Just as the rise of the supplement cannabidiol, or CBD, sees it land in our cafes and bars, the New York City Department of Health is putting its foot down.
So what exactly is going on with the remedy du jour?
For those unfamiliar, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis (not to be confused with tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — which is effectively the part that gets you high). While not yet scientifically proven, a vast number of people believe in its health benefits, said to include relief for anxiety, insomnia and inflammation.
Traditionally it’s sold as oils, sprays, balms and tinctures, although it’s more recently been cropping up as an ingredient on restaurant and coffeeshop menus. New Yorkers have been ingesting it in everything from cocktails – see Bubby’s in Brooklyn – to baked treats at Fat Cat Kitchen. (Brownies that could help reduce anxiety? Sounds great, right?)
The problem is that CBD is still considered a controlled substance by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA]. And, given that the science jury is still out on it, there is concern about the increasing casual consumption of it in our food and drink. In December 2018 the administration declared that it is unlawful to add CBD to food or drink, prohibiting it as a food additive under the NYC Health Code. Embargos are set to roll out this summer.
According to the New York City Department of Health: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised that it is unlawful to add cannabidiol [CBD] to food or drink. We are currently informing businesses in New York City that may sell food and drink about this regulation, and have implemented an educational period to help them achieve compliance.”
Caffeine Underground was the first coffee shop in New York State to serve CBD infused coffee, back in March 2018.
But by November they had a surprise visit from a health inspector talking of a sudden red light on CBD as an ingredient.
“We were still new at the time,” said owner Ian Ford. “So it really put us on the map.” But by November they had a surprise visit from a health inspector talking of a sudden red light on CBD as an ingredient.
“The first inspector admitted that there was no structure in place to deal with this, but they would let us know when guidelines were established,” Ford said. “Instead they began showing up without warning to a number of businesses to embargo CBD products.”
Officially, embargos shouldn’t be happening yet. The Health Department has implemented an ‘education-only’ period between now until June 30. After that time frame, they will actively ban any food and drink that contains CBD, with fines issued to any business in violation from October 1. These restrictions will start being implemented in other states and cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Portland and Maine.
CBD can still be purchased in other formats – including oral tinctures and capsules, a fact that seems at odds with the concern over the risks of consuming it. And the verdict remains unclear on CBD-infused foods and beverages that have been manufactured elsewhere.
As Ian Ford explained: “It seems that we can brew coffee that’s already infused, or we can sell a CBD ‘supplement’ with the coffee… as long as we don’t put it in. We are hoping the Health Department will clarify their position.”
So enjoy your CBD latte fix while you can. Studies and trials carry on as scientists continue investigating the pros and cons of cannabidiol. But until the results are clearer, a coffee with a side of tincture might be the best compromise.
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