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Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide
By Anastasia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.

Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

Summary

We all remember those lectures from high school teachers, parents, and authority figures warning us about “weed” and its negative legal consequences. So how should we respond when we see cannabis logos at health stores and CBD products being used out in the open for the world to see? Is CBD oil legal? This article will briefly review the complicated history of cannabis laws and regulations and some recent breakthroughs that have helped make products like CBD oil UK law-compliant. Let’s get started.

Introduction

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

Does cannabis raise a red flag in your mind when you think about it? If so, you’re not alone. While CBD and other natural wellness substances have skyrocketed to popularity within the past few years, cannabis remains taboo. Within society, we tend to interpret it in extreme ways: people either shun it categorically as an ‘illegal’ substance, or embrace it subversively as part of a counter-cultural lifestyle. However, there is so much more to the story than these two contrasting opinions. As a quick disclaimer, we cannot offer any legal advice, and recommend that you direct any pressing questions to a registered professional, such as an attorney.

To appreciate the discussions ahead, let’s briefly define cannabis and some other associated terms that will appear throughout this article.

Cannabis

What is cannabis? Botanically speaking, cannabis represents an entire family of tall and rapidly-growing plants known as the ‘cannabis genus’. There are three main species within this group: Indica, Ruderalis, and Sativa. Throughout the globe, many indigenous communities have gravitated towards cannabis as a versatile resource to support construction tasks, folk remedies, nutrition, and recreational activities. In more recent years, researchers have devoted special attention to these plants and their potential benefits in clinical and therapeutic fields.

According to pollen fossils, modern cannabis originally came from Northern China and may represent over 20 million years of growth and adaptation. Today, farmers cultivate cannabis for various purposes – subject to corresponding regulations. In recreational drug form, cannabis is often referred to as “marijuana” or “weed”, depending on where you live.

Hemp

As a subspecies of cannabis Sativa, hemp (or ‘industrial hemp’) is second only to bamboo in terms of how quickly it grows. This time efficiency, combined with its eco-friendly nature and strong plant fibres, makes hemp a popular industrial crop. Over the centuries, people have used it to create everything from clothes and soaps to heavy-duty naval equipment. Nowadays, nutrient-rich products like hemp seed oil are also popular. We will soon discuss why hemp is not a suitable choice for people hoping to get “high”. Under a present-day microscope, hemp possesses a unique treasure trove of chemicals – much to the excitement of scientists and product developers. These naturally-occurring substances include terpenes (fragrant plant compounds), essential oils, and cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids

Sounds very “sciency”, doesn’t it? However, there’s no need to panic. Chemically speaking, cannabinoids are distinctive plant compounds that belong to the cannabis family. Over a hundred of these compounds are present in hemp plants – potentially offering different effects when consumed. For example, exposure to significant amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) may produce an intoxicating effect that some people describe as feeling “stoned”. While CBD is also a cannabinoid, its potential implications are very different to those of THC.

What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

CBD is short for cannabidiol – a popular cannabis compound that may carry many potential wellbeing benefits. Manufacturers source CBD from the leaves, flowers, and stems of the hemp plant in a controlled environment through various extraction and distillation processes. It is naturally oily, with an ‘earthy’ taste and smell. As a supplement, it may be a helpful option for people seeking to enrich their wellbeing, but be sure to avoid falling for any common CBD myths.

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

CBD: UK Consumption Patterns

According to the National Health Service (NHS), CBD may be used to effect some of the signs and symptoms of common health issues. CBD may have an anticonvulsant effect and impact muscle cramps, so some manufacturers may develop it at higher-levels to influence those living with refractory epilepsy. It may also be anxiolytic and antipsychotic – some reports suggest it may potentially help with some of the symptoms associated with mood disorders.

In rare cases, wellness professionals may issue cannabis-related prescriptions – such as Epidyolex and Sativex – to support individuals suffering from illnesses such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. While there is limited evidence to support its broader prospects, there is enormous public demand for over-the-counter CBD products as trendy self-care tools.

According to a recent review published in the Cannabis Industry Journal, over 8 million people in Britain use CBD, and the numbers continue to rise. In the UK and numerous other countries, CBD oil is widely available, and companies are under pressure to conform to changing government guidelines. Before we go on to appreciate the juridical status of CBD oil, let’s examine

Cannabis and UK Law

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

As we know, there is often a lot of friction between cannabis and the law. In the world of nature, we can trace cannabis plants back millions of years. In the human-made world, the legal regulation of cannabis is a much more recent development. But how did a plant that was once used by royals (such as Queen Victoria) become an illegal drug?

Before the Law

As we’ve learned, the cannabis plant family is originally native to central Asia – thousands of miles and several oceans away from countries like the United Kingdom. The circulation of hemp seeds may be linked with broader migration patterns, as people became more mobilised and new modes of transportation appeared, so hemp sprang up in more places.

At one point, British farmers who didn’t grow hemp were at risk of breaking the law! Hemp was vital in supplying natural ropes and sails for ships: an ‘essential service’ at the time. It wasn’t until the 19th century that cannabis began to be associated with potentially ‘dangerous’ recreational uses, academic interest, and moral panics.

The 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act

During the First World War, the Home Office in Britain identified substances such as opioids and cocaine as threats to military efforts – arguing that defensive measures needed to be in place to prevent people from accessing ‘dangerous drugs’. These regulations extended to all civilians at an administrative level, and the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act issued a ban on the sale and non-medical possession of certain restricted substances. Many of these are what we would refer to today as “hard drugs”. In September of 1928, the government amended this Act to include cannabis.

According to James H. Mills, this decision may have been motivated more by sensational stories and sailors’ antics rather than public health concerns.

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act

By the 1970s, the phrase ‘dangerous drugs’ was replaced with ‘controlled drugs’, and the government established a new act. At this point, migration trends had changed, an economic recession was imminent, and various anti-establishment movements became popular (for example, ‘alternative’ hippy and punk lifestyles). The use of cannabis and psychedelic drugs increased dramatically in this climate.

The Misuse of Drugs Act came into effect from 1973 onwards and prohibited all civilian activities involving controlled drugs: possession, production, selling, trafficking, and more. The drugs referenced in this motion were classified as ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’, depending on their perceived severity; with Class A drugs associated with the greatest danger, and Class C drugs representing less of a threat to public safety. These laws are still in effect in modern Britain, but cannabis has occupied several different positions over time.

Guilty as Charged?

Between 2004 and 2008, the UK Home Office downgraded cannabis from a Class B drug to a Class C drug: sharing a category with anabolic steroids and other synthetic substances. This decision may possibly have been motivated by emerging evidence that reviewed cannabis as a low-risk substance with potential wellbeing benefits. However, cannabis was later re-classified as a Class B drug – which caused a considerable uproar. When will cannabis be legal in the UK for recreational purposes? Will it ever be? As we know, the debates regarding this topic are raging on. In the UK, authorities legalised medical cannabis in November 2018, and this motion also paved the way for various other extracts to emerge.

It’s incredible how much commotion one plant family can cause, isn’t it? Thankfully, there is a way for us to explore cannabis-derived wellness without getting caught up in a legal whirlwind. Today, a new product is ripe with potential – CBD oil.

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

What is CBD Oil?

CBD oil (also known as ‘cannabis oil’ or ‘hemp oil’) is a hemp product that has gained widespread support from consumers worldwide. Typically, manufacturers make it by mixing their CBD extract choice with a blend of natural base oils (such as olive, coconut, and jojoba). The result is a botanically-infused oil that conforms with one of the three ‘spectrums’ detailed below.

Full Spectrum CBD Oil

Full Spectrum means that the CBD extract contains a natural ensemble of other compounds such as terpenes, THC and additional cannabinoids. It potentially provides a richer profile, as some researchers suggest that these hemp compounds may work synergistically to produce the “entourage effect”.

Broad Spectrum CBD Oil

Broad Spectrum CBD is quite similar to Full Spectrum. However, manufacturers employ additional efforts to ensure that Broad Spectrum products do not contain THC molecules. Sometimes, professional athletes and other individuals working in fields with a zero-tolerance drugs policy might opt for this category instead of Full Spectrum.

CBD Isolate

CBD Isolate refers to CBD extract in its most distilled form. Rather than representing an eclectic mixture of naturally-occurring plant chemicals, CBD Isolate is ‘pure’ cannabidiol. It is free from THC, terpenes, and any other unwanted compounds. Some audiences feel that this allows them to be more precise with their dosage, while others enjoy its comparatively subtle taste and smell.

Potential CBD Oil Benefits

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

At this point, you’re probably wondering: “What’s so special about CBD oil?” Perhaps you’ve even heard people in your circle recommending it as a so-called ‘wonder product’ to accommodate a variety of different lifestyle complaints. These rumours certainly sound attractive, but is there any objective evidence to back them up?

Currently, objective reports are too limited to support any definitive commercial CBD oil statements. So far, emerging studies indicate that it may potentially impact a wide variety of common symptoms – including some which are associated with:

CBD Oil vs Hash Oil

Did you know there over 1,000 famous words refer to cannabis and its associated products? If you’re a newcomer, these can be very difficult to navigate. For example, you may assume that ‘hash oil’ is the same as CBD oil, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While legal manufacturers carefully extract CBD from cannabis in line with UK government regulations, hash oil is a psychoactive form of cannabis that is currently illegal in the UK. This categorical distinction is primarily due to the significant presence of the THC compound. Let’s explore this concept further.

THC vs CBD – What’s the Difference?

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

While they are both three-letter acronyms for popular cannabinoids, THC and CBD are often treated differently by researchers and legal institutions. As we appreciate the contrasts between these two substances, it’s good to consider things scientifically.

The Basic Science of CBD

Technically, CBD was the first cannabis compound to be spotlighted – thanks to the scientific breakthroughs of an American chemist named Roger Adams in the 1940s. Sometimes known as the “calm compound”, CBD is one of the most significant substances present in cannabis plants, and studies suggest that it may potentially be:

THC Chemistry

People began talking about THC in the 1960s – approximately two decades after the early CBD breakthroughs. An Israeli chemist named Dr Raphael Mechoulam is generally credited with bringing THC to fame. It is interesting to note that international governments began issuing new cannabis laws in the years that followed his iconic observations. Studies suggest that consuming THC may potentially be associated with:

When it comes to CBD and the law, THC is one of the principal liabilities. Manufacturers are legally obliged to exercise great caution regarding their CBD products’ chemical makeup. Is THC oil legal in the UK? Currently, it’s against the law. However, CBD oil is a more nuanced case.

CBD Oil and UK Law

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

So far, we’ve established that cannabis is a controversial substance that states have controlled through a variety of different laws within the last 100 years. However, many people maintain a keen interest in cannabis-inspired wellness products and their potential benefits. As an extract derived from hemp, CBD may represent a fresh and legal opportunity to invest in self-care. However, it’s essential to be aware of the associated regulations.

Throughout the rest of this article, we’ll be looking at the factors influencing how we regulate CBD oil in the UK. Is CBD oil legal in London, Edinburgh, and beyond? Let’s answer this question by reviewing content from:

  • The Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
  • National Drug Licencing Fact Sheets
  • Food Standards Agency (FSA) CBD guidelines
  • The 1990 Food Safety Act

CBD as a form of “Medical Marijuana”

The MHRA is a government-appointed body tasked with overseeing medical products’ efficacy, quality, and safety. In 2016, the MHRA released public statements in response to emerging CBD trends. At the time, the agency defined CBD health and wellness products as “medical products”. These products require an official licence to ensure their quality before being legally sold or marketed. However, recent updates from the MHRA seem to acknowledge that not all CBD products are medicinal.

When manufacturers develop CBD oil for non-medical purposes, it should comply with other regulatory frameworks – such as food laws and controlled substance laws. The MHRA warns that manufacturers could face severe consequences if their CBD products are not in line with broader schemes.

Is CBD a Controlled Substance?

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

CBD is not a controlled substance or an illegal drug in the UK. However, its association with cannabis has attracted particular attention from authorities, especially regarding its potential THC content. According to British law, law-abiding CBD developers must source their products from licenced hemp crops, cultivated by registered growers. Since hemp is a subspecies of cannabis that is naturally low in THC, it is ideal. If CBD products have a THC concentration of 0.2% or under, the government does not object to them. However, if these products contain extra THC or any other controlled substances, regulations classify them as controlled substances – liable to suffer heavy penalties!

CBD and the Food Standards Agency

You’ve likely heard of products such as CBD gummies before, but did you know that most items in the UK CBD market are foods or food supplements? This categorisation doesn’t just apply to CBD edibles, but also dietary supplements such as CBD oil, tablets, and capsules. While hunger is rarely the primary motivator for consuming CBD, UK food laws attempt to offer a protective structure intended to safeguard CBD users.

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

What is a ‘Novel Food’ Product?

Often, food manufacturers like to promote the latest snacks as “brand new”, but they might not be new from a legal standpoint. Technically, a ‘novel food’ is a new edible product or ingredient that we didn’t consume in Britain before 1997. These foods can include international products such as chia seeds, edible plant extracts and foods manufactured with state-of-the-art methods.

Regulative authorities such as the Food Standards Association (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) categorise CBD oil as a novel food product.

These organisations assess the CBD products in the UK marketplace at their own discretion, and offer broader business guidelines.

Often, food manufacturers like to promote the latest snacks as “brand new”, but they might not be new from a legal standpoint. Technically, a ‘novel food’ is a new edible product or ingredient that we didn’t consume in Britain before 1997. These foods can include international products such as chia seeds, edible plant extracts and foods manufactured with state-of-the-art methods.

Regulative authorities such as the Food Standards Association (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) categorise CBD oil as a novel food product. These organisations assess the CBD products in the UK marketplace at their own discretion, and offer broader business guidelines.

From the 31st of March, 2021, the FSA will require UK CBD companies to secure official market authorisation to legitimately conduct their businesses. This technical submission involves approximately 18 months of extensive testing, toxicology reports and many other factors. Most likely, National Trading Standards and local entities will enforce these policies – and they may have the power to seize or remove unauthorised stock from the marketplace. While the situation is complex and difficult to judge at this stage, it does represent a massive step towards quality control. Keep an eye out for more content on CBD and the ‘Novel Foods’ Act.

CBD and Food Safety

Roughly 65 pages in length, the 1990 Food Safety Act details the necessary and wide-ranging standards that all food businesses operating within the UK must meet. It approaches the food market as a matter of public health while also setting firm parameters to prevent consumers from being exploited. The 1990 Food Safety Act covers a wide variety of food-related concerns, but we can think of it as an act with three core priorities:

  • To stop businesses from selling food products that are hazardous to our health.
  • To ensure that the food products we buy are as we would expect them to be.
  • To prevent false advertising and the incorrect labelling and presentation of food.

In theory, these measures seem relatively straightforward. However, in practice they may be challenging to implement. Let’s briefly consider how these legal priorities apply to CBD products in the UK.

Legal Challenges Within the UK CBD Market

According to Dr Aviva Regev, ‘the cannabis industry could give the UK economy the boost it needs after Brexit and COVID’. Analysts have even predicted that the UK CBD market may be worth upwards of £1 billion by 2025! The bright side of this situation is that more people than ever before can experiment with the wellbeing potential of CBD oil in their daily lives. The downside is that it is becoming challenging to determine which products are legitimate. As the CBD market size increases, so does the regulatory pressure required to maintain it. Here, some key legal challenges have emerged.

“Free CBD Oil” and Online Scams

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

The Metropolitan Police define scamming as a form of fraud. Perpetrators of fraud deliberately mislead other people for selfish gain in the hopes of making money or acquiring sensitive information. Unfortunately, there have been several instances of fraud within the UK’s CBD market. Recently, the UK’s most-trusted customer feedback directory issued public warnings about online scammers offering “free CBD oil” from fraudulent websites. Before purchasing from a new website, it’s best to research the company, read some customer CBD reviews, and avoid content that seems suspicious.

Inaccurate Product Labels

According to the Centre for Medical Cannabis (CMC), “the best [CBD] products are very high quality and are good options for today’s consumers”, but these may not be the majority. A recent CMC report suggests that almost 40% of so-called CBD products in British high-street stores may be inaccurately labelled – containing much less CBD than they should. On top of this, roughly 50% of the CBD products in a random sample contained illegal THC concentrations. Some CBD oils contained toxic contaminants, such as heavy metals, while others contained no CBD at all! These results appear to violate the values outlined in the Food Safety Act, don’t they?

Genuine Confusion About CBD Regulations

As we’ve learned, there are numerous legal inconsistencies regarding CBD oil and similar cannabidiol products. While there are laws relating to controlled substances, food safety, and consumer protection, it seems as if the general UK CBD market currently tolerates “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Some cheaply-made products in pharmacies have tested positive for unsafe ingredients, and others featured misleading labels. But what exactly are the consequences, and who is enforcing them? There is considerable confusion here, but the FSA will be making significant advancements in 2021.

At present, high-quality CBD companies are taking responsibility for maintaining best practices and setting a good example.

Premium CBD oil brands are paving the way forward by offering:

  • A Certificate of Analysis (COA) from an accredited third-party laboratory
  • In-house testing and research
  • Compliance with controlled substance and food laws
  • Legal disclaimers and positive customer reviews

CBD Law in Europe and North America

Where is CBD oil legal outside of the UK? Currently, it’s tolerated in many different countries. Let’s take a quick look at CBD in Europe and North America:

Categorising CBD in Europe

The European CBD market experienced a significant legal breakthrough on the 19th of November, 2020. In response to a French case, the European Union (EU) decided that it is unreasonable for national governments to prohibit CBD products without evidence of public health risks. As a result, it prevented the French authorities from banning CBD marketing campaigns – sending a major message to other countries in the process.

According to EU guidelines, CBD oil is legal, as long as it comes from hemp and contains no more than 0.2% THC. In essence, these are very similar to the parameters set in Britain. However, some EU countries (such as Slovakia and Lithuania) classify CBD as an illegal substance. As a result, it’s vital to do some country-specific research before you make any purchases.

CBD Law in North America

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

As far as the USA is concerned, CBD oil is generally recognised as a legal product as long as its THC content does not exceed 0.3% per product. Interestingly, this means that CBD products in the United States can legally contain up to 50% more THC than their British and European counterparts. Of course, regulations vary from state to state – since recreational marijuana itself is legal in some locations (i.e. California) while illegal in others (such as Oklahoma).

Canada is a trailblazer across the border regarding cannabis laws and market structure. In October of 2018, it became the second country to legalise “weed”. However, the Canadian government maintains strict national standards for CBD products, and may not accept some imported items. CBD retailers are placed on equal par with cannabis retailers. It’s a good idea to consult relevant national and province-specific laws before buying CBD oil from Europe or the UK.

Conclusion

 alphagreen Licence to Chill: Is CBD Oil Legal? A Full Guide

If you’ve made it to the end of this article, well done! Legal topics can be quite intimidating to engage with, but we hope you’ve gained the necessary knowledge to make more confident decisions regarding CBD and the law.

As we’ve learned, CBD oil is legal in the UK, USA, and many other countries worldwide. The authorities who choose to tolerate CBD products have several strict conditions to distinguish CBD from cannabis and other controlled substances. In the UK, legal CBD must contain minute THC concentrations (up to 0.2% per product) and cooperate with various laws – ranging from food laws to national drug policies. These rules aim to protect consumers and promote public health and safety. However, they are somewhat challenging to enforce in reality, and some unsafe products can slip through the cracks.

Since CBD is a fairly new product, the legal landscape is ever-changing. As a consumer, it’s essential to take proactive measures for the best CBD experience by sourcing from premium brands, following government advice, and referring to the current laws where you live.


Verified by a Healthcare Professional

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.

Frequently Asked Questions

By now, we’re familiar with cannabis-derived wellness products and some of the general laws surrounding them. But how does this knowledge impact your personal experiences with CBD oil? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about CBD consumption and national policies in the UK.

Is CBD Oil Legal in UK Marketplaces?

It’s essential to check the policies in place where you live before making any purchases or decisions. CBD oil is a legal product in the UK, as long as it is derived from registered hemp crops and contains as little THC as possible (with an upper limit of 0.2% per product). It’s also legal throughout most of Europe, the USA, and many other countries.

Is CBD Oil a Valid “Cure” For My Medical Condition?

Medical cannabis may be something you want to discuss with your doctor if you suffer from an issue that qualifies for support. However, you should be very cautious of any commercial CBD brands that claim their food products or supplements can “treat”, “cure” you, or “boost” your health. UK food law does not support this kind of marketing. While CBD oil benefits may potentially affect your health (as a food supplement does), the law prevents food products from being promoted as medical ‘solutions’.

Is CBD Oil Safe?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), CBD is “generally well-tolerated and with a good safety profile”. Reviewing the evidence to date, the WHO has expressed that they do not have any public health concerns related to CBD in its pure form. There is a chance that you may experience some mild side-effects with use, but these can generally be avoided by adjusting your dosage. If you have any underlying health conditions or other concerns, it’s best to speak to your doctor before using CBD oil.

Can People Under 18 Purchase CBD in the UK?

Most retailers currently choose not to sell CBD products to customers under 18. This approach is generally in response to the Cannabis Trades Association (CTA). Consequently, CBD retailers may ask customers to supply photographic ID before approving their purchases. These procedures apply to products designed for adult use (such as CBD vape equipment) and products that may have a universal appeal (CBD edibles).

Can CBD Show Up On A Drugs Test?

In most cases, drug tests screen for THC markers and other restricted compounds that may be detectable in your system. Since legal CBD products should have virtually no THC compounds present, it is unlikely that you would fail a workplace drug test due to CBD oil consumption. However, purchasing CBD from unreliable sources may potentially increase your risk of consuming unwanted quantities of THC. As a result, your safest bet is to opt for CBD Isolate (also known as ‘pure’ CBD) from a reputable brand.

Can I Take CBD in My Airport Bag?

There are so many handy CBD products designed for on-the-go use, but is it legal to travel with CBD? That depends where you’re going. If you fly within Europe or the United Kingdom, legally compliant CBD oils and other items are usually safe to pack in your hand luggage. However, the main priority is ensuring that your THC content is below the legal limit of 0.2%. Here, reputable brands are more desirable, due to their rigorous testing methods and generally more reliable products. For more detailed information, check out our in-depth guide to CBD, legal status, and travelling.

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