What are the current UK Laws on CBD?

What are the current UK Laws on CBD?

Legally, CBD is an interesting substance, given that it comes from cannabis and is a novel food, and in some instances a cosmetics ingredient. As such, you might expect there to be many laws governing its sale and distribution, and you’d be right to think this. While the consumer side of the equation has become much more liberal over recent times (people who buy CBD can use it pretty much how and where they like), retailers and producers have to be much more careful with regards to how they manufacture and market their CBD-based products.

In this article, we take a look at some of the current CBD laws in the UK (if you’re particularly interested in CBD as a Novel Food and Novel Food Laws, we have a whole blog article dedicated to just that). As you read this article, please bear in mind that these rules are subject to change as the market develops and attitudes towards cannabis-derived products evolve. The laws discussed here are accurate and in effect at the time of writing (June 2021) and will specifically look at required licenses, the Misuse of Drugs Act, the illegality of THC, domestic food and cosmetics laws, the cannabinoid CBN, and medical marijuana laws.

You Need a License to Sell CBD Products for Medical Use in the UK

While published research regularly investigates the link and claims between CBD and a reduction in anxiety, depression and a range of other health conditions, distributors and vendors are prohibited by law from advertising CBD for medical use, or making medical claims about their products, unless they have a license.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency released a statement on 13 October 2016 to clear up any confusion around CBD and medical claims. It came to the opinion that products containing CBD for medical purposes are indeed a medicine. This meant that CBD “must have a product license before being legally sold, supplied or advertised in the UK”. In a follow-up statement a month later, it confirmed that “products containing cannabidiol used for medical purposes are medicines”. In other words, if vendors want to sell the medical benefits of CBD, they must first follow the regulatory process for establishing it as a medicine, and not as a food supplement. If a brand chooses to sell their CBD products as food supplements, they cannot legally promote or advertise the compound’s alleged medical benefits.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 makes no Distinction Between Cannabis and Hemp

Even though there are numerous differences between hemp and cannabis,(mainly the THC:CBD ratios) you may be surprised to learn that in the eyes of the UK law the two substances are treated the same.

In terms of differences, hemp is a special cultivar of cannabis that contains low levels of THC, which is the cannabinoid responsible for the plant’s psychoactive properties (basically the stuff that gets you ‘high’). As cannabis typically contains high levels of THC and hemp does not, many people in the cannabis industry assume that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 treats these two plants differently; however, it does not.

In a statement, the Home Office states that “cannabis plants cannot lawfully be undertaken without the requisite Home Office License”. The Home Office may issue licenses for the cultivation of low-THC cannabis products (i.e. hemp), but the requirement to obtain a specific license remains complicated.

Interestingly, in a document prepared by the Home Office (The classification

of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971), it is also noted that the classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is an entirely different matter to the categorisation of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. This seems to indicate the long-standing debate surrounding cannabis and cannabis-based products on the whole.

THC is Illegal in the UK

Many cannabis-based products contain trace quantities of THC because it is hard to remove completely from cannabis-based products. Therefore the law states that CBD products must contain less than 1mg of THC or CBN per finished/packaged product – a trace amount that is unlikely to produce any noticeable response.

Due to its THC content, cannabis flower remains a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, following an update in 2008 under the Gordon Brown government. It is, therefore, illegal to sell, distribute, possess or grow cannabis in the UK.

It is also the case that it is illegal to smoke cannabis anywhere in the UK; this includes within one’s own home. Though data seems to suggest that this law is regularly undermined, with many admitting cannabis use and even more being prosecuted for possession.

CBD Products Are Also Subject To Domestic Food And Cosmetics Laws

As well as having a special status under UK drug laws, CBD products must also abide by the country’s food and cosmetics standards laws to protect consumers. For instance, businesses selling cannabidiol must adhere to the Food Safety Act 1990. Brands, for instance, can’t do anything to food that might make it unhealthy to the people consuming it. They also need to provide products that meet the quality that consumers expect; this means the products must not contain any junk and be true to the labels. Furthermore, they must follow the tenets of general food law. These include proper labelling and traceability, plus product withdrawals and recalls if safety is at risk.

CBN is a Controlled Substance in the UK

While other countries allow citizens to sell, distribute and consume CBN (cannabinol) – the UK does not. It is still considered a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act, just like THC and THC-V.

This is relevant for CBD brands, as they have to ensure that CBN is only present in trace amounts in order to legally sell their products, just as they have to restrict THC content.

Doctors can Prescribe Cannabis-Based Products for Medicinal Use in Humans

Since 1 November 2018, it has been legal for UK doctors to prescribe certain cannabis-based products to their patients. The government defines these as any products “containing cannabis or cannabinoid derivatives for medicine use in humans.” Specialists do not need to apply for a Home Office license first to lawfully write a prescription. However, regular companies must go through the usual channels.

Although medical marijuana has been legal in the UK for over 2 years, public awareness of this remains fairly low and actual prescriptions lower still. This is despite its success in helping to treat the symptoms of treatment-resistant epilepsy in two very high-profile cases that made it into the media spotlight.

Therefore, one can conclude that even though the legality of cannabis is shifting, there is still much research required, as well as a significant shift in stigma and attitudes, before we can see any real progression in terms of the benefits of regulated cannabis use.

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