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UK Hemp Groups Oppose a Proposed 0.03% THC Limit for CBD Products

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Apr 27, 2021   
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The UK’s CBD and hemp sector is still young, with many regulations and standards yet to be finalized. What, for instance, should the limit on THC in CBD products be? As it stands, the UK Home Office states the limit should be 0 percent. But, as there are always bound to miniscule traces of THC in a CBD product – no matter how efficient the processing – what should 0 percent really mean?

Well, last month one industry group proposed an answer. In their report “Health Guidance Levels for THC in CBD products,” scientists and policy advisors from the Association of the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) and the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC), and the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group recommended the Home Office adopt a limit of 0.021 milligrams of THC per kilogram (mg/kg) per day. This cap would effectively limit CBD products to 0.03 percent of THC per the recommended 70mg daily intake in the UK. But not everyone agreed with this proposal.

Yet another industry group – which consists of the British Hemp Alliance, the Scottish Hemp Association, the Northern Ireland Hemp Association, and the Cannabis Trade Association – says that such a limit “would be a disaster for our burgeoning domestic UK hemp industry.” In a letter to the ACI, the hemp alliances instead called for a “1% THC limit in flowers and leaves.”

But, in response to that argument, representatives from the ACI and CMC have said that the hemp alliances “have completely misunderstood the premise and findings from our joint paper.”

So, who’s right? And is it the case that some details of the ACI’s proposal have been lost in communication?

Reaching the limit

Across Europe, most counties have agreed upon THC safety limits for commercial CBD products. Most hemp derived food products sold within the European Union, for instance, are subject to the union’s safe THC limit of 0.001 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg). While in Switzerland, which operates outside of the EU, CBD products can contain up to 0.007 mg/kg of THC.

These limits are different from any THC caps on hemp biomass.

The UK, though, has left the EU and is now without any such THC safety limits for fully processed CBD products. But new, more specific limits could be enacted through the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), an advisory body to the UK Home Office.

And in their recent report, the representatives from the ACI and CMC recommended the ACMD do just that and adopt a 0.03 percent THC limit on CBD products. This cap was decided upon after a review of the EU’s and World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) CBD safety regulations and a scientific literature review of THC safety limits.

But, writing on behalf of “over 1000 domestic hemp and CBD businesses in the UK,” the group of UK hemp alliances opposed the cap on March 21.

“The ACI’s proposal will create further red tape around the plant and hinder the progress of the British hemp industry with unnecessary bureaucracy and restrictions,” they wrote in their statement.

“A 0.03% limit to import flowers and leaves would be incredibly restrictive and destroy a domestic industry worth up to £300 million in the UK.”

But here’s where the ACI takes issue. The suggested 0.03 percent limit, it says, was never envisioned to be imposed on imported hemp biomass, like flowers and leaves. It was put forward as a more realistic alternative to the Home Office’s “0 percent THC” rule in finished CBD products. And the ACI and CMC have reaffirmed so.

“The authors of the [hemp alliances’] letter have interpreted our recommendation as a limit of 0.03% in biomass, which is untrue. THC levels in biomass is a completely separate issue that is not touched upon in our paper,” representatives from the ACI wrote in response.

“It is worrying that the signatories to this well researched scientific paper were unable to understand its findings. As the paper was largely written for a highly-educated, scientific minded and regulatory focused audience the key points were materially misconstrued. It’s not even evident from the letter that our paper was actually read, so it is highly unlikely that the letter was written after analysis or reasoned reflection on our recommendations,” the ACI’s statement continued.

When Analytical Cannabis reached out to the British Hemp Alliance for comment, a representative said that the group had understood that the ACI’s THC limit proposal referred to finished products and not biomass. But, the hemp group says, some CBD products could be both goods and biomass.

“We understood perfectly clearly this [report from the ACI, CMC] was referring to processed products,” a representative told Analytical Cannabis in an email, “but as flowers and leaves are currently not permitted to be used in finished products, for example hemp tea, to make regulatory changes to permit the use of the leaf and flower, and then restrict it to 0.03%, would be unhelpful for the development of the industry. Few hemp varieties would be available to use for hemp tea if restricted to only 0.03%, when 0.2% is allowed in the field.”

Yet, the ACI’s report did recommend permitting THC levels close to 0.2 percent in special circumstances. Finished products over the 0.03 percent THC limit, but below 0.2 percent THC, could still be allowed to be sold over the counter, as per the ACI’s recommendations, as long its acknowledged that THC is a schedule 5 controlled drug in the UK. But this provision, according to the hemp alliance, is still not lenient enough.

“While we support a maximum daily limit for THC consumption in hemp products, we cannot support 0.03% as a maximum in food supplements, nor of the idea of Schedule 5 cannabis medicines for products containing 0.03-0.2% THC,” the alliances’ letter to the ACI reads.

CBD in the UK

For their part, the ACI and CMC continue to communicate with the ACMD on CBD regulations. As recently as April 22, the two groups responded to the council’s call for more evidence on cannabinoids in CBD products. And within that response, the ACI and CMC reiterated their recommended THC cap.

“In the recently published paper ‘Health Guidance Levels for THC in CBD products’, it was concluded that the proposed THC safety limit of 0.03%, or 21 μg/day, accounts for the total controlled cannabinoid limit in CBD food and consumer products (i.e. including other THCs & CBN, which are less common and potent than Δ9-THC),” the ACI and CMC team wrote in their letter to the ACMD.

“This level of THC is highly unlikely to produce a positive THC drug test. The majority of the relevant toxicological, experimental and clinical data is only available for Δ9-THC, and therefore only a recommendation for levels of Δ9-THC were made. However, future research should investigate other cannabinoids of importance, including Δ8-THC and CBN, to determine their safety levels alone and in combination with other phytocannabinoids in CBD products.”

For their part, the British Hemp Alliance, the Scottish Hemp Association, the Northern Ireland Hemp Association, and the Cannabis Trade Association continue to champion whole hemp plant materials and products. In a meeting with the UK Home Office in early April, the associations reportedly discussed their issues with synthetic CBD and the ACI and CMC’s proposed 0.03 percent THC cap.

“With the requirement of Regulated Product (Novel Food) authorization, and synthetic cannabinoids entering the food supply for the first time, our proposal for mandatory labelling for classification of contents was well received,” the groups wrote in a press release.

“As part of the Home Office review for changes required to law and regulations, including the Misuse of Drugs Act, will [sic] see an immediate improvement to the future of the UK hemp and cannabis industry. We will be submitting our evidence to the ACMD.”


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