HerbalGram, the acclaimed quarterly journal of the American Botanical Council, recently published its 2021 “Herb Market Report,” which included data on sales of CBD as an herbal ingredient in mainstream and natural retail channels in the United States. The combined total from both channels – $58,293,034 – does not include CBD sales in licensed cannabis dispensaries or CBD products, such as vapes, tinctures, gummies, and other edibles sold online. (E-commerce sales of CBD in the U.S. in 2021 reached $2 billion, according to Statistica.) The following excerpt analyzes CBD marketing trends reported by the American Botanical Council, a membership organization that educates consumers, health care professionals, journalists, and others about the safe and effective use of medicinal plants. Visit this link if you are interested in becoming an ABC member, which includes a subscription to HerbalGram.
A Top Selling Herbal Supplement
In 2021, for the fourth year in a row, CBD was the top-selling herbal supplement ingredient in natural retail stores. CBD first appeared on the natural channel’s top 40 list in 2017, ranking 12th, after sales growth of more than 300% from the previous year. Despite its top rank in 2021, sales of this ingredient have slowed in recent years.
In 2021, CBD sales in the natural channel totaled $38,931,696, a 24% decline. This was somewhat less than the nearly 37% decline seen in 2020. Sales appear to have peaked in 2019, when natural channel consumers spent more than $90.7 million on these products. Still, even after two years of declining sales, natural channel sales of CBD in 2021 were still significantly higher than when the ingredient first appeared on the top 40 list. Consumers spent roughly $31.3 million more on CBD products in 2021 compared to 2017 — a 413.4% increase in annual sales.
The marketing data firm SPINS tracks sales of two separate cannabis-derived ingredients: CBD and “hemp seeds and derivatives.” According to the FDA, “hemp” is defined as Cannabis sativa with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of 0.3% or less. (THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis.) Cannabis sativa with more than 0.3% THC is considered “marijuana” or “cannabis.” SPINS’ CBD category typically includes sales of products that contain hemp-based CBD extracts, including CBD oils, gummies, and capsules.
Products in SPINS’ hemp seeds and derivatives category, such as hemp seed oil (also written as “hempseed” oil), often are marketed for their nutritional content. Hemp seed oil is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and has high levels of provitamin A, vitamin E, and various minerals (e.g., phosphorus, potassium, and calcium). The seeds of C. sativa do not naturally contain cannabinoids, but they can become contaminated with CBD from other plant parts during processing. Sales of hemp seeds and derivatives, which ranked 39th in the natural channel in 2021, also decreased from the previous year. Consumers spent $2,782,105 on these products in 2021 — a 14.1% decline from 2020.
CBD sales declined in 2021 for several possible reasons, including legal confusion, a lack of a clear path for FDA regulation, market saturation, and published reports of inaccurate label claims for some CBD products.
On a federal level, CBD is not considered a legal dietary supplement ingredient. Under section 201(ff)(3)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act — in what some refer to as the “drug preclusion clause” — any substance that is an active ingredient in an approved drug product, or that is being publicly investigated as such, is excluded from the definition of a legal dietary supplement ingredient. In June 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex® (GW Pharmaceuticals; Cambridge, UK), the first FDA-approved pharmaceutical drug to contain a “purified drug substance [CBD] derived from marijuana,” for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare epilepsy disorders. Since then, the FDA has maintained that CBD is an unapproved drug when sold as a dietary supplement (or in products for external use).
In 2021, the FDA reaffirmed its position on CBD in supplements. Early that year, two natural products companies, Charlotte’s Web (Boulder, Colorado) and Irwin Naturals (Los Angeles, California), submitted new dietary ingredient (NDI) notifications to the FDA in an effort to get CBD approved as a supplement ingredient, in accordance with Section 8 of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Despite the companies’ submitting the required data demonstrating the “reasonable expectation of safety under the recommended conditions of use,” the FDA rejected the applications, citing the drug preclusion clause.
The number and variety of CBD products available on the market also may have impacted sales in 2021. According to Adweek, approximately 2,000 CBD brands were sold in the United States in 2021 — down from about 3,000 the year before. For some consumers, the sheer number of product options may be overwhelming, and the diversity of advertised claims can muddle one’s understanding of CBD’s potential benefits.
“An Alarming Lack of Understanding about CBD”
Based on the results of its July 2021 survey, the Consumer Brands Association reported an “alarming lack of understanding about CBD.” On a scale from one to 10, respondents rated their knowledge of CBD an average of 3.3. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed also were confused about, or had no knowledge of, federal CBD regulations.
In a February 2021 article in Nutritional Outlook, Jesse Karagianes, vice president of sales of the CBD natural products company CV Sciences (San Diego, California), was quoted as saying: “[T]he single largest factor which contributed to slow category sales was the deluge of inferior products hitting the market. From unfounded and unlawful health claims to inconsistency in CBD content, many CBD products do not deliver on what customers expect from them.”
The results of several CBD product analyses published in recent years suggest that labels may not always accurately reflect the contents. In December 2021, Leafreport, an online CBD resource owned by Empire Media Network, published the results of analyses of 221 CBD products it sent to third-party laboratories for testing. The labs analyzed 35 oils, 40 topical products, 40 edibles, 22 beverages, 55 pet products, and 29 coffee or tea products. Leafreport found that only 40% of the products matched the levels of CBD stated on labels, with 28% of the products having CBD levels that failed to match label claims by more than 30%. On average, they found that, “the CBD content of the products was off from the label by nearly 25%.” A separate paper, published in February 2022, analyzed the CBD content of 11 commercially available CBD oils and found that only four (36.4%) matched the amount stated on the label.
Although CBD sales have slowed, research into the cannabinoid’s potential health benefits continues. In 2021, researchers published more than a dozen systematic reviews of CBD’s effects, including for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, dementia, multiple sclerosis, appetite, pain, and more. Although many review authors reported inconclusive findings due to low-quality studies, they noted that evidence from human clinical trials seems to support CBD’s positive effects on nociceptive pain (i.e., pain in response to stimuli), neuropathic pain, appetite, and neuropsychiatric symptoms in people with moderate to advanced dementia.[14-16] A separate 2021 open-label, randomized controlled study of 3,000 people found that consumers taking one of 13 specified CBD products for four weeks had self-reported improvements in areas such as wellbeing (71%), anxiety (63%), and sleep quality (61%).
Excerpted from HerbalGram, the quarterly publication of the American Botanical Council. May not be reprinted without permission from the source.
- FDA regulation of cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including cannabidiol (CBD). US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at: www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-…. Accessed July 25, 2021.
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- FDA warns four companies for illegally selling CBD products intended for use in food-producing animals. US Food and Drug Administration website. May 26, 2022. Available at: www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/cvm-updates/fda-warns-four-companies-illeg…. Accessed October 17, 2022.
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