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Dietary Supplement

The term “dietary supplement” refers to a wide array of products one might take to improve their health and well-being. Chances are good you’re already taking supplements yourself: vitamins, minerals, botanicals, enzymes, amino acids, metabolites, and precursors are all dietary supplements. The category is already enormously broad, and as science continues to learn more about different compounds, it just keeps growing. 

True to their name, dietary supplements are meant to supplement one’s existing diet and exercise routine, often by providing nutrients or enzymes hard to obtain otherwise. 

Any of this sound familiar? If you think about it, cannabis compounds like THC and CBD are supplemental in many ways - they supplement the endocannabinoid system (and other important systems) with nutrients that are hard to get from other sources. 

This concept has led many to wonder if CBD oil should be (or already is) classified similarly. It’s surprisingly hard to know for sure, but here are the details.

Is CBD a Dietary Supplement?

So...is CBD a dietary supplement? 

It depends on who you ask. 

The FDA says no. In a December 2018 statement, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb they argued that it was “unlawful under the [Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act] to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce, or to market CBD or THC products as, or in, dietary supplements, regardless of whether the substances are hemp-derived.”

The Agency’s been considering changing its stance since then — but, as is often the case with government regulators, change tends to happen slowly.  

And in the meantime there’s plenty of legal persecution to do. In many of its warning letters to CBD companies, the FDA makes their case by highlighting how CBD is not a dietary supplement, precisely because the FDCA’s definition of the term excludes substances being investigated or approved as pharmaceutical drugs. Insulin, for example, is not a dietary supplement, and neither are chemotherapy medicines. The FDA continues to insist that CBD falls into this same category. 

FDA vs. HR 5587

But are they right to do so? Perhaps time will tell. In January of 2020 a new bill called HR 5587 was introduced in the House of Representatives. This bill seeks to place CBD more firmly into the supplemental category by “[amending] the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act [(FDCA)] with respect to the regulation of hemp-derived cannabidiol and hemp-derived cannabidiol containing substances.”

Sounds pretty reasonable to us. If CBD were to become classified as a dietary supplement it would greatly benefit the hemp industry, both by easing certain restrictions and by introducing important new guidelines. 

Besides, the FDA’s current interpretation of things seems almost antagonistic to the spirit of 2018’s Federal Farm Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel agrees, arguing that the #HempFarmBill he helped pass was intended to avoid this type of legal quandary in the first place. To him, HR 5587 effectively serves an amendment. 

“I’m confident H.R. 5587 will be another step in the right direction for industrial hemp,” said a fellow Kentuckian lawmaker, Senator Thomas Massie. Hemp has triggered quite the revitalization in his home state; indeed, this bill would make the processing, marketing, and selling of that hemp much easier. 

CBD Standards = Supplement Standards!

Here’s the funny thing about all this: CBD manufacturers are already treating their products like dietary supplements. Think of all the things we’ve come to expect from premium CBD...accurate labeling, independent lab testing, the absence of outrageous health claims, the presence of that mandatory FDA disclaimer. All of these characteristics are right out of dietary-supplement world. 

If the FDA is prompted — perhaps by HR 5587, perhaps by pressure from the public — to relent from its current interpretation of things, we’ll see the hemp industry continue to evolve and mature. The CBD brands that aren’t yet acting like responsible supplement manufacturers will have to make some changes; the brands that are will have an easier time marketing themselves as such. So here’s to hoping for continued progress!