After Canada’s highly publicized weed legalization event, The US’s involvement in the weed business became even more assured. After years of legal struggle, several US states OK’d cannabis use under certain conditions in 2018. But, the cannabis industry still didn’t take off. Instead, it experienced a landslide into stagnant waters in June 2020, with sales dropping due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts.
However, things have started to normalize now. According to market projections, cannabis’s niche products, especially CBD oil, are speculated to climb new heights in the next five years. This is likely to spell a new and exciting time for cannabis’s currently mixed fortunes.
CBD: The Crown Jewel of the Cannabis Industry?
Among the diverse flora and fauna of cannabinoids within cannabis, one has emerged as the safest and most scientifically backed — CBD. Unlike CBD’s close and highly popular cousin, THC, CBD isn’t psychoactive, i.e., it doesn’t cause a high.
Since CBD didn’t alter consciousness, it appealed to a broader demographic, including vulnerable segments of seniors and children. This is why experts believed that it will outrank THC in both authority and sales in the future.
For instance, Brightfield Group’s estimation projected that CBD sales in the US would amount to $600 million, significantly increasing from previous years. Safe to say, CBD exceeded this target by quite a margin. Now, some statistics are predicting that CBD sales could total $23.7 million by 2023. This is a massive climb (think annual forecast growth of over 100%).
Another development that helped CBD’s fortunes was the signing of the Farm bill in 2018. This bill opened the floodgates for cannabis legalization in several states, with various CBD products, from tinctures and edibles to oils and vapes, swarming national stores within a fortnight.
Moreover, it also put into motion large scale industrial products of hemp-based CBD. Because hemp is an expensive crop and doesn’t contain dangerous amounts of psychoactive THC, many cannabis manufacturers considered it first-choice for their CBD needs.
At this point, it seemed as if nothing could go wrong for CBD. But then, COVID happened in 2020, and the CBD industry took a hit. But even then, scientific interest in CBD didn’t fade. Recently, 50 US clinical trials are active in exploring CBD’s potential benefits.
CBD’s Hurdles Going Forward
Today, the CBD bandwagon is not charging forward full steam. Some of the reasons behind this are:
Food and Drug Administration’s Findings
CBD’s commercial appeal relied on one speculation — that CBD could make an excellent ingredient in foods and beverages. However, the FDA had to make its own decision. Unfortunately, the FDA didn’t advocate the public sentiment and advised people to tread carefully when using CBD as a natural supplement or food ingredient. To clarify things, FDA’s sitting commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, said that issuing dietary guidelines for a new food and beverage additive can take the better part of 3 years. Since CBD is complex and CBD science is still in its infancy, the FDA might take longer than three years to greenlit its use in foods. Because of this, the diversity of CBD products has marginally lowered, with oils and tinctures left as prime prized products of the cannabis industry.
Safety concerns are also a huge impediment to CBD’s normalization. On November 25, 2019, FDA provided an update on its CBD research. Although the FDA asserted many points, the regulatory authority was outright in its stance that CBD could cause side effects and potentially lead to insidious complications. The FDA also clarified that the long term effects of CBD are not yet known.
Dwindling Scientific Research
Another huge stumbling block is the scarcity of CBD science. Not only do researchers not have conclusive research to back CBD’s medical benefits, but CBD’s industrial performance also poses a big question mark. For instance, Sativex, an oral spray that GW pharmaceuticals patented, to treat multiple sclerosis, didn’t yield favorable results. In 2015, Sativa failed cancer pain research. Another example of CBD’s medical shortcomings can be found in Zynerba Pharmaceuticals flop product, Zygel CBD. Zygel CBD’s clinical trials focusing on the drug’s role in treating Fragile X syndrome didn’t go as planned. It failed to bypass primary and secondary endpoints, thus calling into question its commercial viability.
CBD’s Success is Going to Take time
Even though CBD-based drugs have failed in some places, this doesn’t mean that CBD’s future isn’t bright. This just means that CBD isn’t a “cure-all” drug-like most thought it to be.
More scientific evidence is needed to understand where CBD can help and where it can’t. This will largely depend on the FDA’s perception of CBD’s medicinal potential. Right now, CBD stakeholders need to be patient and target niche industries to appeal to a broader audience.
There are some mentionable CBD wins as well. After GW’s unyielding Sativex venture, another company, Charlotte’s web, introduced Epidiolex, a CBD-based oral solution that the FDA approved to treat two forms of severe epileptic disorders in children. Charlotte’s web appears bet-placed to handle any long term challenges in the imminent future. Numbers support this prediction. As of 2020, Charlotte’s web is at the forefront of CBD manufacturing and distribution. The company has 12,000 retail locations, spread over several states. This also includes the US’s biggest pharmacy chains.
Despite the FDA’s discouraging stance on CBD’s addition to food and beverages, the regulatory authority has widely endorsed Charlotte’s web flagship CBD product, making it the topical CBD sales leader.
This means that the FDA isn’t set out to stomp the CBD industry. Its selection is purely based on merit and scientific research. Meaning, there is a place for winners in CBD avenues. However, it will take some time for CBD science to catch up with commercial demands and provide concrete evidence to the FDA to expedite CBD commercialization. For the time being, patience is the best virtue.