A key chemical in marijuana could spark trouble for a Brooklyn java joint owner who claims to be the first in New York City to have infused coffee drinks with the compound, cannabidiol, or CBD.
Ian Ford, proprietor of Caffeine Underground in the Bushwick section, said business boomed when he started selling CBD Coffee and Trippin’ Tea.
But now that the New York City’s health department has started cracking down on bars and eateries that sell food or drinks containing CBD, he expects to hear a health inspector to knock on his door.
“We were the first ones in New York State to offer drinks with CBD and it became a big deal for us,” Ford told NBC News on Wednesday. “Now I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Ford said he’s aware of other establishments that sell such fare that have been told to cease and desist by the city.
“They know we sell this, but they’re not talking to us until they show up, apparently,” he said. “All of this is very confusing. It’s legal to buy it and stick it on your tongue, but it’s not legal to buy it and stick it in your coffee? It’s like there’s no rules and too many rules. “
The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed in a statement that it was ordering restaurants and other establishments not to sell food or drink that contains CBD because it has not been deemed safe to consume.
“Restaurants in New York City are not permitted to add anything to food or drink that is not approved as safe to eat,” the statement read. “The Health Department takes seriously its responsibility to protect New Yorkers’ health. Until cannabidiol (CBD) is deemed safe as a food additive, the Department is ordering restaurants not to offer products containing CBD.”
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The Health Department supplied NBC News with a list of 11 restaurants — all but two of them in Manhattan — that have been “ordered not to use CBD as a food additive in products.”
News of the crackdown was broken by the Eater blog, which mentioned that The Wild Son restaurant and cocktail bar in Manhattan’s trendy meatpacking district was serving cocktails with a dash of CBD.
Paul Downie, who runs the establishment, said that for a time they did serve such concoctions.
“It wasn’t a marquee thing for us, it was just something that came up because some of our people use CBD oil and we started offering it to see if it would take off,” he said. “It didn’t take off.”
Downie said they haven’t heard from city health officials. “In any case, we’ve pulled it,” he said of the CBD-infused cocktails. “We don’t offer it anymore. “
New York City is not the only jurisdiction lowering the boom on CBD. The New York Times reported that states like Maine and Ohio are also barring the sale of food products containing the chemical.
Unlike THC, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol and is the main component in marijuana, CBD doesn't get people high.
But it’s been touted by celebrities like Mandy Moore and Willie Nelson as a remedy for anxiety, insomnia, pain and a host of other ailments, although there’s little solid research on its effects on humans.
Despite that, CBD increasingly showing up in supposed health products like skin creams and other topical oils.
Besides the question of whether it is safe, another problem with CBD is that its legality is still, in some ways, TBD.
But the FDA, on its website, also says CBD cannot be sold as a dietary supplement or in food that crosses state lines.
Meanwhile, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration still regards cannabis as banned schedule 1 drug and therefore illegal, despite the fact that marijuana is fully legal in states like California and Massachusetts. In New York State, marijuana for medical use is allowed.
A recent investigation by NBC Miami found that certain manufacturers appear to be trying to cash in on the CBD craze — and the lack of regulation — by pushing products that are said to contain CBD but in fact don’t.
“Patients are being duped,” said Chris Martinez, president of Evio Labs, which analyzed 35 CBD products and found that 20 contained less than half the amount of CBD advertised and some contained none.
Back at Caffeine Underground in Brooklyn, the proprietor, Ford, said, “It’s not just drinks” he makes that contain CBD. He said he also has products with CBD from out of state.
Ford said he has called the city health Department, but so far, “I’m not getting any answers.”
Corky Siemaszko is a senior writer at NBC News Digital.