Washington Post Covers for Amazon’s Supplement Fraud

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

Story at-a-glance -

  • Amazon.com does not permit the sale of cannabidiol (CBD) products, hence there are no reputable companies selling CBD on the site
  • While Amazon prohibits the sale of CBD, it sells ad space for CBD and allows merchants to tag products as “CBD” so that customers can find them when searching for CBD products
  • Amazon defrauds customers in more ways than one, as testing reveals some products contain CBD, even though CBD is not listed on the label, while other products listed as “CBD” contain none
  • By selling ads for CBD, controlling search results for CBD and not properly policing its marketplace, Amazon is willfully funneling consumers toward products of questionable quality and safety
  • While hemp has been legalized, CBD is under the regulatory authority of the FDA, which views CBD as a drug. As such, all CBD supplements are considered “unapproved drugs”

Amazon.com — which controlled 43.5% of all U.S. e-commerce1 as of 2017 and handles more consumer searches than Google2 — sells cannabidiol (CBD) products on its site, despite having a policy that prohibits CBD sales.

In my October 30, 2019, article “Why You Should Never Buy CBD Oil From Amazon,” I explained how Amazon is defrauding customers by preventing genuine high-quality CBD products from being sold on its site on the one hand, while promoting and selling products that claim to contain CBD but don’t on the other.

This warning was initially published by the Organic & Natural Health Association3 on October 15, 2019, which had hired a third-party laboratory to test Amazon’s best-seller, New Age Premium Hemp Oil 1000 MG, for the presence of cannabinoids. 

In violation of Amazon’s policy, the product was found to contain approximately 1% CBD4 (7.7 milligrams of CBD per 30 drops), even though it does not list CBD on the label. In a statement, Karen Howard, CEO and executive director of Organic & Natural Health, said:5

“It’s really important for consumers to know that because Amazon doesn’t allow the sale of products with CBD, there are no reputable companies selling CBD on their site …

Amazon states it has banned the sale of CBD supplements on its site, but allows advertising and tagging of CBD instead, inviting an influx of products to consumers that the FDA has been warning about …

Essentially, the public is being defrauded twice. First, Amazon’s best-seller, New Age Premium Hemp Oil contains CBD even though its label does not list CBD. Second, those searching for CBD products are being misled into buying products containing zero CBD ...

This deception Amazon is spoon-feeding consumers on CBD is highly irresponsible to millions of Americans in search of legitimate CBD supplements to help specific health ailments including stress, sleep and pain.”

The Washington Post Pitches a Soft Ball

December 19, 2019, The Washington Post published an article6,7 covering this issue. However, rather than focusing on how consumers are being intentionally misled, the paper cushioned the blow for Jeff Bezos, who conveniently owns both Amazon and The Washington Post.

The paper also did not credit Organic & Natural Health for the initial discovery and reporting of this problem. In the accompanying video commentary (see video above), The Washington Post notes that it tested 13 products for the presence of CBD (11 of which did) in order to see if merchants (not Amazon itself) are violating Amazon’s policy.

And, while The Post points out the difficulty of controlling unauthorized sales by third-party sellers, it ignores the fact that while small companies are punished for committing fraud, Amazon is essentially expected to be given a free pass simply because it’s “too big to police.” This despite the fact that Amazon has far vaster resources than any given manufacturer or merchant.

The real problem here is that Amazon specifically prohibits legitimate companies selling authentic high-quality CBD products that accurately list their CBD content from selling their wares, while simultaneously allowing outright fraudulent products to be sold — products that don’t accurately list their CBD content, or don’t contain any CBD even though they claim to do so.

What’s more, Amazon actively promotes these questionable CBD products by allowing CBD advertising on its site. Amazon spokesman Patrick Graham blames "bad actors" and dishonest retailers for this situation,8 but Amazon itself is clearly playing both sides of the field, and is profiting from the very CBD products it claims to prohibit.

By selling ads for CBD, controlling search results for CBD and not properly policing its marketplace, Amazon is willfully funneling consumers toward questionable products.

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Why Does Amazon Prohibit CBD?

You may wonder why Amazon prohibits the sale of CBD products in the first place. Isn’t CBD legal in all U.S. states? Not really, and that’s probably why it’s on Amazon’s banned list. While many retailers claim CBD is legal in all 50 states, its legal status is still a vast gray zone.

Hemp (defined as Cannabis sativa L. with a maximum delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or THC concentration of 0.3%9) was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill,10,11 which has led to the inaccurate belief that CBD from hemp was automatically legalized too.

Alas, the Farm Bill specifies that CBD is to be under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As explained on FDA.gov, while cannabis plants containing less than 0.3% THC are no longer considered controlled substances:12

“The 2018 Farm Bill … explicitly preserved FDA’s authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the FD&C Act and section 351 of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act).

FDA treats products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds as it does any other FDA-regulated products — meaning they’re subject to the same authorities and requirements as FDA-regulated products containing any other substance.

This is true regardless of whether the cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds are classified as hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill.”

This throws a monkey-wrench into the “all hemp-based CBD is legal” claim, as the FDA has approved a CBD-containing drug (Epidiolex), which automatically renders all other CBD products “unapproved drugs,” as far as the FDA is concerned.

On Federal Level, CBD Is Not a Legal Dietary Supplement

With CBD now technically being a drug in the FDA’s eyes, it seems unlikely that the agency would also approve it as a nutritional supplement or food ingredient. This means the FDA could, at any time, crack down on the sale of all the CBD products that are now proliferating.

Muddying the waters further, some U.S. states have enacted CBD-specific rules and laws, so while you may not sell or ship a CBD product across state lines, you would be allowed to produce, sell and possess CBD within those states. The legal statuses of CBD in each of the 50 states are reviewed in an August 8, 2019, article13 by Plant People.

The FDA also has not approved cannabis or cannabis-derived CBD for the treatment of any disease or condition, which means CBD products cannot legally make any health claims on their labels or in their advertising.14

In November 2019, the FDA sent out warning letters to 15 companies selling CBD products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, as detailed in “FDA Cracks Down on CBD Oil.”

According to the FDA’s consumer update on CBD,15 dated November 25, 2019, there’s a lack of scientific information supporting the safety of CBD in food, stressing that “It is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement.”

So, to summarize, the only FDA approved CBD product is a prescription drug for the treatment of two severe forms of epilepsy,16 which makes CBD illegal for use in food, animal feed or supplements, and interstate commerce of such products prohibited per the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (although CBD-specific rules may apply in some states).

Please Don’t Buy CBD From Amazon

The growing recognition of CBD’s medicinal benefits has led to a rapidly expanding CBD market, despite its murky legal status. According to Project CBD, at least 50 conditions17 are believed to be improved by CBD, including pain, seizures, digestive disorders, degenerative neurological disorders, mood disorders and high blood pressure.

To learn more about the benefits of CBD, see “The Endocannabinoid System and the Important Role It Plays in Human Health.” That CBD has noteworthy health benefits seems indisputable, but quality is paramount.

The fact that Amazon is prohibiting vendors from selling high-quality CBD products on its platform while advertising and shuttling consumers toward fake ones is a double disgrace.

The take-home message here is this: Knowing that Amazon will not permit high-quality CBD products to be sold means you simply should not buy anything CBD-related from them. I also recommend caution when buying other nutritional supplements from Amazon, seeing how the platform has been caught selling counterfeit supplements on more than one occasion.18

Also keep in mind that since CBD oil became a focus of popular holistic medicine almost overnight, effective quality control has not caught up yet and some products do not meet the claims made on the label.19,20 Until such a system is in place, it’s important you purchase your CBD products from a trusted source.

Why I Recommend Organic CBD

The cannabis plant (including hemp) is an efficient extractor of heavy metals from the soil, making heavy metal testing particularly important for hemp-based CBD products. In fact, hemp is frequently planted for bioremediation purposes,21 which is great if it’s used for rope, fuel and other nonmedical uses.

When made into medicine, however, this soil-cleansing feature could pose significant problems, as it must be grown in clean soil. As a general rule, I recommend seeking out certified organic CBD products to ensure the least amount of contamination with pesticides and other harmful agricultural contaminants.