Today, over 6 million people have tried cannabidiol (CBD) 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 is extracted from hemp, a species of cannabis, there is still some confusion around if CBD oil is legal 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 other related questions.
CBD Oil UK Law Summary
Cannabidiol is not a controlled substance when isolated in the UK, USA, or most of the EU.
It’s THC, which is responsible for the cannabis plant high, but it’s is only found in trace amounts in hemp – the species of cannabis used to extract CBD.
In the UK specifically, two other cannabinoids – THC and CBN, are listed as a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Consequently, UK CBD oils must be THC and CBN free in order to be legal in the UK. So, in summary:
In the United Kingdom, CBD oil is legal as long as the product doesn’t contain any controlled substances such as THC and CBN.
EU allows 0.2% THC
While it’s commonly believed that (non-industrial use) hemp products can contain up to 0.2% THC, this applies to the EU and not the UK. As a result, you will notice that larger retailers only sell products containing ‘non-detectable’ THC and CBN in line with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
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.
Harvesting hemp for CBD oil is illegal in the United Kingdom. However, importing processed hemp extract is legal in the UK, as long as it contains no controlled substances.
Is it legal to grow CBD plants in UK?
No, it isn’t legal to grow CBD plants in for the purpose of extracting CBD in the UK.
In order to grow any cannabis plant, hemp included, you need a license from the UK home office, giving you explicit approval.
However, a permit for growing hemp is only available 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 there is no route to legal extraction.
Other more complex cannabis licenses include a controlled drug license from the home office, which allow the license holder to grow high THC cannabis for research or the export of medicinal cannabis.
Licensing is challenging to obtain and usually only of interest for medical cannabis or pharmaceutical companies.
Industrial Hemp for Manufacturing
In the UK, a 0.2% THC limit applies to farming hemp under government license for industrial purposes, not CBD products sold as food supplements.
An Industrial hemp license permits the harvest and use of the seeds, stalk, and stem of the plant, primarily using its fibre e.g used 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. As a result, at harvest, the flowers are not used and instead destroyed hemp farms across the United Kingdom.
This is because The Misuse of Drugs Act (MODa), outlines that two 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’s found in trace amounts in full-spectrum CBD oil, and it is associated with being a potential sleep aid in the states.
Is CBD flower legal in UK?
CBD flowers are not legal in the UK.
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 street cannabis or non-intoxicating hemp.
It is the part of the plant that makes hemp flowers illegal in the UK, not the THC content itself. The only non-controlled parts of the hemp plant are – seed, stalk, and fibre from the mature stalk, everything else is considered to be cannabis and therefore a class B drug.
It’s a paradox as any CBD product is derived from 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.
CBD Oil is a food supplement In The UK
Most CBD oils sold today are supplements.
In order to be legal in the UK, 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 (thoroughly tested) medicines and can contain detectable levels of THC or CBN legally.
However, most people don’t have access to these products.
CBD Oil Regulatory Change In The UK
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 in the UK in June 2019, finding that over 38% of the UK CBD oil sample contained less than 50% of the CBD the label advertised.
This finding was further complemented 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 certificates of analysis, confirming product contents:
Outside of the complexities of controlling for THC levels in CBD hemp oil, EU wide regulation governing the consumption of new foods adds new regulatory oversight for CBD in the EU (and the UK).
Technically, under the Novel Foods act using CBD in any foods including CBD oil is illegal in the UK as of early 2021, 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.
Consequently, any ingestible CBD products on sale after March 31st 2021 will need to be supplemented with a submitted novel foods application.
Although, 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.
Third-party CBD testing
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 certificate on the retailers’ website.
Taking a look for copies of these tests before buying a bottle of CBD hemp oil is highly recommended. Ensuring you are buying what you pay for and that it is safe for use. These checks apply regardless of if you prefer using a dab pen, oils, or any other way to take CBD.
Travelling and driving with CBD oil
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 any CBD product with higher than anticipated THC in and drive.
In theory, products containing any amount of THC may provide a positive screening for THC. Although broad-spectrum 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 drug test, than those containing non-detectable levels of THC.
Although, the jury is still out regarding if small increments on THC (regardless home small) can build up in the system resulting in the failure of a drug test.
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.
The legal status of CBD Oil UK – Key Takeaways
- CBD is legal in the United Kingdom in 2020 as long as it does not contain any detectable levels of other controlled substances. You can read the summary here (middle of page three).
- CBD flowers are illegal in the UK (see link above).
- Novel Foods is an EU regulation impacting new foods that come to the market. The rules apply only to ingestible CBD. As a result, CBD used in foods (including oils) must undergo a new approval process before sale in the UK moving forward.
- In the UK you cannot grow your own hemp without a home office license, and this permit is only for industrial purposes, not for extracting CBD from the flowers which have to be destroyed on harvest.
- Brands selling CBD in the UK are not permitted to make any medical claims as the products are sold as food supplements.
- Always check for third party test results and walk away if the brand doesn’t supply them.