CBD UK has become the latest health craze, with claims it can cure everything from pain and anxiety to heart disease. But is it legal in the UK?
CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant but it does not contain any of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. CBD products are legal in the UK if they have Novel Food authorisation.
What is CBD?
CBD is a compound found in the cannabis or hemp plant. It has been found to help ease pain, reduce inflammation and improve the sleep cycle. CBD also appears to have anti-depressant properties and may help with anxiety. It is currently being investigated as a possible treatment for many conditions, including arthritis, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
There are currently 202 ongoing or completed scientific trials investigating the use of CBD in humans. These studies are examining the effects of CBD on conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, substance misuse and sleeping disorders. Moreover, preliminary research suggests that CBD may be an effective treatment for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
It is also thought that CBD can help to treat anxiety, a muscle disorder called dystonia and some forms of cancer. However, further clinical trials are required to confirm these findings.
Despite these promising early results, it is important to remember that CBD products are not regulated by the NHS. Therefore, it is essential to be cautious and only purchase a product from a trusted source. Buying unregulated CBD products could be dangerous as they might contain contaminants or have different concentrations of active ingredients. Furthermore, adding a new supplement to your diet without consulting a doctor can cause complications with other medications you might be taking, such as blood thinners or antidepressants.
Is CBD legal in the UK?
The UK law states that it is illegal to sell or possess any CBD product containing more than traces of psychoactive THC, the ingredient that gives cannabis its ‘high’. However, it is legal to produce and sell CBD products such as edibles containing CBD as long as the THC content is kept below the legal limit of 0.2 percent.
CBD has gained popularity because of its reported health benefits, which include pain relief and the inhibition of seizures in those with epilepsy. It is also used to combat the effects of chemotherapy, which can include nausea and vomiting. CBD is extracted from the hemp plant, which is legally grown in the UK under a licence to produce seeds and fibre for textiles.
A very small number of people in England can get a prescription for medical cannabis, known as medicinal CBD. This can be prescribed by a specialist for Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, and to help with spasticity caused by MS. It can also be recommended for patients with PTSD, to help ease anxiety and depression.
In November 2018, a legislative change made medical cannabis (CBD) available on prescription in the UK. However, this has yet to be widely adopted by the NHS. This study has demonstrated that nearly two and a half years after this change, a large proportion of the public remain unaware of the fact that medical cannabis is now legal, with men and older adults more likely to be aware of this. Similarly, most respondents are unaware of the regulations which over the counter CBD wellness products must conform to in order to be sold legally.
Which CBD products are legal in the UK?
Consumer CBD products contain varying levels of the psychoactive cannabinoid 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The UK government’s current approach allows consumers to purchase over-the-counter CBD wellness products, containing up to 1mg of THC. The THC in these products is not enough to cause a ‘high’ or any other psychoactive effects.
The majority of CBD in consumer products is extracted from Cannabis flower and leaves using solvent extraction to produce a product known as ‘CBD isolate’. This is a crystalline solid and contains only CBD, but it still contains other phytocannabinoids from the Cannabis plant including those that are controlled. However, the ‘hemp’ used to make these consumer CBD products is grown under an Industrial Hemp Licence and as such only the low-THC portion of the Cannabis plant is used.
As a result of this, the CBD that is in consumer CBD products does not have the same control as the regulated pharmaceutical drug Epidolex. This is likely to mean that the UK population has a less clear understanding of the differences between medical cannabis and over-the-counter CBD wellness products. It has also been suggested that this lack of knowledge is a barrier to people discussing the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis with their doctor. In an online survey, it was found that the main barriers to people discussing the use of medical cannabis were associating it with recreational cannabis and being unsure whether it is legal (Ergisi et al., 2022).
Which CBD products are not legal in the UK?
The UK has recently amended regulations governing the safety of CBD oil or other ‘over the counter’ wellness products that are not available by prescription. These products are also known as CBD ‘isolates’ and are derived from the cannabis plant with extraction methods that are unable to remove all phytocannabinoids including trans-delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (9-THC) which is controlled (Tallon 2021). As these consumer CBD wellness products are not subject to same restrictions on marketing as medical cannabis they often utilise misleading and unsubstantiated claims about their therapeutic properties (Egan et al. 2011).
These ‘CBD isolate’ products can be purchased online and in stores across the country. These products are typically marketed as having high levels of pure CBD with no other cannabinoids and come in the form of a crystalline solid or loose powder. However, this is not strictly true as CBD isolate does not contain traces of THC and therefore is still considered a ‘cannabis-based medicinal product’ or CBPM (UK Home Office 2020).
The UK Home Office changed the scheduling of CBMPs in April 2021 to move it from Schedule 1 requiring a controlled drugs licence for cultivation to Schedule 5, which exempts CBD from the stringent requirements of other CBMPs. Despite this, the results of this survey show that a significant proportion of respondents were unaware of these changes and the majority also indicated that they are aware that CBD products are legal to buy in the UK without prescription. This lack of awareness may be attributed to the rapid nature of the legislative change and the fact that CBD is often associated with recreational cannabis use.