Consumers Are Clueless About CBD

They don’t know if it’s illegal, federally regulated or even safe, a new survey finds.

February 25, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Even as the cannabidiol (CBD) market is exploding, consumers are showing an alarming lack of knowledge about the product, its safety, related laws and what it can or cannot do, reports the Consumer Brands Association, formerly Grocery Manufacturers of America.

A recent survey by the association found that while more than 6 in 10 of people surveyed (62%) have heard about CBD and one-third have purchased a CBD product, most lack basic knowledge about it.

Considering today’s inconsistent and contradictory state regulations and the lack of methodical testing and safety requirements for CBD, that’s not a surprise, according to a recently released 10-page report from the association.

Research found that the majority of respondents surveyed (92%) incorrectly assume or have no idea if federal consumer protections and safety oversight apply to CBD, and more than half of believe that CBD has the potential to intoxicate users. In addition, 92% of respondents incorrectly assume or have no idea if CBD is federally regulated.

Even some Americans who say they’re familiar with CBD aren’t clear about exactly what it is. Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) believe CBD is just another name for marijuana. In fact, CBD is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant and does not have the psychoactive properties of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that gives users the sensation of being “high.” Only 45% of those surveyed said that CBD does not intoxicate people who use it, while more than half (51%) said it does. An additional 18% believe CBD could be intoxicating if enough is consumed, and only 4% admitted they did not know.

Despite this lack of knowledge, many Americans are buying CBD products. The most common reason is pain management (52%) or to reduce stress or anxiety (50%). A significant number are also purchasing CBD as a sleep aid (43%). Nearly 1 in 4 consumers (24%) who purchased CBD products said they did so because they thought it would give them a high.

Most commonly, respondents said they purchased oils or tinctures (55%), foods (45%), skincare (44%) or vitamins or dietary supplements (39%). Where Americans purchase CBD products varies. The most common outlets are specialty shops (48%) and online (41%) outlets. About 3 in 10 have purchased from grocery stores (30%), pharmacies (29%) or convenience stores or gas stations (26%). Less common, though still significant, are consumers who buy CBD products at farmers markets (24%) or miscellaneous chain retailers (21%).

The only FDA-approved use of CBD is for the treatment of epilepsy through a prescription drug called Epidiolex. The FDA website states, “There is very limited available information about CBD, including about its effects on the body.” The FDA information on CBD adds that, “Misleading and false claims associated with CBD products may lead consumers to put off getting important medical care, such as proper diagnosis, treatment and supportive care.”

Based on the association’s data, there is truth to that concern. Survey respondents that had purchased CBD said they did so to alleviate cancer symptoms (21%), treat neurological disorders (21%), improve heart health (25%) or enhance bone health (27%).

The association believes that one of the biggest markets for CBD may also be the most vulnerable. Millennials are the generation most likely to buy CBD (54% said they have purchased a CBD product, compared with 34% overall), and they’re the most likely to think it’s regulated. In fact, 83% of millennials assumed that CBD was regulated by some government body, and 11% said they did not know. Just 6% said that it was not regulated.

The association concluded that clearly articulated regulations are essential to ensure consumers have the necessary information to make the best choices for themselves and their families and stressed that federal regulation and oversight of CBD must move at the same pace as the rapidly expanding CBD market.

For more on CBD, read the “10 Myths on CBD” in the February issue of NACS Magazine and the four-part NACS Daily series on the December NACS Cannabis Pop-Up.