New health trends come along every year. When fueled by today’s social media, the popularity of a new “miracle” product or diet can spread quickly and widely. The hype is sometimes accompanied by exaggerated claims that this product is a cure-all for everything from weight loss to anxiety. Some of these products are ultimately proven to be beneficial while others get exposed as totally ineffective and potentially dangerous.
So how will CBD be judged along this continuum in the future? Is CBD just a fad or is it the truly revolutionary health trend that some say it is? The honest answer is that no one knows for sure. What is known is that there’s still a lot to learn about it. The hope is that the results of medical studies will replace the hype and anecdotal evidence with a lot more certainty.
Explosive Growth in Popularity
The popularity of CBD as a health supplement began to gain momentum in early 2017. The relatively small number of companies selling it online were doing so largely in the shadows. And they faced a number of challenges that stemmed from its questionable legal status and the stigma attached to cannabis products.
Basic economic principles dictate that when there is demand for a product, the supply will ramp up to match it. And that’s exactly what happened in the CBD industry. Demand for CBD product ramped up gradually during 2017 and then accelerated in 2018. Consumer interest was piqued by word-of-mouth, social media sharing, and extensive media coverage of this new health trend.
In December 2018, hemp and its extracts (including CBD oil) were federally legalized in the United States. The combination of hemp legalization, surging consumer demand, and increasing societal acceptance of cannabis products set the stage for a full blown CBD craze in 2019.
Emboldened by the new legal clarity, existing CBD companies expanded their operations and thousands of new entrepreneurs sensing an opportunity raced into the market. CBD oil products began popping up everywhere. This included some questionable products such as CBD water, CBD skin care products and even CBD-infused pillows. In the first quarter of 2019, large retail chains including Walmart, CVS and Walgreens announced that they would begin carrying CBD products.
When people hear about something for the first time, they tend to do a Google search to learn more about it. The graph below of the relative search volume on the term “cbd oil” gives you a good visualization of its growth in popularity. As media coverage slowed down and some of the hype subsided in the second half of 2019, the search traffic did decline significantly. But this is likely because the majority of people had become aware of CBD by mid-2019 and not an indication of a sizable decline in consumer demand.
Lack of FDA Regulation and Limited Scientific Research
U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulations are clear that CBD products are not FDA-approved and cannot be marketed as a drug or dietary supplement. CBD companies are prohibited from making claims that their products are effective at diagnosing, curing, mitigating, treating or preventing any disease or health condition. Not surprisingly, some CBD companies have violated these rules over the years and the FDA has sent out warning letters dating back to 2015.
The FDA has approved one cannabis-derived drug product (Epidiolex) and three cannabis-related drug products (Marinol, Syndros and Cesamet). But they’ve made it clear that they have concerns about the widely available CBD products, some of which are marketed for therapeutic or medical uses.
While there are some scientific research studies that support the potential benefits of CBD, they are limited. And a common conclusion even from these studies is that more research is needed.
What The Future Holds
It’s hard to predict where things go from here and whether CBD will ultimately be seen as a fad or a real health supplement. The anecdotal evidence from users that CBD products are beneficial for them is difficult to ignore. The growth of the industry and bad behavior by some sellers make it likely that more regulation is coming. This regulation and medical studies of CBD should be positive things that help ensure more transparency in the industry and higher quality products for consumers.