UK CBD group call on industry to prepare ‘strong foundation’ as sector booms

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) is calling on politicians, policy-makers, regulators, producers and retailers to play their part in contributing to the success of the cannabidiol (CBD) sector in the UK.

In a newly published report​, the CMC highlights a booming product category in the UK that estimates 1.3 million consumers are spending over €334m per year on CBD products.

For comparison, the report states the CBD market is larger than the total UK vitamin D (€162m) and vitamin C market (€133m) combined.

“The wave of popularity around CBD, which offers huge opportunity for the UK itself, now needs to be grounded on a strong foundation of research, proportionate regulation, and quality standards,” ​said Steve Moore, CMC founder and strategic counsel.

“We intend The CMC to play a role in building that strong foundation.”

While the UK and Europe awaits clarification on the legal status of CBD-containing food supplements, consumers are continuing to fuel interest in the health and wellbeing potential of CBD.

The best evidence now available points to an ingredient that is effective in easing the symptoms of epileptic-type conditions, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS).

CBD may also offer an option for addressing different types of chronic pain seen in the inflammation that occurs due to arthritis.

Despite the health benefits observed, the UK’s Food Standards Authority remains firm in its stance announcing in January that due to changes to the EU Novel Food Catalogue​ the Authority is “considering the way forward in light of this clarification at EU level.

“We are meeting with relevant industry representative bodies, local authorities and other stakeholders to clarify how to achieve compliance in the marketplace in a proportionate manner.”

‘A folk interpretation’

According to the CMC, many CBD retailers in the UK are trading according to a folk interpretation of domestic law governing controlled substances.

“This is not surprising because the law is complex, and legal clarity - though sought repeatedly – has not been provided,”​ they said.

Further analysis by the CMC finds that over 70% of UK consumers are purchasing tinctures/oils or capsules suggesting a desire to use products systemically and at higher “therapeutic doses” for CBD.

The majority of UK consumers of CBD products are purchasing them online, and not in High Street stores, despite their wide availability in pharmacies, health food stores, and supermarkets.

In meeting this demand the CBD industry has scaled its global supply chain quickly – a notable achievement considering the country is not building from the same agricultural foundation that other countries take for granted.

“The CBD industry in the United Kingdom is one of the largest in Europe, but it is entirely built upon a raw ingredient produced elsewhere in Europe or further afield, not one harvested domestically,​” the report points out.

“The hemp industry is not financially viable in the UK long-term unless it can compete on a level playing field with other hemp producers.

“The UK’s strengths in pharmaceuticals means it is likely to play an important role in the development of pharma-grade CBD,”​ the report added.

“The industry has an obligation to behave responsibly around how it uses and promotes CBD - otherwise there is a risk that negative associations will accrue to CBD and have a wider effect on public perceptions of cannabis and its potential as a therapeutic treatment.”

Future recommendations

The report’s future recommendations focuses on three key ‘asks’ of every sector player with a clear proposal of how to act in order to improve the CBD marketplace and deliver benefits for consumers.

For industry, the asks centres on clearly defining what quality looks like, undertake voluntary, robust self-regulation and to be socially responsible.

Dr Andrew Yates, CMC’s pharmacy lead said, “Despite its importance and therapeutic potential, and the scale of the British consumer’s appetite for CBD, this report shows that we are some distance from the type of CBD sector that we need.

“The UK’s legislation is ambiguous, out-dated and fragmented, quality is not defined, product composition is not guaranteed, and poor marketing practices are all too common. UK consumers are being let down as a consequence.”

Blair Gibbs, CMC’s policy lead adds, “Protecting consumers means mitigating risks. It also means providing accurate information to inform choices of what to purchase and how to consume, and it also means suppliers meeting well defined quality standards.

“In respect of risks to human health, an under-regulated market could mean cannabidiol is in danger of being guilty by association.

“While no evidence exists of harm to human biology by CBD consumption, the manner in which CBD products are supplied complicates this picture. All consumers in the UK need and deserve to be safe, informed and lawful when they choose a CBD product.”

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