Debunking Cannabidiol as a Treatment for COVID-19: Time for the FDA to Adopt a Focused Deterrence Model?

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. 2020 Jun 17;12(6):e8671.

doi: 10.7759/cureus.8671.


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Chelsea L Shover et al. Cureus. .


Many cannabidiol (CBD) retailers make unsupported medical claims about their product. In recent years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent warning letters to CBD retailers who promoted CBD to treat Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, and other serious conditions for which there is no evidence of its efficacy as a treatment or preventive. Compliance with these warning letters has been low. During the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the FDA has begun sending more strongly worded warning letters that appear to have better compliance in that most of these companies have removed COVID-19-related claims. However, many continue to present other unsupported medical claims on other serious medical conditions like cancer, depression, addiction, and bone fractures, among many others. We argue that adopting a strategy of focused deterrence where the FDA prioritizes enforcement related to COVID-19 claims – but when COVID-19-related claims are found, pursues all other violations by that company – would present an opportunity to efficiently cut down on harmful claims overstating CBD’s benefits.

Keywords: cannabidiol; cannabis; covid-19; food and drug administration; health policy; regulation.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


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Grant support

CLS was supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse under grant T32 DA035165, and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford University. KH was supported by grants from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute.

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