Exploring the difference between CBD and THC; how Brexit has affected CBD companies in Northern Ireland; and the recent UK FSA “crackdown” on CBD products.
With a continuous cycle of conversations regarding the legality of cannabis in Northern Ireland, it can be easy to get confused as to how CBD fits into the picture. Long story short, CBD is legal in Northern Ireland, and companies selling CBD products in Northern Ireland are flourishing. The confusion often arises from understanding how CBD differs from cannabis as a whole. Whilst cannabis itself is considered a grade-B drug in Northern Ireland, this is due to the psychoactive component THC being present. CBD is one of the other components in cannabis, which can be derived from the hemp plant to exclude the psychoactive component. This allows people to reap the benefits of herbal cannabis treatments without having to worry about drug usage or negative side effects.
Cannabidiol (more commonly referred to as CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two of the many chemical compounds found in cannabis. Each of these compounds can be extracted from the cannabis plant, and they each produce different effects. The illegal substance of cannabis, which is most commonly smoked to “get high”, contains moderate to high levels of THC. Products containing extracted CBD, however, do not produce the same effect as the drug and are legal in Northern Ireland.
CBD is derived from hemp, and is commonly used as a treatment for various conditions such as anxiety, stress, and inflammation. The way it does this is through interacting with the cannabinoid system (ECS) in our body, which regulates many functions such as emotional processing, memory, and sleep. CBD contains only minor trace amounts of THC, meaning it won’t get you ‘high’. Those who utilise CBD products commonly report heightened feelings of overall wellbeing, decreased nervousness, and greater ability to handle difficult situations.
Because CBD is safe and legal to consume in Northern Ireland, CBD products are very popular with athletes and those interested in improving their health and wellbeing.
THC is derived from marijuana, which is another variety of the cannabis plant. Whilst marijuana and hemp are the same species, they differ in the percentage of THC that they contain. THC is the psychoactive component in cannabis, which activates dopamine release to incur a euphoric feeling. However, THC can have negative side-effects, such as increased anxiety and paranoia.
Many people have been known to self-medicate with cannabis containing THC, but there are reasons why this drug remains illegal in the UK. The psychoactive component can lead to long-term mental health issues, among other problems. THC is what makes cannabis as a whole illegal in Northern Ireland.
CBD products provide a way to avoid these potential negative side effects from THC in cannabis, whilst still taking advantage of the many health benefits and remaining on the right side of the law.
The use of CBD in Northern Ireland follows the same legislation as the rest of the UK. This means that, since Brexit, CBD is still legal to consume in Northern Ireland as long as products comply with certain regulations. However, there are various ways in which Brexit has affected CBD products in Northern Ireland, meaning companies now have to jump through more hoops than previously for supply of their products.
As the hemp plant is a controlled substance in the UK, CBD companies in Northern Ireland often rely on EU growers for the supply of their CBD. This is because there are certain countries within the EU where the growing of hemp plants is legal. With Brexit, we have seen an end to the free movement of goods between the UK (including Northern Ireland) and the EU. This means that companies selling CBD products in Northern Ireland are required to follow EU laws and regulations in order to have CBD imported from EU countries.
Due to Brexit, the UK is no longer required to abide by the EU product standard regulations. As a result, EU border controls are more scrutinous when it comes to assessing which products will be allowed to leave their countries. This is to ensure that UK companies aren’t encouraging hemp suppliers in the EU to break any EU regulations when purchasing from them.
Extra documentation is now needed to import CBD into Northern Ireland, which often holds up shipments at borders and places pressure on companies awaiting supply. In addition to this extended length of time taken throughout the supply line, CBD companies in Northern Ireland are also feeling the pressure from additional expenses such as required extensive toxicity testing that can cost up to £1 Million to conduct over a 90-day period.
Due to these extra steps required for CBD companies to continue selling products in Northern Ireland since Brexit, many companies that weren’t well-founded and stable were financially unable to continue operation. This however, has ensured that the remaining CBD companies in Northern Ireland are selling products that continue to be of the highest standard whilst also complying with EU laws and regulations.
As more people are catching on to how beneficial CBD consumption (such as taking CBD oil or using CBD balms) can be for health and wellbeing, the market has responded to increased demand by pumping out more products containing the compound. Consumers can now purchase all sorts of products containing CBD, including but not limited to: oil, balms, bath salts, beer, and chocolate bars.
With any vast expansion of a certain market, we see products emerging that haven’t been fully tested for safety as new companies try to jump on the bandwagon of opportunity and make money. Unfortunately this means that some of the CBD products that are available for purchase in Northern Ireland and the wider UK aren’t necessarily safe for consumption. This could be due to either unsafe ingredients used that have nothing to do with CBD, or a higher than acceptable percentage of THC present in the product.
In an attempt to harness control of the emerging CBD market, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have implemented a recent “crackdown” on CBD products being sold. This has allowed safe and legitimate CBD companies in Northern Ireland to submit applications for validation of their products. This means that companies selling questionable products will not meet the standards for validation, with the goal of ultimately weeding out unsafe products from the market.
All CBD products that meet the requirements for validation have been recently published in a list of 5981 products on the FSA website. Whilst this process of approval is ongoing, it is important to ensure you are purchasing any CBD products from trusted suppliers. With the focus really being switched onto CBD in Northern Ireland and the UK, we are excited to see what the future of the market will look like.
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