Is CBD oil legal in the UK?
Word of the positive effects of CBD oil has spread fast throughout the UK’s health-conscious community, and it’s now a common sight on the shelves of many households. But just because it’s the new wellness buzzword, does that mean CBD is legal to buy and consume in the UK?
The answer to this common question, particularly after the new legislation was passed in 2020, is both yes and no. This is because not all CBD oils produced and sold are the same.
The question you should really be asking is not whether CBD oil is legal or not, but rather, what is in it that allows certain types to be sold and consumed and not others.
The popularity of CBD oil in the UK is rising fast, as word spreads about its ability to ease several ailments from anxiety to arthritic pain. But with a rise in demand also comes a rise in unscrupulous salespeople peddling sales of products that don’t pass FDA standards and are not properly authorised for distribution. This means that there are hundreds of different brands and types of CBD products being sold across the UK, both legally and illegally.
What is CBD oil?
Let’s have a close look at what CBD oil is and, importantly, what it isn’t.
Firstly, it is not weed in oil form. This is a common and damaging misconception. Cannabis, as a blanket term, is illegal to grow or possess and comes with a hefty fine or imprisonment.
CBD, also known as Cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. One of over 400 and, just to reiterate, it doesn’t make you high.
What part of the cannabis plant is psychoactive? That’s, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol more commonly referred to as ‘THC’.
According to UK law, any CBD product that is sold and consumed here must not contain more than 1mg or 0,2% THC to make it legal in the UK. This is a really minuscule amount that has no physical effect on us.
The history of CBD laws
The UK’s laws on CBD and cannabis date back to as early as 1928 with the introduction of the Dangerous Drugs Act.
Years later, 2001 saw The Misuse of Drugs Regulations being introduced, which was good news for scientists, as it meant you could grow it for research purposes if you obtained a special license from the Home Office.
Just over a decade later, the use of CBD oil was allowed for medicinal purposes only, brought about by the Misuse of Drugs (Designation). The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that any products containing Cannabidiol were classified as medicine and could only be bought under prescription. This had to be administered by a medical professional who had the proper licensing rights and met several requirements to do so, and could not be sold under any other circumstances.
By 2018 it was allowed to be sold over the counter but was thrown a curveball when CDB was reclassified as a ‘novel food’ and new legislation was passed that required anyone selling CBD to put in an application to the FSA for a Novel Foods license, by the end of March 2021.
So, what is a Novel Food?
According to the official UK government explanation, ‘Novel Foods “are foods that have not been widely consumed by people in the UK or European Union (EU) before May 1997. This means that the foods don’t have a ‘history of consumption.”
We know that cannabis and hemp have been consumed in large quantities before 1997, but it’s the current process of extracting CBD that is, well, novel.
CBD in its current form falls under the example given as “foods produced from new processes, for example, bread treated with ultraviolet light to increase the level of vitamin D present”.
The resposne to this has been mixed. Bad news for businesses that now have to ensure that they pass the requirements to be able to sell CBD products, but good news for the consumer who would now have some assurance that they were buying quality-assured CBD products that are legal to buy in the UK.
What are the different types of CBD products?
It’s important to know that CBD comes in many different forms. The popularity of CBD-infused products has spread so rapidly that people are going to great lengths to creatively produce the most unique CBD teas, coffees, juices, and foods. Any one of these forms of CBD is legal in the UK with the accepted THC levels.
If you’re looking for CBD products, you’ll most likely to find them in these common forms:
These come in lots of different forms of lotions and creams infused with CBD oil or hemp seed oil and get applied directly onto the skin and are most commonly used for pain relief.
Edibles are a word usually associated with brownies and other foods with high THC content. But, CBD edibles have almost no THC, if any, and most often found in the form of vitamin gummies.
A CBD tincture is an alcohol-based extract that uses high-proof alcohol to steep the plant material and have added flavourings.
These are mostly consumed by people who don’t like the taste of the oil and prefer a regulated dose.
Vaping CBD oil is fairly widespread but the research on the long-term effects of vaping on overall health is still being determined.
The term CBD oil and CBD tincture are often used interchangeably but CBD oil doesn’t usually contain alcohol, it contains only two ingredients, the CBD extract and the carrier oil which often has an added flavouring
All of these use CBD or hemp oil extract and are legal as long as the THC level is below 0,2%.
Are there different variations of CBD oil?
Yes. Cannabinoid are also produced in different profiles and varying strengths.
Full-spectrum products will contain some THC but this should be a very small amount.
Broad-spectrum products may contain cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG) or cannabinol (CBN)) and terpenes but they contain no THC.
CBD isolate products should contain CBD only.
Can you fail a drug test if you take CBD?
Theoretically, no. Most drug tests won’t test for CBD. But they will test for THC which is found in cannabis.
So, any product with a THC level of above 0,2% is considered marijuana, a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Due to permissible CBD products in the UK being mandated to be less than that, taking CBD oil will not cause you to fail a drug test.
Is it safe to travel with CBD oil?
It’s safe to travel with CBD, cannabidiol, and hemp products in both your checked and carry-on luggage, as long as it adheres to the rule that the CBD product has a legal level of less than 0,2% THC. This only applies to travel within the UK. If you are travelling internationally, you must check the laws of the country you are travelling to, and ensure you’re legally allowed to bring CBD products into your destination.
Travel restrictions on liquids still apply, so make sure you don’t travel with more than 100ml. And you may be asked to prove the THC content of your CBD product when you travel, so make sure you have any packaging with you that can offer this information.
How can you tell if your CBD is legal in the UK?
CBD oil can now be bought online or over the counter, so consumers need to be aware of what they are buying and whether it is a reputable brand. If the company you are buying from doesn’t disclose the THC content in their marketing material or packaging, then stay away. Ask questions and get recommendations from online communities. Reputable vendors should be able to offer a certificate of analysis for every product. This will be able to tell you important information regarding the amount of THC, if any, is in the product.
It’s really important to be informed. This means that when you buy CBD oil in the UK you must only buy from reputable distributors that are transparent about the ingredients. Don’t believe it’s regulated just because a friend tells you it is or you see someone talking about it on social media.
Now you know that CBD oil is legal to buy in the UK if the THC levels are aligned to regulations, then you will also have the guarantee of a good, quality CBD oil.
Before using any CBD products, you must consult your doctor, especially if you are already taking other medications or health supplements. CBD oil is not recommended for anyone pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, be aware of the right CBD dose you should be taking. The Foods Standard Agency advise a recommended dose of no more than 70mg a day. But it’s always best to check the packaging of the product you buy and consult your doctor.