Even though the FDA has expressed its displeasure at adding CBD to food, that hasn’t stopped hamburger chains from tossing in some cannabidiol to enhance their burgers. The trend was started last year when on April 20th of 2019 (yep, that’s 4/20), Carl’s Jr. became the first fast-food chain to sell a CBD burger at one of its franchises in Denver, Colorado. The ambitiously named “Rocky Mountain High: Cheeseburger Delight” was composed of two beef patties, pickled jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, fries, and a Santa Fe sauce infused with 5mg of CBD. And the price? $4.20, of course.
The “Rocky Mountain High”, which was only available for one day, was more of a concept test than a menu change, and given that the location sold more than 100 of them within the first hour and ran out entirely by 4 pm, it was one that the CBD burger passed with flying colors.
That has sparked Colorado-based Illegal Burger to offer what it calls its biggest differentiator, “its exclusive line of CBD products.” The chain is using the idea of CBD burgers as a way to entice new franchisees. On its website, it states, “As an Illegal Burger franchise owner, you will: Be part of the first CBD restaurant franchise in the U.S.” The company backs its decision by saying, “Cannabinoid, or CBD, is attributed to many health benefits. Recently, the FDA approved of its use to treat two forms of childhood epilepsy, and consumers report it positively impacting anxiety, sleep disorders, and even chronic pain.”
The CBD burger was good for business and, according to reporting by Mike Adams at Forbes.com, even healthier for consumers than a dose of CBD all by itself. Adams cites a study that dosed two separate groups of participants with CBD. One group was placed under fasting conditions (no breakfast), while the other group was fed a high-fat meal. Those who partook of the high-fat meal before consuming a dose of CBD appeared to have a higher absorption rate (as demonstrated by a higher concentration of CBD in their systems) than their fasting counterparts.
So will Carl’s Jr. and Illegal Burgers along with the absorption rate study lead more fast food restaurant chains to jump on the CBD bandwagon in the months and years to come? To a large extent, this depends on how far the FDA goes in doubling down on restrictions prohibiting the addition of CBD to foods and dietary supplements in interstate commerce. Food safety officials in Maine, New York City, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia have all banned the addition of CBD to food.
An April 2019, an Inverse article on the Carl’s Jr. CBD burger reveals that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibiting any active substance in a pharmaceutical (which, thanks to the advent of FDA-approved anti-seizure medication Epidiolex, CBD is) from being added to food products further empowers regulators to crack down on the issue. Yet despite the fact that these laws are clearly worded with little room for interpretation, their enforcement still appears to be discretionary, as both the FDA and hemp companies scramble to definitively ensure that the CBD available to the public is pure, potent, and safe.
While private chefs and smaller-scale restaurants are still tempting fate (and upping their prices) to bring CBD and cannabis to the dining public, higher-profile establishments are taking the precautionary principle until federal regulations and law enforcement sort themselves out. Still, given that a National Restaurant Association survey identified CBD and cannabis-infused foods as the top restaurant trend in 2019, there’s still a chance that American consumers might be seeing some “special sauce” on offer at their local drive-thru.