In Canada, the legalization of cannabis has enabled cannabidiol (CBD) to become a popular commercial product, increasingly used for medical or therapeutic purposes. There are currently over one thousand CBD products available globally, ranging from oil extracts to CBD-infused beverages. Despite increased usage and availability, the evidence supporting the medical efficacy of CBD is limited. Anecdotal evidence suggests CBD sellers represent their products for medical use through direct medical claims or advice, which in Canada, is not allowed under the Cannabis Act without Health Canada approval. However, it is not clear the extent of sellers making health claims or other strategies used to promote medical usage of CBD. The objective of this study is to determine how CBD sellers advertise their products online to consumers.
The product descriptions of 2165 CBD products from 70 websites selling CBD products for human consumption in Canada were collected from January 14th, 2020 to February 2nd, 2020 using an automated website scraper tool. A framing analysis was used to determine how CBD sellers frame their products to prospective customers. The specific medical conditions CBD is represented to treat and product forms were tabulated.
CBD products are framed to prospective customer through three distinct frames: a specific cure or treatment (n = 1153), a natural health product (n = 872), and a product used in certain ways to achieve particular results (n = 1388). Product descriptions contained medical or therapeutic claims for 171 medical conditions and ailments, with 53.3% of products containing at least one claim. The most prevalent claims found in product descriptions were the ability to treat or manage pain (n = 824), anxiety (n = 609), and inflammation (n = 545). Claims were found for treating or managing serious and-life-threatening illnesses such as multiple sclerosis (n = 210), arthritis (n = 179), cancer (n = 169), Crohn’s disease (n = 78), Parkinson’s disease (n = 59), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (n = 54). CBD most often came in oil/tincture/concentrate form (n = 755), followed by edibles (n = 428), and vaporizer pen/cartridge/liquid products (n = 290).
The findings suggest CBD is represented as a medical option for numerous conditions and ailments. We recommend Health Canada to conduct a systematic audit of companies selling CBD for regulatory adherence.