A European health agency is warning that eating hemp foods can cause elevated THC levels if ingested in high quantities, a troubling signal for hemp businesses in Europe and worldwide that are seeking assurances that hemp is safe to put in food and drink.
The January report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) looked at THC levels in 12 different categories of hemp foods, including hemp oil, breads and teas. More than 1,500 samples were collected from the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Romania.
The report concluded that THC levels in people ingesting large amounts of hemp products could exceed a safety threshold for THC in food set by the group in 2015 and potentially lead to effects on the central nervous system and an increased heart rate.
“The number of consumers of hemp and hemp-based products still represents an important uncertainty,” they wrote.
The warning comes just as European hemp companies are challenging an EU definition of CBD as a “novel food” ingredient that requires premarket authorization before it can be sold.
The EU allows some varieties of hemp to be used in foodstuffs but limits the hemp’s THC content to 0.2%. THC is currently not covered under any EU food regulations, though some member nations, including Germany and Italy, have set their own.
The EFSA warning has no direct impact on a CBD safety review currently underway at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
But the report underscores the kind of dosage concerns that are keeping regulatory agencies worldwide from clearing a path for ingestible CBD.
Healthy CBD dosage is top of mind for entrepreneurs making and selling CBD products, too. At a gathering this month of CBD manufacturers in Boulder, Colorado, dosage came up time and again.
“Products with a large serving of CBD are on the way out,” predicted Tim Gordon, chief science officer for hemp-extract maker Functional Remedies in Superior, Colorado, and president of that state’s chapter of the Hemp Industries Association.
“Your body can only handle a certain amount of CBD.”
Familiar refrain: More research needed
An attorney who serves CBD entrepreneurs pointed out that the FDA and other global health regulators will remain leery of CBD foods until they see research studies on the products.
“We need to have the data to show what the safe level (of CBD) is,” Denver attorney Dave Rodman said. “It’s going to take clinical data, and no one is incentivized to do it.”
Dr. Amy Abernethy, who leads an FDA work group on cannabinoids such as CBD, talked about dosage uncertainty in July when she testified in the U.S. Senate about the agency’s review.
“It’s common sense. We generally don’t want drugs added to food,” she said.
“What about situations where CBD is in your morning cereal? You consume a CBD lozenge or you apply CBD skin cream?
“What if you take these every day, together, for months? For years?” she asked, saying Americans expect answers before such CBD products are allowed.
THC exposure also a concern
The recent European report made clear in its warning that more needs to be known about how much THC exposure comes from eating hemp foods.
The authors acknowledged that THC testing in food is far from exact.
“There is documented uncertainty associated with the exact quantification of delta-9 THC in food due to analytical methods, extraction efficiency as well as in relation to conversions related to food processing,” the report noted.
Even less is known about THC exposure that could result from giving hemp products to animals in the food supply. The authors called for more studies to investigate “carryover of delta-9 THC in the food chain and especially in food of animal origin, when the animals are fed with hemp and hemp-derived products.”
In addition to hemp-containing oils, seeds and teas, the agency reviewed THC levels in the following types of foods containing hemp:
- Breakfast cereals
- Cereal bars
- Chocolate products
- Energy drinks
- Dietary supplements
Attorney Garrett Graff of Hoban Law Group in Denver told Hemp Industry Daily that hemp producers wanting to access European Union sales channels should note the EFSA warning, even if it doesn’t change EU food law.
“You better believe that there are already tinctures and supplements being shipped to the EU from the United States,” he said. “This could be a step backward over there and a signal to the FDA as they’re monitoring food here.”
Kristen Nichols can be reached at [email protected]