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New Regulations Could Take CBD Products Off UK Shelves in a Year

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Feb 13, 2020   
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Oils, drinks, and treats containing cannabidiol (CBD) in the UK will be “taken off the shelves” by March 2021 if they haven’t gained regulatory approval.

The announcement came from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), which also warned pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers not to consume the cannabis compound due to toxicity concerns.

The warnings have been welcomed by leading CBD organisations in the UK, which hope to establish tighter, safer regulations for the industry.


The UK’s CBD industry is bigger than it’s ever been. Over 1.3 million people are thought to consider themselves regular CBD consumers, and they’re set to spend almost £1 billion per year on the cannabinoid by 2025 in the UK alone.

But this rapid expansion has largely outpaced official regulation. Until today, the most prominent regulatory warning came last January, when the European Commission announced that CBD products should be considered as “novel foods,” and so shouldn’t be sold without further testing and authorization from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).

But now the UK’s own FSA has joined the call to action and asked all CBD producers to apply for its own novel food authorisation by March 31, 2021.

“CBD products are widely available on the high street but are not properly authorized,” said Emily Miles, Food Standards Agency’s chief executive. “The CBD industry must provide more information about the safety and contents of these products to the regulator before 31 March 2021, or the products will be taken off the shelves,” she wrote in a statement.

The news has been welcomed by the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI), which began processing EFSA novel food applications last year on behalf of UK CBD companies.

“The FSA have today provided us with the regulatory clarity that the industry and consumers have been crying out for,” said Dr Parveen Bhatarah, ACI’s regulatory lead. “It is critical that the industry now responds by undertaking all the investments required to ensure that we can deliver full regulatory compliance.”

But not everyone has greeted the FSA’s announcement. Some in the UK’s CBD industry don’t believe that the novel foods approach is entirely appropriate for such a versatile substance. Indeed, CBD cosmetics, vaping products, and medicinal extracts will be exempt from the novel foods enforcement.

“The novelty status of CBD was a blow for the industry, which had hoped that by not making medical claims, manufacturers would be free to sell their products as supplements without significant regulatory constraints,” said Sarah Ellson, a regulatory partner at the European law firm Fieldfisher.

“The reality of getting authorisation for a novel food from the FSA and EFSA is burdensome and involves a dossier of scientific data that may seem similar to getting a medicine authorized,” she continued in a statement.

A maternal concern

The FSA also advised anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medication not to consume CBD products. This warning was based on advice from the UK government’s Committee on Toxicity, which cited studies linking CBD to decreased fetal body weights in pregnant animal models.

Healthy adults have been advised to “think carefully” before taking CBD, and, if they still choose to do so, not to take more than 70mg a day.

Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration also warned that CBD-containing products “have the potential to harm” consumers.

Although the World Health Organisation has found “no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD,” products claiming to be CBD can have their own high risks. Between December 2017 and January 2018, synthetic products marketed as CBD were responsible for the poisonings of at least 52 people in Utah.

Tighter regulations could help avoid such disasters in the UK, but any enforcement of the novel foods legislation will actually come under local authorities.

“We applaud FSA for recognizing the demand for CBD in the UK, and for taking the necessary steps to protect consumers,” Stephen Mueller, founder and CEO of the CBD company Mile High Labs, said in a statement. “We are committed to filing our novel foods application and welcome the agency’s progressive focus on CBD compliance.”

“While [the FSA’s announcement] may be frustrating, it should be remembered that the rules are set in the interests of public safety,” Sarah Ellson of Fieldfisher continued, “and that attempting to sidestep or antagonize regulators could have serious consequences for individuals, companies, and the CBD industry as a whole.”

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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