17 Apr The Facts About CBD In The UK. April 2018.
This article is an update to ‘The Facts About CBD In The UK. December 2016.‘
The past three years have seen a true phenomenon develop around the cannabis law reform movement which has quickly crossed into mainstream society, commerce and general awareness. It’s the explosion of the CBD market, a trade that has grown from zero to £50 million per annum in the UK in this very short period.
There has been a great deal of nonsense published about the market, the products and their legality both under drugs laws, food and medicines regulation. The facts that are set out in this article are established from close involvement with the developing market on a daily basis as well as consultation with a number of lawyers of all types and levels of experience as well as direct contact with the Home Office, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and other authorities.
The market has been driven initially because of growing interest in the medical benefits of cannabis and the recognition that, within certain constraints, products derived from low-THC cannabis, legally grown under licence as industrial hemp, are a legal alternative. An important factor has been that CBD is most often consumed by placing a few drops of oil under the tongue. This has avoided the stigma of smoking a joint and is more in line with the way people perceive a medicine or health food.
The CBD market has also exposed the contradictions, inconsistencies and errors in the Misuse of Drugs legislation and particularly in the confused and inconsistent way in which the Home Office attempts to administer it. For instance, currently there are CBD products produced legally in other EU countries and the USA which can legally be sold in the UK but which the Home Office will not permit UK companies to produce.
Ironically, the most significant development has been that responsible CBD suppliers have moved away from claiming the sort of medical benefits that are, in fact, the reason for the market’s existence. Although everyone knows this is why people are buying CBD, if you’re in the business of supplying the products you can’t say a thing, not even indirectly, about the medical benefits it offers.
18 months ago, all the leading and responsible suppliers of CBD products in the UK joined together to create their own trade association. The Cannabis Trades Association UK (CTA UK) now represents 80% by turnover of all the CBD suppliers in the UK. It is governed by its members who have established a set of standards on products, labelling and marketing which all abide by. These standards are designed to protect and inform consumers and to ensure that all CTA UK members are compliant with the law.
The formation of CTA UK was prompted by the MHRA issuing warnings to some suppliers about making medical claims for their products. To remain within the law, CBD products must be sold as food supplements and the most that can be said about them is that they help to improve and maintain health and wellbeing. Before any product can be marketed with medicinal claims it must have a marketing authorisation from the MHRA. Food supplements must also comply with certain laws and regulations administered by the FSA.
CTA UK is now engaged in a continuous dialogue with both the MHRA and FSA. Regular meetings are held to consider new suppliers and products entering the market to ensure they comply with the law, regulations and CTA UK standards.
When supplied by a CTA UK member, consumers can be certain that the product they are buying is 100% legal and is accurately labelled and described. CBD is not a ’controlled drug’. It does not appear in any of the classifications or schedules to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
There is widespread misunderstanding about the 0.2% THC limit in industrial hemp. This is the limit in the growing plant and is not relevant to CBD products. Clearly what may be under 0.2% in the growing plant would be far higher in an extract which is, by definition, concentrated. The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 make it clear that any product derived from low-THC cannabis grown legally under licence as industrial hemp is “exempt” provided it contains “not more than one milligram” of THC or CBN. This is the limit that matters. See The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 ‘Interpretation’ 2-(1) (a)(b)(c)
Contrary to suggestions that the market is “in chaos”, “half-legal”, “a bit of a mess” and other spurious claims, in fact, it is a model of self-regulation where the industry itself has put aside its competitive instincts to co-operate for the benefit of consumers and in its own long term self-interest.
No suppliers will be admitted to membership of CTAUK unless they cease making medicinal claims, stop selling illegal products (for instance with high levels of THC, described as ‘indica’ or intended for pets or veterinary purposes). Indeed, any suppliers that continue such conduct are likely to be subject to enforcement action by the MHRA and Trading Standards.
There are further changes or clarifications in the law relating to some CBD products which have emerged in the last few weeks. These arise out of regulations from the FSA. Isolates or pure CBD are now no longer permitted as they have been classified as ‘novel foods’. This could mean a prison sentence of up to two years for anyone selling them.
It’s a myth, although regularly reported in the press, that there has been any change in the law or that CBD has been made legal or classified as a medicine. CBD products can already be prescribed by doctors without any restriction, just as any other food supplement. When the inevitable cannabis law reform takes place it will still be unlawful to make medicinal claims about any CBD or cannabis product without a marketing authorisation from the MHRA.
Within the next few months, the first CBD medicine will receive a marketing authorisation from the MHRA. Epidiolex, a whole plant extract, refined to deliver 98% CBD, is GW Pharmaceuticals’ second cannabis-derived prescription medicine which is intended for severe forms of paediatric epilepsy. It is not derived from industrial hemp but from high CBD strains of cannabis grown specifically for the purpose. It should be noted that this is to be administered in massive doses of up to 20 mg per day per kg of body weight, CBD as a food supplement for adults has a maximum recommended dose of 200mg per day.
The CBD food supplement market will continue to grow. Other medicines may be authorised in the near future, most likely under the MHRA’s Traditional Herbal Registration scheme, which will permit them to be described as medicines for minor ailments not requiring the supervision of a doctor.
Clearly, it remains urgent that our government gets to grips with the reality of the need and benefits of cannabis for medical use in the wider sense. However, even as we begin to make progress the CBD market in its present form will continue to fulfil an important need for many years to come.