Drinks with CBD: Are they safe and are they legal?

A diagram of the cannabidiol molecule which was identified in 1940 and isolated in 1963.
A diagram of the cannabidiol molecule which was identified in 1940 and isolated in 1963.

This article, Drinks with CBD: Are they safe and are they legal?, originally appeared on CNET.com.

CBD: It can cure migraines, eliminate anxiety, help you sleep at night and even prevent cognitive decline — or so the manufacturers of CBD-infused food and drinks say. The FDA, on the other hand, is not so sure.

As CBD continues to gain popularity as the ostensible token to perfect health, more and more startups are producing their own versions of CBD seltzers, snack bars, chocolates and gummies. While these CBD-infused products might taste good, without FDA approval as a food ingredient, there’s no way to truly know if what you’re consuming is safe — or if the product label is even accurate.

Here’s what you should know about those CBD beverages and snacks you might see at your local drug store or supermarket.

This story discusses substances that are legal in some places but not in others and is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You shouldn’t do things that are illegal — this story does not endorse or encourage illegal drug use.

What is CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, a chemical compound that comes from the cannabis plant. It’s not the only cannabinoid — scientists know of more than 100 compounds from the cannabinoid family — but it certainly seems to be the most popular. Other than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, of course: the one that provides a “high.”

You can now find CBD in all sorts of beverages, from soda and coffee to tea and beer.

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Read more: What is CBD, how does it work inside our bodies, and what are the benefits?

Why do companies put CBD in food and drinks?

After the 2018 US Farm Bill made hemp farming legal as long as plants contain less than 0.3% THC, products with CBD began flooding both virtual and brick-and-mortar shelves. Tinctures, capsules, snack bars, beverages, body oils, pain-relief salves and more — all infused with CBD — soared in popularity.

CBD became so popular because of its purported health benefits. Here are some of the claims:

  • Increased focus and productivity
  • Decreased anxiety; increased relaxation
  • Pain relief
  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Healthier alternative to alcohol
  • Helps overcome smoking and drug addiction
  • Clears up acne breakouts
  • Reduces muscle soreness
  • Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
  • Protects against cancer
  • Improves sleep

As you may have picked up yourself, some of those claims sound pretty outrageous. Well, as it turns out, there’s very little — and in some cases, zero — valid scientific evidence to support them.

Despite that, companies are aware of consumers’ desire for natural, plant-based remedies to health concerns like anxiety and insomnia. And so CBD-infused food and drinks became a thing.

Read more: Yes, using CBD products can make you fail a drug test

Orally ingesting CBD may be more dangerous than people think.

Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt /AFP/Getty Images

Are CBD foods and drinks safe?

As of yet, there is no definitive answer as to whether it’s safe to consume CBD. And because there’s no definitive answer, the FDA’s stance on CBD as a food additive is just plain “no.”

The FDA has only approved one CBD product for oral consumption, — a prescription-only drug to treat two rare and serious forms of epilepsy. CBD is not approved as a food additive, and it’s illegal to market any food products or dietary supplements with CBD. This includes the oodles of CBD-infused seltzers that have become so popular in the last couple of years,

The FDA has taken this stance on CBD food and drinks because there’s a lack of scientific data on whether or not CBD is safe to consume. The agency says it’s only seen limited data and the data that does exist actually “point to real risks that need to be considered before taking CBD for any reason.” Health officials are concerned that CBD has long-term health effects that might not show symptoms for years, and thus the FDA has not added it to the “generally recognized as safe” list of food additives.

What’s more, because CBD is currently a relatively unregulated ingredient (other than, you know, the fact that it’s illegal to market), some products make health and medical claims that may not be true and may use ingredients of unknown quality.

The bottom line: CBD food and drinks are not known to be safe, and consuming them before there’s valid data available could result in health complications later in life.

Some health issues that the FDA is worried about include:

  • Liver injury
  • Male reproductive issues
  • Unsafe interactions with other drugs and medications
  • Pregnancy
  • and childbirth complications

Read more: Is CBD safe for pets?

Adding CBD oil to drinks isn’t proven to be safe, and is currently illegal under the FDA’s rules.

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Are CBD drinks legal?

Just to clarify: No. CBD is illegal in foods, drinks, capsules, ingestible oils and any other form of consumable product. Until the FDA adds CBD to the “generally recognized as safe” list, it will remain illegal to market and sell CBD-infused products as foods, drinks and supplements.

In 2019 alone, the FDA sent warning letters to more than 20 companies selling CBD products, demanding that they remove or remedy their various health and medical claims. Despite all this, CBD companies and industry experts don’t expect CBD products to go anywhere.

As for the legality of CBD ointments, topical oils and other products — as well as the geographical legality of CBD — well, it’s all a big, fuzzy gray area.

Read more: CBD-infused activewear doesn’t have science on its side — yet

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

Amanda Capritto CNET