Consumers confused about CBD, survey finds

A flyer touts the availability of CBD products at a Whole Foods Market store.

If you’re a retailer considering selling private branded cannabidiol (CBD) products, you may have to devote more resources to educate consumers about such products. While demand for CBD products continues to be on the rise, new research from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has found that shoppers are still confused about what CBD is, what it does and whether such products are safe.

According to the organization’s research, six in 10 Americans are familiar with CBD, but they don’t have all the facts. For instance, four in 10 Americans (39%) erroneously believe that CBD is just another name for marijuana, and more than half incorrectly think it can make a person “high.” Two-thirds (66%) of Americans said they believe CBD is safe, however.

What’s more, with one in three Americans already using CBD, most (76%) assume that CBD products are subject to federal regulations and safety oversight when no such regulations currently exist. When informed of this fact, 82% of Americans expressed alarm, with 67% of those saying they were “extremely” or “very” concerned. Another 84% said that they were worried about the inconsistent regulations that could result from the current state-by-state patchwork system.

“It is the role of federal agencies to ensure a safe and transparent consumer marketplace — but the CBD market is currently the Wild West,” noted Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based GMA, which will become the Consumer Brands Association in January 2020. “Without a uniform federal regulatory framework in place, consumers lack the basic information they need to make informed decisions about CBD. GMA will build a broad-based coalition and lead an aggressive campaign to protect consumers by advancing regulatory clarity.”

Respondents to GMA’s survey said that they use CBD for a various reasons, most commonly for pain management (52%), stress or anxiety reduction (50%), and sleep issues (43%).

Seventy percent of respondents also said that they would have more confidence in the safety of CBD products if they were manufactured by large, well-known brands, as the respondents believe that well-known brands have more safety controls in place (55%), employ higher manufacturing standards (54%), would be more cautious to avoid brand damage (53%), and have more experience in making high-quality, consistent products (53%).

The CBD market is projected to be valued at $16 billion by 2025, according to Miriam Guggenheim, a Washington, D.C.-based food regulatory lawyer, who recently spoke at the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s 2019 Washington Conference. “And that’s despite the tremendous lack of clarity as to the legal status of these products,” Guggenheim added.

That lack of clarity has stopped a number of companies from entering the CBD market and others from beginning research and development on CBD products, Guggenheim noted. This is especially true in the food and beverage arena where the FDA has ruled that CBD can’t be used.

However, Guggenheim said the FDA is under tremendous pressure from Congress to enact federal guidelines that open the CBD market to food and beverage products. FDA stated earlier this year it would take three to five years to come up with guidelines, but Congress wants it done sooner.

“So the FDA is taking a hard look at it,” Guggenheim said. “But it’s possible the FDA could throw up its hands and say, ‘Congress, you have to figure this out.’ But I don’t think [that will happen].”