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Surprise U-Turn Sees U.K. Regulators Question Safety Of CBD

medical cannabis u.k.
Written by Peter McCusker

BRITISH authorities have expressed concerns over the safety of CBD in moves which could harm the booming industry.

Click here for an update on this topic.

These emerged in a report in The Times newspaper which highlighted Food Standards Agency (FSA) safety concerns over cannabidiol (CBD) – which is popular with millions of Brits.

It refers to a Toxicity Report for the FSA which highlights potential CBD ‘side-effects ranging from diarrhoea and drooling to damage to the immune and reproductive systems’.

The FSA has told CBD Testers that following a meeting at the end of  January, which considered the toxicity study, it is now reviewing its ‘consumer advice on the consumption of CBD extracts’.

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‘No Significant Safety Concerns’

This comes just two weeks after the FSA said the ‘information available on CBD does not suggest any significant safety concerns‘. The Toxicity Report in question was first published in July, last year, and the FSA has yet to elaborate on why it has now changed its opinion on CBD safety (we are expecting a response in the next few days).

And, in a second blow for the U.K. industry the FSA has stated publicly, for the first-time since Brexit, that it plans to adopt the controversial European Novel Food guidelines into U.K. law.

These latest developments have raised concerns that the FSA lacks a clear understanding of the nature of CBD. Peter Reynolds, founder of U.K. CBD trade group CannaPro, said:  “The FSA doesn’t know what it’s talking about and it is going to land them in trouble. 

‘Will End Up In The Courts’

“They cannot understand it, for some reason, but what they are doing is legally flawed and this will end up in the courts. If a CannaPro member has its CBD stock removed by Trading Standards then they will be told that the stock they have taken off the shelves is not the one that the FSA is referring to, and that they will be liable for the costs and damages they have caused the business.”

During several meetings with the FSA, CannaPro and fellow industry trade group the Cannabis Trade Association (CTA) have made efforts to draw a distinction between ‘whole cannabis plant extracts’ – which contain CBD – and what the FSA refers to, as ‘CBD extracts’.

The FSA restated its position to CBD Testers this week, saying: CBD is a chemical found naturally within the cannabis plant, it has only very recently been removed and sold as a separate CBD extract.” 

These comments exhibit a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of the nature of CBD products, said Mr Reynolds.

‘Whole Plant Extracts’

While the FSA refers to ‘CBD extracts’ the producers and sellers represented by the CTA and CannaPro agree to sell only ‘whole plant extracts’. Mr Reynolds continued: “We don’t sell CBD extracts. What we do sell is something that has been taken from the cannabis plant for hundreds of years.”

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Natural whole plant extracts have been around for a century or more and recovered by a variety of methods such as the use of a liquid solvent. The trade bodies accept that ‘selective extracts’ or ‘isolates’ that have been modified to differ from the original substance to say, reduce THC content, are a Novel Food.

Mr Reynolds continued: “CannaPro and others in the industry accept that  CBD isolate and CBD extract are a Novel Food, as quite clearly, before 1998 people weren’t isolating CBD. CannaPro accepts isolate is a Novel Food and we won’t verify it.” 

‘We Are Reviewing Our Consumer Advice’

CBD Testers asked the FSA for a statement relation to The Times story and we received the following: “We have commissioned the Government’s independent advisory Committee on Toxicity (CoT) to review research on CBD extracts regularly. 

“In July last year it remarked on the lack of available data. It met again at the end of January to consider this issue again. As a result we are reviewing our consumer advice on the consumption of CBD extracts and the action we expect the industry to take and will make this information available imminently.

On the Novel Food issue It went on to say: “This (Novel Food) legislation is being transferred into U.K. law and we will continue to use the high standards of consumer protection it provides. We’ve got no plans to change this legislation.”

It also provided CBD Testers with the following comment from Rebecca Sudworth, Director of Policy at the Food Standards Agency: “The FSA will shortly outline the action it will take given the CBD industry’s lack of progress with the authorisation process.

“We are advising consumers to think carefully before taking CBD sold as food or supplements until we know more about their safety and composition. It’s now up to industry and business to do the right thing so everyone can be reassured that CBD is safe and what it says it is. If any evidence is found to suggest these products can cause harm, they will be removed from shelves.”

FSA And ‘CBD Extracts’

And in some additional ‘Background Notes’ provided to CBD Testers it broached the issue of CBD extracts and Novel Food.

CBD is a chemical found naturally within the cannabis plant, it has only very recently been removed and sold as a separate CBD extract. CBD extracts can be found in a range of products such as oils, confectionary, bakery products and drinks.  

“CBD was confirmed as a novel food product in January 2019. Under the novel food regulations, foods or food ingredients which do not have a history of consumption before May 1997 should be evaluated and authorised before they can be placed on the market.

“The FSA is responsible for regulating CBD as a novel food. This does not include cosmetics, vapes, products making medicinal claims or products containing illegal substances such as THC.    

“The FSA is the Central Competent Authority (CCA) for food safety, however local authorities are responsible for the day to day enforcement of food law. The FSA will issue guidance to them, but they are authorised make specific enforcement decisions based on the facts of individual cases and circumstances.”

Cannabidiol (CBD) is added to foods, oils and lotions. Users say that the compound, which does not get people high, reduces anxiety, depression, insomnia and pain. 

Novel Food Brick Wall?

The designation of CBD as a Novel Food early last year has been widely condemned by the CBD industry. Novel Food regulations introduced in 1998 are designed to ensure that all food supplements sold in the E.U. have undergone stringent safety tests.

But, as thing currently stand, not one CBD product on sale in the E.U. has successfully navigated this process. A Novel Food designation is used for guidance by national CCAs who must make their own decisions on whether to enforce its obligations.

Not What The Industry Wants To Hear

This new development follows a heated spat between the FSA and the CTA reported in CBD Testers, last month.

The FSA’s new position aligns it more with the Food and Drug Administration in the United States which says it has concerns over the ‘real risks’ posed by CBD consumption, with it also putting the industry on notice of imminent action.

The U.K. CBD industry continues to grow rapidly with millions of people said to be using it, and a market value in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

While the industry has been living in this Novel Food limbo for the last year it looks like it will be getting some clarity on how it can proceed over the coming weeks – but whether that will be what most of the industry wants to hear is looking increasingly unlikely, at this stage.

@CBD Testers will be keeping abreast of this issue and will shortly be publishing a summary of the Committee on Toxicity Report which has prompted the FSA’s concerns over CBD safety.

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  • And so the CP and CTA going round and round in circles complaining the FSA is wrong. The FSA are not going to change their mind, and the clock is ticking down. Meanwhile the CMC and EIHA are helping their clients apply for the necessary licences whilst the CP and CTA carry on hurtling dung about. I think for the sake of the industry, the sake of the hundreds of companies that have signed up to the CP and CTA, and the sake of the hundreds of thousands of clients they serve, it may be nice to know what exactly are the intentions of the CP and CTA or are ? Or are they just going to carry on bleating for 12 months till they go out of business taking the hundred of cbd companies with them ???????

  • mmm Tobacco and alcohol products have very deep and long studies into their harmful effects, have these products been pulled off the supermarket shelves. clinical tests have proven the beneficial effects canniboids can have on several life blighting conditions. Although I have to admit I am against so called recreational drugs from my own side. I think a much deeper study of these ingredients need to be done before condemning the industry to the scrap heap. as far as my history knowledge is I am sure these type of ingredients have been used for thousands of years and as such consumed.
    Therefore they cannot really be classed as novel.

About the author

Peter McCusker

Peter McCusker is an experienced news and business editor, who believes it’s time to fully embrace the multiple, proven, medical benefits of the cannabis plant.