The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters to four companies illegally selling unapproved animal drugs containing cannabidiol (CBD) that are intended for use in food-producing animals. The companies include Haniel Concepts dba Free State Oils, Hope Botanicals, Plantacea LLC dba Kahm CBD and Kingdom Harvest. While the FDA does not know the current extent of CBD use in food-producing animals, the agency is taking steps regarding these unapproved and potentially unsafe products now to help protect animals and the safety of the food supply.
Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, any product intended to treat a disease or otherwise have a therapeutic or medical use, and any product (other than a food) that is intended to affect the structure or function of the body of humans or animals, is a drug. The FDA has not approved any human or animal products containing CBD other than one prescription drug product to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy in children. Therefore, all other CBD products intended for use as a drug are considered unapproved drugs and are illegal to sell. Some of the claims made by the companies in the warning letters refer to helping “farm animals with stress, anxiety, pain, inflammation, injuries…” and providing “support to help manage normal stress, promote a calming effect, maintain a healthy gut, maintain a normal and balanced behavior, maintain healthy joints, maintain a normal inflammatory response….” These claims, among others, establish the intended use of the products as drugs.
Unapproved drugs like these CBD products have not been evaluated by the FDA to determine whether they are effective for their intended use, what the proper dosage might be, how the products could interact with FDA-approved drugs, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.
The FDA is concerned about these CBD products for food-producing animals not only because CBD could pose a safety risk for the animals themselves, but also because of lack of data about the safety of the human food products (meat, milk and eggs) from the animals that have consumed these CBD products.
After a food-producing animal is treated with a drug, residues of that drug may be present in the milk, eggs, or meat if the animal is milked, eggs are collected, or the animal is sent to slaughter before the drug is completely out of its system. Part of the animal drug approval process includes setting a withdrawal period to establish the minimum amount of time between the last dose of a drug and the slaughter or harvesting of food products from the treated animals. Since CBD is an unapproved drug, the FDA has not had the opportunity to evaluate CBD residues in food or to establish an appropriate withdrawal period.
To date, there is a lack of data on the residues that may result when food-producing animals consume CBD products. There is also a lack of data on what levels of potential residues are safe for a person consuming the foods that come from CBD-treated animals. In addition, the manufacturing processes of unapproved CBD drug products have not been reviewed by the FDA as part of the human or animal drug approval processes. The FDA has received reports of some CBD products containing contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals, thus introducing additional concerns for the use of CBD products.
The FDA is also concerned that consumers may postpone seeking professional medical care for their animals, such as getting a proper diagnosis, treatment and supportive care, because they are relying on unproven claims associated with unapproved CBD products. Many of the products marketed by the four companies that received warning letters made claims about alleviating anxiety. Anxiety in animals can be a signal of a range of medical conditions requiring veterinary care from a licensed professional. This is why it is critical that consumers talk to a health care professional about the best way to treat medical conditions using approved treatment options that have been proven to be safe and effective.
In addition to the CBD products marketed for food-producing animals, Free State Oils, Hope Botanicals, Kahm CBD and Kingdom Harvest also sell CBD-containing unapproved new drugs for humans and adulterated human foods. Some of the products were also marketed as dietary supplements even though CBD-containing products do not meet the definition of a dietary supplement. These products include oils, creams, extracts, salves, and gummies.
The FDA has requested responses from the companies within 15 working days stating how they will address these violations and prevent their recurrence. Failure to promptly address the violations may result in legal action, including product seizure and/or injunction.