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Pain Awareness Month: Why We Can’t Talk About CBD’s Pain Relief Abilities

Cornbread Hemp

September is Pain Awareness Month. That ought to be a great opportunity to talk about the potential benefits of full-spectrum CBD products. But it’s not that simple. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate there are 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain. With the opioid addiction epidemic wreaking havoc on an untold number of families across the country, Americans are looking for a natural, non-addictive alternative to traditional methods of pain relief. 

There’s a growing mountain of evidence to suggest that full-spectrum CBD products could be that non-addictive alternative. But as the cofounder of a CBD brand, I can’t say that.

The Food and Drug Administration’s current “stalemate” with CBD means that brand representatives like me are not allowed to say that CBD products have any impact on anyone’s pain, even as CBD consumers claim this very thing on thousands of verified customer reviews across the internet.  

In 2019, Consumer Reports conducted a “nationally representative survey” of more than 4,000 Americans. Of those surveyed, 24 percent said that CBD “helped with joint pain,” which is a claim that no CBD brand is allowed to make. That’s because the FDA considers anything that helps with joint pain to be a drug, and the FDA does not recognize full-spectrum CBD extract as a drug. 

Americans appear to be leaving behind traditional forms of pain relief after discovering full-spectrum hemp-derived CBD products, according to Consumer Reports. But CBD brands can’t say that for fear of receiving a warning letter from the FDA because the FDA considers any claim that a product stops pain to be a drug claim. Only drugs can make drug claims, according to the FDA.

Three years ago, Congress legalized hemp and CBD products under the 2018 Farm Bill. But as of September 2021, the FDA has not issued regulations to implement that new law. For years now, industry advocates, members of Congress, and CBD consumers have begged the FDA to regulate full-spectrum CBD products as a dietary supplement—but to no avail. 

Instead, the FDA has not budged from its position that full-spectrum hemp extract cannot be considered a supplement because there’s already a drug approved by the FDA made from CBD isolate. The approval of that CBD-based drug is one reason the FDA uses to deny full-spectrum hemp extract the classification of a “dietary supplement”—because a substance cannot be both a drug and a supplement, according to the FDA. 

This is frustrating to me, not just as a CBD brand co-founder but also as an advocate for national cannabis legalization. What we can learn from this fight for FDA regulations is that when Congress finally legalizes full-strength cannabis, the fight will be only half finished. The regulatory battle will be equally daunting. 

As of September 2021, medical marijuana is legal in 36 states, plus the District of Columbia. But if Congress legalized cannabis tomorrow, the FDA would not recognize medical marijuana because calling it “medical” is a drug claim, and only drugs can make drug claims. And even though the Department of Justice considers cannabis to be a drug, the FDA does not.  

That’s the painful reality we face today. How can we even begin to talk about legalizing full-strength cannabis at the federal level if we can’t get the FDA to acknowledge the basic facts about full-spectrum CBD oil? Happy Pain Awareness Month, everybody!