NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The word cannabis may make many people think of marijuana but there is another type of the cannabis plant called hemp and it contains cannabidiol or CBD. And retailers are lining up to sell it.
"Hemp means that it's cannabis with less than 0.03 percent THC,” said Ruston Henry, a longtime pharmacist and owner of H&W Drug Store which has locations around the city.
And there is a growing appetite for CBD. Henry sees it firsthand at his business. He sells prescription and over the counter CBD products, as well as medicinal marijuana which requires a recommendation, or a prescription from a physician.
"We've seen a bunch of people that's coming get CBD. A bunch of people that's getting the medical marijuana also,” Henry stated.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the cannabis sativa plant contains many compounds and CBD and THC are the most widely known.
THC produces the high associated with marijuana, but CBD is said to be non-psychoactive.
CBD has become popular because of claims that it helps with a long list of ailments including pain and anxiety.
As of 2019, certain hemp-derived CBD products are legal in Louisiana.
"As long as it is produced from hemp it can be sold at retail in Louisiana, so, what we have a lot of is pain creams and lotions and bath bombs and the little drops that you put under your tongue,” said Juana Lombard, Commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.
She said Louisiana is embracing the growing industry.
"Louisiana is one of the first states to actually permit the retail sale of CBD products over-the-counter,” said Lombard. "There are a lot of really good CBD products on the market.”
ATC issues permits to businesses to legally sell CBD products in Louisiana.
"In the last six months, we've licensed 1,400, over 1,400 businesses to sell CBD products,” said Lombard.
But sprouting alongside the CBD craze is caution.
The FDA says it has approved only one CBD product, a prescription drug to treat rare forms of epilepsy.
The agency also wrote that, “The FDA is concerned that people may mistakenly believe that trying CBD can't hurt. The agency wants to be clear that we have seen only limited data about CBD's safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered."
Dr. Benjamin Springgate, LSU Health’s Chief of Community and Population Medicine discussed the growing public interest in CBD.
"Sometimes people have symptoms from pain or anxiety, or nausea and these things may not respond to the medications, or the treatments that their doctors are offering so they'll look for alternative solutions understandably,” he said.
However, Springgate said some medical claims related to CBD are being made without scientific evidence.
"You'll read from A to Z, CBD can solve problems but there's not necessarily proof that can support that,” he said.
He added that the FDA’s lack of approval for other CBD products should send a message to the general public about over the counter items.
"It says that they're going out on a limb potentially. The science behind CBD says that there’s a specific form of rare childhood epilepsy that CBD can work for and it can work for safely, but all other things, whether it’s chronic pain or spasticity or nausea or anxiety or depression or a host of other things that people read about, or hear about from their friends, it doesn’t necessarily have the scientific analysis behind it and the benefits may not outweigh the risks in the end,” Springgate said.
He said dangerous interactions between CBD and other drugs are possible.
Certainly,” said Springgate. “And that can lead to unintended consequences where people may end up with a higher level of drug in their body and that can cause harm to them.”
And it turns out that CBD use can cause employment problems.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association whose members include FBI, DEA, ICE and Secret Service agents attests to that.
"We've seen some agencies have to discipline the members because of positive tests for narcotics use. And a lot of that has to do with the agencies don't have the technology to differentiate between CBD oil THC and marijuana THC, so when they take the current drug testing procedures the agencies end up getting a result of positive THC content which most agencies' standards require it to be disciplined at that point because it's a positive drug test,” said Donald Mihalek, Executive Director of FLEOA.
And the U.S. Military has its guard up against the substance.
An Army spokesperson said the most recent Army Regulation 600-85 regarding the use of hemp products makes it clear that soldiers’ use of marijuana or any compound or derivative of it is strictly prohibited in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The Air Force issued a release late last year stating that CBD products are not okay to use and that they may cause positive drug tests.
And in response to inquiries for this story, a Defense Department spokesperson said, "Since it is not possible to differentiate between THC derived from legal hemp products and illicit marijuana, and these hemp products could cause or contribute to a THC positive urinalysis result, the use of hemp products could effectively undermine the Department's ability to identify illicit THC use from marijuana, which remains illegal at the Federal level.”
"I think the military probably has it right for right now because of the way the technology is,” Mihalek said.
Further, a Johns Hopkins study suggests civilians should be concerned about CBD use and drug tests.
It said a study of a small group of adults found evidence that a single vaping episode of cannabis that is similar in chemical composition to that found in legal hemp products could possibly result in positive results on urine drug screening tests commonly used by many employers and criminal justice or school systems.
Lombard said there is a variety of CBD products in the overall marketplace.
"Some CBD products contain no THC, some do contain some low-level of THC, just depending on how much you take and how often it's possible that you could show up with THC in your system, say in a drug test,” she said.
Many jobs conduct routine drug tests and Springgate said consumers should consider the impact it could have on their employment future.
“We know that there are a very small number of manufacturers who have very high-quality control standards,” Springgate said. “But there are some manufacturers out there, including many who might be very commonly found in stores or online who don’t necessarily have that manufacturing quite down yet and so what that means is there’s contamination. And if someone is drug tested for work it might be that their CBD supplement pops up as positive THC or marijuana use.”
Louisiana State Police is sending a message to drivers.
"Every person is going to have to be responsible to do that research,” said Trooper Monroe Dillon.
He said it is not sufficient to point to CBD use as an excuse if a driver tests positive for THC.
"Although it may be legal, it is still not legal to drive under the influence of THC and if they're involved in a serious motor vehicle crash or a fatality those amounts of THC can be detected during a screening of that blood with the La. State Police Crime Lab and they will be found to be impaired and they can be arrested for driving while intoxicated, and the impairment of an illegal substance,” Dillon said.
State government says it is policing CBD products in hopes of protecting the public.
"The retailers or the wholesalers obtain a permit with us. The permit gives us the right to inspect the premises to verify that the products that are being sold conform with Louisiana law,” said Lombard.
She said state-issued product labels are forthcoming.
"It will have words that say approved by La. Department of Health. It'll have a scantron code and the beauty of the scantron is you can scan that label with your phone, and it'll tell you the ingredients that are in the CBD product,” said Lombard.
Pharmacist Ruston Henry urges consumers to buy CBD products from authorized retailers.
"The one thing you've got to caution about is where you're getting these products from over-the-counter,” he said.
And given the unknowns cited by the FDA relating to CBD, Dr. Springgate says consumers should check with their doctor before using CBD products.
"And they can have this discussion openly and honestly and talk about what are the person's other health problems,” he said.
Lombard says consumers should be vigilant about checking product ingredients.
“One, that CBD is not all created equal because just like anything else you still have to, there's milligrams on a CBD jar, so just because it says it's CBD you need to look at the milligrams or the strength of it because you may be buying a product that is very little CBD content, two, verify whether it contains any THC or what percentage of THC because if you're taking the drops and you're taking them daily it could in theory pop up on a drug test,” she said.
Mihalek said he urges members of the Federal Law Enforcement Association to take steps to protect themselves if they are told to try CBD.
"One of the ways we've told people to mitigate this is if a doctor or somebody asks them or suggests to them to use CBD oil for pain or something, potentially get a doctor's prescription and present it to your agency to cover you, so that way if you do get a positive test comes back it's on record, it's covered and you can't be disciplined for it,” he said.
The FDA also warns that CBD can cause liver damage and result in sleepiness and lethargy.
For a full list of the CBD retailers with state permits go to: