consumers are only posed by the unregulated marketplace that FDA continues to propagate. This should be a clarion call to Congress that it is time to step in and pass legislation to ensure that CBD products are held to the same standard as all dietary supplements and food ingredients, and to reject an NDIN-only path. 

It’s been more than two and a half years since hemp was legalized by the 2018 Farm  Bill, and without congressional intervention, the hemp farming industry will continue to struggle, and consumers stand to lose as well.”

See U.S. Hemp Roundtable’s legislative guide to take action.

Janel Ralph, CEO, RE Botanicals and Founder, Harmony CBD
“It is mind blowing to me that FDA is asking us to prove that something is safe when it’s never been proven to be unsafe. It’s FDA’s job to prove it’s unsafe, and it hasn’t been able to do that. The agency claims it’s a drug. Well, at what dose is it a drug? Epidiolex is like 300 mg a day, while full-spectrum supplements are like 25-50 mg a day. FDA could legally make an exemption, but it is choosing not to. 

On a personal note, my child Harmony, who was born with Lissencephaly or smooth brain syndrome, has been taking CBD every day of her life for the past seven years. She gets tested regularly for liver enzymes and it has never once affected her liver, yet it has significantly alleviated her suffering from seizures.

At the end of the day, CBD is improving people’s lives across the country and it should be available to everyone as a supplement. FDA needs to start looking at CBD differently. If FDA is going to block something that benefits people, that’s a problem.”

Rachael Rapinoe, CEO and Co-founder, MENDI Co.
“FDA’s objection results in further disconnection from hemp brands, consumers and the education needed to progress the industry as a whole. It shows many of us that the FDA isn’t prioritizing CBD products and bringing a clear path forward in a timely manner. The implications will result in continued confusion and discontinuity of language between brands in the industry.

The FDA is making it increasingly difficult to properly educate and protect consumers from the various types of products on the market and the benefits associated with them. Education is the key to progress and we need the full support of the FDA and medical community if we want to see this industry and its consumers mature.

We will continue to operate in highly restricted grey zones, which is very frustrating. We have a lot research and education to pull real data to educate and empower consumers in the industry. As a brand, we want to protect the public from harmful or dangerous products and guide them in directions that will be more beneficial to their long term health. Also as a brand, we would like to operate in the same capacity as other CPG companies.”

Michael McGuffin, CEO, American Herbal Products Association
“Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) replied to two separate new dietary ingredient notifications (NDINs) submitted for ingredients identified as ‘full-spectrum hemp extracts,’ one filed by Charlotte’s Web, Inc., and the other by Irwin Naturals. In its responses, FDA informed both companies that the subject ingredients ‘cannot be used in dietary supplements pursuant to the dietary supplement exclusion provision in 21 U.S.C. § 321(ff)(3)(B)’ on the basis that each qualifies as a ‘CBD product.’ 

Significantly, the Charlotte’s Web, Inc., ingredient has a cannabidiol (CBD) content of 19.5 mg per serving, and the Irwin Naturals ingredient has a proposed serving limit of approximately 65 mg/day of CBD. In addition, the agency identified ‘concerns about the adequacy of safety evidence’ included in these notifications ‘as a basis for concluding that a dietary supplement containing [the NDI] will reasonably be expected to be safe when used under the conditions’ described in the notifications.

We are fast approaching the three-year anniversary of the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, which reflected the decision by the U.S. Congress to support farmers and consumers by establishing a lawful process for production of hemp, which was broadly defined to include the cannabinoids in hemp, including CBD. But ever since FDA has relied on the cited exclusion provision to keep dietary supplements that contain any amount of CBD in a regulatory gray zone, even though the agency already has authority to create a lawful framework for marketing such products.

No one who has been paying attention to this matter should be in the least surprised to see FDA restate its position in these letters. At the same time, it is disappointing and represents another missed opportunity for the agency to bring clarity to the marketplace while using its existing resources to protect the health of the many Americans who already use hemp-derived products.

There are several bills now pending in the U.S. Congress that would resolve this matter and that are supported by the American Herbal Products Association and other organizations who are seeking a resolution that will simultaneously protect the public and the trade. FDA’s NDIN responses should sharpen the focus of all who share such a goal.

At the same time, FDA’s pointed attention to the content of these two NDINs should not surprise any experienced reviewer of the over one thousand such notifications submitted over the past 25 years, and the agency’s replies should be familiar in their scope and tone. Even if Congress acts to remove the current legal barriers to CBD-containing hemp products, companies that intend to bring a new CBD ingredient to market will need to meet the very high standard established for NDINs. In establishing this standard, it is not uncommon for FDA to identify its own specific safety concerns in its response to an initial notification, and the agency often lays out a roadmap for following up with more safety information – as it did for these two full-spectrum hemp extract submissions. These two companies and others who plan to follow their leadership would be well served to study these letters in detail.” 

Asa Waldstein, Principal, Supplement Advisory Group; Chair, AHPA Cannabis Committee
“Conducting studies to prove safety is an important part of responsible herbal commerce and Charlotte’s Web should be commended for its time and financial investment. Charlotte’s Web makes the case that a naturally occurring CBD is different from the CBD isolate used in Epidiolex. The FDA comments highlight the agency’s position that any CBD-containing product, including a full-spectrum hemp extract, is not a lawful dietary ingredient due to the Epidiolex drug preclusion provision. 

FDA states the Charlotte’s Web (products) are ‘carefully designed to ensure consistent levels of CBD, and that it is produced from your proprietary cultivar (CW1AS1) hemp plants that provide robust levels of CBD.’ FDA’s case here is even though CBD isolate is not added to the products, they still are designed with CBD content in mind. This is a conundrum, as process control and label accuracy are part of dietary supplement regulations. This discussion is further complicated by state requirements in West Virginia and Utah which require CBD content to be listed on the label.

My concern is the FDA response may inadvertently send a ‘do not proceed’ message to companies on the fence about conducting safety studies. I implore companies to continue to add proving product safety into their budgets and strategies.

During this regulatory holding pattern, I suggest companies continue to collect product safety data, as future regulation will likely include a safety component. Acting like a reputable dietary supplement company is the best way forward for hemp-CBD companies. This includes investing in safety studies, but also CFR 111 & 117 compliance, food facility registration, lot number traceability, recall procedures, adverse event reporting, and common allergen labeling.”

Sander Zagzebski, Attorney and Co-leader of Clark Hill LLP’s Cannabis Industry Team
• What does FDA’s objection mean?  
“As a technical matter, it means that the person filing the notice (Charlotte’s Web, Inc.) does not have FDA approval to use the dietary ingredient listed in their notification (full spectrum hemp extract) in food products”.

• Why Now?  
“The hemp/CBD industry has been operating in a gray area under federal law. While the Farm Bill has legalized certain hemp and hemp derived products, including CBD isolates and full spectrum CBD extracts, under certain circumstances, it is an exaggeration to say the Farm Bill “legalized CBD” in a wholesale fashion. One of the big questions relating to hemp-derived CBD products generally is whether and to what extent manufacturers can include hemp-derived CBD products in food and beverage products that are generally regulated by the FDA. I’m guessing Charlotte’s Web was hoping the FDA under the new Administration would provide some clarity on this issue for the hemp/CBD industry in general and for Charlotte’s Web in particular. By way of background, the law provides that active ingredients in approved pharmaceutical products cannot be sold as dietary supplements in other products. One of the policy purposes behind this law is to encourage companies to undertake the considerable time and expense necessary to get FDA approval for a new pharmaceutical product. If competitors were allowed to sell the active ingredient to a new pharmaceutical product as a dietary supplement, it obviously dilutes significantly the economic benefit of winning FDA approval for a new drug and acts as a strong disincentive to go through the FDA’s drug approval process. When the FDA approved the drug Epidiolex, which is a CBD oral solution for the treatment of epilepsy, that action meant that the active ingredients of Epidiolex, including the CBD compound, could not then be classified as an approved dietary supplement under the law. Left unclear, however, was whether the exclusion would apply only to the specific CBD chemical compound in Epidiolex, or whether it would be applied more broadly to other CBD compounds including ‘full spectrum’ CBD.”

• What was Charlotte’s Web’s objective in applying to the FDA?  
“It is likely that Charlotte’s Web was hoping to get clarity on the FDA’s position regarding CBD and to get the FDA’s blessing that, at a minimum, a “full spectrum” hemp-derived CBD products (as opposed to the specific CBD isolate in Epidiolex) would qualify as a permitted dietary supplement.” 

• What are the implications going forward re: FDA’s policy toward CBD?  
“The broader implications are so far unclear. The hemp-derived CBD industry has existed in this regulatory gray area regarding the FDA for some time, so one could argue that nothing really has changed. On the other hand, the FDA had an opportunity to do the industry a favor, and it declined to do so. Although I don’t have a crystal ball, I think it is likely that the FDA will continue to focus most of its enforcement energy on suppliers that make what the FDA considers to be unsubstantiated health claims, since that doesn’t involve any significant change in their policy stance from the prior Administration. Most federal agencies are loathe to make major policy adjustments when they don’t have a Senate-approved leader at the helm. Since the FDA is currently operating under an Acting Commissioner, it seems a safe bet that the FDA won’t make a major policy decision regarding hemp or CBD until it has its Senate-approved leader.”

• How does that impact companies, consumers and the market? 
“In the immediate term, the impact is probably insignificant. The industry had hoped for some clarity, which the FDA has declined to give it, but otherwise the status quo will continue. That said, the industry will have to digest the fact that the FDA hasn’t gone away, and that legislative action is probably necessary to clear the air.”

• What will it take for FDA to allow for and regulate CBD as a safe ingredient in supplements and food and beverage products?  
“It is possible that a new FDA Commissioner will, once confirmed, decide to take a more permissive approach to the industry. Absent direction from the top, however, it feels like the career bureaucrats in the FDA do not want to be put in the position of having to make these policy decisions. So legislative action is probably inevitable, eventually.”

• What actions can hemp industry leaders and advocates take to support free access to CBD products in the dietary supplements market? 
“Given the regulatory ambiguity, industry leaders would be well advised to be cautious in how they market their products and to be rigid in otherwise complying with all applicable rules and regulations.

• What other comments would you add?
“One coda to this response:  The maker of Epidiolex, GW Pharmaceuticals, was sold to Jazz Pharmaceuticals for $7.2 Billion.  While GW undoubtedly had other products in the pipeline, the press release announcing the deal describes Epidiolex as GW’s ‘lead product.’ So FDA approval is big business.”

# # #

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and  Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

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