Canadian health committee urges government support for CBD research

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A Canadian health committee called on government to support studies that will more broadly look at CBD’s potential as a wellness aid while ensuring consumer safety.

Stressing that a lack of consistent data makes it difficult to draw concrete conclusions and recommendations for CBD, the Canadian Government’s Science Advisory Committee urged backing for “high-quality clinical research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis, CBD and other phytocannabinoids.”

The analysis comes in a recently released report on CBD sought by the country’s main health authority, Health Canada, and is intended to guide rulemaking.

The Committee started studying the advisability of allowing CBD products to be purchased over-the-counter without a prescription in 2019. 

Reining in health claims

The advisory group unanimously agreed CBD may be effective for the short-term treatment of common afflictions, is not habit-forming and is therefore safe and tolerable for short-term use up to a maximum of 30 days without oversight from a doctor or nurse practitioner.

But the report said CBD should not be promoted as a therapy for reducing consumption of opioids or alcohol as there are no definitive studies that indicate its effectiveness in addressing those conditions. Also, clinical evidence is lacking to support the claim of many producers that CBD-based products promote sleep or relieve pain, the committee found.

Government policy prohibits both product packaging and retailers from making specific health claims regarding CBD. But a 2021 study of more than 2,000 CBD products sold through 70 websites found sellers often promote CBD as a natural wellness solution to many health problems. The study also found that 53% of products made health claims for a total 171 medical conditions on their packaging.

Potential market

CBD remains a controlled substance in Canada, regulated in a manner similar to high-THC marijuana, but combined licensed and unlicensed sales indicate the market could reach CAD $2 billion (US $1.5 billion) and grow at a rate of 7% per year if the compound were regulated as an over-the-counter health product, the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) estimated earlier this year.

Federal regulations in Canada now limit CBD sales to provincially licensed dispensaries that specialize in marijuana products. But illicit sales outside of that channel are common, and have drawn little reaction from public health and law authorities.

“While our goal is to support consumer access to safe products, we also need to consider knowledge gaps and public health risks,” the report advises.

The Science Advisory Committee also recommended:

  • Daily consumption of CBD taken orally be set at a dosage ranging from 20-200 milligrams per day for healthy adults, who should discuss the potential effects of combining CBD, medicines and other substances with their pharmacist.
  • CBD should not be used by women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy, by breastfeeding mothers, or by those who have allergies or hypersensitivity to cannabis, cannabinoids, or any substances which may be present in products as a result of the manufacturing process.
  • CBD products should have clear dosing instructions and warnings of potential side effects, should carry statements on potential interactions between cannabidiol and other drugs or alcohol, and be packaged in boxes containing informational inserts in each sales unit.
  • Multiple, easy-to-use channels should be established so that consumers can easily report adverse reactions that result from using a CBD product. 
  • CBD may be administered to dogs orally twice daily, but only at very low doses between 0.2-2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. No recommendation was made on using CBD on cats, due to a lack of available research, the committee said.
  • Owners should consult a veterinarian prior to administering CBD to their pets.
  • Pet products should also be boxed and include informational inserts. Labels should state that the product should only be used if a veterinarian has diagnosed the animal’s condition and discussed risks and benefits with the owner.
  • Public education efforts about CBD should be carried out.

Striking a balance

“We recognize that while these recommendations may not meet the perceived needs of all stakeholders, we feel that our recommendations strike a balance between safety and accessibility,” the Committee said.

Health Canada should review the Committee’s CBD recommendations on a regular basis as research expands in Canada and internationally, the report concludes.

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