I-Team: Despite big appetite, officials warning against foods with CBD oil

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The market for them may be sky-high, but federal and state regulators remain united on outlawing the marketing and sale of foods with CBD oil.

Indeed, CBD oil (cannibidiol) is an emerging powerhouse in alternative medicine, potentially treating everything from anxiety to pain relief to seizures.

"I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I was in a lot of pain, and I was trying to solve it without pharmaceuticals," Stephanie Terry, a Raleigh mom, recalls to ABC11. "When I got diagnosed they wanted to put me on five different prescription drugs to balance out my life. That's costly."

Terry would look to CBD oil, and began making her own balms and lotions. Soon, her friends and family would be green with envy.

"It started out as friends and family and as they let their friends try it more people contacted me and then we had to start an online shop," she said.

The online shop, Medicine Mama's Farmacy, now has a physical address, with Terry and her husband soon opening a brick and mortar store on Atlantic Avenue in Raleigh.

"We enjoy what we do, we enjoy helping hundreds of people all over the Triangle with natural medicine that works for them," said Terry.

What may work for some clients, though, may not work with state and federal law. Terry is among the hundreds of store owners, manufacturers and distributors receiving a letter from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture warning against the sale of foods with CBD oil, including candies, cookies and pastas - products for which Terry says her consumers have big appetites.

"How can I tell those people I cannot help you anymore, I can't help your cancer pain anymore or your son who has seizures," she laments to ABC11. "People love it and they want it. I'm four months pregnant; are they going to come throw me in jail because we're trying to help our community using plant-based medicine and not the pharmaceuticals they want to push on people every day?"

Former Governor Pat McCrory (R) signed a legislation in 2014 making CBD oil legal in North Carolina, along with industrial hemp.

Today, there are more than 800 North Carolina farms growing that hemp and nearly 30 processing plants making hemp oil and hemp fibers used in clothing. The latest farm bill passed by Congress, moreover, loosens several restrictions on hemp, including on interstate commerce.

CBD oil, however, is being regulated and tested as a pharmaceutical drug by the Food and Drug Administration; the extract, thus, falls into the same category as an antibiotic or antihistamine. The U.S. Military, meanwhile, has banned servicemen and women from using the product in any form.

"The longstanding law has been that you cannot infuse a drug in a food product," Joe Reardon, Assistant Commissioner of Consumer Protection for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, explains to ABC11. "You cannot deliver that food in a food product. Our goal is for the safety of our citizens of North Carolina."

Specifically, Reardon says a major motivator behind the law is to protect children, whom Reardon says could easily be attracted to CBD-infused candies.

"What are the chemicals being used for extraction (of the oil from the hemp)? Could it be pentane? Ethanol? CO2? Then tell us about the product - are there pesticides, heavy metals concerns?"

According to the FDA, CBD oil also cannot be used in dietary/nutritional supplements, and cannot be labeled with any health claims.

"There are some principals that need to be in play that relate to the foundation of law," Reardon adds.

For now, state officials tell the I-Team no one - including the Medicine Mama - is at risk of being arrested if they chose to sell CBD-infused foods. Instead, the Department of Agriculture says it's taking an "educational" approach to enforcement - but that could soon change.

"If we have any illnesses in the marketplace or we see products produced in a place they could be contaminated, then we reserve the right to take a more aggressive approach," Reardon asserts. "Embargo, press release, and remove those products from the marketplace."
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