The UK along with many other European and international countries has recently decided to legally differentiate between certain chemical compounds found in Cannabis, known as Cannabinoids.
The Cannabis plant produces at least 120 of these unique molecules, as well as over 400 other chemical components. However, it is one of these Cannabinoids, Cannabidiol (CBD) that has been the talk of the town in recent years.
CBD doesn’t get you “high” and isn’t psychoactive like its illicit sibling THC.
This has lead individual authorities to give CBD a relatively neutral classification that has meant that it is not considered by most to be a controlled substance, making it completely legal to possess, consume and sell.
This legal reform has made it possible to conduct experiments and research on CBD in the UK. Even though it is derived from Cannabis, a plant that is illegal to grow and possess in the UK, it is nevertheless still 100% legal and can be freely sold, possessed and consumed recreationally.
The sale of CBD as a medicine, however, remains highly restrictive and requires a license to do so.
Companies must meet a strict criteria before even being considered for an application to obtain a license, regardless of how low the THC content is. This is because it is illegal to grow Hemp or CBD rich cannabis without another special license and approval from the UK home office.
Since the law change in 2017 (which we’ll discuss further below) the CBD market has exploded in popularity, with ever-increasing sales and demand here in the UK.
In this article, we'll be looking at
- When did the law change on CBD in the UK?
- What are the current laws governing CBD in the UK?
- The legality of CBD in other countries
- What is the difference between CBD oil and Cannabis oil?
- What is the difference between Hemp derived CBD and Cannabis derived CBD?
When did the law change on CBD in the UK?
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is an executive agency of the Department of Health and is responsible for regulating all medicines and medical devices in the UK.
MHRA contacted several CBD companies privately on October 3rd, 2016 to inform them of their intention to reclassify CBD and notified them that they had just 28 days to cease trading.
Later, on October 13th of the same year, they issued a public statement regarding the future legality of CBD and plans to regulate the sale of it as a medicine.
"We have come to the opinion that products containing Cannabidiol (CBD) used for medical purposes are a medicine. Medicinal products must have a product license before they can be legally sold, supplied or advertised in the UK, unless exempt. Licensed medicinal products have to meet safety, quality and efficacy standards to protect public health" MHRA Statement
This looked set to decimate the emerging British CBD market. Until another statement was issued just weeks later on November 1st, 2016 adding
“While MHRA has given its opinion that products containing Cannabidiol (CBD) used for medical purposes are medicines, we have also carefully considered the needs of individuals using CBD products to treat or manage the symptoms of medical conditions” MHRA Statement
They go on to further explain that the original 28-day window to suspend trade had been extended to December 31st. They further go on to amended this the day before on December 30th, 2016 stating that
“Our primary concern is patient safety and we wish to reiterate that individuals using Cannabidiol (CBD) products to treat or manage the symptoms of medical conditions should discuss their treatment with their doctor”
“MHRA will now work with individual companies and trade bodies in relation to making sure products containing CBD, used for a medical purpose, which can be classified as medicines, satisfy the legal requirements of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012”
This meant that any company producing or distributing CBD in the UK making any medical claims would need a license to continue doing so and would also be subject to strict regulations and quality controls.
This decision has allowed the sale of CBD as a nutritional/food supplement. As long as no medical claims are made about it, then it is perfectly legal to buy, possess and trade. Subsequently, the UK CBD marketplace has been growing from strength to strength ever since.
What are the current laws governing CBD in the UK?
Although it is legal to buy Hemp and Cannabis derived products in the UK (As long as it has less than 0.2% THC) it still remains illegal to grow Hemp/Cannabis regardless of its Cannabinoid content without a license and permission from the UK Home Office.
Since the January 2017 decision, the law regarding CBD has been that in order to sell it in the UK legally you either need to be a licensed medical distributor, a designation which can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to acquire or the other option is to trade CBD as a food/nutritional supplement.
CBD isn’t classified as a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it isn’t in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 either. As long as no medical claims are made and it is clearly marketed as a food supplement, then it is legal to possess, buy and sell.
Food supplements in the UK have to adhere to certain rules and regulations. They must be clearly labeled and cannot be presented or advertised as 'preventing, treating or curing a human disease' The Food Supplements (England) Regulations 2003
This means that manufacturers and retailers are restricted as to what they can say about how their products may affect consumers or make any claims about the potential benefits of using a particular product.
The legality of CBD in other countries?
CBD is legal in many other countries around the world, however, given that the laws governing it are continuously evolving and changing we won’t attempt to compile an updated list, we’ll simply take a look at a few high-profile cases.
It’s worth noting that Cannabidiol (CBD) isn’t scheduled by the Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971 which is often a good indicator as to whether a country will ban a drug or not.
The United States is a good place to start, being that it is the birthplace of Cannabis prohibition and all.
But the short answer to the legality of CBD in the United States is: it depends.
The legality in the US regarding medical cannabis is constantly changing, however for US states that permit recreational cannabis, CBD is perfectly OK to consume (as long as you're over the age of 21). But as we touched on, the laws governing the legality of cannabinoid consumption are rapidly changing and therefore it's impossible to say exactly which states legalise CBD for recreational use and which don't without this post becoming out of date imminently.
On a separate note, most of the western European countries allow CBD to be sold as a food supplement, this is because 99.99% isolate extract is classified as a “Novel Food” in the EU Novel Food Catalogue. Sweden is the only European country to have not classified CBD at all.
Interestingly, in Switzerland, CBD isn’t subject to the Swiss Narcotics Act as the government doesn't deem it to have a psychoactive effect. This allows for CBD products containing less than 1% THC, the countries legal limit to be sold ubiquitously throughout the country.
On the other side of the world, in New Zealand CBD, without a prescription is a Class B drug that can carry a 3 months prison sentence and/or a $500 fine for possession. In 2017, the country made its first tentative steps towards legalising CBD by allowing its citizens to be prescribed it by a doctor without first having to seek approval from the Health ministry as they had to previously.
What is the difference between CBD oil and Cannabis oil?
CBD oil is typically produced from any of the approved industrial Hemp strains.
These are Cannabis strains that have been specifically inbred for many years to increase its fibre, and seed for use in various industries.
This consequently produced strains with incredibly low levels of the illegal psychoactive Cannabinoid THC while still producing a small amount of CBD.
The CBD produced from using industrial Hemp strains is most often made into 99.99% CBD isolate that is later added to cold pressed Hempseed oil, that while rich in Omega 3 and 6. It also has a great source of essential fatty acids, has no trace Cannabinoids, Terpenes, or Flavonoids which are vital components for The Entourage Effect.
The Cannabis plant contains up to 120 different Cannabinoids, hundreds of Terpenes and over 400 other chemical components that work synergistically together in ways science is only just beginning to understand.
Another method that takes The Entourage Effect into consideration is FECO (Full Extract Cannabis Oil).
FECO is produced by taking the flowers, leaves, and stalk and extracting it into an oil that contains all of the essential oils and chemical components of the plant.
This oil is then often diluted using Hempseed oil to create a more viscous oil and provide the required consistent dose.
They are both derived from genus’ of Cannabis Sativa L, They are both made using the same extraction methods.
Cannabis oil contains a high level of THC and therefore is considered as a controlled substance in the UK, whereas that’s quite the opposite with CBD as it’s 100% legal, since it contains less than 0.2% THC.
What is the difference between Hemp derived CBD and Cannabis derived CBD?
There is increasingly less of a difference between the two and some would argue none at all. Hemp is the adopted term for low THC cannabis strains that have historically been used in agriculture and the production of textiles and various other industries for thousands of years.
Ultimately, the thing to remember here is that all Hemp is Cannabis but not all Cannabis is Hemp!
CBD derived from Industrial Hemp strains typically only yields 3-5% CBD per plant, whereas CBD derived from specifically bred hybrid Cannabis strains can produce over 20% CBD with very low levels of THC.
Less than 0.2% makes them legal and the best way of producing isolates and quality FECO CBD oil.
The UK law and many other European countries do not allow Cannabis to be cultivated regardless of how low the THC content is without a license meaning that Hemp will remain the dominant supply strain.
CBD produced from industrial Hemp also has limited Terpene and Flavonoid content, both of which are currently being studied to determine whether they may potentially have any individual health benefits.
CBD derived from Cannabis will also benefit from having far more trace amounts of other Cannabinoids such as CBN, CBG, and CBC which work together synergistically with the Terpenes, Flavonoids and other chemicals in what is known as The Entourage Effect.
Cultivating CBD-rich Cannabis strains means that manufacturers could produce far more CBD using less energy and resources. Increasing theoretically yields from 5% to 25% would also reduce the total area and resources necessary for cultivation by a fifth!
So as more and more studies are being conducted and complete around the world and with research finally being compiled and shared its safe to say that the future looks rather bright for the emerging legal CBD market not just here in the UK and Europe but for the entire world!
- written by Simpa