From doughnuts to dog treats, hemp-derived CBD is quickly becoming a multibillion dollar business with mainstream appeal.
Sales of products containing CBD — the non-psychoactive cannabis compound, cannabidiol — are expected top $5 billion this year, a 700% increase from 2018 according to estimates released Tuesday by the Brightfield Group, a research firm focused on the cannabis industry.
“It’s been absolutely monumental how fast things are changing,” Bethany Gomez, managing director of the Brightfield Group, told CNN Business.
Since the passage of the US Farm Bill in late 2018, which legalized hemp with some conditions, CBD products have exploded in availability and popularity. They’ve landed on the shelves of CVS and Kroger stores, and even — albeit briefly — in the drive-thru of Carl’s Jr.
The market has grown beyond just tinctures and oils. It now includes products promising to improve health and wellness such as CBD-infused water, CBD-infused cosmetics and CBD-infused pet treats. Epidiolex, a new US Food & Drug Administration-approved CBD drug for rare seizure disorders, recorded $33 million in sales during the first quarter of this year.
If Brightfield’s latest estimates hold true, the market’s growth has only just begun. However, a lot is still riding on the FDA.
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, better known as the Farm Bill, removed low-THC cannabis and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, where marijuana — hemp’s cousin — remains a Schedule I substance. That law also left plenty of discretion to the FDA, which regulates products such as pharmaceutical drugs, most food items, additives and dietary supplements.
The FDA held a public hearing on May 31 about CBD and is taking public comments until July 16 on the substance’s safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling and sales.
“While the Agency continues to believe that the drug approval process is the best way to ensure the safety of new drugs, including those made with CBD, the Agency is committed to evaluating the regulatory frameworks for non-drug uses, including products marketed as foods and dietary supplements,” FDA officials wrote in a June 19 blog post.
If the FDA provides a “blatantly legal” path forward for the cannabidiol-rich cannabis derivatives, the boom will become even more pronounced, Gomez said.
Brightfield analysts project that CBD could reach nearly $24 billion in sales by 2023. The bulk of those sales, $16.2 billion, are expected to come from chain-store retailers, followed by online and natural foods stores with $3 billion and $1.3 billion in sales, respectively.
“That’s like lightning in a bottle,” said John Timar, chief operating officer of Kill Cliff, an Atlanta-based sports drink company that’s releasing a line of CBD beverages in August.
Although a lion’s share of Kill Cliff’s business consists of direct-to-consumer sales, a good portion of the sales from brick-and-mortar sellers come from mom-and-pop natural food and specialty retailers. The passage of the US Farm Bill coupled with the excitement about CBD in recent years at the Natural Products Expo West — the natural and organic products industry largest trade show — helped prompt Kill Cliff officials to pull the trigger on the new line.
“I think that pushed us over the edge,” he said.
Kill Cliff’s CBD line is in production now in preparation for a planned August debut online and in select natural foods stores and independent fitness accounts. Timar believes that the larger, national retail accounts that carry Kill Cliff aren’t that far away from adding the CBD line. It might just take some additional federal assurance, he said, noting the regulatory uncertainty has complicated businesses’ ability to bank, sell and distribute their CBD products.
“Several [retailers] have come to us inquiring about the product,” he said. “There’s an intention to move this direction.”