The cannabidiol (CBD) market has exploded in the last year or so with tons of new products and companies making claims to have the best products. How can consumers find out which companies are selling honest and reliable CBD products? We recently spoke to Austin Flohrschutz, Director of Science for TruPotency, to find out the role his company is playing in shaping a consumer safety landscape in the CBD market and beyond.
Can you tell us a little about the work you’re doing at TruPotency?
Austin Flohrschutz: TruPotency was created because there are a lot of bad CBD products out there. A 2017 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) (1) suggests only about 30% of CBD products are labeled correctly. The other 70% either have the wrong amount of CBD in them (for example, only 200 mg in a bottle labeled 500 mg) or other ingredients they shouldn’t (such as residual solvents from extraction or THC in a THC-free product).
Our goal is to be the Consumer Reports for CBD that helps separate fact from fiction in the CBD and cannabinoid space. We are a retailer but only want to feature products that have been rigorously tested and vetted, and provide science based info, so the consumer can make an informed choice and have confidence in that choice. We do this by using well established analytical cannabis (hemp/marijuana) testing labs to verify what is in every product, educating at public events such as the Arizona Plant Medicine Conference, and writing quality content we hope people enjoy and can learn from.
What kind of testing or evaluations do products undergo when you evaluate them?
Flohrschutz: Our products undergo blind, third-party laboratory analysis to reduce testing bias. This includes tests for cannabinoid and terpene content as well as safety tests such as pesticides, microbials, and residual solvents. Outside of safety and correct labeling, we use these results to make sure a CBD product is what it says it is, then take the results a step further by using an algorithm to rate products based on their ingredients (including non-cannabinoid ingredients). For example, if a CBD product has the complementary cannabinoids CBN and THC along with terpenes linalool and myrcene, then this product will score high for sleep because these compounds are associated with sedation, relaxation, and sleep.
In a recent blog post (2), you discussed the challenges with third party testing, lab-to-lab variation, and certificates of analysis. Do you think people in the industry are beginning to understand the necessity and value of strict testing and regulations or is there still a disconnect?
Flohrschutz: I think people in the cannabis industry are very aware of the state of testing and some use it to their advantage in dubious ways to shop around get the results they want. I would hope most legitimate companies want to end this unethical practice and make sure only quality products with documentation are made available to everyone. Because there is huge public interest in CBD and a general sense that many products are of poor quality, if there are strict regulations we as an industry can follow, then the public will have more confidence in their consumer products.
What would you like to see change in the cannabis testing or quality control area in the next year or two?
Flohrschutz: I would like to see universal regulation on the testing front. Many different states have their own rules and regulations (and some have none), but to make sure everything is consistent we need everyone to be on the same page. Whatever the protocol for testing becomes, it should hopefully make lab results have more weight no matter where you get your product tested. There will always be variation, but if we have a central regulatory agency, then I would trust the lab results from various CBD companies more.
We are also still in limbo waiting for the FDA to make a statement on the legality of CBD in various forms (for example, will CBD be allowed in edibles) and how they might be regulated. Will the FDA make testing required and provide universal rules to the entire market? I hope so, but we will have to wait and see what they come up with. Until that happens, the most telling certification for a quality lab appears to be ISO accreditation. If the lab used is ISO certified, then the data they produce for CBD products is most likely legitimate.
You also recently published another blog on how CBD works (3). What is the biggest misconception about CBD use?
Flohrschutz: From a pharmacological point of view, one of the biggest misconceptions is that CBD is a strong CB2 agonist and CB1 antagonist (that is, activating CB2 and inhibiting CB1). The major thought now is that CBD does not act on CB2 at any physiologically relevant levels (although more work is ongoing and this “fact'' may change), meaning we can activate CB2 receptors in the lab with CBD, but at levels much higher than seen in the body. We also do not think CBD is a CB1 antagonist; the major model now calls CBD a negative allosteric modulator at CB1, meaning CBD is not directly turning the CB1 activity off, but it is affecting it in such a way to make it harder to turn on.
From a medicinal point of view, many people claim CBD can cure everything from Parkinson’s to depression. Other people state CBD is all placebo and does not actually do anything. In reality, the truth is actually somewhere in the middle. We do have an FDA approved drug called Epidiolex (>99% pure CBD) for certain seizure disorders, and many other clinical trials are ongoing using CBD for pain, anxiety, addiction, and more (4). So, we do know it is good for something and it appears to be helpful for alleviating the symptoms of various ailments, but a magical cure-all CBD is not.
Have you seen an uptick in interest for other cannabinoids such as CBG?
Flohrschutz: CBG and CBN are two cannabinoids we have heard the most buzz about (although a recent journal article started some talk about THCP). Although all of the molecules are cannabinoids they can function very differently and finding the best therapeutic potential for each of these compounds is ongoing.
Although the scientific literature is lacking, anecdotal evidence suggests CBN can be a potent relaxing sedative, which is great because sleep is a major issue for many adults. CBG is thought to be good for pain and inflammation as well as potential to help with anxiety. We will undoubtedly see more products highlight some of the “trace” cannabinoids and have more craft products using these compounds as more advanced farming and research is done.