Cannabidiol (CBD) has become all the rage in the health and wellness industry here in the UK and abroad for its benefits to the human body.
CBD is sold in the form of oils, chewables, sprays, balms, lotions and vapable e-liquid. It is being infused with food products, such as coffee, chocolate, and smoothies. There is, it’s safe to say, a huge growing market for CBD consumption in the UK
One major obstacle in the way of CBD’s market potential is the controversy and confusion regarding its legality. This is mostly due to its association with the cannabis plant. It is a cannabinoid after all, which is basically a chemical compound derived from cannabis.
Marijuana is only recently getting legalised in a few countries, with the UK allowing it for medicinal use but should come with a prescription. Because of the connection between CBD and cannabis in general, it is easy for the uninformed to assume CBD is in the same situation as marijuana legal-wise.
To help make things clear, let us look into what the law says about CBD here in the UK.
Is CBD Legal?
The short answer is yes, CBD is legal in the UK, as CBD is not a controlled substance. However, it must be derived from industrial hemp with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content not exceeding 0.2% and that this THC content cannot be easily separated. THC is the chemical compound in marijuana that produces the psychoactive effect that makes users feel “high”.
For further clarification, the 0.2% THC limit is for the industrial hemp sourced to produce the CBD, not the actual CBD product made from the industrial hemp.
The actual number that retailers need to be aware of is 1 milligram per container. A pack or a bottle of CBD product should not have more than 1 milligram of THC for it to be legally sold.
This general regulation has allowed CBD products to be sold in the past as being medically beneficial. However, this has changed since 2017.
CBD as Medicine
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) officially recognised CBD as a medical ingredient in 2017. This is a significant breakthrough in acknowledging the positives of CBD, however, it does come with a major condition. The sale of any product with CBD deemed to have medicinal benefits must have a product licence stating that it does indeed provide such benefits. Selling a CBD product with medicinal claims without a licence is illegal.
While there have been more and more studies coming out about CBD treating symptoms and providing overall health benefits, this particular field of research is still relatively young. Doctors are wary of prescribing CBD to their patients, even with the known therapeutic effects of the substance.
The application process, as outlined by the Home Office, for the legal use of CBD as medicine is lengthy with strict requirements. Clinicians are subjected to a review panel of experts, and they have to provide proof that there “are exceptional clinical circumstances” and “no other lawful medicinal product (whether licensed or not) that would meet the specific need of the patient”.
Licensing fees for medical products are expensive, and the need for companies to conduct studies to produce clinical data that can get them the license is yet another great financial concern to account for.
Because of these heavy restrictions, there has yet to be a CBD product that has been licensed for medical use as of this article’s writing.
What many businesses have been doing to continue selling their CBD products legally is to advertise them as “food supplements”. This gets around the requirement to procure a medical license for their CBD products.
While this practice has led to the proliferation of CBD products in the market, it has also muddled the status of CBD. Regulating CBD products advertised as food supplements has its own different set of rules.
CBD as Food
Selling CBD products as food supplements put it within the purview of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK. The FSA has stated that it will follow the European Commission’s regulations that categorise cannabinoids consumed as food, including CBD, as “novel food”, even in the case when Brexit goes through and the UK is no longer part of the European Union.
According to the European Commission (EC), “Novel Food is defined as food that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997, when the first Regulation on novel food came into force.”
As CBD has been ruled to be a “novel food”, the sale of such products requires its own market authorisation from the corresponding governing body of a nation within the EU. Currently, the responsibility falls on the FSA.
The FSA’s latest position on the matter is as such: CBD is considered a novel food, and the sale of products containing CBD sold as food supplements requires authorisation from the EC.
Considering the very real possibility that the UK would no longer be part of the EU in the near future, this application process might not be a fruitful endeavour for companies looking to get authorised anytime soon.
As of this article’s writing, Holland & Barrett, one of the UK’s largest health food chains, is still selling some CBD oils as supplements.
Marketing CBD Products
So with CBD having strict regulations either as a medicine or food, it is complicated deciding on how CBD products can be marketed. Let’s look to the UK’s regulator of advertising, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), for guidance.
As mentioned earlier, it is required by law to have a medical licence for a CBD product to be sold as a medicinal product. If it does not have such a licence, it should not make any medicinal claims. Marketing for such a product cannot say it can “cure”, “restore”, “prevent”, “avoid”, “fight” or “heal”, or any other similar terms.
If the CBD product is going to be marketed as food, the ASA says the product must follow either the FSA’s regulations on novel foods or Section 15 of the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code.
As we’ve already covered, the FSA requires market authorisation. There are currently no CBD products that have been granted such authorisation, according to the ASA.
In the case the CBD product can be argued as not being a novel food and just a food/food supplement, you can only make general health claims, and they “must be accompanied by a relevant specific authorised health claim”.
Specific health claims can only be made if they are listed in the EU Register, and there are currently no such claims for CBD.
Stay On Top of CBD Regulations
It’s best to be on top of these regulations so you can stay compliant, especially since Brexit may change CBD regulations in the country. Remember that:
- CBD is currently legal in the UK, however, CBD products must be sourced from industrial hemp with 0.2% or lower THC content. Legal CBD products must only have 1 mg or lower of THC content in their containers.
- The MHRA recognises CBD as a medicinal ingredient. However, selling CBD as a medicinal product requires a medical licence, and there has yet to be a CBD product that has been officially granted such a licence.
- The EC and the FSA consider CBD as a novel food. CBD products need authorisation from the EC if they are to be sold as food/food supplements, and there has yet to be a CBD product that has been officially authorised by the EC.
- The ASA, meanwhile, states that CBD products without a medical licence cannot make any health claims. They also say that CBD products marketed as food/food supplements can only make general health claims with a relevant specific authorised health claim.
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