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The ACI Sets its First Standards for CBD Testing in the UK

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 14, 2020   
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CBD is more popular than ever in the UK. According to recent market research, more than 8 million Brits are now buying the calming cannabis compound, spending more than £150m on the products in the first four months of 2020 alone.

But all these CBD balms, vapes and oils weren’t tested to the same standards. And that’s something the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI), which represents several of the largest CBD companies operating in the UK, wants to change.

The ACI announced today that, in partnership with the lab company Eurofins and the Laboratory of Government Chemists (LGC), a testing company and UK government advisor, it has set the first lab standards for detecting cannabinoids in CBD products sold in the UK.

Setting the standard

The ACI’s new set of lab standards will primarily be written up by its regulatory lead, Dr Parveen Bhatarah. In preparation for the task, she first set out to catalogue which standards CBD labs were already using.

“My first challenge was just agreeing which analytical testing labs are up to those standards,” she said during a virtual press conference. “And to my horror[…] the actual analytical skill set is not there.”

“Hence, I've been working with Eurofins,” she added.

Working with scientists at Eurofins, Bhatarah decided upon 35 reference markers that can be used in conjunction with high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) techniques to detect 16 key cannabinoids.

This standard should help CBD labs identify if samples contain more than 0.0001 percent of controlled cannabinoids, such as THC. This official level of detection will ensure samples don’t exceed the threshold stated by the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Regulations.

But this is only the first step. Bhatarah and the ACI are now in discussions with the UK’s Home Office and the LGC to refine the lab standards and extend them to cover food products infused with CBD. Testing such complex food matrices will likely require higher testing capabilities, such as mass spectrometry in conjunction with HPLC (HPLC-MS). But Bhatarah is confident this progress can be made soon.

“I think this has been a great journey, and I'm confident that we have achieved the first milestone,” she said.

“Our objective is to use that methodology, take it to the next level, to the pharmacopeia, so that the whole industry can have a methodology.”

CBD in the UK

Many CBD products sold in the UK produce different test results depending on which lab does the testing, according to the ACI.

“Companies that will speak to you about products [say] that they've sent off to be tested at three different laboratories. And they get three completely different results,” said Marc Burbidge, ACI’s quality lead, during the virtual press conference.

A report from the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (which is twinned with the ACI) last June found that out of 30 popular UK brands tested, nearly half of products had measurable levels of THC, and only 38 percent were within 10 percent of the advertised CBD content.

Since then, official regulation has begun. In February, the UK’s Food Standards Agency stepped in and announced that any CBD oil, drink or treat without its regulatory approval will be “taken off the shelves” by March 2021.

To remain with retailers, all CBD companies producing such goods must apply for a novel food authorization with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) by March 31, 2021. But CBD cosmetics, vaping products, and medicinal extracts will remain exempt from the novel foods enforcement for now.

Many of these EFSA applications are being overseen by the ACI. One its members, the Colorado-based CBD producer Mile High Labs, became one of the first to file this April.


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