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Is CBD Oil Legal in the UK?

Posted by Lewis Olden on
Is CBD Oil Legal in the UK?

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For years the cannabis plant and its extract have been outlawed around the world and many members of society are still unsure of where they stand with the legality of cannabis derived products. There are many who simply dismiss cannabis as an illegal substance and do not have an open mind to the prospective benefits cannabis-based products and medicines could have on their lives. 

In the UK CBD is legal to be sold over the counter and it is also prescribed as a medicine, an example of which is Epidiolex that is prescribed to treat seizures for children that are older than 2 years who suffer from Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. CBD is not psychoactive and do not cause the user to get high. There are numerous ailments that CBD can assist in treating ranging from inflammation to anxiety.


What is CBD?

CBD stands for Cannabidiol which is a chemical compound from the Cannabis Sativa Plant. It occurs naturally and it is used in an array of products such as oils, sprays, tinctures and cosmetics.


How can CBD be used?

There are numerous delivery methods that can be used to administer CBD. It is important to be able to take a standardised dose so you know how much CBD you are consuming. It is also crucial that you find what works best for you, so you can establish a loving relationship with CBD.


Timeline of UK Cannabis laws

  • 1928 - Cannabis was first made illegal in 1928 in the UK under the Dangerous Drugs Act, this act introduce laws that made the possession of cannabis illegal. In 1967 the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act made recommendations to reduce the sentencing for the possession of cannabis.
  • 1971 - The Misuse of Drugs Act was implemented in 1971 which restricted the cultivation of all species of the cannabis plant family.
  • 2001 - In 2001, The Misuse of Drugs Regulations permitted cannabis cultivation under a special Home Office issued license.
  • 2015 - 2015 saw the insertion of The Misuse of Drugs (Designation) that paved the way for the legalisation of Medical Cannabis.
  • 2018 - November 2018, Medical Cannabis was legalised in the UK.
  • 2020 - In February of 2020, the FSA classified CBD as a Novel Food which was a significant step in regulating a form of cannabis for mass consumption.


What is the legal limit of CBD?

THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid is illegal to be used recreational and the possession or supply of cannabis flower containing THC can lead to incarceration. THC is currently regarded as a Class B drug, with few exceptions. The classification of cannabis as an illegal substance was determined by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in which cannabis is included.

However, Medical Cannabis containing THC was legalised in the UK in November of 2018 but a prescription from a doctor is required to access cannabis based medicines. In practice it has not been as easy as many hoped it would be to acquire a cannabis prescription. The main issue is the monthly cost of the medicine and the cost of the eligibility consultations. A cannabis prescription cannot be issued on the NHS and is not typically covered by private health insurance. This means that patients are having to pay for the medicine out of their own pockets. With the cheapest prescription of cannabis costing £220 per month and in reality, it is often more expensive.

Cannabis medicines use a variety of CBD:THC ratios depending on what disease is trying to be treated. As research becomes more extensive it is plausible that specific THC:CBD ratios are formulated to treat specific diseases so they have the maximum impact on limiting the effect the disease has on the patient. 

To import Medical Cannabis containing THC you need to have a Specials License and access to a controlled drug storage facility. There are already pharmaceutical wholesalers who have built a presence in the UK to have a specific focus on Cannabis. Many large Canadian, Australian and US vertically integrated companies have elected to purchase existing pharmaceutical wholesalers in the UK to ensure their supply chain has access to the UK Medical Cannabis market.

THC is legal in Canada and some states in the United States such as California, Colorado and Nevada. However, THC is illegal on a Federal Level in the US meaning that products containing THC cannot cross state lines. THC is the component of the cannabis plant that causes the user to get high and while attitudes across the globe are gradually changing and becoming more receptive to the idea of legalising all cannabinoids it still seems a few years away from being implemented on a grand scale that would allow the industry to take off.

While CBD is totally legal in the UK, there have been instances where some poorly managed companies have supplied inferior products that do not contain the level of CBD that is advertised. While some cannabis oils that have been sold online and in retail shops have actually contained THC. This has meant that some consumers have a negative perception of CBD and ultimately causes them to not take a chance on the trying the products to see if CBD works for them.


What is the current state of the CBD industry in the UK and what does the future look like?

In the UK the CBD market has grown exponentially and is believed to be valued in excess of £400m per year in 2020 and is expected to rise to be valued at over £1bn by 2025. These figures make the market larger than the total UK Vitamin D (£145m) and Vitamin C (£119m) markets combined. It is expected that CBD will be the equivalent or larger than the entire UK herbal supplement sector by 2025.

Perception of CBD in the UK is one of the main obstacles that the CBD industry needs to overcome. A study undertaken by the Centre of Medical Cannabis found that over 40% of the UK population currently rules out using CBD due to legal concerns, lack of current regulation of the CBD industry and the stigma that surrounds cannabis.


What is a Novel Food?

The European Commission defines a Novel Food as a "food that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997, when the first Regulation on novel food came into force.”

As CBD was not widely consumed prior to 1997 it has been deemed a Novel Food by both the EFSA and the UK's FSA. There has been much debate about this topic within the industry as many argue that cannabis and hemp have been consumed in various forms for hundreds if not thousands of years so there is plenty of historical evidence that CBD is safe.


Novel Food Regulation for CBD

 The classification of CBD as a Novel Food will ensure that all suppliers of ingestible CBD products are compliant and are producing products that contain the levels of CBD, THC and other ingredients that is advertised on the label. Going forward ingestible CBD products sold in the UK will have to be Broad-spectrum as opposed to Full spectrum which means that the much-sought entourage effect will no longer be an aspect of European ingestible CBD oils, CBD capsules, CBD gummies, CBD sweets or CBD drinks. This means that to ensure the likelihood that a Novel Food application is successful, the new ranges of CBD ingestible products will be manufactured using CBD Isolate.

 CBD brands will have to ensure that they either partner with a CBD Isolate supplier who will have their submitted Novel Food application validated before 31 March 2021. The brand’s proprietary formulations can be included within the application and the brand will then have to carry out toxicology and stability tests to ensure that the CBD products are fit for consumption. The alternate option is place wholesale orders with a supplier who is offering a white label service for ingestible CBD products that are Novel Food compliant and are part of either an approved or validated Novel Food application.    


How will Novel Food Regulation impact the CBD industry?

The industry as a whole must use these results to understand the areas of weakness within the CBD industry and understand why some consumers do not feel confident or safe when purchasing CBD oils or CBD tablets. Producing a quality product that consumers can trust is integral for the CBD industry’s future growth and mass acceptance and use. Additional steps taken to provide reassurance throughout the supply chain to ensure these negative results are eradicated from CBD products within the UK. It seems to be now widely accepted that the incoming Novel Food legislation will remove bad actors from the CBD space and allow reputable brands and wholesalers to build a profitable and renowned business that the public can trust to provide them with high quality products that provide the user with the desired effects.

The majority of CBD users in the UK have begun using CBD in the past two years with only 10% of users consuming CBD for over 5 years. This is a trend that seems set to continue as the quality and respect for CBD grows, more people are going to try CBD and become regular users. Having a repeat customer base in such a young industry promises for an optimistic future for any brand that is able to produce a high-quality CBD range that generates returning customers.

CBD is currently used across all ages. The willingness of the population to try CBD will be a key driver in the increase of consumption. With proper regulation within the industry, the 46% of the population who are currently unwilling to try CBD are likely to change their mind and give CBD a chance. These individuals will be gradually converted due to the removal of negative stereotypes and clarity provided on the legality of any CBD products that have a Novel Food license and are available for purchase. Within the CBD space there are still no brands that are household names in the UK. As the industry grows it is likely that there will be several brands who take the limelight and maximise their profile and provide a platform for CBD to become universally accepted as a positive supplement that can help people in a number of different manners.


What does the Novel Food Regulation mean for future cannabis legislation?

With the legislation in place for CBD to be properly regulated it seems that the full legalisation of all cannabis extracts for recreational use is on the horizon. A successful implementation of the Novel Food legislation will result in the trust of the cannabis industry as a whole increasing and therefore the argument for cannabis to remain illegal should subside. The more success stories there are of patients having fantastic results using medical cannabis medicines will begin to alter the public’s thinking and begin to view cannabis as a positive impact on society, rather than the association with violence and crime.


Can CBD be prescribed by the NHS?

As mentioned prior, Epidiolex is an example of a CBD medication that is prescribed by the NHS. Where children with specific forms of epilepsy have access to the drug that can help decrease the number of seizures they have. However, to acquire a prescription for the majority of cannabis based medicines you have to receive a prescription from a specially licensed cannabis clinic and the prescription will not be subsidised by the NHS and will not be covered in the majority of private healthcare insurance plans.


Are there different laws on CBD in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland?

The laws surrounding CBD are consistent throughout the United Kingdom. CBD is legal in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. There is no differentiation in the laws between the the three countries. The same Home Office laws dictate the legality in each jurisdiction.


Is it legal to travel with CBD?

Yes, it is legal to travel within the UK with CBD. It is also legal to travel with CBD to any country where CBD is not illegal or criminalised. You can travel to the United States of America without issue and within the EU. However, if you are travelling to Russia or Saudi Arabia, it would certainly not be advisable to the travel with CBD on your person or CBD within your luggage. 


Is CBD Flower or Bud legal in the UK?

CBD Flower or Bud is prohibited from being sold in the UK. Even if the CBD Flower or Bud is from a verified EU source and the THC content is below 0.2%. CBD Flower remains a controlled substance in the UK. A UK Hemp cultivation license only allows for the fibre and the seeds to be processed for commercial purposes. Essentially, CBD Flower falls under the blanket of cannabis which is currently deemed to be illegal and a controlled substance.

However, the enforcement of policing the possession and distribution of CBD Flower has been minimal and has not been aggressive, which probably adds to the confusion over the status of the legality of CBD Flower.



The responsibility falls upon those inside the cannabis and medical sectors to educate the population of the life-changing effects cannabis can have. The more research that is carried out into proving the efficacy of medical cannabis of treating diseases such as Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Depression, Anxiety, Epilepsy, Chronic Pain and Migraines the more people throughout the country will begin to trust what experts tell them and will consider it as a serious option when they are contemplating how they should try to combat their ill feeling.

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