At CBD Shopy, we recently became aware of an alarming document released by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) in mid-July 2019. It seems to have gone under the radar of most branches of the press despite suggesting a thread to the legality of the entire UK CBD industry. The document can be seen here. The goal is to deliver guidance to NPA members, independent pharmacy professionals in the UK and follows discussions with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Home Office. The key information is as follows:
“If a product contains any amount (even trace amounts) of controlled cannabinoids — such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), even unintentionally — it will be subject to controls as it would be classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Drug (CD) under The Misuse of Drugs Regulations (MDR) 2001.”
This contradicts previous guidelines which allowed for a maximum THC content of 0.2% when growing hemp, and the limit of 1mg THC per container or bottle detailed in the CBD factsheet released by the Home Office earlier this year.
The guidelines released by the NPA go on to clarify that only cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans, such as the tiny number prescribed by doctors in the UK, are lawfully available for human consumption, and that any product that contains any amount of controlled cannabinoids cannot be classed as exempted products.
This quite clearly states that practically all full-spectrum CBD products sold in the UK are therefore illegal, as practically all full-spectrum CBD items on the market contain THC, albeit in very low amounts (within the previously-mentioned 1mg-per-container range). So at a time when articles about CBD appear in the national press on an almost daily basis and the public are waking up to the benefits of this useful substance, are the MHRA and Home Office attempting to shut down this booming UK industry?
Cannabis expert Peter Reynolds is the president of CLEAR, a lobby group campaigning for cannabis law reform and recently launched Cannabis Professionals (Cannapro), a trade association for the UK’s cannabis, CBD and hemp businesses. “This statement by the Home Office is false,” he says in no uncertain terms, “and is yet another instance of it trying to make law on its own account.”
With regards to the statement that food supplements containing any amount of controlled cannabinoids cannot be classified as exempt products, he says this is entirely false. “An exempt product under MoDR 2001 2(1) is exactly what CBD products are. I invite the HO to bring a prosecution on this basis. It will fail.”
We also spoke to Guy Coxall, compliance director at the Cannabis Trades Association (CTA), a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting CBD, cannabis and hemp businesses in the UK. “The NPA issued incorrect advice and as such this is now in the hands of the Association’s lawyers, we are unable to comment further at this time,” he says. This could suggest the NPA are scaremongering, rather than detailing an actual change in the legal status of full-spectrum CBD products sold in the UK.
Looking for clarification, we spoke to Imran Choudhury, the editor and media officer at the NPA, who explained they were simply passing on what the Home Office had told them. “My colleagues in the pharmacy services department have been prodding the Home Office to get information out of them, and they’ve said any amount of THC in CBD products would classify them as a Schedule 1 drug, and unlawful,” he said.
“So this is the current guidance we’re giving out to our members and telling them to follow. A couple of months ago, the [permitted] THC content was less than 1mg, and now they’ve taken a stance where they’re saying no amount of THC. That’s the update we’ve been given.”
In other news that might concern UK CBD businesses, he spoke of new paperwork that the Home Office will require from CBD products. “We’re writing up guidance at the moment, and another thing, the Home Office has told us is that all the CBD products out there at the moment are going to need some sort of certificate that states the product has no THC content.”
It all adds to a sense of concern that the Home Office is simply inventing new legislation on a whim and failing to make things clear for both business and the consumer. Peter Reynolds elaborates on this, “The Home Office is institutionally opposed to cannabis and frequently gives incorrect advice or invents law on the subject,” he says, pointing out an error in the Home Office factsheet where it incorrectly describes THC-V as a controlled cannabinoid, which it is not. “It is currently doing exactly this with its procedure for importing prescribed Schedule 2 medicines. It is unlawfully treating cannabis differently to all other Schedule 2 medicines.”
There’s a general feeling that CBD law in the UK is vague and contradictory and this guidance from the NPA simply adds to the sense of confusion. This can only serve to unsettle and worry the average consumer who may have concerns about the links between CBD and illegal drugs. Indeed, until we have clear guidance, as Peter says, it might take a prosecution over trace amounts of THC in CBD products – and its subsequent failure – to help us more clearly understand the legal state of CBD in the UK today.