What are the FSA’s concerns regarding new CBD products, and how can shoppers be sure that they’re only getting the highest standard of goods?
With the recent rapid expansion of the CBD market in the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is cracking down on the safety level of cannabis related consumables. We look at what encouraged the crackdown on CBD products in the UK, where we are currently in the process of authorisation, and how this moderation is set to affect the outlook of the CBD marketplace moving forward.
Whilst CBD products have been available for purchase in the UK for some time, the market has seen rapid growth over the past two years due to its introduction to the London Stock Exchange (LSE). In 2020, it was announced by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) that a review of the legislation surrounding cannabis products was being held. Prior to this, any companies selling CBD were unable to list on the Exchange due to restrictions, limiting the potential growth of the cannabis industry in the UK.
Legislation was changed in 2021 to allow CBD companies in the UK to list on the LSE, as long as other licensing required was obtained and up to date. The ability to make a public offering grants a company the potential to gain significant capital as investment, which typically moves an industry forward exponentially in terms of research and development. This was great news for the cannabis industry in the UK, which has long been repressed due to outdated misconceptions and a general lack of understanding around cannabis products.
As it stands today, the legal cannabis market in the UK holds a value of approximately £200 Million, though there are claims that the industry could reach up to £1.2 Billion if allowed to grow along the proper channels.
With the introduction of CBD to the LSE, a proliferation of companies emerged in order to get in early on the action of this potentially huge market. With a previously unseen number of new cannabis products appearing on shelves and available for purchase online, it was only natural for questions to arise regarding the safety of these products. As safety testing for any ingestible product takes a lot of time and money, it’s not unseen for new companies to cut corners and release products without proper testing to avoid missing out on consumer hype, resulting in potentially unsafe products being sold nationwide.
As many of the CBD products emerging on the market are ingestibles (aka designed to be eaten; such as CBD gummies, infused beer, and chocolate, to name a few), this growth has drawn the attention of the Food Standards Agency. The FSA is the regulating body within the UK for all food and drink, ensuring safety and hygiene for the public.
The concerns of the FSA in relation to CBD on the market primarily revolve around the THC content in the products. THC is the psychoactive component in cannabis, often used to “get high” by recreational drug users, and is illegal in the UK. CBD is extracted from the hemp plant, which differs from the marijuana plant that THC is derived from, and contains incredibly low percentages of THC. This means the consumer does not feel any psychoactive or potential negative side effects from taking it, whilst still gaining the herbal benefits of cannabis such as reduced inflammation and anxiety.
Reputable brands exclusively use trusted cannabis suppliers for their CBD products, ensuring that the level of THC present is within the acceptable limit for sale in the UK. The Home Office states that, in line with drug laws, the THC content in CBD products must be no higher than 0.2%. THC must also not be able to be easily extracted from the product, to avoid misuse. Especially since Brexit, supply of CBD is increasingly difficult for UK companies. With arduous and expensive testing requirements, and numerous documents needed to get through border control from Europe, new companies trying to take advantage of the cannabis boom may find themselves falling short. As a result, questionable lines of supply arise in order to cut corners and get a product on shelves as quickly as possible.
The FSA announced that companies selling CBD ingestibles must submit a novel food application for each product, so that they could be subject to the same scrutiny and independent safety testing as other food and drink products in the UK. Any products that were on the market on 13 February 2020 were eligible to be put forward for authorisation, and applications had to be received by the FSA by 31st March 2021. As a result of this, a list was published this year containing 5,981 products that are linked to a credible application for authorisation going through the novel foods process. Retailers and local enforcement have been advised to remove any products from sale that are not present on this list, although suppliers who have been unable to meet the requirements to be published on the list are expected to remove their products from market voluntarily.
The process still has a way to go, as the current validation stage of authorisation for CBD products in the UK is that of credible application. As such, the FSA have stated that they are not yet endorsing the sale of any CBD products, even those on the list, as novel foods approval has yet to take place. What this does mean is that the products on the FSA’s list are well underway to approval following independent safety testing and hygiene authorisation. While this might take some time, it brings hope for the future of a regulated CBD market in the UK, where consumers can be confident that the products they’re buying are safe.
A cloud of taboo still remains over the cannabis industry in the UK, as many people mentally connect the thought of cannabis with the thought of marijuana and drug abuse. This is in no small part due to the legislation that has long restricted products containing cannabis from widespread sale and regulation, which leaves room for questions regarding the plant to go unanswered. Of course, the illegal cannabis industry in the UK also plays a large part in this, and so it is important that consumers know the CBD products they’re buying are not feeding into illegal supply lines, which is what the FSA’s moderation of CBD products will help with.
The introduction of cannabis to the London Stock Exchange and eventual approval by the Food Standards Agency will open up the conversation across the UK, allowing valid information to be brought forward to wider audiences. With increased regulation, we see increased trust from the public. Doctors in the UK are now legally able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines to patients, and legal cannabis farms are being cultivated within our nation for medical marijuana purposes. The future of cannabis in the UK is looking promising, and we’re excited to see how the playing ground for the market of CBD products will develop when growth is allowed on a much greater scale than we have previously seen in this country.
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