On March 28, the FDA issued a warning letter to Relievus, a chain of pain clinics operating in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, in response to their making “unsubstantiated claims…across multiple product webpages, online stores and social media websites.”
The FDA is primarily concerned with their making “egregious claims about their products’ ability to limit, treat or cure cancer, neurodegenerative conditions, autoimmune diseases, opioid use disorder, and other serious diseases, without sufficient evidence and the legally required FDA approval.”
In the “Health Benefits” section of the Relievus website, CBD was listed as a curative for almost everything under the sun. A few examples: “CBD is a potential treatment for psychosis.” “CBD improves the symptoms of schizophrenia.” “CBD may help with inflammatory bowel disease.” The list goes on.
The FDA also took issue with their section entitled “CBD for Dogs”, which claimed, among other things, to help improve cancer treatment and pain relief in dogs. These studies have yet to be conducted.
In response to the letter which excoriates every claim they made about CBD, Relievus president Young J. Lee has removed CBD products from his company’s website, stopped posting CBD ads on social media, and announced that he would stop the sales of CBD.
The case of Relievus is demonstrative of the structural limits with which this fast-growing industry is bound to collide. The claims made on Relievus’ website were far reaching and misleading, which might give false hope to those who might be suffering from debilitating ailments that do not have publicly available cures. With that being said, CBD has enormous potential as a medicine.
In an article published in the journal of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, scientists from the University of Salerno collected various studies about the possible applications of CBD. These scientists, led by Simona Pisanti, highlighted the therapeutic potential of CBD for neurological diseases and cancer. The studies are far ranging, and early evidence suggests that CBD may be useful to treat Alzheimer’s, nausea, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, depression, and more. Unfortunately the clinical studies that would confirm or deny these effects have yet to be conducted.
The Pisanti paper is likely the source Relievus referenced when they created their list of ailments that CBD could treat, if they referenced the current science at all.
CBD is already being used nationwide to aid those suffering from many of the ailments listed by the FDA. CBD remains the only cannabinoid derived from marijuana that is federally legal in any capacity. It has been approved to treat certain seizure disorders after a controlled clinical trial run by Britain-based GW pharmaceuticals. This approach, which is the only approach the federal government allows, benefits big pharma more than anyone else.
This approval, like so much of the legalization struggle, has ended up being counterproductive for many of the activists who fought for CBD. Because CBD is now an active ingredient in a federally approved drug, it cannot be added to a food that will be shipped in interstate commerce. Companies hoping to sell CBD supplements or foods nationwide must be wary of these limitations imposed by the FDA.
Some might consider this a good thing: it’s one of the few reasons why billion dollar companies like Coca-Cola haven’t begun selling CBD-Sprite or putting CBD into Popeye’s biscuits. Once it’s federally legal, there might not be much wiggle room in the market for smaller mom and pop businesses.
Relievus and other businesses like it will simply have to try and limit their business into their own state, away from the jurisdiction of the FDA, and maybe wait until the science is solidified before they advertise their product.