Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
The saying goes “never waste a good crisis.”
Many businesses are profiting off COVID-19 fears with false claims of preventing, treating, or even curing the virus. Authorities are taking measures to shut down false advertisements.
Coronavirus-related cons, scams and claims abound according to the Federal Trade Commission, which has received 49,046 reports related to COVID-19, and a total fraud loss of $35.57 million dollars and counting.
The faux claims of CBD cures are pushed via text message, e-mail, and advertisements to consumers.
“Over 20 websites have been fully removed for scamming and profiting off of coronavirus illegally” said a spokesperson for the New York Attorney General office. While most of these fraudulent websites are advertising COVID-19 home testing scams, some are promoting fake cures.
New York Attorney General James ordered Finest Herbalist, a company specializing in cannabidiol, to immediately cease and desist advertising one of its products as a means of curing or treating the novel coronavirus.
Finest Herbalist told the New York Post, “We do not approve of or condone the marketing methods brought to our attention by the cease and desist notification.” They also told the New York Post that a third party is responsible for marketing and it “instructed such vendors to take necessary action to ensure advertisements for our product do not include any claim that our products prevent, cure, or treat the 2019 novel coronavirus … or any other disease.”
“Deceptive marketing is never acceptable, especially during a time of crisis; this is a matter of public health and safety. My office will continue to root out companies that attempt to illegally profit from this pandemic,” AG James said in a press release.
Online scams involving cannabidiol were common prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but confusion surrounding the virus as well as what CBD is approved for makes for a particularly effective scam.
Currently the FDA has “approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products.” These FDA-approved drugs include Epidiolex, Marinol, Syndros, and Cesamet, which are used in treating various conditions ranging from AIDS-related anorexia to certain types of seizures. None of these drugs are specifically approved for the prevention, treatment or cure for COVID-19.
Stringent FDA restrictions regarding wording that can and cannot be used on products containing CBD potentially leave many consumers in a state of confusion. While some consumers may use CBD with the intent of alleviating various health ailments, CBD cannot be marketed as such according to the FDA.
In a January 2020 scientific literature review by Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research to analyze the effects of CBD on viral infections, researchers concluded that there is little clinical evidence supporting the antiviral properties of CBD and warned CBD retailers against this approach to advertising.
“CBD sellers should stop promoting claims that are not backed by scientific evidence,” researchers wrote. “Misleading claims represent both a threat to public health and a violation of consumer access to accurate information.”
One organization that has been vigilant in warning about COVID-19 scams from cannabis companies is the nation’s oldest cannabis reform organization NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).
“It should be of no surprise that similar folks who had no qualms with taking advantage of patients and other concerned individuals during good times have no problem doing so during a health crisis,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri told L.A. Weekly.
NORML suggested in a recent blog post they provided to Fox News that consumers “either limit or altogether avoid their exposure to combustive smoke of any kind” due to the nature of COVID-19 to attack the respiratory system.
Americans who suspect they have been the victim of a COVID-19-related scam are encouraged to report the incident to the FTC Complaint Assistant.