Seemingly out of nowhere, the CBD market has skyrocketed in the past five years to a level that demands attention. Its push to enter the mainstream gained significant momentum last December when the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act (also known as the Farm Bill) made hemp-derived CBD legal to sell and consume nationwide.
With the public’s backing — a 2019 Cowen consumer survey found nearly 7% of 2,500 respondents are already using CBD — the industry that was valued at little over $9 billion in 2017 is expected to register a boom in the coming years. Growth estimates vary (Cowen puts the valuation at $16 billion by 2025), but one thing is certain: consumer interest is growing, and companies are rushing to meet this new demand for alternative care.
That said, the mixture of high doses of enthusiasm and an emerging market makes for a potentially dangerous premise. There have been numerous reports of false claims, research on CBD is limited for now, and labels don’t always match ingredients.
Pharmacists today have an opportunity to add to their OTC product range an item that can help improve their bottom line, bring comfort to their patients, and capture the interest of a new, alternative-medicine friendly crowd. With a little attention to detail and some research, you'll be able to easily navigate past hazards and provide your customers with a safe and rewarding CBD experience. Let’s take a moment to go through what CBD is, what it isn’t, and how it can help people.
What is CBD?
CBD is short for cannabidiol, which is a chemical compound found in cannabis plants. The plants produce a total of 113 different cannabinoids, the most well-known of which are CBD and its close relative THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The main difference between them is that THC is responsible for the “high” felt when consuming marijuana, whereas CBD provides many of the same health benefits without the feeling its cousin is so popular for.
Cannabidiol is the non-psychoactive part of the plant, which completely eliminates the possibility of feeling drug-induced euphoria when consuming it.
A crucial distinction, both legally and in how it affects consumers, is where the CBD is extracted from. Cannabis plants have two main strains: Sativa and Indica. CBD is a product of the Sativa species that has two sub-species of its own, marijuana and hemp. As of January 2019, any hemp-extracted CBD can be sold legally since hemp's THC presence is less than 0.3%.
This 0.3% is also the highest concentration of THC a CBD product must contain for it
to be included in the OTC spectrum, according to the Farm Bill. Marijuana-extracted CBD is likely to have higher concentrations of THC, which subjects those products to a different set of laws.
What are CBD’s benefits?
Many pharmacies carry pharmaceutical-grade CBD products in the form of oils, capsules, tinctures, and topicals, among others. These are thought to help with anxiety, inflammation, pain management, insomnia, and depression. Clinical research to back up some of these claims is still ongoing, but patient feedback is promising.
For instance, a new study published this month in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that CBD could be effective in treating opioid addiction. Patients with heroin addiction who were given the CBD-based drug Epidiolex reported reduced cravings for heroin and lower anxiety levels after taking the drug. Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved CBD-based drug used for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Dravet syndrome. As research continues with positive consumer feedback, the list of FDA-approved drugs is likely to grow in the future.
Can I now sell CBD legally?
In January 2019, hemp-derived CBD became legal nationwide on a federal level. The rule of thumb is that products, such as CBD oil, must contain less than 0.3% THC. In addition, they must be produced under certain conditions outlined in the Farm Bill, including that the hemp must be grown by a properly licensed grower and must adhere to the shared state-federal regulators.
Despite this, certain states still maintain laws where CBD is illegal or has limited legal applications. These include Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
How do I choose a CBD product?
Once you make your way past the legal aspects, there's still the vital question of which products to carry. CBD products can be found at nearly every vape shop or salon, though many are of inferior quality. To set yourself apart from amateur vendors and keep your expert status, you should stock only the very best products.
In creating the right CBD product offer for your pharmacy, keep in mind that the two most important concerns are false claims regarding benefits and a product’s ingredients list not matching its contents. The FDA has sent several warning letters about false claims to companies marketing CBD products in the past few years. Claims of helping cancer patients, for example, are extremely frowned upon while mentioning that CBD may help ease pain seems to be permitted. To address the latter issue, look at independently held tests made on the products you wish to start selling in your pharmacy.
The bioavailability of a product, or the degree to which it is absorbed into the bloodstream, is also an important consideration. Bioavailability is highly dependent on the method of usage and can be as high as 80% in the case of some CBD oils.
Ingestion, although by far the most common way of consuming CBD, is also one of the least effective since the substance passes through the liver before reaching the bloodstream. This results in reduced concentration and a delay of up to two hours before any effects are felt. CBD taken sublingually, on the other hand, bypasses the digestive system and produces effects within minutes. Smoking using an electronic device (vaping) produces the most immediate systemic effects, while applying CBD products externally will only bring targeted relief to the applied area, never reaching the bloodstream. Knowing these differences is not only important when choosing what to carry, but also in guiding patients unfamiliar with the diversity of available products.
The federal legalization of hemp-derived CBD has created a huge opportunity for pharmacists to draw in new customers. As you move forward, here are a few points to keep in mind:
- Understand the law: Hemp-derived CBD products may be legal on a federal level, but some states are yet to put the new law into practice. Before you make the addition to your OTC offers, look at how the Farm Bill applies to your area. Has local law enforcement embraced it or are they still erring on the side of caution?
- Get educated: If you’re thinking about selling CBD at your pharmacy, educating yourself and your staff about this new market is essential. This will help you provide professional assistance to your customers and showcasing your expertise will inspire confidence. You will also be better equipped to choose the right partners and product range.
- Choose your products wisely: In a crowded marketplace, a pharmacy should be a safe bet for patients looking for quality products. This means you must take extra care to partner with manufacturers that provide test results and make an effort to carry the safest and most effective products around. Quality products combined with properly trained staff are key to drawing in prospects interested in exploring this growing area.
To learn more about integrating CBD into your pharmacy workflow to increase patient outcomes and profits, reach out to schedule a demo.