FDA Warns Curaleaf About Marketing of CBD Products

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning a large cannabis company to stop making unsubstantiated claims that its products can treat chronic pain, cancer, opioid withdrawal and other medical conditions.

An FDA warning letter was sent to Curaleaf, a Massachusetts-based company that sells cannabidiol (CBD) products online and in stores, and operates dispensaries in a dozen states. CVS Health responded to the FDA letter by pulling some Curaleaf products off its store shelves.

“Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims — such as claims that CBD products can treat serious diseases and conditions — can put patients and consumers at risk by leading them to put off important medical care. Additionally, there are many unanswered questions about the science, safety, effectiveness and quality of unapproved products containing CBD,” acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, MD, said in a statement. “Consumers should beware of purchasing or using any such products.”

Curaleaf, which claims to be the largest cannabis operator in the United States, makes an extensive line of CBD lotions, creams, oils and skin patches.

It recently began marketing a line of CBD products for pets to treat pain, spasms, anxiety and inflammation in animals.

The FDA’s warning letter to Curaleaf cited a number of unapproved marketing claims made by the company online and in social media, including:

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  • “CBD was effective in killing human breast cancer cells.”

  • “CBD has been linked to the effective treatment of Alzheimer’s disease…”

  • “CBD is being adopted more and more as a natural alternative to pharmaceutical-grade treatments for depression and anxiety.”

  • “CBD can also be used in conjunction with opioid medications, and a number of studies have demonstrated that CBD can in fact reduce the severity of opioid-related withdrawal and lessen the buildup of tolerance.”

  • “CBD oil is becoming a popular, all-natural source of relief used to address the symptoms of many common conditions, such as chronic pain, anxiety … ADHD.”

The FDA gave Curaleaf 15 working days to respond. Failure to correct the violations could result in legal action, including seizure of the company’s products.

“Curaleaf is committed to the highest standards of quality and compliance, and will work collaboratively with the FDA to resolve all issues addressed in the agency's letter,” the company said in a statement.

“Compliance is a top priority for Curaleaf and the Company is fully committed to complying with FDA requirements for all of the products that it markets. We can affirm that nothing in the letter raises any issues concerning the quality and consistency of any Curaleaf product or calls into question the high safety standards of the Company's cultivation and manufacturing processes.”

CBD Products Loosely Regulated

Unlike prescription drugs approved by the FDA, the manufacturing process for CBD products is not subject to FDA review, and there has been no FDA evaluation of their effectiveness, proper dosage, how they could interact with drugs, or whether they have side effects.

Despite the lack of regulatory oversight, there has been explosive growth for CBD companies and their products are starting to appear in mainstream stores. In March, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens started selling CBD lotions, tinctures, edibles and lozenges — including some made by Curaleaf.

“The only Curaleaf products we are selling are its CBD lotion and CBD transdermal patches,” CVS said in a statement. “Following the FDA’s warning letter to Curaleaf, we will be removing these items from our CBD offering.”  

The FDA sent similar warning letters to three cannabis operators in April. Until now, the enforcement actions have been sporadic and only targeted small companies.

“We will continue to work to protect the health and safety of American consumers from products that are being marketed in violation of the law through actions like those the FDA is taking today. At the same time, we also recognize the potential opportunities and significant interest in drug and other consumer products containing CBD,” said FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy, MD.

“We understand this is an important national issue with public health impact and of interest to American hemp farmers and many other stakeholders. The agency has a well-established pathway for drug development and drug approvals, and we remain committed to evaluating the agency’s regulatory policies related to other types of CBD products.”

The FDA held a public hearing on the issue in May, and opened a docket for public comments to obtain scientific data about the safety, manufacturing, quality, marketing, labeling and sale of CBD products. Nearly 4,500 comments were received. The agency plans to report on its progress this fall.

This week Curaleaf announced it will acquire GR Companies, a large cannabis retailer, in a cash and stock deal valued at $875 million. Curaleaf said the purchase solidifies it’s position as “the world's largest cannabis company by revenue and the largest in the U.S. across key operating metrics.”