Digging Deeper: CBD debate continues after legalization in Wisconsin

MADISON (WKOW) — Cannabidiol, or CBD, is getting to be big business across the country and in Wisconsin. 

CBD was first debated in Wisconsin years ago when local parents wanted their children to use it to control seizures. Many of those families ended up heading to Colorado to get treatment because CBD was viewed as medical marijuana.

Later, Wisconsin passed two laws regarding CBD after concluding it doesn’t give you a high like medical marijuana, which has THC in it. The latest law, put into effect in April 2017, amends the first and says any patient can possess CBD with a doctor’s written approval. Now, CBD products are being sold at certain Wisconsin grocery stores, wellness stores and smoke shops. Patients can also get products online. 

Apple Wellness sells CBD at its stores in Sun Prairie and Fitchburg. Owner Tim O’Brien says his customers use it for chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, stress, digestive problems and seizures. There are oils, capsules, balms, even food products. "Different forms are recommended for different conditions," O’Brien says. 

But there’s no agency regulating CBD production. The Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Drug Enforcement Administration all consider CBD illegal; a Schedule I Controlled Substance just like THC. The agencies reiterated that stance in a "Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp," their interpretation of the 2014 Farm Bill, which allows for research and growth of industrial hemp. 

It’s the 2014 Farm Bill that most manufacturers cite as to why they can legally make and sell CBD. It defines industrial hemp as having less than 0.3% THC. If CBD is made from industrial hemp, it should be legal, manufacturers argue. But the law specifically says industrial hemp growth has to be for research purposes and in accordance with a state-run program. That’s why even CBD advocates still question the absolute legality of products, calling it a "gray area."

While the federal government and CBD-legal states clash over what is law, the market is flooded with all sorts of products. Some have been third-party tested to make sure they do contain CBD and less than 0.3 percent THC, while some aren’t tested at all. That’s one thing that concerns mom Amylynne Santiago. She was a big advocate for legalizing CBD in Wisconsin because she wanted her son, Nic, to use it to control seizures. But she’s not satisfied with how the Wisconsin law ended up. "What has become of the law? I’m not quite sure. I don’t feel very good about it."

Santiago wants to see Wisconsin start a patient registry, studies and clinical trials . "I don’t feel that (the law) looks like what we thought it would look like. I still feel like patients aren’t being served."

Santiago wants doctors to be involved. Doctors can’t prescribe CBD, but they can give their approval. The Wisconsin law indicates the Controlled Substances Board of the Department of Safety and Professional Services would help doctors apply for an investigational drug permit from the FDA.  The board approves which pharmacies and doctors in Wisconsin can dispense CBD. But the Controlled Substances Board tells 27 News it’s not aware of any requested or approved permits for any physician or pharmacy in the state. Santiago worries about the products consumers are picking up at the store without consulting a doctor and how they’re being used. "It can be bought at any retail, grocer or drug store at this time. I don’t know what they’re getting. I don’t think they know what they’re getting. I don’t believe there’s any testing being done."

O’Brien says all the products he sells at Apple Wellness have been third-party tested. That ensures the level of THC is below the legal limit and you won’t get in trouble. It also ensures the amount of CBD in the product is what is listed on the label. But not all manufacturers do third-party testing. Most legitimate companies will be able to prove what is in a product.

Even though the federal government considers CBD illegal, the DEA told 27 News it would only investigate if it thought someone was in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. That’s why testing is so important to places that sell it. Community Pharmacy in Madison tells us it also only sells products that have been tested to ensure they’re THC-free. 

Testing can also show if the CBD has toxins or other dangerous chemicals in it. O’Brien says, "There is bad, good, better and best out there. And some companies have junk in it."

The FDA has sent warnings to several manufacturers who have made false claims about CBD. Some claimed CBD can cure cancer. Others weren’t truthful about how much CBD was in their product. You can find the warning letters here

Doctors familiar with CBD say safe products can help with a variety of medical issues. Dr. Margaret Gedde works with patients in Colorado. She prescribes medical marijuana and recommends CBD-only treatments to certain patients. Dr. Gedde says CBD needs to build up in your system. She and O’Brien both recommend titration, which is gradually increasing the dose until you feel improvements. Dr. Gedde says to start small, but be consistent. If a small amount doesn’t help, increase slowly in small increments.

The CBD industry will only grow bigger in Wisconsin because of the recently passed hemp farming bill. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is writing the rules right now to determine how licenses will be given out. DATCP will issue the rules March 2 and begin taking applications. It says hundreds of people are interested in becoming industrial hemp farmers. Potential growers will have to include a plan and provide data to DATCP on a regular basis since this is a research program. DATCP will also take samples every year to make sure the hemp grown has little to no THC.

Complicating Wisconsin’s hemp farm bill is a lawsuit filed by the Hemp Industries Association against the DEA over its "Final Rule" for marijuana extracts, which defines anything from the Cannabis plant as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. That rule is in direct conflict with the 2014 Farm Bill. The lawsuit has the attention of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Some, including Democratic Representatives Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore and Republican Representative Glenn Grothman, signed onto an amicus brief in support of the Hemp Industries Association. The HIA argues if the courts side with the DEA, it would override the federal Farm Bill allowing states to set up hemp research programs. The DEA has said the "Final Rule" simply adjusts the DEA’s methods for tracking substances and "inflicts no injury on (the petitioners)."

One thing is for certain: many people are interested in CBD and what it can do for their health. That has O’Brien excited about the future. "We get people in constantly for the CBD conversation. Daily we’re seeing success for them."



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