Updated on August 21, 2018.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Over the past few weeks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings to several companies that offer products with cannabidiol (CBD), a compound of marijuana. Businesses that received warnings include the cultivators of Charlotte’s Web.
Social media played a significant role in the FDA issuing these warnings, as they monitored the advertising of these products, which include medical cannabis oils, capsules, topicals and other items. So, what initiated the warnings? Statements that the products could diagnose, prevent, treat or cure cancer, as well as other conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Learn more about the FDA’s monitoring movement, what qualifies as a false claim and how to protect your business or practice from receiving warnings from the FDA, below.
Why the FDA Is Reviewing Medical Advertising
The FDA regulates a broad scope of items, from cosmetics to vaccines. One of its most fundamental goals, however, is protecting public health by ensuring the safety and effectiveness of drugs, vaccines and other medical products.
In recent years, according to the FDA, they’ve seen a boom in the number of products with statements that they can cure or treat life-threatening diseases like cancer. Researchers have found false claims can often result in patients adopting a different course of treatment, which can reduce their survival rate.
To combat the effects of false advertising and ensure consumers are educated, the FDA has decided to take a more proactive approach to monitoring the statements made about over-the-counter and non-prescription drugs. Medical marijuana, however, faces an unusual standard due to its legality in some states.
Why the FDA Is Monitoring Social Media
Social media is an impressive gateway. It can connect companies, like dispensaries, and individuals, like licensed physicians, with more than three billion people, which can help them expand their services. Hence, the FDA has turned its attention to it.
In fact, back in 2012, the FDA began a three-year data mining project of social media. It intended to identify additional side effects of FDA-approved drugs by collecting information from public posts on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.
Now, the FDA’s goal is not only to monitor what companies, dispensaries and medical practices are saying, but also who they’re interacting with via likes, retweets and more. In warning letters from 2014, for instance, the FDA cited a company for “liking” a comment with unapproved claims, as the “like” was considered an endorsement.
What Qualifies as a False Claim
One of the biggest questions for providers of medical marijuana recommendations, edibles, oils and other items, is, “What qualifies as a false claim?”
According to the FDA, the following phrases can all qualify as false advertising for cancer treatments:
More effective than chemotherapy, radiation or other traditional cancer treatment
Attacks, shrinks or kills only cancer cells, leaving your healthy cells unaltered
Inhibits cell division and growth in cancer
Treats all types and forms of cancer, including breast, kidney, lung, etc
Cures your cancer and prevents it from returning
May treat tumors
Numerous studies about the use of medical cannabis in traditional cancer treatments are available, though the FDA has stated its preference for an official drug-approval process, as well as its support for, “sound, scientifically-based research using components derived from marijuana.”
How to Be Safe When Posting About Medical Marijuana
For many dispensaries and medical cannabis practices, social media is your primary outlet for connecting with patients and their families, as well as advertising your services, strains and any store promotions. With the increased presence of the FDA, it’s essential to ensure your messages regarding medical weed are in line with the agency’s standards.
To make sure your statements comply with the FDA, ask these questions before making a post, responding to a comment or even liking or retweeting a post:
Does it indicate it can cure, treat, prevent or diagnose cancer or other diseases?
Does it state that it’s a more effective medicine than traditional treatments?
Does it use the term “may” to describe its potential effect on cancer or other serious illnesses?
Does it promote unestablished benefits or risks?
Does it include research not funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIHA)?
If you maintain both social media pages and a website, it’s essential to ask the same questions when uploading content to your company’s site. As demonstrated by the recent warning letters issued, the FDA will review both for false claims.
A comprehensive social media guide for reference is available through the FDA, though it is targeted more toward companies that are promoting FDA-approved drugs.
How to Respond to FDA Warnings
Many of the medical cannabis providers that received warnings from the FDA, including the maker of Charlotte’s Web, have agreed to comply with the FDA by removing the language or statements on both their websites and social media pages that the agency considers false claims.
If you receive a warning from the FDA for false claims, you have 15 business days to respond — the law requires it. Your response should detail any steps you’ve taken to resolve the issues listed, or the changes you plan to make. You can also request an extension.
Warning letters from the FDA often include only a sample of violations, which means you’ll have to review all your social media and website content to ensure no false claims are left untouched. While this will be a time-consuming process, ensuring your dispensary or practice complies allows you to continue your passion for helping people.
Connect With Patients at MarijuanaDoctors.com
The FDA has good intentions by protecting consumers from false claims. However, there is a growing need for additional medical marijuana research that the FDA will recognize — many scientific-based studies already show medical weed can act in coordination with traditional cancer treatments, whether as an anti-nausea remedy, appetite stimulant or other medicine.
At MarijuanaDoctors.com, we help licensed medical cannabis doctors and dispensaries connect with patients interested in using medical marijuana to alleviate their pain and discomfort from cancer and other medical conditions. Start reaching thousands of patients in need — without social media — by registering or contacting us today.