6 Things to Know Before Buying a Hemp Product
Maybe you're curious enough to try hemp lotion or hemp milk. But you might be surprised at the variety of other hemp products that are available — gummies, bronzer, coffee filters, milk, socks, seeds, and soap, to name a few. You can even get a yoga mat made of hemp. And don't forget the hemp oil and hemp chew toys for your pet.
Hemp products have become extremely popular recently. They are available online and in many retail stores. But in the United States, the market for hemp products is relatively new and the laws are confusing — often differing from state to state and conflicting between state and federal.1 So it can be difficult to know when a hemp product is safe and legal. And if you're not looking to get high on hemp gummies, then you'll want to be sure of their ingredients.
Before you buy, use these tips to become a savvy consumer in the hemp marketplace.
1. Things aren't always what they seem
A hemp product’s label might not accurately reflect what's in it. Commercial hemp should have only a negligible amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana. Although hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, they are different varieties. Because hemp contains very little or no THC, hemp products don't have any psychoactive effect.
In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) purchased and tested 24 products labeled as hemp or labeled as a component of hemp called cannabidiol (CBD). A majority of the products were found to be mislabeled. Only two of the products tested met their label claim.2
In 2017, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) tested 84 hemp products and found that only 26 were accurately labeled and met their claims.2 In both studies, many of the products tested had unlabeled amounts of THC. Some products tested had THC levels high enough to cause impairment or a positive drug test. True commercial grade hemp should always contain less than 0.3% THC.
These study results suggest that many products labeled as hemp might not be what they appear to be.3
2. Steer clear of CBD
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a natural component of hemp, one of approximately 80 naturally occurring compounds called phytocannabinoids (THC is the best known one). The FDA considers CBD to be a drug.2 In most places, hemp products fortified with added CBD are not legal. Don't buy any purported hemp product labeled as:
- Cannabidiol or CBD
- Purified CBD
- Standardized for CBD content
- Enriched with CBD
What's more, these products are very likely to be mislabeled and actually contain THC.2
3. Be wary of U.S.-grown hemp4
Normally, "Made in the USA" is a great way to assure quality — but that's not yet true for hemp. In 1970, the U.S. Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which outlawed the growing and selling of both hemp and marijuana.
However, the 2014 federal Farm Bill now allows universities and state agricultural departments to grow industrial hemp for limited purposes, such as research. But consumers still can't tell if a product made from U.S.-grown plants is made from hemp or from marijuana.
Until stricter controls are enforced for hemp growing and processing in the United States, it is better to buy hemp products that contain industrial hemp extracts sourced from established overseas suppliers, particularly those grown in Europe.
4. Choose products made from hemp grown in Europe
Europe has a long history of growing hemp for industrial purposes, such as for fiber, protein, oil, and more. The European hemp industry is well-regulated and very mature, with established standards and rigorous product testing.5 A European hemp product imported into the United States is only legally allowed if it has 0.3% or less THC content.6
5. Look for organic and eco-farmed hemp
While the U.S. hemp industry is still developing, states that allow cultivation have sent warning letters to growers about the use of unauthorized pesticides. At least one hemp product was recalled because it contained unsafe pesticide levels.7
Even European sources aren't always clean. A recent study examining hemp products in Europe found that only one-third of them were free of dangerous environmental contaminants like benzopyrene.8
So choose hemp products certified as organic or eco-farmed. Think of eco-farming as "organic plus." Eco-farming growers must follow ecologically friendly practices, like not using recycled sewage and testing for melamine and other contaminants.
6. Buy a reputable brand
Finally, when buying any dietary supplement, choose a brand that you trust. Examine the label and look for a company that follows strict current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). Buy hemp products from companies that have been in business for a while and hold certifications from outside agencies like NSF International.
- Mead A. The legal status of cannabis (marijuana) and cannabidiol (CBD) under U.S. law. Epilepsy Behav 2017;70(Pt B):149-153.
- https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm484109.htm [Accessed 3.8.18]
- Bonn-Miller M, Loflin M, Thomas B, et al. Labeling accuracy of cannabidiol extracts sold online. JAMA 2017;318(17):1708-1709.
- https://www.projectcbd.org/about/cannabis-facts/sourcing-cbd-marijuana-industrial-hemp-vagaries-federal-law [Accessed 3.27.18]
- Karus M, Vogt D. European hemp industry: Cultivation, processing and product lines. Euphytica 2004;140(1-2):7-12.
- Johnson R. Hemp as an agricultural commodity. Library of Congress Washington DC Congressional Research Service, 2014.
- https://www.denverpost.com/2017/11/03/tree-of-wellness-medical-pot-product-recall/ [Accessed 3.27.18)
- https://www.icci.science/en/article/news/warning-for-consumers-of-cbd-and-cannabis-oils-sold-on-the-eu-market/ [Accessed 3.8.18]