The ABCs of CBD: What you should know before buying in Michigan

College students Taylor Matt, 21, and Jordyn Bowman, 20, explore products at Mother Earth Natural Health in Shelby Township in Macomb County. The women had heard CBD might relieve anxiety and stress. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The shipping boxes arrive several times a week at Mother Earth Natural Health with trial products from suppliers trying to break into Michigan’s flourishing CBD business. 

Shop owner Arianna Welsh said she turns nearly all of them away, choosing to limit her stock to those oils, gummies, bath bombs, dog biscuits, coffee, soaps and smokables that are verified by independent lab testing. Sometimes, she said she even visits the processors, another step in building a quality inventory.

“I want to make sure my products aren’t being made in someone’s garage,” she told Bridge.

“What’s listed here,” she said, turning over a bottle of CBD vegan gummies  “needs to be inside.”

Hers is a legitimate concern.

CBD products now line the counters at Michigan gas stations, hair salons, video stores and even major retailers such as Kroger, with virtually no laws regulating what’s being sold. 

That leaves consumers to sort through health claims based on packaging, word-of-mouth testimonials, experimentation and ingredients labels that often turn out to be inaccurate.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) oversees production and licensing of industrial hemp, from which CBD is derived, but neither MDARD nor the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services tests CBD products to make sure the contents match the labels.

All of which leaves many health professionals a bit unsettled. 

“The brain is very complex — more complex than you can even imagine,” said Jed Magen, a practicing psychiatrist and chairman of the department of psychiatry in the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Michigan State University. With CBD, “there are no guarantees.” 

Here is a primer on what you should know about CBD before you buy:

CBD — What is it, and does it work?

CBD (short for cannabidiol) comes from the cannabis sativa plant and is promoted as a natural remedy for anxiety, insomnia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and pain, but without the intoxicating effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a separate cannabinoid within the cannabis plant that produces a marijuana  “high.”

There is no lack of testimonials about the health benefits of CBD for humans and pets. But research into risks and actual benefits is scant. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

Researchers hail the promise of CBD, but there have been no definitive, long-term studies confirming its benefits for these conditions. Most of the research to date has been on animals.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a single drug containing CBD for seizures. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, is conducting a clinical trial to examine CBD’s benefits in helping to treat post-traumatic stress disorder among military veterans.

Among the biggest shortcomings for consumers in evaluating CBD’s effectiveness: The ingredients in CBD products often don’t match the labeling.  

In 2017, testing on 84 CBD products, researchers found that labels on 26 of them — less than one-third — accurately reflected the contents, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study reflects products now more than two years old, but there’s no reason to believe labeling is any more accurate today, hemp experts, health professionals and CBD retailers told Bridge Magazine.

Jackie Petzold, a volunteer educator with iHemp Michigan, an industry group, says she’s spent about $1,000 of her own money testing products to find the right CBD oils to help her sleep and, she said, to help keep her melanoma from returning (A study on mice suggests CBD could help shrink tumors). 

Petzold said she began testing after taking one oil that sent her to the doctor with painful blisters under her tongue. She’s had about a dozen products tested, and about half of the time, she said, lab tests show what’s listed on the package is not precisely what’s in the bottle — results echoed in testing by media outlets and others.

“It’s everybody and their brother jumping on the CBD bandwagon, and it’s produced a kind of deceptive marketplace, which is unfortunate,” Petzold said. 

What are the risks?

The good news: Early research as well as countless consumer testimonials suggest CBD doesn’t carry significant risk to a healthy consumer using it in low doses, said Dr. Jamie Alan, formerly a practicing pharmacist and an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Human Medicine at MSU. She suggests talking with a medical provider or pharmacist.

“If you don’t have any risk factors, if your liver is fine, if it’s a low dose, if you’ve done your research, it’s fairly low risk with a reputable product, especially if you have intractable pain,” she said.

Dr. Mustafa “Mark” Hamed of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians said he needs to see more research before advising patients to use CBD. Meanwhile, he’d like to hear about their experiences with it. (Courtesy photo)

Exactly how CBD works is unclear, and that’s what makes doctors like Mustafa “Mark” Hamed nervous. The president-elect of Michigan Academy of Family Physicians practices in both in Detroit and Michigan’s Thumb, and he knows patients are snapping it up because CBD appears to have some benefits — something the American Academy of Family Physicians also noted in a recent position paper.

“I would be hard-pressed to tell a patient to go ahead and use it,” he said. 

“However if they’re going to use it, and they have no known contra-indicating medications or conditions with it, then I’d rather have them keep me in the loop on how it’s working for them [and any] side effects rather than not be informed.”

Is it legal in Michigan?

Yes — with limits.

The production of hemp has exploded this year in Michigan and elsewhere after it was made legal across the United States in the 2018 Farm Bill. Here, it is being readied for processing in a Detroit facility. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

The CBD market took off last December, after Congress approved the 2018 Farm Bill, which made it legal for U.S. farmers to grow hemp, the low-THC part of the cannabis plant from which CBD is derived. That has set off the scramble to set up regulation to make sure CBD products are safe. 

Michigan’s legislature this year approved changes in state laws for hemp production, creating a “big learning curve” for the state, said Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman for MDARD.

“They are growing this regulatory framework and infrastructure from the ground up — all in less than a year,” she said.

The FDA is still considering whether CBD will be regulated as a drug or a nutritional supplement. (A CBD product with more than 0.3 percent THC is regulated as a marijuana product under the federal Farm Bill. A product with 0.3 percent or less THC is regulated as industrial hemp.)

If CBD is treated as a drug, it will be subjected to rigorous scientific and medical review to ensure it works the way it’s supposed and that its health benefits outweigh risks for each approved use. Regulation would be tight and controlled, and CBD could not be legally added to food.

To date, the FDA has only approved one drug (Epidiolex) containing CBD, to treat seizures relating to two rare forms of epilepsy, and only after three randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials involving 516 patients.  

Other claims — that CBD treats Alzheimer’s disease, for example — aren’t backed by research. Products marketed as such remain illegal. Labeling CBD for pain relief also is illegal, Lowell Schiller, who oversees FDA’s development of regulations and guidance, told the National Industrial Hemp Council in August at its National Hemp Summit.

So far this year, the FDA has sent warning letters to six firms that market CBD products with medical claims, including one in Florida the FDA accused of advertising a CBD product to treat “inflammation and pain of teething, while also promoting sleepiness for your little one.”

“It’s a wild, wild west out there,” said Magen of MSU. “There are a lot of claims out there, but there’s no proof."

More than 40 years as a barber left Walter Sobocinski’s hands and knees throbbing by the end of many work days. CBD cream, he said, has muted the pain to tolerable levels once again. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

Walter Sobocinski, 67, was among the skeptics. 

But the throbbing in his knees and hands from working as a barber for more than 40 years finally drove him into a Mother Earth Natural Health store in Howell. He said he was determined to avoid the addiction of prescription painkillers or the high with medical marijuana. 

He began rubbing two CBD creams into his knees and hands each day after his morning shower. These days, he also keeps keeps two bottles next to his clippers at his Allen Park barber shop — a higher level CBD for his knees, and a second with a lower level for his hands.

“The damn stuff actually worked,” he said, chuckling. A $90 bottle of cream lasts about three months, “and it’s worth every dollar,” he said.
While CBD is treated as a FDA-approved drug for epilepsy, it is not heavily regulated for these off-label uses.

“We’re in this weird, contradictory area,” said Brandon Canfield, a chemistry professor at Northern Michigan University, which is offering one of the state’s first degrees in Medicinal Plant Chemistry.

Consumers are in a kind of “limbo,” caught between the need for safety assurances and the promise of CBD’s benefits. 

“As scientists,” Canfield said, “anecdotal evidence has no value. But if you’re the individual ‒ [and] the anecdote and the products work for you ‒ well, it works.”

If the FDA treats CBD as a nutritional supplement, with less oversight, that too carries risks. Researchers still aren’t clear just how CBD works, how its dosing or delivery system — smoking it versus eating a gummy, for example — may change its potency, or whether there are long-time risks.

On the other hand, relaxing oversight could allow CBD to be used in a more versatile range of products, such as a food additive in teas or coffees as researchers firm up the science behind it.

How do I choose the right product?

Arianna Welsh opened her first Mother Earth Natural Health store in New Haven with her brother, Tory, after their father said he found CBD relieved his aches from his job in construction.

Still, Welsh said, her business is “very careful not to make specific health claims.”

As a relatively nascent industry, the CBD market doesn’t yet have a gold standard that signals which products are high-quality and which are not, said Canfield, of NMU.  

Complicating matters further: Most CBD products have a very low-dose of THC, the stuff in cannabis that gives the user a “high.” But dispensaries can sell CBD products with higher THC, and some users have suggested that CBD might be more powerful with higher amounts of THC and other cannabinoids.

The results of quality testing on CBD products often is just a cellphone shot away. QR codes on packaging can take consumers directly to lab reports on the product. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

Many products carry QR codes which, when scanned by most smartphones, will give consumers the product’s Certificate of Analysis, or COA, which consumer advocates and others say provides unbiased, independent testing by an accredited laboratory.

If it’s not there, call the company.

What if you can’t reach the company? “If they don’t make themselves available to answer questions, run,” suggests Petzold, of Michigan iHemp. 

As the industry takes hold, so will regulations and better testing to make sure labels accurately reflect what’s inside the package, said Canfield of NMU.

For now, approach with skepticism any product that is not third-party tested, he said: “Anyone can stick a sticker on a bottle.”

How much should I take?

The first step is easy: If it’s a localized pain — arthritis in your hands, for example, a topical cream might do the trick. But if it’s something more systemic — insomnia, for example, CBD in a gummy might be the better option because it will be absorbed more systematically. 

The second part — finding the right dose, is a bit trickier. Start “low and slow” is the common mantra — low dosage, and slowly test out different products.

It’s a good idea, even if risks appear small with trying CBD, said Alan at MSU. While much is unknown about CBD, this much is clear: The exact same CDB product, after all, can affect one person differently than the next.

Proceed, she said, “with caution.”

What about vaping with CBD?

Given that the recent rash of respiratory illnesses associated with vaping has largely been linked to e-cigarette products with liquids that contain cannabinoid products, some experts say avoid them altogether.

“I’m cautious of all products given the recent data. I’d recommend against it given the question marks with vaping in general,” Alan, at MSU said.

Canfield agreed: “I’d just steer clear.”

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Thu, 10/31/2019 - 10:41am

Where are the FDA studies showing efficacy and safety of these products? Just asking since most Bridge readers are big fans of regulation.

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 11:34am

So you object to any regulation of what you put in your mouth? Freestyle digitalis anyone? Since THC is a designated as a schedule I 's drug, along with heroin, it is illegal for anyone to research it. It' s as reasonable as our Republicans' and the NRA forbidding the CDC to keep statistics on gun violence - as if no healthcare practitioner was affected by gun violence and data would be dangerous to us taxpayers. It annoys me that people are paying such large sums of money for an untested product . None of us know what's in it and they are very few medical indications for CBD use, including a recent study disproving any benefit for anxiety or depression. But hey, Matt, it's a free country and we can't protect people from their own stupidity...except for motorcycle helmets, baby seats, locked gun closets, street drugs laced with Fentanyl, etc.

middle of the mit
Sat, 11/02/2019 - 12:19am

Why would you care if it wasn't?

Secondly, I am not sure if it can be. Why? The same reason there has only been one CBD drug approved by the FDA. It is a synthesized drug, just like all the others. You can not patent a natural product, nor can you claim it cures any disease. It may very well end up in the vitamin and supplement aisle. Those aren't regulated either.

[[The Patent Office has now issued new guidelines for its examiners in light of these rulings, though, and things may be changing. Previous standards for patenting naturally occurring compounds have been tightened up – if I’m reading this correctly, no longer is the process of isolation and purification itself seen as enough of a modification to make a case for patentability. The four “judicial exception” categories, to be used in patentability decisions, are (1) abstract ideas, (2) laws of nature, (3) natural phenomena, and (4) natural products. And examiners are specifically asked to determine if a patent application’s claims recite something “significantly different” than these.
Here’s the blog of an IP firm that thinks that the USPTO has gone too far:]]

]]] Now we learn that grant of these and similar patents were mistakes, that 100 years of consistent practice in the field of patents was wrong, that what was invented was no more than products of nature without significant structural difference from the naturally-occurring materials, and that the USPTO will endeavour to avoid such mistakes in future. . .
. . .Whatever workable rule of law is derivable from Prometheus, it is apparent from the opinion of Justice Breyer that it was not the Court’s intention to bring about a radical change in pharmaceutical practice. The opinion gives a warning against undue breadth:
“The Court has recognized, however, that too broad an interpretation of this exclusionary principle could eviscerate patent law. For all inventions at some level embody, use, reflect, rest upon, or apply laws of nature, natural phenomena, or abstract ideas.”[[[

Until Pharmacorp synthesizes and then can patent. Yeah! Man made over natural!

What this article is telling me is that people aren't really trusting businesses and they are willing to spend money to find out if each and every thing in them is what the bottle says is in there. I understand that, but would you do that for a bottle of vitamins? Why do you think these businesses are out to defraud you when others are benevolent?

I understand that if you have had adverse side effects you would leery, but have you read the adverse side effects on the medication bottle you are taking? Maybe it's not for you. And for that I am sorry. But there a lot of people who are being helped by this product. Let the Feds and universities conduct testing. Or, they could go across the pond and get some results from others who have been testing for a while.

Don't shoot a good horse just because it kicked you off.

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 4:56am

Vitamins should be regulated.

middle of the mit
Tue, 11/05/2019 - 7:14pm

It literally does not matter whether you disagree or not. Those are facts and law. And how are you going to regulate vitamins? Are you now going to tell us that industry can not regulate itself?


I would very much like more regulation on industry. And fines for those that relax those regulations. But you want regulations on industries that use natural products.

I want regulations on products and industries that hurt nature and people.

We may be on different wave lengths.

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 11:31am

“The good news: Early research as well as countless consumer testimonials suggest CBD doesn’t carry significant risk to a healthy consumer using it in low doses, said Dr. Jamie Alan, formerly a practicing pharmacist and an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Human Medicine at MSU. She suggests talking with a medical provider or pharmacist.”
I think Robin Erb, the author of this report, needs to do more research. Start with this search: About this time last year researchers at the University of Indiana determined that CBD raises eye pressure enough to cause glaucoma.

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 2:55pm

Great article! I loooove cbd. Anyone interested in this stuff should definitely check out the book Everyday Roots. It teaches you how to replace all the toxic chemicals in your life with healthy organic alternatives. Its completely changed my life and how I feel everyday! :)

Heres a great review of everday roots:

Keep up the great content!

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 11:06am

To middle of the mitt: Who in their right mind would trust a corporation to do the right thing for the customer. Their raison d'etre is to pay the shareholders and buyer beware. People would pay $90 per ounce for dog doody if they were desperate and stupid enough. No, I do not trust an unregulated drug to contain what is on the label....because they so often don't. Consumer Labs is one site that does and you have to actually PAY for lab quality data.