McConnell discusses hemp, CBD with Trump nominee to lead FDA

Hemp and CBD were among several issues that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed Wednesday with President Trump's nominee to lead FDA. Dr. Stephen Hahn also weighed in on CBD during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

Josh Long, Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider

November 20, 2019

3 Min Read
McConnell discusses hemp, CBD with Trump nominee to lead FDA

In a meeting Wednesday with FDA Commissioner nominee, Stephen Hahn, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) discussed the positive impact of hemp legalization as well as the need for a regulatory framework over CBD, according to a news release issued by his office.

Hemp, CBD and the youth vaping crisis were among the issues that McConnell discussed with Hahn, the chief medical executive at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. On Nov. 5, President Trump tapped Hahn to lead FDA.

“Like many Kentuckians who are taking advantage of hemp’s legalization, I am eager for FDA’s plans to create certainty for CBD products,” McConnell said in a statement. 

Mitch McConnell 2019

Hahn testimony

Hahn also appeared Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) for his confirmation hearing. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee who chairs the committee, described Hahn as “a strong choice to lead FDA.”

"There are many issues that will likely come before the Commissioner that are perplexing and engender honest disagreement," Hahn, a medical doctor and scientist, said in his prepared statement before the HELP Committee. "When that occurs, I pledge to listen, study and assess all viewpoints." 

In response to comments from Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) about hemp and CBD, Hahn pointed out many Americans are using the products.

"And a significant proportion of Americans … using the products think they’re already judged to be safe and effective by FDA when they’re not," he said.

Hahn cited "unanswered questions" that data, research and science must fill in. 

"I also know that there are signals that CBD, for example ... can be an effective medical product," he added. “I think we have to have a clear and transparent framework for assessing them—certainly on the medical product side.”

Stephen Hahn 2019

Earlier in the hearing in response to a question from Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-Nevada) about the challenges facing researchers seeking to study cannabis, Hahn discussed the potential for CBD to be used for cancer and in palliative care. 

But he also suggested researchers must answer such important questions as the health effects of CBD's long-term use and the appropriate dosage for a specific indication. 

Hahn also highlighted a problem that FDA officials have identified: marketing claims that unapproved CBD products treat diseases.

"I think unsubstantiated claims like we see in the marketplace are of concern in terms of things like curing Alzheimer’s or cancer that need to be supported by data," he said. 


The hemp industry is hopeful that FDA's new leader will take action to create a legal pathway for hemp-derived CBD in dietary supplements and conventional food. FDA has asserted CBD is excluded from being marketed in supplements or added to food because, in short, it was first studied as a drug. FDA has authority to create an exception, but agency officials have stressed they are currently focused on gathering data to ensure CBD is safe.

"If we don’t think we’ll have the data to say that some level of CBD can be safely added to a food or dietary supplement, then we wouldn’t want to create an exception for CBD," Lowell Schiller, an FDA official, said during a recent conference hosted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN).

The supplement industry has become increasingly frustrated with FDA's inaction on CBD, and many trade groups have turned to Congress for a legislative solution. McConnell championed passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, and he is considered a pivotal figure in any movement on Capitol Hill to authorize CBD in supplements and food.



About the Author(s)

Josh Long

Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition

Josh Long directs the online news, feature and op-ed coverage at Natural Products Insider, which targets the health and wellness industry. He has been reporting on developments in the dietary supplement industry for over a decade, with a focus on regulatory issues, including at the Food and Drug Administration.

He has moderated and/or presented at industry trade shows, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West, Natural Products Expo West, NBJ Summit and the annual Dietary Supplement Regulatory Summit.

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn and ping him with story ideas at [email protected]

Education and previous experience

Josh majored in journalism and graduated from Arizona State University the same year "Jake the Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law, was admitted in 2008 to practice law in the state of Colorado and spent a year clerking for a state district court judge.

Over more than a quarter century, he’s written on various topics for newspapers and business-to-business publications – from the Yavapai in Arizona and a controversial plan for a nuclear-waste incinerator in Idaho to nuanced issues, including FDA enforcement of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Since the late 1990s, his articles have been published in a variety of media, including but not limited to, the Cape Cod Times (in Massachusetts), Sedona Red Rock News (in Arizona), Denver Post (in Colorado), Casper Star-Tribune (in Wyoming), now-defunct Jackson Hole Guide (in Wyoming), Colorado Lawyer (published by the Colorado Bar Association) and Nutrition Business Journal.

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