Consumers Being Put at Risk and Misled with Some CBD Food Supplements

Thursday, 13 February 2020

A national survey of CBD products by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has found that the majority of products analysed were in breach of various articles of food law and some posed potential safety risks for consumers. The survey, published today, reveals that 37% of the products tested had a THC* content that could result in safety limits set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) being significantly exceeded and the implicated batches of these products are currently being recalled. In addition, it was found that the analytically determined CBD content in over 40% of samples varied significantly (>50%) from the declared CBD content. The implications of these results for consumers range from consumers being grossly misled to being put at risk by the ingestion of relatively high levels of THC. The majority of the 38 products tested from the Irish market were manufactured outside of the country. The FSAI is working with the Environmental Health Service of the HSE and the relevant food businesses in relation to the matter.

The survey found that 37% of the products tested contained levels of THC that significantly exceed the EFSA safety limit. This indicates a more widespread problem with THC content in these products that merits further investigation. While consumer safety is the priority, the undeclared presence of THC in these products can also pose a risk for drivers, as well as athletes who may be buying and consuming these products without knowing they contain a psychotropic substance.

This survey was undertaken by the FSAI due to the rapid and significant increase in the availability of these products on the market in Ireland, the EU and other parts of the world. Each product was analysed in the accredited Public Analyst’s Laboratory in Dublin from November to December 2019, using a validated test method.

The main findings of the survey found:

  • 37% (14/38) of the products tested had levels of THC that if consumed at the maximum stated dosage could significantly exceed the safe limit set by EFSA of 1µg/kg/body weight/per day. These are unsafe products.
  • 34% (13/38) of the samples are classified as novel foods and thus require authorisation before being placed on the EU market. These products should not be on the market.
  • 36% (13/36) of samples classed as food supplements had not been notified to the FSAI before being placed on the market, as required by the law. Many of those that had been notified also had issues to be addressed, such as notifying changes of labels.
  • 41% (15/37) of the products tested contained CBD levels which differed by >50% compared to the declared level (one product did not declare CBD levels). This rose to >92% of products where the analytical and declared CBD content differed by at least 10%. Some products had barely detectable levels of CBD.
  • 50% (19/38) made misleading claims including lactose free, gluten free, non-GMO, along with unauthorised health claims and some which may be considered medicinal claims.

According to Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO, FSAI it is difficult to estimate the number of these CBD-based products on the market in Ireland, as many of these food supplements which come from outside of Ireland have not been notified to the FSAI contrary to legal requirements and are traded online.

    “We carried out this survey to determine exactly how compliant these products are with EU and Irish food legislation. People consuming CBD products where the quality control is poor may not be getting what they are paying for and also could unwittingly be exposing themselves to psychoactive THC. Also of concern is that people consuming CBD products containing significantly high levels of THC could fail a drug test and the implicated batches of the products identified in the survey are now subject to a product recall. We are working with the Environmental Health Service of the HSE in relation to other products identified in the survey and further appropriate action will be taken.”

The FSAI is adopting a pragmatic approach in terms of how it is addressing the many regulatory issues highlighted in this survey, with consumer safety taking priority. This type of survey forms part of the FSAI’s proactive regime of surveys to ensure consumers are protected and food businesses comply with food law.

The survey as published today is available on the FSAI website. A food alert is also available on the FSAI website. For more information on the legal status of CBD oils and hemp oils, food businesses can see the FAQ.