Today, over 6 million people have tried cannabidiol in the United Kingdom, and consumer interest in using CBD continues to grow along with the hype around the potential uses of CBD oil.
However, as Cannabidiol (CBD) is extracted from hemp, a species of cannabis, there is still some confusion around if CBD oil is illegal in the UK and what the exact rules are.
In this post we will answer the most common question of “is CBD oil legal in the UK” along with covering the following points:
Let’s get started..
It’s THC which is responsible for the cannabis plant high, but THC is only found in trace amounts in hemp – the species of cannabis used to extract CBD.
Cannabidiol is not a controlled substance when isolated in the UK, USA or most of the EU.
In the United Kingdom, CBD is legal as long as the product doesn’t contain any controlled compounds. The level of THC and CBN must be ‘non-detectable’ in any CBD product to be UK legal.
All Nature & Bloom CBD Oil and remaining assortment is throughly tested to ensure it contains no THC or CBN.
Technically, this makes full spectrum CBD oil illegal in the UK as it contains detectable levels of THC. However, at the moment this isn’t actively policed.
Although, you will notice the larger retailers only sell products with ‘non-detectable’ THC and CBN in line with the law.
In the EU and USA, the rules are much less strict, where CBD oils containing 0.2% and 0.3% THC content are permitted under local law. In Switzerland, the law is even less stringent – allowing for CBD for sale to contain upto 1% THC.
Harvesting hemp for CBD oil is illegal in the United Kingdom. Still, importing processed hemp extract is legal in the UK, as long as it meets the conditions above.
No, it isn’t legal to grow hemp for the purpose of extracting CBD in the United Kingdom.
In order to grow any cannabis plant, hemp included, you need a license from the UK home office, giving you explicit permission.
However, a permit for growing hemp is only valid for industrial purposes and not for extracting CBD from the hemp flowers, where the cannabinoids in the plant are concentrated.
As a result, there is no possibility to extract CBD from hemp in the United Kingdom as it is illegal.
Other more complex cannabis licenses include a controlled drugs license, which allows the holder to grow high THC cannabis for research or for the export of medicinal cannabis.
This is extremely difficult to obtain and usually only of interest for medical cannabis or pharmaceutical companies.
This is where the confusion kicks in for CBD users, and you have probably seen CBD oil marketed as legal because they contain less than 0.2% THC.
However, in the UK, the 0.2% limit only applies to growing hemp under government licence for industrial purposes. Permitting use of the seeds, stalk and stem of the plant, primarily using its fibre e.g to make clothing or to press hemp seeds into cold-pressed hemp seed oil.
Harvesting the hemp flower to make CBD hemp oil, is illegal under UK law and the flowers are destroyed on harvest at hemp farms across the United Kingdom.
Although, change is in process across the channel – Jersey approved the first permit to harvest CBD flower into hemp extract in this British Isles in August 2019. Still, while it sounds like nonsense that possessing hemp flowers is illegal but importing processed CBD is tolerated, it’s the current situation in the United Kingdom.
This is because The Misuse of Drugs Act (MODa), outlines that 2 specific cannabinoids, THC and CBN, are both controlled substances under the act when not used for industrial hemp production.
You have probably not heard of CBN, which is a product of THC degradation. It is often found in trace amounts inn full spectrum CBD oil, and it is associated with being a potential sleep aid in the states.
You might have seen a large variety of retailers selling hemp flowers, and wondered what the CBD flower law in the UK is.
It is illegal to both possess and buy UK CBD flower.
The reason is associated with the points made earlier about harvesting CBD flower being (indirectly) illegal under MODa. The remit also covers the importation of possession of CBD flower, and it is treated the same as buying or selling high THC cannabis.
Unfortunately, MODa makes no distinction between cannabis species, whether high THC cannabis or non intoxicating hemp.
It is the part of the plant that makes hemp flowers illegal in the UK not the THC content, if they contained zero THC they would still be illegal.
The only non-controlled parts of the hemp plant are – seed, stalk and fibre from mature stalk, everything else is considered to be cannabis and therefore a class B drug.
It’s a paradox as all CBD is a product of hemp flowers, but the law only permits for processed hemp (i.e products on the shelves which are not raw hemp flowers).
At the moment, the lack of enforcement has led to a growth in the CBD flower industry, but it’s likely to change once regulation round hemp-based products come into place.
Most CBD oil sold today is a supplement.
In order to be legally on sale, these products cannot claim to cure, diagnose or prevent any disease (make no medical claims).
However, private prescription CBD products are technically (but expensive and very hard to obtain) also available from a consultant (doctor) under the UK medical cannabis program.
These are different as they are (throughly tested) medicines and can contain higher levels of THC or CBN legally.
Most people don’t have access to these products.
It is important to note that unlike medicinal cannabis, there isn’t any specific regulation governing the CBD industry in the UK, and most of the rest of the world.
As a result, CBD cannabis oil products in the UK often don’t contain what the label says they do.
The UK Centre of Medical Cannabis carried out the most extensive study to date of CBD Oil UK in June 2019, finding that over 38% of UK CBD oils on sale contained less than 50% of the CBD the label advertised.
This finding was further complimented by another exercise conducted by the BBC in late 2019, finding similar results.
Leading to our next point around why you as a consumer need to look for third party test certificates, confirming product contents:
As an interim solution to the problems of untested CBD cannabis oil and natural variations in product content from batch to batch, legitimate brands will test their products with a third party.
These tests should be at a batch level and in the companies name, users should be able to reference a batch number to a test on the retailer or brands website.
Taking a look for copies of these tests before buying a bottle of CBD cannabis oil is highly recommended. Ensuring you are buying what you pay for and that it is safe to use.
You can review Nature & Bloom batch level CBD tests by clicking here. If you want to learn more about how to interpret these results, please click here.
Outside of the complexities of controlling for THC levels in CBD cannabis oil, EU wide regulation governing the consumption of new foods adds new regulatory oversight for UK CBD Oils.
Technically, under the Novel Foods act using CBD in any foods including as CBD oil is illegal in the EU as of early 2019, unless the source of the product has undergone an approval process, and none in the UK (or Europe as far as we know) have yet.
Although, the UK has been lax on enforcing the regulation due to the way CBD has shot up on the radar and the interest it’s getting. In addition to the fact Novel Foods approval can take 12-18 months and cost at least £100,000 per application.
Instead, it looks like a new cannabis trade association – The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI), will work with the Food Safety Authority (FSA) to help engage major brands and manufacturers in submitting a Novel Foods application by early 2021 to get the ball rolling.
The FSA also recently confirmed that any ingestible CBD products on sale after March 31st 2021 will need to be supplemented with a submitted novel foods application.
Although, it it is producers of a base hemp extract which will have to do the most work to be compliant and brands down the chain will need to source extracts approved for use in specific product types.
In short: Novel foods isn’t something you as users of CBD oil need to worry about yet but it is something to keep in mind for 2021. For consumers, this is likely to result in an improved average quality of CBD oil, as all the sources of hemp extract will need to undergo a rigorous pre-authorisation standard.
Another related problem is that bottles of CBD oil can contain more THC content than is permitted. It’s potentially problematic if you take CBD oil on a plane or take a product with higher than anticipated THC in and drive.
In theory, products containing any amount of THC in at all may provide a positive screening for THC. Although, broad spectrum CBD products are much less likely, to screen positive as the THC level is considered non-detectable (<0.01%).
Illegal products containing higher levels of THC is more likely to pop up on a drugs test, than those containing non-detectable levels of THC.
If you are buying CBD oil without looking for proof that it contains what it says it does, you are likely shooting yourself in the foot, especially if you are drug tested.
Disclaimer: Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Nature & Bloom and its staff. This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention for any disease. Nature & Bloom products have not been evaluated by the MHRA.