As more and more states approve medical marijuana statutes, and two (Colorado and Washington) have even legalized recreational use of the herb, interest has grown in the plant among the herbal products community. Recently at Supply Side West Michael McGuffin, executive director of the American Herbal Products Association, gave a talk on medical marijuana regulation. And a California-based company prominently advertises its range of cannabidiol (CBD) products that it is hawking as ingredients for dietary supplements.
Cannabis, native to Central Asia, has a long history of use as an herbal medicine, dating back thousands of years in China and India. Its use came later in the West, but the plant was known by the 1600s, when it was recommended by an English clergyman as a treatment for depression. The plant only fell out of favor as a medicinal in the late 1800s as more potent synthetic drugs became available. And of course outlawing the plant outright in 1937 sent cannabis into the shadows from which it has only recently started to emerge.
Regulatory gray areas
As noted, chinks have started to appear in the regulatory armor pertaining to the plant. But more questions than answers still remain. For starters: What plant are we talking about here? There is some confusion about taxonomy; there’s cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and then there’s hemp (some like to say “industrial hemp”), a term applied to cannabis cultivars grown for fiber and/or high CBD content. These plants are said to very little to none of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive fraction of the plant.
“There is some confusion about the taxonomy. But they are all basically the same plant,” McGuffin told NutraIngredients-USA.
Confusing the issue is how the plant is categorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Marijuana itself is listed, as is tetrahydrocannabinol, which is defined as “THC, Delta-8 THC, Delta-9 THC, dronabinol and others.”
So, if CBD is refined from plants with little or no THC in them to start with, is this potentially a legal dietary ingredient?
“Originally I believed that they are not legal dietary ingredients,” said Roy Upton, executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. AHP is close to releasing a monograph on cannabis. “I thought anything derived from cannabis would not be legal. But if it came from hemp, that could provide a gray area for CBDs.
“But I can almost guarantee that any company wanting to use CBDs would have to file a New Dietary Ingredient notification, because CBDs were not in the food supply in 1994,” Upton said.
Tom Murphy, spokesman of the Hemp Industries Association, was unequivocal: All extracted resins of the cannabis plant are Schedule 1 substances and so off limits for use as dietary supplements.
Those concerns haven’t fazed Christopher Boucher, vice president of US Hemp Oil, which was prominently advertising its CBD fractions at Supply Side West last week in Las Vegas. Boucher believes his company’s CBD is a legal dietary ingredient, as it is derived from “industrial hemp” and is classified as a vegetable under import guidelines.
“I believe that is it a supplement ingredient. The pure oil is considered GRAS. Under the United States Uniform Tariff Code they tax and code hemp as a vegetable. I don’t know anything that’s a vegetable that isn’t GRAS. When we import it, it is always considered a vegetable, so that’s what we use in our declaratory actions,” he said.
Boucher is not alone in that determination; in March Canadian company Abattis announced plans to bring a CBD-infused kombucha drink to market.
At Supply Side West, Boucher was showing three different varieties of CBD extracts, that ranged from a liquid to a thick paste approaching a solid. The ingredient, with its antioxidant properties, would be suitable for an anti-aging supplement, Boucher said.
Perhaps aiding Boucher’s position is what McGuffin called the growing acceptance of hemp as an industrial crop. A recent Senate bill sponsored by Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul proposed legalizing the growing of the crop for those purposes, McGuffin said. And Boucher said US Hemp Oil is investigating starting domestic production in southern Colorado.