There will always be those looking to take advantage of dark times, and the people pushing their cannabis products as a COVID-19 cure or reliever definitely fall into that category. 

Over the past couple of weeks, the nation’s oldest cannabis reform organization NORML has twice warned consumers about shady companies looking to take advantage of the crisis currently unfolding across the globe. Los Angeles County Public Health officials announced there are now 1,465 cases of COVID-19 in L.A., and the death toll has risen to 26 as of early Friday afternoon. 

NORML first warned consumers about scammers last week. In an email going over organizational efforts to continue advocacy through telecommuting and best practices for consumers, executive director Erik Altieri noted: “We also encourage everyone to remain vigilant of online misinformation (like any claims cannabis or CBD can help cure or protect against this virus) and to beware of potential scammers promoting similar claims.” 

But this would not prove enough. Unfortunately, after multiple reports of frauds at the intersection of cannabis and coronavirus, NORML had to speak more directly to the issue a week later. 

NORML told its membership in an email some predatory marketers are seeking to profit by selling coronavirus-inspired snake oil products based on unsubstantiated claims and that some of those trash heaps are explicitly targeting cannabis consumers.

“If something sounds too good to be true, it likely is. During these difficult times, we encourage people to be skeptical of any unsubstantiated claims, particularly those circulating online, surrounding the use of cannabis or any other uncorroborated treatment for COVID-19,” Altieri wrote.

We asked Altieri if it seemed like a growing problem over the last week causing NORML’s follow-up email on the subject. 

“It should be of no surprise that similar folks who had no qualms with taking advantage of patients and other concerned individuals during good times, have no problem doing so during a health crisis,” Alteri told L.A. Weekly in an email. 

Alteri admits it is hard to quantify if there is a higher volume of scams related to CBD and cannabis occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic than before, but it would seem obvious that it is even crueler now. 

“People are nervous about the state of the world and their own health, combined with social distancing and isolation, they are now more than ever seeking out answers or products that give them a sense of control and safety,” he said, “Unfortunately, answering this call for knowledge is an army of snake oil salesmen who lack any real moral center and are putting their ‘customers’ and the general public at great risk with their false promises and bogus products.”

Alteri recommends for all Americans to be skeptical of all health claims from unreputable sources and stick to getting advice from agencies like the CDC or their own health care professionals.

The Alleged Culprits

NBC KGW8 in Portland called the Oregon Attorney General’s office about advertising claims around CBD and coronavirus. The AG’s office was quick to jump on the claims as a violation of a “substantiation rule,” set to go into effect in early April that requires scientific evidence to support promotional health claims

“We were very pleased that the store was willing to remove their sandwich board sign when our investigator explained that it could be in violation of Oregon law,” Kristina Edmundson of the AG’s office told KGW8. “Unfortunately, the message is simple: There are no known cures for COVID-19. Please don’t try to sell something that suggests there are!”

The store noted to KGW8 their heart is in the right place and “we want to help people as much as we can.”

The wellness enthusiasts at were hit with a notice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission for improperly marketing a COVID-19 prevention package. The letter was a notice to owner Amy Weidner they had reviewed claims she made about products on her website and social media in February. 

“The FDA has determined that your website offers “Coronavirus Protocol” products (Coronavirus Boneset Tea, Coronavirus Cell Protection, Coronavirus Core tincture, Coronavirus Immune System and Elderberry Tincture) for sale in the United States and that these products are intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose or cure COVID-19 in people. FDA has determined that these products are unapproved new drugs sold in violation of section 505(a) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), 21 U.S.C. § 355(a),” the notice from the Feds read. 

Owner Amy Weidner issued a statement explaining the incident from her perspective. 

“FDA is very stringent on the wording we can use to describe our herbal products. We quoted a description from the inventor of this particular herbal combinations from Stephen Buhner. He is considered one of the leading experts in herbal products and developed this formula called Coronavirus Protocol. The letter we received from the FDA was simply an administrative warning that we cannot make any claims concerning herbal products. We removed the passage containing Mr Buhners description of the products and are in order to be in compliance with all FDA requirements. The quality of the product was never in doubt and we continue to service clients nationwide,” Weidner wrote on her blog. 

The Expert

Michael Backes, the author of Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana and one of the top cannabis pharmacology minds in general, weighed in about the FDA getting involved and the actual impact of cannabis on the immune system. 

“The FDA has sent a lot of warning letters in relation to CBD,” Backes told L.A. Weekly.

He went on to note the nutraceutical industry runs into similar problems all the time around health claims. “So the nutraceutical industry, what they do is they don’t make medical claims. They make what is called structure and function claims.”

That means they can’t say chamomile tea cures insomnia but can say it promotes restful sleep. 

“These guys got in trouble because they were making a medical claim about impacting, mitigating or curing COVID-19,” Backes said of the letter. “The FDA hates that and the FDA has gotten really good at monitoring the internet for claims on these products.”

Backes said these things are the last kind of thing you want to see from the FDA saying,” they will show up and shut you down no problem.” And they don’t make the distinction between well-intentioned hippies spreading their cures and the real charlatans.

“There are people making these claims bases on a real desire to help people and there are people making these claims to make a quick buck,” Backes said. “I don’t mind if they go after some people because there is a lot of quack crap out there when it comes to the effectiveness of CBD because the truth is not a lot of people bother to learn or figure out how CBD really works.”

Real Best Practices for Smokers

Backed noted giving your cannabinoid receptors a break for a few days can really help give your immune system a little boost because smoking cannabis slows down your first line of defense against viruses. 

“When your body gets a virus, the first thing it does is introduce interferons locally. The problem with people smoking cannabis is that they slow that response down because THC is mildly immunosuppressive,” Backes said. “So you have to be a little careful with it, you don’t want to be taking big fat dabs all day and expect your lungs to respond like the lungs of someone who wasn’t taking big fat dabs all day.”

Backes says most of your brain’s receptors completely rebuild in about 28 days, except for in the hippocampus, which plays a big part in learning and memory.

“That can take up to six months. But the interesting thing is if you take a little CBD tincture every day, people whose hair tested positive for both THC and CBD didn’t have those changes in the hippocampus,” Backes said. “It looks like CBD kind of works like a safety belt for protecting the hippocampus from those changes.”

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