With hemp's rise in popularity over the past few years there has been all sorts of conflicting information going around regarding the legalities of it, especially for CBD hemp oil in the UK.
Approximately 6 million people in the UK have used hemp derived CBD (cannabidiol) at some point, according to the UK Centre Of Medicinal Cannabis (CMC), despite a lack of regulations for the substance.
What's alarming is the number of businesses pushing products that contain little to no CBD, or high amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
THC is the intoxicating compound in cannabis that produces a high in users, and is a Class 2 controlled substance under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971.
According to the CMC, only 38% of CBD products that they tested contained the amounts of CBD they claimed to within 10%, one of them had no CBD in it at all, and almost half of them contained measurable amounts of THC and CBN (cannabinol), another controlled cannabinoid in the UK.
Strict guidelines have now been put into place by the UK government. In order for companies to legally produce and sell their CBD products in the UK they must adhere to all of them.
There are several different areas of criteria that need to be met in order for CBD in the UK to be legal. This includes growing/farming, manufacturing and production, marketing, and labelling.
Laws on CBD hemp oil in the UK
MYTH: CBD is legal in the UK as long as it contains 0.2% or less.
It has been repeated everywhere that CBD is legal in the UK as long as it contains 0.2% THC or less, but this isn't true.
According to the Misuse Of Drugs Regulations, reg. #2 states that all products that meet certain criteria are allowed up to 1 mg of controlled cannabinoids per container.
The 0.2% THC amount ONLY applies to the actual plants themselves. In UK law any cannabis plant over 0.2% is considered to be marijuana, while any plant under this amount is considered to be industrial hemp.
So no matter the size of the container, it is only legally allowed to contain 1 mg of THC, or other cannabinoids the UK government has labelled as controlled, such as CBN.
CBN is considered a controlled cannabinoid
While it is common knowledge that THC is a class 2 substance, not many seem to know that CBN is as well.
CBN (cannabinol) is a mildly psychoactive cannabinoid, and a byproduct of THC breakdown.
It is formed through the decomposition and oxygenation of THC, and is more commonly found in higher concentrations in older cannabis plants.
When we say mildly psychoactive, we mean very mildly. This 1980's study details no significant cognitive or motor function effects.
Some studies have pointed at CBN having the potential to increase the effects of THC, however.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding CBN as a potential sedative or sleep aid, but unfortunately this doesn't have a whole lot of research behind it.
CBN is a class 2 controlled substance under UK law.
The total amount of all controlled cannabinoids must not be in excess of 1 mg per container. You can find this information by inspecting the third party lab testing report of the product.
The UK government has classified CBD as a novel food.
Novel foods are any foods that were not widely consumed before May 15/1997 in the EU.
In order to be considered legal, the FSA has stated that all CBD companies must submit a novel foods application for their ingestible products before March 31, 2021.
This means any oral product, including CBD oils, gummies, capsules, candies, etc.
The Food Standard Agency (FSA) has implemented a March 31, 2020 deadline for any CBD company to submit a novel foods application.
After March 31, 2020, only companies that have their novel foods application submitted and certified will be legal in the UK.
The process of testing these products is a lengthy one, and expensive. Applications are expected to take 12-18 months to process, and cost upwards of a hundred thousand pounds.
CBD has to be marketed in a certain way not just in the UK, but in many places around the world as well.
In order to be compliant, companies can make no medical claims about the benefits of CBD, or their products.
This means no claims to cure, treat, or prevent any disease.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has stated that unless exempt, all medicinal products must have a marketing authorization (medical license) in order to be advertised, supplied, and sold in the UK.
As deemed by the MHRA, all exempt medicinal products must be sold as food supplements.
CBD falls into the exempt category, and as such can not be labelled as medicine, nor have any medical claims attached to it.
The Cannabis Trades Association (CTA) and CBD labeling
As laid out by the MHRA and the CTA, all CBD products must be labeled as a food supplement, and follow strict labeling requirements in accordance with the Food Labeling Regulations of 1996.
In addition to having the cannabinoid content listed, companies must also list:
- Recommended daily dose with a warning not to exceed it
- Keep out of the reach of children warning
- Ingredients, including any vitamins or nutrients
- Nutritional information
- Instructions for use
- Batch date or best before date
- Name and address of manufacturer or seller
- Seal and certification required if claiming organic
- Clear measurement amounts
- COA for every batch
- No medical claims
Separation of THC from CBD products
Part of being compliant in the UK means providing products that you are not able to "recover" or extract THC or other controlled cannabinoids from.
It would be very difficult to extract the tiny amount of THC out of the majority of the Full Spectrum CBD products on the market, such as oil or gummies.
Hemp flower is one thing that is still illegal in the UK, as you are able to isolate and extract THC and other controlled cannabinoids from it quite easily.
All legal CBD products must not become something others can readily extract controlled substances from, such as hemp CBD flower.
Can I obtain CBD products in the UK with a prescription?
Two different cannabinoid medicines are available in the UK by prescription only.
Sativex is a cannabis based medicine that is licensed in the UK, and is used to treat the muscle spasms, or spasticity, caused by Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
It is an oral spray solution that contains equal parts THC and CBD, and was approved for use in 2019.
Epydiolex is another approved cannabis medicine in the UK, but this one contains only high amounts of CBD, and no THC.
The drug is used for hard to treat forms of epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, and was approved for use in 2018.
Two forms of cannabinoid medicines are available through prescription, one with no THC, and one with equal parts THC and CBD.
Cannabis oil (higher amounts of THC) can only be obtained to treat certain disorders.
Association For The Cannabinoid Industry(ACI)
The ACI was formed in 2019. Its purpose is to provide a legal, safe, regulated CBD market in the UK.
The ACI's initiative was launched one year prior to the FSA's new regulations coming into play (2021), and serves as a guideline for how CBD should be regulated.
In order for members of the ACI to obtain CBD certification, they must complete the following steps, the third being authorization.
Tier 1 - must pass an audit by the ACI verifying they must have a "quality management system in place that ensures they operate to best manufacturing standards"
Tier 2 - must have their novel foods application validated by either the FSA or the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).
Tier 3 - certification will be granted once tiers 1 and 2 have been completed.
The ACI works hand in hand with the FSA and CBD companies looking to obtain a novel foods application and certification.
Consumers can expect to start seeing the verified audit seal (tier 1) from the ACI on products in the summer of 2020.
Pet CBD in the UK
Our furry friends have endocannabinoid systems as well, but obtaining legal pet CBD in the UK is no easy feat.
The VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate) considers all veterinary products that contain cannabidiol to be medicine.
This means that any company wishing to produce pet CBD products must obtain a marketing authorization before they will be considered legal.
As of right now there are no legal pet CBD products in the UK market.
Pet CBD is not legal in the UK. CBD companies must obtain a medical marketing license in order to market CBD for any animal.
One is able to obtain CBD for pets through a veterinarian. It is available only by prescription, and is legal CBD that has been labelled for human use.
Regulations come into play in 2021...but what about right now?
The countdown is on for CBD companies in the UK to comply with the new regulations being set out.
Being that the new laws aren't going to be active for awhile, a lot of the companies that are operating now are doing so illegally.
Part of staying safe before these laws come into effect means doing your research on the companies that you are getting your products from.
Some important rules to follow:
- Always thoroughly read the COA (certificate of analysis). This should be listed on site and readily available, and display cannabinoid content, as well as test for terpenes, heavy metals, toxins, pesticides, and other contaminants.
- Read reviews. These can be helpful in determining what products are legit, and which are not. If you can't find any information on a company or brand, there's probably a reason for it.
- Choose companies that follow organic practices, from growing to manufacturing.
- Clear labeling that matches what the COA claims.
Once we pass the March 31, 2021 deadline set out by the FSA, it will be a lot easier to distinguish between reliable brands, as they will be clearly marked.