Cannabidiol has entered the mainstream, but effects are unclear The quick answer: compliant, responsibly made products like KLORIS CBD Oil Drops are completely legal to buy and use in the UK. There's quite a bit more to it though: Despite growing evidence to support the astounding ways in which the cannabis plant (and the CBD derived from it) interacts with and supports the human b This article covers the key questions on the legal status of CBD (Cannabidiol) and how this affects its commercialisation and use in the UK.
What is CBD oil and is it legal in the UK?
Cannabidiol has entered the mainstream, but effects are unclear
CBD oil can be used in various forms
CBD oil has entered the mainstream in recent years, bringing with it zealous advocates and dismissive sceptics.
Also known as Cannabidiol, CBD is found in the cannabis plant. But unlike THC – the ingredient that makes cannabis users high – CBD has no psychoactive effect.
Instead, it is used by people who want to manage conditions like chronic pain, PTSD and epilepsy. The substance is also being trialled to see if it can help with anxiety and arthritis.
CBD can now be found in a range of products in high street stores, from vape liquid to “sweets, creams and even sexual lubricants”, says ITV News.
The number of people using CBD oil, also known as cannabidiol, in the UK alone is estimated to stand at around 1.3m. As GQ magazine says, “thanks to a brand reimagining and increased medical research”, the naturally occurring compound has “gone from dangerous to desirable”.
Advocates of CBD oil say it can relieve chronic pain and inflammation, depression and insomnia, among other conditions. But others say its benefits are oversold and unproven, while many others are confused over its legal status.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is CBD oil?
Cannabis plants are made up of more than 100 different cannabinoids, chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells that alter neurotransmitter release in the human brain. These have different impacts on the body and are concentrated to different extents in certain parts of the plant, the BBC reports.
The most well known of the compounds are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
In the UK, it is possible to get a prescription for oil made from CBD because it won’t get users “high”. By contrast, THC is a psychoactive chemical and is a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Why and how is it used?
A 2017 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that CBD could provide relief for a variety of debilitating conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer and diabetic complications, as well as general pain, anxiety and depression.
“There isn’t enough evidence to say that the oil definitely does help with these things, nor that simply cramming some in a milkshake will do the slightest bit of good, just that doctors are optimistic about their research,” says lifestyle magazine The Street.
One recent study has also now linked CBD oil to healthy weight loss. The research, published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, linked the drug to three causes of “fat browning”, which turns the dangerous white fat associated with obesity and diabetes into hard-working brown fat cells. These actively aid weight loss by burning extra calories through thermogenesis, your body’s heat-production process.
What’s more, CBD “reduces the expression of proteins involved in creating new fat cells, and it boosts the number of mitochondria in your brown fat cells”, says Men’s Health. This could further increase their fat-stripping power, the scientists suggest.
However, it is important to note that licences for CBD oil as a medicine have not been granted yet, and manufacturers cannot make claims about their alleged medical benefits.
CBD oil can be used in a number of different ways, says health information site Verywell. “You can smoke it (typically in vape pens), take it in capsule form, use it sublingually (under the tongue), use oral sprays or drops, or apply it topically to your skin,” the site explains.
Gels and rubs aimed at athletes are available in shops, while pensioners are using the products in the hope of alleviating arthritis.
“A crystalline form of pure CBD is also available, and it’s generally taken sublingually.”
CBD is available in a range of products sold on the high street and online, including creams, oils, tinctures and edible treats such as gummy sweets. There are even CBD-infused pillowcases and yoga classes offering CBD-assisted guided meditation.
The medical effects of CBD aside, “in many cases, the industry is taking consumers for a ride”, says Mike Power in The Guardian. He cites lab tests commissioned by the think tank Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) which analysed high-street offerings and found that more than half of the most popular CBD oils sold do not contain the level of CBD promised on the label.
Yet market research by the CMC estimates that the CBD market in the UK could be worth almost £1bn a year by 2025, “equivalent in size to the current entire UK herbal supplement market”, writes Power.
Ultimately, says ITV News, there’s a big difference between CBD you are given by a healthcare professional, and the less regulated CBD oil you can get on the high street.
CBD available in shops is often of lower quality and far lower strength than the oil used in clinical trials.
According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), high street products contain roughly 25mg CBD, compared to the 150-1,500mg/day that users are given in clinical trials, says ITV.
But is it legal?
As Business Matters notes, there is currently “a great deal of confusion around CBD oil UK law”, with the vast majority of cannabinoids listed as controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
However, CBD is an exception and is completely legal in the UK, “provided it has been derived from an industrial hemp strain that is EU-approved”, or comes from outside the EU.
For CBD oil to be legal in the UK, it must contain no THC. Cannabis oil, which has THC content, is not usually allowed in the UK.
There is an exemption to this rule, the BBC reports. Sativex, a 50-50 mix of THC and CBD produced in a lab, has been approved for use in the UK as a treatment for multiple sclerosis.
And specialist clinicians are allowed to prescribe other cannabis-derived medicinal products under changes to the law that came into force in November.
However, medicinal cannabis is currently unlicensed – so it can only be prescribed if a patient has a need that cannot be met by licensed medicines.
One of the arguments against the use of the medication “is that there have not been satisfactory drug trials to prove its safety and effectiveness”, reports the BBC’s Debbie Jackson.
In The Guardian, Mike Power writes: “There is now no denying the medicinal value of CBD and THC – not even by the British government, which for years maintained that lie even as it rubber-stamped the cultivation and export of the world’s largest medicinal cannabis crop. But the landmark decision in November 2018 to allow UK doctors to prescribe cannabis under extremely limited circumstances, inspired by the cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, whose epilepsy is improved immeasurably by medicinal cannabis products containing both THC and CBD, has left many in a limbo: knowing or believing that cannabis offers a cure, yet remaining unable to access it.”
This has resulted in a number of high-profile cases of parents taking their children out of the UK in order to access treatment.
One such parent is Julie Galloway, who left Scotland with her severely ill daughter Alexa, seven, almost 12 months ago to live in the Netherlands.
“I feel like a refugee forced to live abroad to save my child,” Galloway told the BBC. “I want to come home but I am terrified the medication will be confiscated. I am struggling to pay for it and I know this can’t go on forever.”
Is CBD legal in the UK? A 2022 update.
Despite growing evidence to support the astounding ways in which the cannabis plant (and the CBD derived from it) interacts with and supports the human body, full legalisation of this particular wonder of nature is not even vaguely on the horizon in the UK. Yet.
There have been movements in recent years which have seen regulations changing – the 2018 introduction of cannabis derived pharmaceutical drug Sativex, containing a 1:1 CBD and THC potency, now means multiple sclerosis patients in the UK have some access to medical marijuana. And in November 2019, The Guardian reported that up to 20,000 patients in the UK were to be given medical cannabis over a two-year period as a study into the potential medicinal use of the drug.
However, while this has been going on, the drug class of cannabis has bounced up and down between being a Class B and Class C drug and the largest hemp (cannabis sativa) farm in the UK, largely used for home-grown CBD products, was ordered to destroy its crop without having their license renewed due to confusion over cultivation and harvesting guidelines.
These guidelines have proved to be confusing and challenging to adhere to – compounded by the growing demand for high quality, regulated CBD products. Hemp, which contains little psychoactive THC is perfectly legal to cultivate in the UK with a Home Office license for the cultivation of Industrial Hemp, however, this is only to be used for preparations containing the mature stalk, fibre, or seeds of the plant.
This presents a problem for the CBD industry, as there is very little CBD found in these parts – CBD is mainly found in the flowers and leaves, which are still treated the same as high THC cannabis and have to be destroyed, making the crop uneconomical.
Selling CBD which has been processed and imported from other countries where cultivation and harvesting is legal is approved. Which is why you’ll find most CBD brands working with farmers in France, Guernsey, Switzerland, Croatia, Portugal, certain states in the US and a few other select places.
And there’s more. But before we dive further into CBD legislation and regulation, let’s take a look at why and how cannabis became illegal in the first place…
A brief history of cannabis law
It’s only in the last century that there has been any kind of prohibition against the use and cultivation of hemp (cannabis sativa) and even high-THC marijuana for that matter. Bizarrely, thanks to the evolution of scientific know-how, this has been during a time when we have begun to understand the relationship between cannabis and the human body and the medicinal potential it holds beyond anecdotal evidence.
The first recorded use of the cannabis plant as a medicine dates back to 2700BC, when it is believed that the ‘Father of Chinese medicine’, emperor Shen Nung prescribed marijuana tea for the treatment of gout, rheumatism, malaria and poor memory. But even before that, evidence has been found to suggest the agricultural growth of hemp as far back at the end of the last ice age. Skip ahead, and upon being gifted the plant from explorers coming in from India and China, Henry VIII actually insisted that all farmers grow hemp and threatened hefty fines if they didn’t.
By the early 18 th century, many medical formulations contained cannabis. At this point science had yet to catch up, but thousands of years of successful use was enough for almost all physicians to feel confident in readily prescribing it. Unfortunately, this was also along with morphine – a highly addictive and potentially lethal drug which, by the 19 th century, many people had developed a serious problem with.
As a result, the US introduced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and created the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. By 1914, drug use was defined as a crime for the first time ever although cannabis was still not made illegal in the US for medicinal and industrial purposes. The UK joined them and made recreational cannabis use illegal in 1928. Moving forward to the 1960s, President Richard Nixon waged his ‘war on drugs’ banning all cannabis under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act as a class B substance, claiming that the plant was of no medicinal use. Speculation since has suggested there were ulterior motives at play here, including a chance to criminalise those of African American and Latin American descent. Again, the UK followed suit.
So, where does CBD come in?
At the same time as the media uproar and propaganda against the growth and use of hemp and marijuana, huge breakthrough findings were taking place behind the scenes.
The first partial structure of CBN (cannabinol) was discovered in the 1930s by British chemist Robert S. Cahn , leading to the full identification in 1940. Following that, in 1942 American chemist, Roger Adams, successfully identified and isolated CBD and soon after, THC. However, at this point there was no understanding of which molecules were causing which effects and more importantly, why.
All that changed when Dr. Raphael Mechoulam , hailed as the Godfather of CBD, began to uncover some of the inner workings of CBD and THC, partly through one significant study where 8 epilepsy patients were given 300mg of CBD daily for four months. Half of the subjects stopped having seizures completely after the trial and the others noticed a dramatic improvement.
But the real understanding of how CBD and THC (and since, other cannabinoids and terpenes besides) interacts with the human body first came to light when the first endocannabinoid, Anandamide, was found in the 1990s, quickly followed by the discovery of an unknown molecular signaling system: the endocannabinoid system. A totally transformational moment in cannabis study.
In 1996, California re-legalised medical marijuana and numerous other states did the same over the next 10 years. A number of other countries also relaxed cannabis laws, making way for essential trials and research to learn more about the plant and the impact CBD and over 120 other cannabinoids have on the human body. But laws surrounding CBD and cannabis use in the UK remain very tight.
CBD law in the UK – a 2022 overview
Although regulations surrounding CBD in the UK are pretty firm, there has been a lot of movement in the industry and, undoubtedly, more change is yet to come. However, what that will look like is anyone’s guess.
What we do know is that:
- CBD products sold in the UK are not for medicinal use. They are considered to be a food supplement (when ingested) or a cosmetic (when applied topically).
- Selling CBD products processed outside of the UK is legal in the UK, providing they contain no controlled substances such as THC or CBN and are derived from hemp.
- THC remains illegal. The maximum legal limit in the UK is 1mg per container (regardless of how much product within), which effectively means a non-detectable amount for most products.
- Medicinal cannabis has been legalised for prescription in the UK for special cases.
- CBN is also considered to be a controlled substance and is illegal in the UK.
- The Misuse of Drugs Act (MODa) makes no distinction between hemp, cannabis or marijuana.
- CBD flower is not legal in the UK.
- Cannabis oil is not the same as CBD oil. Cannabis oil is usually referring to an extract which contains THC and is therefore illegal in the UK.
- Brands selling ingestible CBD products in the UK must have submitted a Novel Food Application by March 2021 (more on this below).
- CBD is still an unregulated market in the UK (more on this below).
Novel Food Applications – March 2021
The Food Standards Agency set a deadline fo r all UK CBD companies selling products for consumption to submit a Novel Food Application by the 31st March 2021. This does not apply to topical products like our CBD Balm, which have to comply with stringent cosmetics regulations.
Only consumable products (like KLORIS CBD oil) which are linked to a validated application are allowed to stay on the shelves.
During this transition period no new CBD products for consumption are allowed to come on the market without a fully authorised application (not just validated, but fully completed, a process which can take over a year) – meaning that from 1st April 2021 consumable CBD products which launched in the UK after 13th February 2020 are not able to be legally sold.
Those CBD products available before this date, which are linked to a validated application (like KLORIS) are able to remain for sale while the authorisation process takes place.
But what does a submitting Novel Food Application entail? What does this mean for CBD products?
In short, it should hopefully lead to better quality products through tighter regulations and analysis of products available to buy. This is a good thing, as currently the CBD market is highly unregulated and many CBD products contain no CBD at all, THC levels higher than the legal limit as well as heavy metals and chemicals you do not want to be putting into your body.
When a CBD company submits Novel Food Application, their products must be sent for full analysis, including:
It is an expensive and lengthy process, meaning sadly it will likely result in the closure of many CBD businesses who can’t afford to go through the rigorous testing.
The CBD industry is still maturing
At the moment, there are many CBD products available in the UK which contain little to no CBD at all (despite stating they do), as well as products which contain higher than legal levels of THC and toxic substances.
This isn’t so much about specific regulations but more about enforcement – after all, Trading Standards and Product Safety laws that make such practices illegal for any products have been around for a long time. While this evolves, as always, it’s down to you as the consumer to do your research and know that you’re only buying from the best.
Third-party testing and lab reports that are available for you to read are a must. If they’re not available on the website, ask for them. If a brand says they don’t have them or won’t pass them over for you to look at, walk away!
As the science of cannabinoids and the ECS is still so fresh, there’s still a lot to learn about this wonderful plant. But now, 30 years on from the discovery of these, results from long-awaited, in-depth trials and studies are finally coming to light. The more we find out, the more incredible it all appears to be and we can only hope that legislation will continue to evolve accordingly.
For now, you can rest assured that KLORIS is dedicated to earning our customers’ trust and pushing the CBD sector forward through exemplary standards. We’re all for complete transparency of our product testing and we’ll strive to continue to educate the world on the ever-changing CBD landscape.
Where can I buy legal CBD in the UK?
You should always buy CBD oil from a trusted brand like Kloris – one with good independent reviews and who’s stocked with major retailers like Amazon who have stringent quality checks.
Click here to try our free tool to find the best way to use CBD to suit your needs.
CBD, is it legal in the UK?
When buying cannabidiol (CBD), it is essential to know that the product you’ve chosen is legal in the UK. There are a number of rules and regulations in place meaning that some products are legal and some are not. Whilst others may be, depending on how they have been produced.
We spoke with Robert Jappie, partner at London law firm Ince who specialises in cannabis regulation in the UK and Europe. We wanted to gain the benefits of his expertise and share it here. Our first question was, is CBD legal? He said:
“It is absolutely legal. Whether it be ingestibles, vapes or cosmetics… there is strict regulatory requirements in place to ensure that only quality products are sold to consumers.”
These requirements include the 3 criteria for exemption, as set out by the MDR (Medical Device Regulations). Some product types also require Novel Food authorisation from the Food Standards Agency.
CBD legality: fast facts
- CBD is legal to buy and sell in the UK. This includes all of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- CBD cannot legally be sold in the form of hemp flowers.
- Oils, gummies, capsules and other edibles require Novel Foods authorisation from the FSA to be legally sold as of 2021.
- CBD cannot be marketed and sold for pets in the UK as it is considered a medicine by the VMD.
- Full-spectrum CBD products are legal if they contain less than 1mg of THC and have Novel Foods authorisation.
- CBD can be prescribed by the NHS in rare cases.
What is CBD?
CBD is a cannabinoid that has been extracted from the cannabis plant. The main rules and guidelines for CBD are the same as cannabis. Cannabis is illegal to grow, buy, sell and possess, according to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
However, due to its non-intoxicating nature, there are various exemptions so that safe effective food supplements containing CBD can be sold.
Criteria for CBD to be legal
When viewing CBD products online it is easy to get the impression that the legality of each product depends only on it having low levels of THC. The reality is more complicated. To be legal in the UK CBD products must meet the following criteria:
- CBD cannot be sold as a medicine.
- The container must include less than 1mg of THC, THCV or CBN.
- The product must not be packaged in a way that makes it easy to separate the controlled cannabinoids (THC, THCV and CBN).
- CBD capsules, gummies, oils, pastes and other edibles must receive Novel Foods authorisation.
Note: Novel Foods does not apply to CBD vape juices, hemp tea or cosmetic products such as CBD balms and creams.
1. CBD cannot be sold as a medicine
CBD supplements have not been subject to the scrutiny and testing required for a UK medicine. As a result they must not be sold or promoted as having medicinal benefits.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) made this clear in a statement released October 2016:
“Products containing cannabidiol (CBD) used for medical purposes are a medicine. Medicinal products must have a product licence (marketing authorisation) before they can be legally sold, supplied or advertised in the UK, unless exempt.”
The CBD sold here and in other UK shops is provided as a food supplement only. No medical benefits can be inferred and to do so breaks the law.
2. Less than 1mg of controlled cannabinoids
CBD is legal if it contains less than 1mg of THC, THCV and CBN in the final preparation as per part C of regulation 2:
“[N]o one component part of the product or preparation contains more than one milligram of the controlled drug”
There is a good chance you have seen mentions of products being legal because they contain less than 0.2% THC. This is wrong, 0.2% is not a classification of a legal product but a guideline relating to which hemp varieties can be used by licensed commercial growers.
The Home Office factsheet clearly states:
“The ‘0.2%’ reference is used solely to identify varieties which may potentially be cultivated. (2019)”
3. THC must not easily separate from the oil
A CBD product must not become a source for others to extract the THC (or any other controlled cannabinoids such as THCV and CBN). The Home Office states that in order to be exempt from the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001:
“[T]he controlled drug in any component part [must be] packaged in such a form, or in combination with other active or inert substances in such a manner, that it cannot be recovered by readily applicable means or in a yield which constitutes a risk to health.”
4. Novel Foods authorisation
EU novel food regulations require all foods without a significant history of consumption before May 1997 to be classified as ‘novel foods’. In January 2019, the European Commission declared that they had not received enough of the required evidence and updated the Novel Food Catalogue to include CBD products.
The UK Food Standards Agency was advised that CBD food supplements shouldn’t be sold unless they have been officially evaluated and permitted. As a result, on February 13, 2020, the FSA set a deadline for all CBD food supplements on sale in the UK to be authorised under the Novel Food regulations.
“After 31 March next year (2021), only products which have submitted a valid application will be allowed to remain on the market. The authorisation process ensures novel foods meet legal standards, including on [its] safety and content.”
Whilst these new rules are restrictive, it is believed that they will ensure any products available in the UK will be best in class. Robert Jappie was keen to point this out:
“With the introduction of the Novel Food regime, CBD compliance is now a serious business. Novel Food is the global benchmark for food safety, so UK CBD products can now be said to be the safest in the world.”
The FSA took much longer to process these applications than first anticipated. In June 2022, they finally published a revised list of products that can remain on sale either permanently or whilst further information is sought.
There are currently around 11,000 products on this list, anything that is not included here should now be removed from the shelves, except those products that are exempt such as e-liquids, balms and hemp tea.