Cannabidiol, or CBD, is London’s hot new food trend. The substance, derived from the cannabis plant, won’t get you high, and users purport that CBD provides relief from pain and anxiety.
From coffees to desserts, CBD-infused food and drinks can be found all over London’s restaurants, bars and cafes. But is it legal? Does the substance live up to the health claims?
What is CBD? What Benefits Does it Offer?
Cannabidiol is a type of cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. There are more than 100 cannabinoids in cannabis plants, but CBD and THC get the most attention.
CBD is the tame cousin of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC’s psychoactive properties are what make you feel “high” when using marijuana.
CBD, on the other hand, does not contain psychoactive properties, and is known for making people feel clear-headed.
THC produces a “high” because it stimulates the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body. CBD does not bind to these receptors. Instead, it triggers an increase in natural endocannabinoids in the body. These chemicals alleviate pain and anxiety.
Today’s CBD products are primarily derived from hemp, a member of the cannabis family. Hemp is preferred to marijuana for CBD oils and other products because THC levels are naturally low –0.3% or less. In fact, THC levels are so low in hemp that it causes no side effects and will generally not show up on drug tests. Users never have to worry about getting “high” because THC levels are too low to produce any psychoactive effects.
CBD is touted as a health cure-all, and while anecdotal evidence suggests that the cannabinoid does have health benefits, more research is needed to confirm these claims.
According to a 2017 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), CBD may provide relief for a wide range of debilitating conditions, including:
Manufacturers cannot make claims about these alleged health benefits, as licenses for CBD oil as medication have not been granted as of yet.
Still, these reported benefits of CBD oil have many restaurants jumping in on the bandwagon and adding the oil to their menu items. But that may soon change.
Changes to EFSA Guidance
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recently changed its guidance on cannabinoids. Under the new guidance, all food products using any type of cannabinoid should have special authorization under the European Union’s “novel food ingredient” regulation.
The UK is under no obligation to follow the EFSA’s guidance, but most countries do follow their lead when creating legislation. The UK’s Food Standards Agency has already told CBD-Intel that it intends to enforce the guidance regardless of whether the UK is in the EU.
Under the guidance, full-spectrum extracts, CBD and any other food product containing a cannabinoid will be targeted. Cannabinoids obtained from other plants or those which are synthetically derived will still be considered a novel ingredient.
The proposed rules would mean that CBD products would be off the European market for three years, or potentially longer, depending on the UK government’s actions.
A Gray Area of the Law
But what about CBD oils that are not used in food products? CBD oil can be found online and on many store shelves across the UK.
According to Business Matters, there’s still a “great deal of confusion” concerning the legality of CBD in the UK. The majority of cannabinoids are listed as controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
CBD is an exception and is considered legal in the UK if it is derived from an industrial hemp, strain that has been approved by the EU. These strains of hemp contain very little or no THC.
In order for CBD oil to be legal in the UK, THC levels must be 0.2% or less. Cannabis oil, which contains a higher level of THC, is illegal.
There is one exception to this rule: Sativex. Sativex is a 50/50 mix of CBD and THC, and is produced in a lab. The product has been approved for use in the UK as a medical treatment for multiple sclerosis.
The UK government, at this time, has no intention of legalising cannabis for recreational use. Possession still remains illegal.