What has changed?

The UK Food Standard Agency (FSA) has released a statement regarding the authorisation of cannabidiol (CBD) food products following concern regarding unauthorised products on the market. Three key takeaways from the FSA statement, which can be reviewed in full here, are listed below:

  • Businesses need to submit, and have fully validated, novel food authorisation applications by 31 March 2021. After this date, only products with a valid application will be allowed to remain on the market.
  • Businesses can continue to sell their existing CBD products up until the 31 March 2021, provided they are not incorrectly labelled, are not unsafe and do not contain substances that fall under drugs legislation. It should be noted that THC is a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It is a criminal offence to supply, possess, or sell a controlled substance.
  • No new CBD extracts should be sold until they have the necessary authorisation.

The FSA statement also included a caution that CBD products might be risky for vulnerable groups, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, and suggested that they should not consume more than 70mg CBD a day.

It should be noted that FSA is responsible for regulating CBD as a novel food. It does not cover CBD cosmetics and vaping products, or cannabis used for medicinal purposes, which are also subject to different rules.

What is CBD?

CBD is a chemical found naturally within the cannabis plant. CBD extracts can be found in a range of products such as oils, confectionery, bakery products and drinks. Unlike other components of cannabis, CBD has low levels of the psychoactive element tetrahydrocannabinol ('THC'). It is the THC in CBD that can make a user "high".

Some industries and health care professionals argue that CBD may act as a pain relief, assist anxiety and combat nausea. It is currently prescribed by the NHS to patients suffering from muscle spasms due to multiple sclerosis and those experiencing side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea. Further trials are being carried out to discover if CBD may have a positive effect upon glaucoma, cancer pains and some side effects of HIV.

Legal status of CBD food products

The European Union categorized CBD food products as 'novel foods' for the purposes of the EU Novel Food Catalogue in January 2019. Novel foods refer to foods that do not have a history of consumption in the EU before May 1997. The Novel Food Catalogue is not legally binding, but it is used as a reference by many authorities in the EU for the purposes of the Novel Food Regulation ((EU) 2015/2283). This means that authorities in Member States may refuse to permit supply of foods and food supplements containing CBD, pending formal approval by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) under the Novel Food Regulation.

This novel food classification has been accepted by the FSA but up until its announcement on 13 February 2020 the FSA has not taken enforcement action to remove unauthorised CBD products from the market.

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Originally published 12 May 2020

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