Is It Legal to Put CBD Oil in Food?

illustration of a woman infusing CBD oil into foods
Written by Nina Julia | Last updated: November 15, 2021

The legality of different CBD products is like a labyrinth, so you could be forgiven for not knowing what’s legal or not.

When President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, the legal status of hemp-derived CBD became clearer. As of now, CBD products made from hemp are legal on a federal level, but there’s some room for interpretation when it comes to certain product formats.

On the one hand, CBD oils and CBD-infused food are springing up everywhere, from online retailers to local shops and fancy restaurants. Everybody wants their fair share of the cake, so one could assume that CBD is legal everywhere — period.

But that’s not so obvious with CBD food, which has become a particularly desired category among consumers. People love taking CBD in the form of food, such as gummies, cookies, and protein bars. Even dogs and cats have their CBD treats.

At the same time, you’ve probably read stories in the news about state authorities cracking down on shops selling CBD food and drinks. Your favorite local retailer of CBD gummies or cookies might even have been shut down.

So, what’s the truth about CBD in food? Is it legal?

Continue reading to find out.

CBD in Food: Is It Legal?

Once the DEA abandoned the idea of criminalizing hemp manufacturers, mostly thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD fell under FDA supervision.

True to its name, the FDA regulates both food and drugs but puts them in distinct categories, even though many plants, including cannabis, provide both.

Health supplements are regarded as the first category, and so it’s legal to mix them with food. They’re relatively easy to incorporate into food and bring to the market, although you need to inform the FDA that you’re going to sell CBD-infused food supplements and follow certain standards of purity, labeling, and health claims.

Meanwhile, drugs are subject to much stricter control procedures.

When a company discovers a new drug, it has to pass several years of testing for safety and efficacy before the FDA will allow for its registration on the market.

CBD is currently classified as a “new drug” by the FDA, so you can’t put CBD oil in food or drink products, or label CBD as a health supplement until clinical trials have been done to determine whether or not CBD is safe to use in food.

Although we have studies and reviews of the literature on the safety of CBD in humans, current evidence relates to products like oils, tinctures, capsules, or oral sprays. Research on CBD in food is in its infancy.

CBD in Food: the Legal Grey Area

A peculiar thing about CBD is that it arrived on the market unexpectedly.

Since it can be extracted from cannabis plants, the federal government previously put it into one bracket along with marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.

However, since a lot of people were reaping medical benefits from marijuana, individual states started to legalize its medicinal use without the FDA in the process.

Despite being non-intoxicating or addictive, CBD has been available only in state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries for years.

But, in 2014, we could witness strong winds of change in the laws surrounding CBD — and so CBD vendors started to branch out.

The 2014 Farm Bill changed the game for hemp, distinguishing it from marijuana due to its negligible THC content. Hemp became legal for industrial and research purposes.

The final nail to the coffin of hemp prohibition came with the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the production of hemp for any purpose. This move provided new opportunities to develop hemp-derived products, including CBD oil, CBD food, CBD vapes, and CBD topicals.

Because CBD entered the market without FDA in the background, vendors have been treating it like a health supplement, offering CBD products over the counter and adding it to a wide range of formats, including food and drinks.

Alas, the Wild Wild West couldn’t last forever. Soon after the passage of the new Farm Bill, CBD became a “new drug,” not a food supplement. And, as you already know, the FDA bans drugs — even legal ones — from being added into food and drinks for sale.

The Legality of CBD Food is Up to the Individual States

hemp leaf on a plain white plate with a knife and fork

The legalization of hemp has created an immense market. The FDA doesn’t have the power to impose federal changes on adding CBD to food, so they left it to the states to enforce the law.

So, the first thing to check when looking for CBD food is to find out what forms of CBD are legal in your state.

For example, CBD food’s currently illegal in Michigan and North Carolina — both governments have issued warnings about food products containing CBD.

Even the mecca of cannabis aficionados — San Francisco — shut down a store that was selling CBD edibles.

Some states, such as New York and Maine, also imposed a ban on CBD food, only to change their stance later. New York’s latest regulation on hemp largely dismissed the issue, while Maine’s state law allows CBD in food.

At the same time, Montana allows CBD to be added not only to food but also to alcohol and skincare products, while states like Texas are waiting for the FDA’s decision before finalizing their regulations.

With so much confusion surrounding the legality of CBD food, the subject will remain in the legal grey area until the FDA makes up its mind about its safety and efficacy.

The People Want CBD in Their Food

The examples from Maine and New York indicate that the FDA’s position on CBD in food is in stark contrast to what the people expect.

Although the FDA tries so hard to follow the science, public opinion has also been important for changes in drug policy.

After all, cannabis has been used in food and traditional medicine for millennia before the FDA was established. The majority of then-common drugs were based on cannabis and other herbs. 

Considering that hemp is at least 12,000 years old, and CBD is the dominant cannabinoid in hemp plants, it’s counterintuitive to label it as a novel drug.

Even the World Health Organization declared in its 2017 report that CBD “exhibits no effects indicative of any addiction, abuse, or dependence potential,” and “is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”

So, although federal regulations currently advise against putting CBD in food, the reality is that some of the food — high in processed carbs, trans-fats, and synthetic additives — is probably more dangerous to you than the CBD is.

Now it’s time for the FDA to understand that simple truth and stop acting like they’re facing a newly discovered drug.

Can You Put CBD Oil in Food?

adding CBD oil using a dropper into a bowl of pasta spaghetti

Ready for a real paradox?

Manufacturers aren’t allowed to sell CBD-infused food, but the FDA doesn’t have a problem with the average people adding CBD oil to their food.

So long as you’re not selling it, the FDA isn’t interested in what you do at home – whether you make your own CBD oil and infuse it into your foods. The agency only targets suppliers and how they are marketing CBD, not how people are using it. 

If you want to create your own CBD food recipes, go for it.

You can use already-decarboxylated CBD oils, or make a CBD infusion using hemp flowers, just as you do with marijuana buds. All you need is some freshly ground flowers and a fat base of your choice. It can be butter or vegetable oil, such as coconut oil or olive oil. 

There are plenty of CBD recipes online, ranging from appetizers to full courses to desserts and drinks. Making such CBD food for your consumption or to share with family and friends won’t trigger the feds.

Where to Buy CBD Food

If you’re looking for CBD-infused food like gummies, honey sticks, chocolate bars, and beverages, the best way is to find a trustworthy online vendor.

Since the FDA doesn’t officially regulate CBD products, it’s up to individual states to decide which forms of CBD are legal and which aren’t.

Online stores ship their goods to all 50 states because the federal law considers hemp-derived CBD legal. Therefore, as long as the company doesn’t make explicit claims about the health benefits of CBD, nobody will shut them down. And even if they do make such claims, the FDA will send them a warning letter before drawing further consequences.

Buying CBD online also comes with other perks, such as convenience, lower prices (no middleman involved), or loyalty programs that help you save more money on your favorite products by earning loyalty points with each purchase.

Not to mention a broader product selection, especially when it comes to CBD food.

What’s the Future of CBD in Food?

As CBD food continues to gain in popularity among users, lawmakers advocate that the FDA finally resolves CBD’s ambiguous legality in favor of more access.

Although the agency established a workgroup to study CBD regulation last year, they concluded that more research is needed on safety — completely ignoring the WHO’s reassurance.

The main concern about adding CBD to food is the risk of CBD-drug interactions. CBD compromises the liver’s ability to metabolize drugs that are processed by the Cytochrome P450 system (CYP450). It uses the same mechanism as grapefruit juice, so if your medication has a grapefruit warning, you shouldn’t take it alongside CBD. 

If you’re taking any medication and are concerned about the side effects of potential interactions, consult a doctor experienced in CBD or cannabis use in general. Doing so will help you establish the right scheduling and dosages for both substances so that these interactions don’t occur.

To wrap it up, CBD isn’t regulated either as a health supplement or as a drug, meaning that consumers must be careful about what they’re getting. Be sure to purchase your products from a reputable manufacturer that uses organic hemp and provides third-party lab reports to prove the quality and safety of its products.

The world is heading in a pro-CBD direction; it’s just a matter of time until the government unplugs the old-fashioned prejudice about cannabis. Let’s just hope it will be sooner than later.

References:

  1. The United States Senate Committee On Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry. (2018). 2018 Farm Bill. The United States Department of Agriculture. Available at: https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/2018-farm-bill (1)
  2. 113th Congress (2014). H.R.2642 – Agricultural Act of 2014. Congress.gov. 
  3. Biolchini, A.  (2019). Adding CBD Oil to Food and Drinks is Illegal, Michigan Officials Say. Michigan Live (MLive). Available at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/2642 (3)
  4. Kaplan, J. (2019). I-Team: Despite Big Appetite, Officials Warning Against Foods with CBD Oil. ABC11: Health & Fitness.
  5. Pershan, C. (2019). Health Department Cracks Down on CBD Food Products at Dedicated Store: Sidewalk Wellness Can’t Sell Its Best-selling Products. San Francisco Eater. Available at: https://sf.eater.com/2019/3/18/18271794/health-department-cbd-sidewalk-wellness  (5)
  6. Cohen, B., Tobin, T., & Bleicher, M. (2020). INSIGHT: CBD in New York – Differences in State, City Regulation Leave Questions. Bloomberg Law: White Collar & Criminal Law. Available at: https://news.bloomberglaw.com/white-collar-and-criminal-law/insight-cbd-in-new-york-differences-in-state-city-regulation-leave-questions  (6)
  7. Stewart, I. A., Kloss, J. M., & Willner, N. M. (2018). Will Hemp-Derived CBD Be Fully Legal with Passage of the 2018 Farm Bill? Not Quite… The National Law Review, vol 11(310). (7)
  8. The World Health Organization. (2017). Cannabidiol (CBD): Pre-Review Report, Agenda Item 5.2. Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. Thirty-ninth Meeting, Geneva, 6–10 November 2017. 
  9. Zendulka, O., Dovrtělová, G., Nosková, K., Turjap, M., Šulcová, A., Hanuš, L., & Juřica, J. (2016). Cannabinoids and Cytochrome P450 Interactions. Current drug metabolism, 17(3), 206–226.

Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.

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