CVS And Walgreens Bet On Cannabis, Testing The Market And Responding To Consumer Demand For CBD
Cannabidiol, or CBD, seems to be everywhere these days. Trendy lunch spots are drizzling CBD oil on salads, bartenders and mixologists are adding it to cocktails, juice bars are adding it to their smoothies alongside wheatgrass and ginger, and coffee shops are adding it to their lattes. Even Bon Appetit is adding it to their arsenal of ingredients, promoting recipes like CBD Caramel Sauce, which they suggest serving “over ice cream, stirred into yogurt, or drizzled over a brownie or slice of pound cake.”
That’s a lot of hype for a compound that is one of more than a hundred cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, and for one that causes absolutely no psychoactive effects. After all, for decades, psychoactive effects have been what many cannabis users have sought, leading to strains that had been specifically bred to diminish the amount of naturally occurring CBD.
Product on display (Leef Organics) at the ECO Cannabis Oakland Grand Opening Media Event at ECO . [+] Cannabis on March 28, 2019 in Oakland, California. Photo: imageSPACE for ECO Cannabis/MediaPunch /IPX
Many people, though, have found CBD to be helpful in providing relief for a wide range of symptoms, including chronic pain, anxiety, inflammation, gut disorders, and neurological conditions. And last January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex, a CBD oral solution, as a treatment for seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.
While this application has been approved for a very specific and limited use, further research and clinical trials may lead to approval for other drugs and for other uses. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress removed hemp from the drug schedules outlined in the Controlled Substances Act, legalizing it under federal law. But even though this made CBD derived from hemp legal, it was still subject to FDA regulations when used in applications under the FDA’s purview. What this means, most notably, is that selling CBD as a food additive or dietary supplement gets tricky.
So how do companies respond to market demands while also not getting themselves crosswise with federal regulators?
We saw one solution recently, as the two biggest pharmacy chains in the United States decided that CBD was worth exploring. Both CVS and Walgreens announced – within days of each other – that they would begin selling hemp-derived CBD products in 2,300 stores between the two nationwide chains. While you won’t find the trendy CBD products listed above at these drugstores, their shelves will soon contain a variety of topical applications like creams, lotions, salves, patches, and sprays.
Let’s be clear here: this is a big step and a major development for the cannabis industry. The fact that nationally recognized brands are putting their weight behind cannabis-tangential products is almost certainly a harbinger of things to come – even if the complex reality of FDA regulations forces the drugstore chains to limit their CBD product lines to topical applications for practical and legal reasons.
In a December 20, 2018 statement after the signing of the Farm Bill, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb asserted as much, saying “It’s unlawful under the [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act] to introduce food or 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. This is because both CBD and THC are active ingredients in FDA-approved drugs and were the subject of substantial clinical investigations before they were marketed as foods or dietary supplements.”
This means that before we see these chains really double down on the new cannabis landscape, a new regulatory framework will have to be developed and implemented, providing guidance for what they can – and, importantly, what they can’t – do. We may still be a long way off from that framework coming into place, but as with other developments, it is encouraging to see a willingness to explore and take action where possible.
What we do know is that the demand is there. Until the regulations catch up, retailers looking to test the market may find lotions and salves to be a safer bet. And if consumers meet or exceed retailers’ projections, then we will almost certainly see other retailers follow suit.
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