We have talked at length about the upside in the CBD industry since our inception a few months ago. A lot of people agree and a lot of money is flowing into this industry… but is that a smart move?
Here’s a clear picture of the current CBD investment psychology:
“Leading cannabis researchers BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research, project that the collective market for CBD sales in the U.S. will surpass $20 billion by 2024.
“The convention-goers were more keyed on this figure, and less worried about potential push back from anyone looking to enforce state law or agencies like the Food and Drug Administration.”
Depending on your appetite for risk, this sentiment either makes perfect sense or is a clear sign that the CBD industry is going through something of a mania. What do I think?
I think there will be some pure startup winners all along the vertical but that most of the pure startups will end up failing (this is normal for startups in every industry but I think that the failure rate here will be higher than most industries. Those that are able to survive can realize huge returns on investment, more so than in many other industries.). I still think that the industry will go through an aggressive consolidation phase over the next few years, as can be seen from our story earlier about HeavenlyRx.
Going back to the point of this post, the reported sentiment at that convention does give me pause for concern. There are a lot of people who have no consumer product, much less CBD industry, experience getting into the industry. That’s a risk from an investment standpoint. Some of these CBD companies started by neophytes will work but I think the vast majority of them will fail.
The lack of clarity on regulations is also a risk. Sure, everyone, including us, thinks that the writing is on the wall and that CBD products will be legalized across the board… eventually. In the meantime, we’re not sure what the FDA will do and who knows what each state will do when it comes to regulating CBD products.
A few days ago, the FDA sent a shot across the bow to CBD company Curaleaf telling them that they have 15 days to get in line with FDA requests, including changing their medical claims, or else.
“As a result of this warning letter, which will require Lusardi’s response to correct these deficiencies within 15 days, Curaleaf lost its topical partnership with pharmacy giant CVS Health (NYSE: CVS). As a reminder, CVS Health announced in March that it would carry Curaleaf’s topical products in roughly 800 of its stores in eight states, with CBD expected to be a means for low-margin pharmacy chains to drum up foot traffic to their stores. It’s unclear if CVS will look elsewhere for its CBD supplies, especially with Walgreens Boots Alliance and Rite Aid following suit with cannabis products in their own stores shortly after CVS.”
Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner at the FDA, has suggested a pathway forward for the FDA regulating the CBD industry:
“The FDA could put the onus on manufacturers to bring forward petitions to demonstrate that CBD can be safely added to products such as food. These submissions can take the form of new dietary ingredient notifications or food additive petitions, which would include toxicity studies to evaluate the safety of CBD. These are the same standards any new food ingredients are held to. Congress can help by passing language saying that the FDA doesn’t need to issue a broad regulation on CBD and can instead rely on petitions filed by individual, prospective producers.”
It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that the FDA will do something along those lines. They could punt this issue, allowing limited ways to sell, and wait for clinical studies. Remember, the FDA has no incentive to act quickly here, they only look bad if they approve something that turns out to be unsafe.
Taking all this into consideration, I think you can make a good argument that entrepreneurs and investors are getting a little overly optimistic. I still think that there is tremendous upside in this industry but if the FDA throws a wrench in the machinery then you can kiss those projections goodbye.