Navigating the UK CBD Law, when ‘cannabis oil’ is not Cannabis

In the UK buying CBD online or in-store is no different to buying any other plant extracted health supplement if it were not for the hoo-ha of the media and similar ‘medical’ industries, the law in the UK would not be blurred.  Lets start by clarifying that any CBD product purchased in the UK is 100% legal as long as it was derived from one of the 63 EU approved industrial hemp strains.  CBD from anywhere else is prohibited.

The UK’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recognises that products containing non-psychoactive CBD can exhibit medicinal properties.  According to a statement published on the regulatory body’s website, products with CBD must be authorised before advertisement or sale in the UK. Companies must make a valid application. After that, MHRA assesses the product’s efficacy, quality, and safety before approval.  Enforcing such a statement would be tantamount to depriving over 250,000 consumers the right to purchase their therapy.

MHRA Recognises CBD

Last year, on 13 Oct 2016, MHRA expressed its intention to recognise the therapeutic status of CBD as a food supplement, one of the 94 phytocannabinoids in cannabis. In their first statement, they revealed that CBD products would be considered medicines after satisfying Human Medicines Regulations of 2012. In regards to patient safety, they emphasised that patients should seek advice from their doctors in regards to CBD use.

A further update by MHRA dated 1 November reiterated that their chief concern was safety and are working in consultation with the CTA UK (Cannabis Trades Association) to regulate both products and sellers of CBD products.

The decision by MHRA came after an evaluation of current research on CBD which proved to a certain degree its efficacy. Patients’ success stories after using the medicine played a role in the formulation of the policy. Patient stories largely show that CBD can aid in the management and curing of a broad range of diseases and ailments. Some include cancer, anxiety & depression, heart conditions, among the many others.

Concerns Regarding the Directive

Despite the apparent benefits of this move by MHRA, the cultivation of any variety of Cannabis (non-hemp) is illegal. That goes for its possession and consumption which could land offenders in jail. Companies and trade unions have expressed their concern about this impediment, yet CBD use derived from hemp is legal. The status of cannabis as a class B drug also affects the view of potential customers who may have doubts about CBD and its healing capacity.

Further concern exists that the regulation may make it hard for the entry of new producers into the market; thus, reducing the amount of CBD available. As the popularity of CBD grows, it could mean a lack of enough supply to meet the growing demand. In addition, application and licensing tend to be very expensive, which makes it hard for small players to operate.

To say the least, a lot needs to change. Cannabidiol (CBD) extract from the hemp plant, a variety of Cannabis saliva has low concentrations of the controversial THC responsible for the ‘high’.  According to the Home Office, it is THC that must be controlled, not CBD.

The Food Standards Authority (FSA) the organisation seemingly tasked with regulating CBD as a novel food supplement had this to say:

To confirm from a novel foods perspective, the UK is aware that a significant history of consumption exists for Cannabis sativa L (Hemp) as foodstuffs and food ingredient in the EU, prior to 15 May 1997, and therefore it does not fall within the scope of the novel foods regulation. Selective extracts of the plant for example Cannabidiol (CBD) may be considered novel where there is not a history of consumption and therefore require pre-market risk assessment under the regulation. Currently an application is under consideration under the Novel Food Regulation for a highly refined CBD extract and within the EU these types of ingredients would be considered as novel.

In the meantime and in the absence of clear taxable reform, CBD remains legal according to agricultural hemp laws and can be sold legally as a food supplement as long as EU & UK protocols for food supplements are adhered to.

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