The Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016

The Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016

Where does that leave cannabidiol (CBD) and essential oils (and many other food items in our cupboards!)

The Psychoactive Substance Bill 2016

The Psychoactive Substances bill 2016, which came into effect on the 26th of May 2016, has left some of us puzzled and scratching our heads. The act completely bans psychoactive substances or “legal highs” in the UK. But when you look at the definition of a psychoactive substance by the bill it could technically be considered anything. Herbs, spices, fruit, flowers, essential oils and even chocolate.
A psychoactive substance is defined in the bill as written:

‘ For the purposes of this Act a substance produces a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system (CNS), it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state; and references to a substance’s psychoactive effects are to be read accordingly.’

It was immediately clear to us that this would not include CBD because… It defines a psychoactive substance as:

  • One that has an effect on the CNS causing a change in emotion or mental functioning


  • One that is not a food

CBD is always listed as “non-psychoactive” in medical literature. CBD doesn’t directly effect the CNS, it effects peripheral systems not the CNS. This is backed up by an abundance of literature.

CBD is also listed as a food product and is found in small amounts(0.1-0.2%) in the hemp “seed” oil readily available across UK supermarkets and independent health food stores.

So now we know where CBD stands in the law we can breathe a sigh of relief that this amazing plant molecule will remain available (legally) in the UK. But what about terpenes?..

Flowers, herbs, spices, fruit, coffee, perfume, beer and even spirits like gin, absinthe and whisky contain aromatic molecules called terpenes. Terpenes are what gives them their unique aroma and flavour. When terpenes are inhaled they trigger your CNS and effect your emotional state so could this mean the sheer joy experienced when smelling some freshly cut flowers makes the flowers illegal?!?

The National Institute of Health defines aromatherapy as “the inhalation of the scent that are extracted from plants. When the terpenes are nasally inhaled, they cross the blood-brain barrier into the olfactory bulb where nerve pathways allow chemical reactions to travel into the limbic system. This primitive brain structure can regulate emotion and mood”

Could the burning of frankincense resin in churches now be an illegal practice? Could aromatherapy essential oils be banned? Or drinking fresh, handmade and zesty lemonade? Surely not. That said, the definition of a psychoactive substance is so broad that currently all of these groups are caught by the Bill. So, in line with other legislation that has been introduced without giving thought to the actual impact, a list of exemptions is being drawn up and we can only hope aromatherapy is given a pass along with the tea, coffee, alcohol and any other food, fruit, plant or flavouring containing terpenes. To ban terpenes you are essentially banning nature and pleasure.

Our initial feeling is the bill was introduced to completely outlaw the trade in “legal highs” especially the new generation of chemical “designer” drugs that are synthesised to mimic the effects of traditional illicit substances including LSD and ecstasy. However, they really need to make it more clear what is, and what is not, exempted.

Current news reports suggest that aromatherapy and homoeopathic remedies will be exempted but until we see it in writing we will remain uneasy.

We will update the blog as soon as the Home Office clarifies the situation. In the meantime, keep calm in the fact CBD remains legal in the UK.

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