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Industry mixed on Government response to CBD products recommendations

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

The Government has accepted recommendations to limit the amount of THC allowed in CBD products. Image: Getty, David Trood
The Government has accepted recommendations to limit the amount of THC allowed in CBD products. Image: Getty, David Trood

Related tags Regulation CBD and Hemp

The Government’s decision to accept recommendations to limit the amount of THC in consumer cannabidiol (CBD) products set out by the Advisory Councill on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has been met with mixed response by the industry.

In a letter signed by Chris Philp​ – minister of state for crime, policing and fire – the Government accepted the advised limit set out in AMCD’s advice, as well as the advised standardised protocols for testing of products.

Under these guidelines, any CBD product must limit the content of controlled phytocannabinoids such that the dose of delta-9-THC and each of the other controlled phytocannabinoids does not exceed 50 micrograms per unit of consumption.

Ministers previously acknowledged the need for a legal clarification for CBD products in January 2021, with then minister of state for crime and policing Kit Malthouse announcing the Government’s wishes to explore the possibility of creating a specific exemption in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 for CBD products “which contain no more than a defined trace percentage of controlled cannabinoids”.

Earlier this month saw the Food Standards Agency (FSA) issue new precautionary advice to limit the consumption of cannabidiol (CBD) by more than 85%.​ The announcement was followed by health foods retailer Holland & Barrett reinstating 31 CBD products it had pulled from store shelves in response to last week’s announcement by the FSA.

ACI campaign

The Government proposals followed an Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) campaign launched in August that urged the Home Office to update the law, a law it claimed risked stifling the market in the UK.

Steve Moore, co-founder of the ACI, said a legal framework needed to be put in place to provide comfort for companies operating in the space and reassurance for consumers and retailers.

“That this​ [decision by the Government] will also help accelerate the regulatory process that businesses have invested in only adds to the importance of the explicit commitment to bring forward the necessary amendments to the Misuse of Drugs 2001 regulations,” ​he added.

“The ACI will comment further after meetings in the coming days with senior Home Office officials who have engaged with this issue honestly and openly in the past three months.”

Economic harm

Mark Tallon, managing partner at Legal Products Group, warned that the updated acceptable daily intake could result in significant economic harm to food business through lost listings in both mass and natural retail channels as concern over consumer safety and possible liability increases.

“There are rules under EU/UK law that require only safe products that are fit for human consumption to be placed on the market,”​ said Tallon. “As the FSA have not defined terms such how long is CBD safe for, their guidance leaves doubt in minds of retailer and consumers alike. The FSA state no concerns over acute intake but how long is acute?  

With CBD products being on the market over five years we should consider what are the implications of this and if the FSA missing its ‘legal obligations’ to assess novel foods applications within a specific timeframe have resulted in an increased risk to consumer health?

“For sure the continued uncertainty both in the UK and abroad has damaged business confidence, investment opportunity and sales due inhibited new product formulation and uncertainty over approvals.”

The next 12 months

Tallon forecast that the next 12 months would be marred by the Government’s views in relation to the THC and controlled substance that are present on hemp extracts. Time will tell how the limits will impact novel foods submissions.

Of course, any change to CBD guidelines will require manufacturers and retailers to manage their existing stock make sure their products fall in line. Product labelling will be a huge area of contention, as Steve Brownett Gale of Lifestyle Packaging notes.

“CBD product labelling should be in strict accordance with the United Kingdom Food Labelling Regulations 1996, which states products are sold with legally correct and accurate descriptions for consumers’ best interests,” ​Brownett explained.

“New labels should contain information regarding the recommended daily dosage to ensure consumer safety and help them make sensible decisions regarding their long-term health. With the laws constantly changing, CBD packaging manufacturers should ensure their staff receive sufficient training and are regularly up-to-date with advice.”

Near jerk reaction

The initial ‘knee jerk reaction’ by Holland & Barrett to the FSA’s recommendations earlier this month and the headlines surrounding the announcement were met with scepticism by members of the CBD industry.

Much of the criticism was levelled at the FSA’s choice of datasets from which it pulled its evaluation for acceptable intake levels of CBD. Many members of the industry agreed that they provided a very limited view of the available data presented no reason for products to be pulled off shelves.

“Many other studies have shown safety at much higher doses, and regulators globally have based their daily consumption guidelines based on these studies; Health Canada advise no more than 200mg/day if used for 30 days continuously,”​ said Shomi Malik, commercial and strategy lead at B3 Labs.

“The bigger picture here is that the industry has an opportunity to engage the regulators on the important issue of the safety of CBD – more robust data can only be a good thing for the industry. This engagement will then facilitate retailer confidence, trickling down to consumers.”

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