Can we talk about all the celebrities endorsing CBD?

There’s no shortage of celebrities pitching CBD these days.

Have you noticed? Famous athletes and entertainers are lining up to trade their notoriety for endorsement fees, commissions or in some cases an ownership stake in a new company. And why not? It’s an opportunity for the celebrity pitch person to extend and align his or her brand with products that promise to enhance wellness — and to make more money. 

We know that CBD has known anti-inflammatory properties, and people are taking it for anxiety, insomnia and other conditions. But just because someone has a Twitter or Instagram following of say 1 million — and a direct, emotion-based conduit to the brains of consumers — does it mean they are steering you to a brand you can trust? 

Should you, as the buyer, beware when a celebrity urges you to buy a certain brand of CBD? We know from the vaping crisis of 2019 that harmful adulterants can be added to CBD vape juice. We also know that labeling has been wildly inconsistent: Some brands have had way less actual CBD in the bottle than advertised. So how do we know that the CBD we’re ingesting is safe and effective?

No, CBD does not cure or prevent COVID-19

In some cases, public figures are making promises they can’t keep. Former NFL player Kyle Turley, for instance, has run afoul of the FDA for saying that CBD cures / prevents COVID-19. This is an unproven claim, but Turley seems to fervently believe it and is still promoting the idea, despite the lack of supporting evidence.

While Turley stands alone in claiming CBD as a cure for the virus, other former NFL stars, including Joe Montana, Rob Gronkowski, Eugene Monroe and Terrell Davis are among those lending their names to various CBD brands. 

Indeed, retired pro athletes from just about every sport are cashing in on the CBD craze: Former NBA players on the bandwagon include Al Harrington, Paul Pierce and Cliff Robinson. Retired baseball hurlers David Wells and Goose Gossage are now pitching CBD brands, and many active PGA golfers are teeing up brands as well. Fighters get bruised, so it only makes sense for Mike Tyson and Nate Diaz to be in on this too. Even soccer icon Megan Rapinoe and her sister have made it a goal to sell branded CBD.

On the entertainment front, Martha Stewart has signed on to promote CBD for industry giant Canopy Growth (Drake, Seth Rogan and Snoop Dog are helping the company sell cannabis). Willie Nelson has a line of CBD and cannabis products, and others including Gweneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay-Z and John Legend are also selling CBD.

There’s confusion in the CBD marketplace

From a marketing perspective, this makes sense at a time when hundreds of CBD brands are seeking to differentiate their products. The image of a beloved (or even just familiar) sports icon or entertainer touting their product is obviously attractive for a brand trying to break into a crowded marketplace. 

But there are some issues here:

CBD is relatively new and there’s still a lot of confusion in the marketplace. CBD exists in the netherworld of unregulated nutritional supplements. The FDA weighs in occasionally to tell companies (and Kyle Turley) to stop making claims about what CBD can do. Otherwise, it’s the wild west. As with vitamins, you have serious brands and fun brands, homespun brands and bargain-bin brands you find at the gas station (don’t, just don’t.) How do you know which brands are any good? And who are you going to listen to when you come to a buying decision?

Endorsement by a celebrity does not equal quality. This is obviously true, but as consumers who have been conditioned all our lives, we sometimes need to remind ourselves to look at the pitch from a critical, questioning perspective. For instance, while tens of thousands of people are dying from COVID-19, Kourtney Kardasian, who also has a CBD line, has been pushing  “luxury” emergency kits that cost up to $250. That’s a lot for some hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Review site Wirecutter, owned by the New York Times, said of these kits: “We can say with certainty that none of them are worth your money.” I’m not in the demographic that would ever purchase anything from a Kardashian anyway, but I’m just sayin’…   fast-buck, shameless profits-over-people opportunism is a major turn-off.   

Some people have more credibility than others. Ricky Williams is another former NFL star who’s developed a line of CBD products (listen to our interview with his wife and CEO Linnea Miron).  Williams actually knows the value of cannabis as a medicine, he has used it for years and paid a huge price; he was kicked out of the NFL multiple times for doing so, and subsequently went to India to study herbal medicine before starting his company Real Wellness. I am in the demographic that might buy something from a legendary NFL running back who has also studied herbal medicine. I like his product line a lot, but I’m not yet buying Real Wellness products and here’s why…

Independent certification is the best indicator of quality we have. Until the FDA commits to real oversight of this market, the U.S. Hemp Authority is the industry watchdog with the most stringent quality standards, and the most credibility. (Listen to our interview with Marielle Weintraub, president of the board of the U.S. Hemp Authority.) You’re choosing a product that’s going to go into your body, so you want it to be organic, processed in a facility that’s ISO certified, and otherwise produced in a manner that’s consistent with USDA food-grade regulations. That’s a high bar, and it’s why Kannaboomers features U.S. Hemp Authority-certified CBD brands on our site. We’ve outsourced our trust function, essentially, to this organization of experts, whom we’ve talked to and determined to be trustworthy.  

Celebrity-endorsed CBD? For now, just say ‘no’

Let’s be real: I’m a lifelong American consumer, but I’m still not going to buy a Lincoln because Matthew McConaughey drives one around while spouting peculiar nuggets of his ruggedly individualistic philosophy (he’s high, right?). His stoned meanderings are not relevant to my buying decision. 

I do have affinity for certain teams, athletes and entertainers however, and I might be convinced to buy and recommend CBD from any of the sports or entertainment figures listed above, when they are certified by the best certifying organization I can find. Until then I have to be a skeptic, and will continue to regard those brands as background noise, not worthy of serious consideration. 

Last word: COVID-19 has exposed massive inequities in American life. The rich and famous have money, fame, security, sometimes lobbyists. You and I don’t have those resources in equal measure. So we must have our wits about us and protect our physical and financial health with the resources we do have. This means conducting due diligence, sharing our knowledge, and when we do buy, buying smart.

Also laid bare recently: Things in our lives that fit in the category deemed ‘essential.’ CBD might well be a key ingredient to a balanced endocannabinoid system and a healthy life. But we can’t make intelligent decisions about which brand to buy unless we have a clear indication of which brands we can trust. Celebrity endorsements alone just aren’t enough.