“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” ― Heraclitus Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher who lived around 500 B.C., spoke of the always-changing world. Because of his interest in wordplay, he was called “The Obscure”. So his most famous quote reflects the nature of obscure, “not discovered or known about; uncertain”. Today’s evolving discussions around cannabis, hemp, and CBD certainly fall into the category of obscure. Especially in the way that consumers, companies and the government approach the subject. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The current head of the Department of Health and Human Services is Alex Azar, sworn in by President Trump in January of 2018. The FDA Commissioner is Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D who has served on the post since February of 2018. These two gentlemen, especially FDA Commissioner Giroir, have the task of sorting through what the legalization of hemp and as a result CBD means to consumers and hemp producers. Needless to say, the explosion of CBD on the market has forced them to work out quickly what that means.
Hemp Regulation and the FDA
With the ongoing back and forth by the FDA on the regulation of CBD, it is important to keep things in perspective. For those of us living in the CBD world—both consumers and producers—this can be challenging at times. Part of keeping things in perspective means looking at them in context. “Context” in this situation means looking at where the hemp/CBD industry is in the context of history. It also means looking at CBD products in the context of other products. By looking at the challenges and triumphs of products that are similar to hemp and CBD in some respects, we can see how they came into their own. But first, let’s begin with the lessons of history.
CBD and Hemp in the Context of Time
The way that humans have used cannabis throughout the centuries has changed. However, it is important to note that the use of cannabis and hemp are not new to the human experience. It is only recently that science and research have started to catch up with what people seemed to have known for 1000s of years.
Timeline of the Changing and Expanded Use of Cannabis
10,000 years ago, it was used as a cord in pottery in the area of modern-day Taiwan. That is really a seriously long time ago. Think saber-tooth tiger and woolly mammoth long time ago. 8,000 years ago, cannabis seeds and oil were used in food in China. Did you know that hemp seeds are a great source of protein? More than 25% of their total calories are from high-quality protein—comparable to beef and lamb. 6,000 years ago, textiles made of hemp were used in both China and Turkestan. 5,000 years ago saw the first recorded use of cannabis as medicine in China. So thousands of years before man even knew anything about the body’s endocannabinoid system, cannabis, CBD and the other 100 plus cannabinoids, was observed to influence the human body. 4,000 years ago, cannabis is used medicinally and ritualistically in India. 3,500 years ago cannabis is cultivated in China for food and fiber. 2,000 years ago, cannabis is used as an intoxicant. In the millennia since, the use of cannabis spread from Asia throughout the world. Its uses have broadened to include such things as paper, plastics, and as a painkiller.
The Changing Legal Status of Cannabis
For most of history, there was no distinction between the two types of cannabis we discuss today—hemp and marijuana. There was basically just three different types of hemp—Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. It wasn’t until the 20th Century, with the influx us Mexican immigrants in the US, that the Spanish word marijuana even came into use in the US. Prior to that, it was simply known as cannabis or hemp. That all changed in the 1930s when Henry Anslinger began using the term marijuana to strike fear into the hearts of Americans. This was done as part of a public relations campaign to demonize cannabis and hemp. It ultimately resulted in the sale and use of cannabis—marijuana and hemp alike—becoming illegal. And so it was that cannabis, a.k.a. hemp a.k.a. marijuana became an outlaw. This was a big change for a plant that had been used for every purpose from medicine to food, to rope, and even for paying taxes in early America. It was not until December of 2018, with the passage of the Farm Bill, that its legal status changed again. With the Farm Bill came the legal distinction between hemp and marijuana. Hemp was now defined as cannabis containing 0.3% or less THC. THC is the cannabinoid that causes the “high”. Legally, marijuana is any cannabis plant with above 0.3% THC, though most are much higher with the average being between 10 and 12%.
The Changing Cannabis Plant
Even the cannabis plant itself has changed. Where we once referred to three types of cannabis plants—Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis—there are now literally hundreds. Like the wolf that has become a dachshund and hundreds of other breeds, cannabis too has evolved. Thanks to genetics and cross-breeding, there are plants with higher levels of some cannabinoids like CBD and CBG and lower levels of others, like THC. The result has been that some cannabis plants that look like “pot” are actually hemp, containing less than .3% THC. This has made the job of law enforcement tougher than ever in places where hemp is legal but marijuana is not.
The Farm Bill of 2018 represented a huge victory for the many individuals who had been battling to legally use hemp products containing CBD and all of its natural components. Since that time, the FDA and FTC have been working out how the hemp industry and its products fit into their overall mission. That mission being the protection of public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. This is an important mission to be sure. It is a mission fully supported by Fusion CBD and all honest hemp farmers and consumers. Where it gets challenging is when the agency potentially overreaches in the name of “protecting” the public. Such was the case when last month the FDA announced a new public guidance. The U.S. Hemp Roundtable responded on their website that the guidance “severely overstates the health risks of hemp-derived CBD and that ignores much of the scientific evidence of CBD’s safety, in particular at dosage levels typically found in foods and dietary supplements.” “Further, without sufficient scrutiny or public input, the FDA makes a broad statement that it cannot conclude that CBD is generally recognized as safe (GRAS), undermining its status as a food ingredient.” “Combined with the FDA’s continued delay in sharing its long-promised timetable for regulatory action, yesterday’s announcements raise significant concerns for us the Roundtable. We will be discussing the next steps with our allies on Capitol Hill and will be sharing with you shortly a plan for political action.” – US Hemp Roundtable
This Too Shall Come to Pass
If it is any comfort, there have been plenty of beneficial products and ideas that have been fought or ignored to one degree or another throughout history—some of them in the not-too-distant past. In the coming article, we will discuss the challenges and victories of some of them.
Disclaimer: The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your health care professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.