A few years ago you could mention CBD oil, and pretty much no one would have any idea what you were talking about.
Is that the case anymore? Nope!
Public interest in cannabis oil originates in the middle of 2018 via the mother of Alfie Dingley, a young child who has epilepsy. His mother had trialled cannabis oil (including THC) from the Netherlands as a last resort and saw that it reduced his seizure count significantly.
While high THC cannabis oil is available (technically but only privately) via the medicinal cannabis program in the United Kingdom, CBD cannabis oil is available readily across the country and online as a supplement.
Today, over 6 million people have tried cannabidiol in the United Kingdom, and consumer interest in cannabis continues to grow along with the hype around the benefits 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 legal in the UK and what the exact rules are.
It’s THC which is responsible for the cannabis plant high and the illegality of street cannabis, 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 specifically, CBD is legal as long as the product is derived from EU approved strains of hemp, and it doesn’t contain over 1mg of any other controlled substance in the container or bottle.
In the EU and USA, the rules are much less rigid, where CBD oils containing 0.2% and 0.3% THC content are permitted under local law. In Switzerland, the law is even looser still – which allows for CBD oil to contain unto 1% THC.
Harvesting hemp for CBD oil is illegal in the United Kingdom. Still, hemp pre-processed into a hemp extract before arriving into the UK is legal, 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, such as rope production 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 at the moment.
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 require proof of demand for the end product extracted from the cannabis plant for shipping out of the UK.
This is where the confusion kicks in for CBD users, and you have probably seen products marketed as legal because they contain less than 0.2% THC.
However, in the UK, the 0.2% THC 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, where the CBD is concentrated, is illegal under UK law and they 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 flowers (e.g CBD tea) is legal, it’s the current law in the United Kingdom.
More specifically, the Misuse of Drugs Regulations (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 full spectrum CBD oil, and it is associated with being a potential sleep aid in the states.
However, there is a provision which allows for products to contain up to 1mg of THC & CBN per container/bottle, and as a result, a bottle of CBD oil sold on the high street must contain less than 1mg THC/CBN.
You might have seen a large variety of retailers selling hemp flowers, and thought what the CBD flower law in the UK is?
There is no ambiguity here. It is illegal to both possess and buy UK CBD flower.
The reason is associated with the points made earlier about harvesting UK CBD flower being (indirectly) illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (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.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MODa) 1971, section 37 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 an unfortunate paradox as all CBD is a product of hemp flowers, but the law only permits for processed hemp products (i.e products on the shelves which are not raw CBD 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 legal, these products cannot claim to cure, diagnose or prevent any disease (make no medical claims).
However, CBD products are technically (but expensive and very hard to obtain) also available on private prescription 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 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 do not 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 consume 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. Testing cannabinoid potency and for the presence of any contaminants.
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 buy for and that it is safe to use.
Outside of the complexities of controlling for THC levels in CBD cannabis oil, EU wide regulation governing the consumption of new foods adds a spanner to the works 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 £50,000 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 enforce Novel Foods in late 2020 or early 2021 actively with an anticipated period of grace for a lack of full compliance.
It’s also likely if the origin of the CBD stems from a supplier with Novel Foods approval, this approval will be passed down the chain to brands operating in the space.
In short: Novel foods isn’t something you as users of CBD oil need to work about yet but it is something to keep in mind.
Another related problem is that bottles of CBD oil can contain more THC content than is permitted, and this can placers users in a legal pickle. 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.
Let’s cover why that is and the remedy:
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.