On June 25, 2019, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) issued a letter urging Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless to take action by addressing the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the regulation of hemp-derived CBD. Specifically, Senator Wyden requested that FDA issue guidance announcing a formal enforcement discretion policy by August 1, 2019 and, pending publication of a permanent final rule, issue an interim final rule that ensures a regulatory pathway for lawful use of CBD as a food additive and as a dietary ingredient in dietary supplements.

This is not the first time that Senator Wyden has urged FDA to move quickly on clarifying a non-drug pathway for CBD. Earlier this year, he co-authored a letter with fellow Democratic Oregon Senator Merkley that urged then-Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to “immediately begin updating regulations for hemp-derived CBD and other hemp-derived cannabinoids, and give U.S. producers more flexibility in the production, consumption, and sale of hemp products.”

Senator Wyden’s position focuses to a greater degree on the economic opportunity associated with CBD than the public health focus discussed in a recent House Appropriations Committee report. The Committee, charged with review of funding for FDA, emphasized public health and commitment to science, as follows:

“The Committee recognizes the FDA is considering a public regulatory process to evaluate the appropriateness, and possible parameters, of a regulatory pathway that would permit CBD in certain foods and dietary supplements. The Committee expects the FDA to assert its commitment to identifying lawful federal regulatory pathways for CBD foods and dietary supplements if such pathways are consistent with protection of the public health. . . . The Committee also expects the FDA to preserve the integrity of its drug development and approval processes, which ensures that products marketed for drug uses have undergone a rigorous scientific validation process demonstrating quality, safety and efficacy.”

Although Senator Wyden stated that he “fully embrace[s] FDA’s commitment to the promotion and protection of public health and understand[s] that, with respect to hemp-derived CBD, the agency will be examining a number of health and safety considerations,” he made clear that “FDA’s indication that it may take three to five years to issue a final regulation authorizing the lawful use of hemp-derived CBD in foods and dietary supplements [is] fully unacceptable.”

Just a few days prior to publication of Sen. Wyden’s letter, FDA announced that it was extending the public comment period regarding CBD issues to July 16 and issued two new communications (here and here) reiterating the agency’s positions on CBD and highlighting areas of inquiry relative to a possible non-drug pathway. These include the following:

  • How much CBD is safe to consume in a day? How does it vary depending on what form it’s taken?
  • Are there drug interactions that need to be monitored?
  • What are the impacts to special populations, like children, the elderly, and pregnant or lactating women?
  • What are the risks of long-term exposure?

In this same announcement, FDA emphasized that it is working in an “efficient and science-based” way and expressed a commitment to preserve incentives for drug-level research.

While FDA’s course of action regarding CBD is uncertain, it seems clear that many in Congress will maintain pressure on the agency to provide the certainty that industry seeks to support the burgeoning hemp industry.