Amid the proliferation of outlets selling cannabidiol (CBD) products, it can be difficult to remember that just two months ago federal health officials issued a strong warning about the risks of taking this hemp-derived product.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s bulletin boiled down to this: Taking CBD can harm you, and far too little is known about how the active ingredients interact with other drugs, how it affects children, adolescents, the elderly and pregnant women, and what happens with long-term use. While recent regulatory changes opened the door for broader use of hemp-derived products like CBD, the FDA also underscored that it has approved just one drug containing it — a prescription medication for two rare forms of epilepsy. Unapproved CBD products have not been evaluated for proper dosages, effectiveness or purity and may not even be legal.
It is against that backdrop that a new controversy in Minnesota should be weighed. According to a Jan. 25 Star Tribune story, parents who give their children CBD to ease various medical conditions want them to have access to it at school. But most Minnesota schools ban it, and nurses are sounding the alarm about potential risks.
Schools and nurses are right to err on the side of caution. Parents whose children have found relief from CBD merit sympathy. But concerns about safety, dosing and sometimes fly-by-night manufacturing, as well as the legal gray area that hemp-derived products still fall into, are all valid reasons to restrict CBD use in schools.
Minnesota law is clear on medical marijuana, which the state legalized in 2014 but barred from school grounds. Much more fuzzy is the legality of over-the-counter CBD products, which contain a different active ingredient found in the hemp plant and contain less than 0.3% THC, the compound that makes marijuana users feel high. CBD products can include oils, skin creams and edibles.
In 2019, Minnesota lawmakers passed a bill that makes the sale of CBD products that meet certain labeling and testing requirements legal as of this year, although not in food products. An important caveat: Even the CBD products made legal under state law may remain illegal under federal law, according to Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, which has not taken a position on CBD in schools.
In general, federal law has lagged state efforts to legalize marijuana or loosen regulations for CBD and other hemp-derived products. The Minnesota School Boards Association has cited this federal uncertainty in its opposition to CBD on school grounds. Concerns about manufacturing integrity in particular make it possible for a product to contain more than 0.3% THC. Terry Morrow, a spokesman for the association, contends that such products could put schools in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act and at risk of losing federal funding.
The School Nurse Organization of Minnesota (SNOM) raises other valid concerns. Many schools do not have licensed school nurses on staff. The organization is concerned about unlicensed staff’s ability to recognize adverse CBD effects if they occur. SNOM spokeswoman Molly Forrest also said members are alarmed by the lack of research and FDA approval. “We want to be able to support students and families in their preferred treatments, and we want to be able to administer these products, but only if the evidence is there to prove their efficacy and safety,” Forrest said.
A state task force report recently called for legislators to provide clarity on CBD’s use in institutional settings. The reality: It’s really up to Congress or federal regulators to provide a federal framework, an action supported by the Minnesota Hemp Association. A level playing field is needed nationally for manufacturing standards, marketing and testing. That in turn will reward firms with integrity in this fast-growing industry and assuage concerns in Minnesota and elsewhere about CBD’s use.