Making sense of CBD

Health food retailers have a crucial role to play in distinguishing the goodies from the baddies.


The snake oil salesmen claim it’s a cure-all for everything and the authorities don’t like that. But before the EC and the UK’s Food Standards Agency can firm up their stance – and they’re already on the case – the CBD market is exploding.

This summer The Guardian pointed out the “giddy array of products” from CBD water to chewing gum, even a CBD-infused pillowcase. But it’s the oil that enthuses health food retailers who are careful not to claim specific medicinal benefits.

Meanwhile the UK is poorly prepared and restricts British growers by allowing extraction only from hemp stems and leaves, not the cannabinoid-rich flowers. So most of the UK’s CBD is imported, wasting the opportunity to control and tax a blossoming industry.

This means low-grade, even fake, products are finding their way to our market. Earlier this summer, the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) unveiled its study of the UK CBD market after blind testing 30 popular UK CBD brands, revealing that many products did not contain what was indicated on the label:

  • Only 38% of the products were within 10% of the advertised CBD content
  • 38% had less than 50% of the advertised CBD content
  • One product had 0% CBD
  • Almost half of the selected products had measurable levels of THC or CBN, making them technically illegal in the UK.

England Rugby legend James Haskell, teaming up with former All Blacks forward Ben Franks to produce their own range, nailed the problem when he said: “The CBD World is confusing and a bit like the wild west. We want to simplify it."

One of the key CMC recommendations is the formation of a cannabis-related kitemark to give consumers trust in the products containing cannabinoids and other substances derived from cannabis available on the market.

A CMC charter includes commitments to legal requirements such as authorisations, GMP, testing and labelling standards, all of which will add to manufacturers’ costs. CMC says CBD companies could work together to share costs and workload.

The market

Europe is far ahead of the US for new CBD product launches – 256 between 2008 and 2017 according to Persistence Market Research, almost double the US number. The CBD market in Europe is worth around £300m, larger than the markets for vitamin C and vitamin D supplements combined, and is expected to top £700m by next year.

A recent YouGov consumer survey estimated that 11% of UK adults had tried a CBD product – around 6m people – with higher consumption in younger adults (15% in the 25-34 age group, 8% in over 65 year-olds) and females (13% against 9% in males).

Is it legal?

The UK Home Office does not consider pure CBD in its isolated form to be a controlled substance, according to the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) and Misuse of Drugs Regulations (2001) (Home Office 2019).

Early this year the EC listed cannabidiol as a Novel Food, prompting hurried talks between the health food industry and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Novel foods require an authorisation from the European Food Safety Authority before they can legally be placed on the market.

Before the food can be legally marketed in the EU, novel foods are required to have a pre-market safety assessment and authorisation under the Novel Foods Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 2015/2283).

Only one application has been submitted so far, for the use of CBD in food supplements for adults (with a daily intake of up to 130 mg), excluding pregnant and lactating women. Therefore, strictly speaking, at the moment CBD food products and supplements are classed as an unauthorised ‘novel food’, although the UK Food Standards Agency is committed to finding ‘a proportionate way forward to achieve compliance in the marketplace.’

The Novel Food listing has been challenged by several organisations including CMC, the European Industrial Hemp Association and the UK’s Health Food Manufacturers Association.

While the sale of CBD products is not currently restricted in the UK, whether or not the novel food status of these products will be enforced by the FSA remains to be seen and may depend on whether the UK adheres to the EC Novel Foods Regulation following Brexit.

As it stands all CBD products that are classed as food supplements are technically illegal due to the fact that no one has been granted a Novel Foods licence from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The right dose?

Because consumers seek out CBD for a variety of disorders, it’s important for retailers and their staff to acquire the training and knowledge to help them understand what the product can do for their customers.

Irit Avisar at the Israel Medical Cannabis Nurses Association offers this advice to pass on: “It can take a while for your body to adjust and to get the dosage right.

“Gradually increase the dose until you find your optimum balance. Keep a journal to track your dose, reaction and any side effects – it will help you determine the right dose so you can achieve the expectations and goals of your treatment.

“Discuss taking CBD with your GP, especially if you take other meds. Avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice together with CBD to prevent interaction.

“Always buy CBD from a reputable company.”

A welcome boost for health food retailing

Simon Manthorpe, CEO of CBD oil testing service EOS Scientific, believes people’s reluctance to use over-the-counter medicines is leading to spikes in popularity for holistic remedies such as CBD oil.

“We conducted national research earlier this year looking into the attitudes towards holistic remedies, with a specific focus on using holistics to help alleviate mental health issues,” he said.

The figures showed that that a whopping 38% of Britons would use CBD oil to help with their mental health, and almost a quarter would prefer to use holistics than prescribed medicine to help with health issues.

Europe CBD Expo at London’s ExCel Centre in July showcased leading international brands, senior level insights and global scientific research across all sectors of the CBD, cannabinoids and medicinal cannabis industry.

With more than 30 speakers, 80 exhibitors and attendance in the thousands, the expo attracted an international audience of senior representatives from industry, government, clinicians, press and consumers looking to learn more about the latest developments.

“CBD products are finally being recognised as viable remedial products,” added Manthorpe. “Between 2017 and 2018, CBD sales in the UK increased by 99%. These are the sort of figures that really make high street retailers stand up and take notice.

“CBD is no longer just the new kid on the block. To have these sorts of events [the CBD Expo] celebrating the industry, showcasing the very best products on offer and the leading industry experts, CBD no longer feels like the substance people have to be cautious or reluctant about.”

Tackling the quality issue

Former England rugby international James Haskell was introduced to CBD oil by ex-All Black Ben Franks.

Together they trialled a product created by CiiTECH and found it so effective they worked with the Israeli cannabis biotech company to create their own brand, Impact.

“It was very important for us to find a reputable brand that had testing and good quality and hence Impact Sports was born,” said Haskell.

CiiTECH’s CEO Clifton Flack confirmed Haskell’s comments about the ‘wild west’. “The cannabis industries (medical and hemp) are growing faster than any that have come before them,” he said. “The speed of cash growth combined with complex regulatory environments have enabled unscrupulous companies to exploit the uneducated consumer.

“As with every emergent industry, with time both consumers and regulators are already wising up and soon a small number of established, reputable companies will compete for the majority of the market. As cannabis industries normalise, multi-national corporations will join the value chain bringing much-needed validation and due diligence.”

Until the cream rises to the top, he added, the choice of which brand to use is in the hands of the consumer with the many digital tools available to research the background of the company, and customer experiences. “Recommendations are the most powerful.”

What’s your CBD story?

Health food retailers are invited to pass on their opinions, experiences and customer involvement with CBD treatments by writing to the editor, Alistair@jfnproductions.co.uk

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