High on Hemp founder Tegan Scates says the industry has work to do to educate patients about the downsides of black market CBD
In today’s market, Australians have access to a range of options for acquiring medical cannabis, whether legally or illegally. CBD remains one of the most sought-after medical cannabis products, thanks to its lack of hallucinatory effects and much-touted health benefits.
Since the legal route still contains several roadblocks to access, many Australians are turning to black market online sellers for the procurement of CBD products. Other avenues include personal connections, select health and wellbeing stores, and even multi-level marketing schemes.
In May this year, my company, High on Hemp, partnered with Steven Ng of CBD Reviews Australia (a Facebook community which provides customer reviews of CBD products) after the group conducted some independent testing on products from the black market.
Of the 62 black market products that were tested, one in four of them were found to contain less CBD or cannabinoids than stated on the label. One in nine of them was an outright scam, containing nothing more than plain olive, coconut or hemp seed oil.
Reselling from overseas
Many Australian black market sellers simply resell imported cannabis products and have little to no understanding of the true quality of the product they are selling. They rely heavily on information given by suppliers, which often lacks transparency and fails to outline the international supply chain, including important details such as farming and extraction methods, as well as product testing. This leaves consumers at risk of buying a poor quality product, which could do more harm than good.
In the last month or so, I’ve seen anywhere between 50 to 70 new Instagram accounts selling CBD. The scariest thing is that more than half of the sellers are relying on supplier information from overseas, because the majority of the product they’re selling is imported.
That’s when it gets really scary. The social media sellers have more than likely never walked through a crop, never seen the infrastructure, never seen extracts or extraction processes, the bottling processes, or the labelling. They’re fully reliant on the suppliers.
The true cost of black market CBD
When buying CBD, consumers generally have no understanding of what they’re looking for. They simply see: it’s $150, and I’m getting 3,000 milligrams of CBD. That might sound like a lot to them, but in reality, it’s about the concentration and the number of active ingredients within the bottle.
When we compared the cost of a black market bottle of CBD vs one acquired legally, the value was clear: the legally acquired bottle was 3.6x more concentrated, even though the bottle was one-third of the size of the black market version. This worked out at 13.5c per mg for the black market product, compared to 11c per mg for the legal version.
The challenges with the legal route
In 2019, the TGA granted more than 25,000 applications from doctors to prescribe cannabis to patients, most of which were in the form of an oil. While this number is consistently growing, the legal system has faced challenges including consulting fee costs, high product prices and extended wait periods, which have diverted many to the black market.
We work with clinics, doctors, and suppliers here in Australia who are legally manufacturing and selling cannabis products. We have to be very particular about the things that we say to these companies, thanks to the TGA’s advertising guidelines. The TGA is very tough on legal businesses.
On the other hand, when it comes to the black market, there’s only so much the TGA can do before they have to start passing that information on to the police. There are people within the TGA who are currently focusing on the black market, but there’s nothing stopping these businesses simply shutting down a social media account and opening up a new one.
Consumers are not going to take one drop of CBD and see all their worries and fears simply evaporate – it’s a constant game of trial and error, of seeing what delivery method or dosage works. In addition, if they are consuming other prescribed medications with cannabis products, it is important they work with their GP or specialist to understand how they work together.
A lot of the black market claims around what CBD can do and how ‘it’s legal because it’s derived from hemp’ are just plain predatory – especially when you’re dealing with people who are probably buying these products for a specific condition and for their mental health.
Cannabis isn’t an overnight destination, and it’s certainly not a one-trick pony. It’s important we educate patients to document their findings over time, consult with their GP or specialist to ensure their health is not at risk – and to have access to regulated cannabis products instead of buying in blindly to the black market.