Legal status of cannabis and CBD in the United Kingdom

When it comes to cannabis laws and regulations surrounding CBD in the UK, things are quite complicated and confusing for people outside of Britain.

So we sat down with Katya Kowalski, an English cannabis policy expert working at Volteface, to get an update on the latest developments and an explanation of the current rules.

Expert interview: Political situation of cannabis in the UK, with Katya Kowalski

Is CBD legal in the UK and, if so, in what forms and under what laws? What is the legal threshold for THC in CBD flowers and products?

CBD or cannabidiol is fully legal in the UK. It can be bought, sold and consumed in the UK under the law, as long as these products contain less than 0.2% THC and are produced from industrial hemp approved under theMisuse of Drugs Act.

CBD is sold in a lot of different formats, and is mostly found in health and wellness stores such as Holland & Barrett, Superdrug and Boots. You will find CBD in almost every format, including CBD oils, tablets, tinctures and cosmetic products with CBD. However, for the time being, the sale of CBD flowers CBD flowers is not legal in the UK.

What about the status of cannabidiol in the list of novel foods?

In the United Kingdom, CBD products are classified as novel foods. novel foods since January 2019. This means that these products require authorization from the Food Standards Agency(FSA) before they can be legally sold in the UK.

Manufacturers, trade bodies or suppliers can apply for authorization to sell CBD products using the novel food application procedure, which goes through the stages of validation, risk assessment and authorization decision.

The FSA considers each application on a case-by-case basis. Once a product has been authorized, the authorization applies only to that product and its specific production methods, uses and test basis. The reason for this protocol was to end the lack of regulation in the market and ensure that only authorized products could be sold, which has limited the number of cannabidiol products on the market.

Is CBD produced domestically in the UK?

Despite the existence of a fully legal CBD industry in the UK, domestic production is hampered by outdated restrictions imposed on the UK hemp industry. Outdated laws prevent British hemp growers from processing and extracting CBD from the plant’s leaves and flowers. They only allow the seeds and stems to be used, unnecessarily wasting the most valuable part of the crop and limiting domestic CBD extraction, making the UK dependent on imports. You can read more about this topic in Volteface’s Pleasant Lands report.

Are there many CBD stores in major cities in the UK?

CBD is widely sold and available in headshops or specialty stores throughout the UK. It is quite difficult to estimate the number of stores in, for example, London. CBD markets like Alphagreen have resources like this one that show where some stores are located in the capital.

The products are also largely accessible in supermarket chains and health food stores such as Boots, Superdug or Holland & Barrett, which undoubtedly contribute further to normalizing the use of the compound. Research also indicates that what most consumers do is to buy their CBD online. .

Do you have any estimates on how many Britons use cannabis or CBD products?

According to a recent survey by the Cannabinoid Industry Association, approximately 20% of British adults have consumed CBD products. Overall, I would say that CBD products are well accepted in British society, adopted by major high street retailers.

What is the UK policy on “recreational” cannabis in general, i.e. containing not only CBD, but also THC?

The use of cannabis for recreational purposes is prohibited in the United Kingdom. THC is only allowed in products for medical use, prescribed by a physician. Cannabis is classified as a Class B and Schedule 2 drug. Possession of cannabis without a prescription can result in up to 5 years imprisonment.

What is the prevalence of THC-rich cannabis use?

Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the United Kingdom. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, approximately 16% of young adults (between 16 and 24 years old) have used this drug in the past year and 7.4% of adults. However, overall, levels are much lower (and continuing to decline) compared to data from 30 years ago.

Is medical cannabis legal in the UK? How does it look in books and how does it look in practice?

Medical cannabis was legalized in the UK in 2018, following high-profile cases of children with epilepsy . Despite a change on paper, not much has changed in practice. The vast majority of medical cannabis prescriptions have been issued privately. There are several barriers within the current system in the UK that limit the success and number of patients accessing forensic medicine. 84% of the British population does not know that medical cannabis is legal, and many believe that CBD and medical cannabis are the same.

While there are approximately 20,000 legal prescription patients, surveys suggest that there are 1.8 million patients in the UK who self-medicate illicitly, demonstrating that the legal system is not working for the majority of patients. One of the reasons is that medical cannabis is only accessible in private clinics and through the registry of specialists, which makes it quite difficult to obtain a prescription. My recent research has shown that there is a great deal of stigmatization in the medical community, which makes many physicians not comfortable or confident in prescribing cannabis.

Can I get medical cannabis, for example, for anxiety in the UK?

Yes, you can! There are approximately 20 specialist clinics in the UK, along with private specialist doctors who prescribe independently through tools such as the Cannabis Directory or tools such as Script Assist.

The list of diseases for which cannabis can be prescribed is quite extensive, although the likelihood of prescription varies according to the level of evidence and the willingness of the physician. Here is a list of conditions for which cannabis can be prescribed in the UK, including anxiety.

Are there any trends we should be aware of? Is the UK going to legalize and regulate cannabis, or should we expect a move in another direction?

I would not say that we should expect a move in the opposite direction, with more repression, but the current political climate in the UK is not conducive to reform. Public support for legalization continues to grow. However, the chaotic nature of British politics in recent years has made it incredibly difficult to address this issue in a positive way.

The Conservatives (and Labour) are still sticking to their heavy-handed rhetoric against drugs and crime, despite the progressive policies that are coming for drug treatment, so a health-centered approach is slowly beginning to be followed. But there is still a lot of work to be done to see progressive attitudes toward recreational cannabis use in government. Volteface recently produced a video analyzing this topic in detail.

About Katya Kowalski

Katya Kowalski is a drug policy expert with extensive experience in research, policy and external engagement. She is Head of Operations at Volteface, the UK’s leading drug policy think tank. With a background in psychology, she is very interested in the complex relationship between drug use and mental health.

Katya’s recent work has focused on understanding the barriers in the UK medical cannabis system. Their latest Volteface report “Known Unknowns” examines the clinical limitations around prescribing.

It has also submitted evidence to the Home Office on how best to divert existing patients to the legal market.

About Volteface

Volteface is a London-based advocacy and communications organization whose goal is to reduce the harm that drugs cause to individuals and society by advocating for evidence-based policy reform. We are one of the most established drug policy content platforms in Europe, with a global reach.

* Interview adapted from the original article by Cannactiva.

Lukas Hurt
Cannabis activist : Journalist focusing on cannabis-related issues in Central Europe

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