From April this year, patients who’ve been taking over-the-counter CBD oil can expect to notice a few changes to the products that are available. This is provoking some anxiety amongst those who’ve come to rely on whole plant or full-spectrum CBD products to manage a variety of health symptoms.
At CPASS, we’re here to advocate for patients whether they’re prescribed cannabis-based medicines through the NHS or private clinics, obtain their cannabis for medicinal use from the illicit market, or find relief from CBD oils bought on the high street or online. This is why we have decided to explain the implications of imminent changes to the UK CBD market on patients who find these products beneficial.
What is CBD Oil?
Most people have only heard of CBD oil in the last couple of years, but the industry itself has only been going for about 8-10 years.
In reality most of the CBD oil products sold until fairly recently were probably best described as hemp extracts. That’s because CBD is just one of over a hundred naturally occurring compounds found in hemp flowers that are extracted and mixed with carrier oils to make CBD oil. CBD (cannabidiol) is the star of the show, but without its botanical companions, it just doesn’t have the same therapeutic clout.
Most of the early CBD brands were selling what’s become known as ‘whole plant’ or ‘full spectrum’ CBD oil. Back then there was no need to differentiate between full spectrum, broad spectrum or CBD isolate, as it was pretty much ‘whole plant or nothing’. Because the hemp plant contains low levels of THC, these full spectrum CBD oils also contained trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). And this is where the trouble starts.
When we talk about hemp, we’re really using a legal definition; when cannabis has less than 0.2% THC it is classified as hemp, anymore and it is considered a controlled substance.
For years, CBD companies thought if their products contained 0.2% THC or less they were legal to sell. However, the Home Office has always seen things rather differently. They say that any CBD product, regardless of its size, can only contain 1mg THC, which means that most traditional full spectrum or whole plant CBD products contained more than the legally allowable amount of THC.
In reality though, both the Home Office and the police have largely turned a blind eye to this legal grey area, leaving the full spectrum/ whole plant CBD market to flourish.
Until Novel Foods came onto the horizon.
Last year the Food Standards Agency (FSA) stated that ingested CBD products were to be classified as novel foods. A novel food is any foodstuff that wasn’t commonly eaten before 1997, and in the eyes of the FSA, CBD products that have been extracted from hemp are indeed novel (although many of us would argue otherwise).
In order to legally continue selling a novel food, companies need to attain authorisation from the FSA based on a lengthy and very expensive application process including safety and toxicology data. In the case of CBD, from April 2021 onwards, only CBD products with a validated novel foods application can remain on the market. Validation is just the first phase, after which the FSA will consider the safety data and toxicology reports for final authorisation.
If you have been using whole plant or full spectrum CBD products with 0.2% THC, it’s unlikely that they will be authorised as the FSA have expressly stated that CBD products containing more than the Home Office’s legally permissible amount of THC will not pass the test.
As a result, many risk averse CBD companies are only making applications for broad spectrum, isolate and synthetic CBD products, which are a safer bet for authorisation. Encouragingly though, a few applications have been made for full spectrum products containing legally allowable THC levels.
Now if you’ve been happily taking broad spectrum or CBD isolate products for a while now, there’s probably no need to panic as very little will change for you. However, if your CBD oil of choice is full spectrum/whole plant with 0.2% THC, from April onwards it may no longer be legally available to buy.
What Are My Options?
1. Ask Your Regular CBD Company Whether Their Full Spectrum CBD Products Will Be Available After April
With the 1st April deadline looming, many CBD companies have already informed their customers how these changes will affect them.
It’s recently been reported that some full-spectrum CBD oils have had their novel food application validated by the FSA, although this is no guarantee they will eventually gain authorisation. Other companies will simply discontinue their full-spectrum CBD ranges changing instead to broad-spectrum or isolate CBD. A few will try to circumvent novel food regulations by relabelling their products as topicals, while a further proportion will continue selling their full-spectrum products as normal until the FSA informs them otherwise.
So if you haven’t heard already, reach out to the company you regularly buy your CBD products from to find out how they are responding to the novel food situation. It may mean stockpiling a few full spectrum CBD products before 1st April until you find an alternative solution.
2. Try a Broad Spectrum or CBD Isolate Product
In contrast to the early CBD adopters who favoured whole plant/full spectrum products, since the announcement of the novel foods deadline, broad spectrum (predominantly CBD with trace amounts of minor cannabinoids and terpenes added back in) and CBD isolate (purified CBD) products have come to dominate the market.
Anecdotally, patients say that broad spectrum or isolate products aren’t so effective at managing their symptoms. But before discounting broad spectrum and CBD isolate products out of hand, it is worth trying them out to make a comparison with the full spectrum product you’ve been using. A word of caution: many patients report needing to up their dose to get the same effect as their whole plant extract.
3. Consider Getting a Prescription for Medical Cannabis
There’s always been this massive elephant in the room in relation to over-the-counter CBD oil. While it’s classified as a food supplement, I’m not aware of any other dietary supplement taken by millions for everything from migraines, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, and autism.
If you’re one of those people whose lives have been transformed by CBD oil, you know just how powerful it can be – indeed you might even be tempted to call it medicine.
But unlike other medicines we take, over-the-counter CBD oil is not prescribed by a medical professional who can oversee issues such as dosing, side effects or drug interactions. However, since 2018, when cannabis was reclassified to schedule 2, it has been possible for doctors on the specialist register to prescribe medical cannabis to patients, including CBD.
While there are certainly many quality OTC CBD products available, the CBD medicinal products prescribed by doctors are standardised, produced under good manufacturing practice (GMP) standards and usually extracted from medicinal grade cannabis rather than hemp.
So far there is limited access to medicinal cannabis through the NHS and as a result, a number of CQC-approved private clinics have opened around the country. Initially, the cost of getting a prescription was prohibitively expensive, but thankfully in the last few months treatment has become far more affordable.
Project Twenty21, a registry through which patients get subsidised medical cannabis products, is another good option for anyone who might struggle to go private. That said, for both the private clinics and Project Twenty21, patients must pay an initial consultation fee costing between £70-100. However, for anyone taking CBD for a health condition who would prefer to be under the care of a specialist doctor, this is an option worth considering. At CPASS we are not in a position to recommend any clinics in particular, so it’s a matter of doing your own research to see which clinic is a good fit for you.
Change is one of the inevitabilities of life, and the CBD world is no different. So while it might feel scary right now to think that the CBD oil you’ve been successfully using to manage your symptoms may not be available anymore, rest assured other alternatives are available.