CBD (cannabidiol) products are on the rise globally, and the UK is no exception. From CBD-infused coffee to CBD gummies, it has exploded into an entire industry that offers a stunning variety of options. Formerly relegated to the sidelines and viewed as controversial, CBD is now becoming more mainstream in certain parts of the world, with doctors prescribing it as treatment and people turning to it for recreational use.
With so much recent buzz and activity about cannabidiol, what does the future hold for CBD in the UK?
What is CBD?
Before we dive into the state of CBD in the UK, let’s clear up what CBD is first. CBD or cannabidiol is a compound that’s found in the cannabis plant. In its pure form, it’s called CBD isolate, but it’s often sold as CBD oil, which can contain other compounds of the plant as well as additional ingredients. CBD can also be infused into all sorts of products, including food, drinks, and skincare products.
While more research needs to be done, several studies have linked CBD with therapeutic properties. It has huge potential for offering pain relief and treating conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and anxiety, to the point that some UK doctors can already prescribe it as medicine.
Overall, it has a calming, soothing effect, but you definitely won’t get high from it. People often confuse CBD with THC, which is another marijuana-derived compound; the one that’s responsible for marijuana users high. THC is psychoactive, but CBD isn’t.
CBD in the UK
Far from being a fad, the popularity around CBD doesn’t seem to be waning. There’s been a lot of growth for the CBD market in Europe, and the UK is among the leading countries.
According to the Cannabis Trades Association UK, the number of CBD users in the UK doubled between 2017 and 2018 alone, going from 125,000 to at least 250,000. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the most rapidly growing industries in the UK. Research by the Centre for Medical Cannabis (CMC) discovered that consumers range across various ages and social groups. By 2025, sales may even total £1 billion, rivalling the size of the country’s entire health supplement market.
Two other surveys conducted in 2019 revealed that 8 to 11% of UK adults have already tried CBD. Consumers are mainly curious about trying it because they want to improve their wellbeing or experience CBD’s therapeutic benefits. UK consumers tend to lean towards tinctures, oils, and capsules, which have more potent amounts of CBD. They also prefer buying from online shops, even though CBD is readily available in supermarkets, pharmacies, and other physical stores.
Ultimately, there’s a bias for CBD products made in the UK, and consumers appreciate it when clear information and instructions are included, given that CBD can still be confusing.
UK Regulations for CBD
As always, regulations do have a huge impact on the CBD market and are partly checking its growth. Because CBD is a relatively new product, regulations for it in the UK can still be vague and messy. The UK CBD market as a whole isn’t very regulated, and it’s been the subject of intense debate for years. Another complicating factor is the sheer diversity of CBD products, to which different rules can apply.
Is CBD Legal?
UK laws about CBD can be complex, but the straightforward answer is yes.
Cannabis plants are classified as either hemp or marijuana based on their THC content. Hemp plants have negligible THC content (0.3% or less), while marijuana has higher amounts (> 0.3%) of it, which causes a psychoactive effect in people. Because of this, THC is considered an illegal drug in the UK, and marijuana is banned. On the other hand, hemp products are completely legal. Likewise, CBD is considered okay because it doesn’t get people high and it’s not addictive.
As a result, pure CBD or CBD isolate is legal in the UK. CBD oil is also legal as long as it’s derived from industrial-grade hemp that’s EU-approved and it has 0.3% or less THC. Rest assured that all of the wholesale CBD products we have here in JM Wholesale are very much legal, with minimal THC below permissible levels.
Cultivating Cannabis Plants
The UK is actually among the top producers of legal cannabis globally, but laws for cultivating cannabis plants remain strict. Only licensed businesses are allowed. Businesses obtain their license from the Home Office, but this involves a lot of paperwork as well as more restrictions, such as not growing cannabis near schools. On top of this, licensed businesses only grow industrial hemp with low levels of THC, not marijuana.
On the other hand, cultivating cannabis plants on your own is illegal, and it can potentially lead to several years in prison.
One regulation that will have a huge effect on the CBD industry is the updated EU ruling on novel food. This covers all food that hasn’t been consumed much in the EU before 1997. All cannabinoids, including CBD, are considered as novel food, and so CBD products such as CBD-infused teas and candies will be affected.
All novel food would have to apply for authorisation before they can be sold. This means that sales of affected CBD products would have to be suspended while the application is ongoing, and this can take up to 18 months. Thankfully, the ruling hasn’t been implemented in the UK yet. There’s also a lot of ongoing debate about which CBD products should be considered novel food.
CBD as Medicine
Although CBD has been used as medicine in different cultures for hundreds of years, its therapeutic properties have only been tested through clinical studies recently. While the UK does acknowledge that CBD can be used for medical purposes, it’s still far from being widely approved by authorities.
A significant step is the legalisation of medical cannabis in certain situations. By Nov. 1, 2019, doctors in England, Wales, and Scotland can prescribe CBD oil to patients. However, this only applies to extreme circumstances involving epileptic seizures, multiple sclerosis, or chemotherapy-induced nausea, and getting a legal prescription remains challenging.
There are also two cannabis-based medicines that have already been approved. Sativex is a lab-produced 50/50 blend of CBD and THC that’s useful for treating multiple sclerosis, while Epidiolex is for childhood epilepsy.
Outside of clinics, CBD products are rarely marketed as medicine. This would require a license from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and the process is expensive and time-consuming. As an alternative, most CBD products are classified as cosmetics or nutritional supplements instead.
Looking to the Future
Despite the complicated state of CBD regulations, the CBD market in the UK is poised to enjoy more growth over the next few years. Its image is changing from controversial to mainstream, and both medical experts and researchers are increasingly interested in it as a form of treatment. The market itself is fast-paced, attracting more entrepreneurs and innovators and generating thousands of creative products.
Aside from regulations and business innovation, another important factor for the UK CBD market’s success is consumer awareness. CBD can still be confusing for most because of the terms involved, along with the stigma and lack of readily available information. Businesses would do well to help their audience know more about CBD, especially since UK consumers have shown a willingness to try CBD and even make it a regular part of their wellness routine. On the part of the scientific community, the results of clinical trials should also be communicated properly to the general public.
As countries like Germany have shown, the UK’s current situation with CBD is far from unique, and it paves the path for greater acceptance of CBD, both medically and recreationally. Even amidst global market and regulatory changes, the UK CBD market is likely to continue going from strength to strength in the years to come.