Is CBD Oil Legal in the UK?

Is CBD Oil Legal in the UK?

This article explores the legality of the rapidly growing phenomenon (both in status and use) that is Cannabidiol – more commonly known as 'CBD oil'.

I'll hazard a guess that you're here because you want to know the answer to the question in the big, bold font above: Is CBD oil legal in the UK? But I’m afraid the answer is not very straightforward. The answer is both Yes and No. And this is why it is evident that there is some confusion as to what legal status CBD currently has in Great Britain. Not surprising. 

Why so much confusion on the legal status of CBD oil in the UK?

CBD oil UK GuideFirstly, there are so many terms to take in within the sphere of CBD: CBD oil, THC, cannabis, Cannabidiol, cannabinoids...the list goes on.

If you've found your way to this piece then I'll assume that you are at least aware of what CBD is, so I'll spare you the boring, science-laden spiel that is required to elucidate the aforementioned cannabinoid. Please forgive me if you're not au fait with CBD. To absorb a little background knowledge on this cannabis extract then I suggest heading over to our blog post on Demystifying CBD Oil or you can check our CBD Oil UK Guide for faster answers.

Secondly, have you ever tried reading legislation before? Unless you're well versed in doing so or have some form of legal background then it can be difficult to understand. Whenever I have to read through such documentation there are two words that go through my head: implicit and ambiguous. However, that being said, the current legislation related to CBD products (such as oil) is actually relatively easy to grasp.

So, without further ado, we will dive headfirst into the legality of CBD in the UK. 

The Latest on CBD Oil Legislation (as of November 2018)

CBD Cannabis MarchAt present (as of November 2018) CBD products are legal in the UK. But, it's not as simple and straightforward as it seems (it never is!).

According to a statement released by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (or the 'MHRA' to you and I) in October, November and December of 20161, CBD products that are derived from hemp that make no medical claims and are sold as food supplements are 100% legal.

Any CBD product that makes any form of medical claim must be registered as a medicine, in addition to obtaining a marketing licence, which will enable the company manufacturing/selling the product to make such claims. At present, no CBD products have been registered as a medicine nor received a marketing licence (2).

Two other critical points that must be stated in relation to CBD products is that they must not contain more than 0.2% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), nor must the THC be easily separated from the oil. 

Important Caveats regarding the Legality of CBD Oil in the UK

CBD buds legalityWhereas CBD oil is legal as a food supplement when sold under the above conditions, there are a few CBD products that are not legal:

CBD is not legal when sold in the form of CBD-rich full hemp buds (which, if full, are classified as a drug in the UK even when they do not contain THC) - crushed hemp teas, on the other hand, are legal. 

CBD isolates are not legal for ingestion (only for vaping or inhaling) – instead, full-spectrum CBD oils are suitable for oral consumption.

CBD for pets dogThe VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate) advised that CBD products cannot be sold as food supplements specifically for animals or pets in the UK. This is because they consider the effect of CBD oil (Cannabidiol) to be medicinal, so marketing CBD oil for a pet in the UK is not legal.

And there you have it, folks, this is the latest current legislation related to CBD oil and other CBD-based ‘food supplements'. We must remember, however, that laws can change very quickly, so it would be prudent of you to keep an eye on the news for any legal updates.

The lowdown is, CBD oil products are legal in the UK as long as you purchase fully certified, full-spectrum oils that are “THC free” (containing less than the maximum 0.2% of THC permitted by law). CBD crystals or isolates are legal for vaping or inhalation, but not for ingestion. CBD for pets is not legal in the UK.

Let’s further explore the legality of Cannabidiol in the UK.

 

Is it possible to get Cannabis prescribed on the NHS?

NHS CannabisFor as long as I can remember, pro-cannabis advocates have been protesting current laws related to cannabis. The UK takes a very hard line on drugs, and unlike some of our European cousins –especially those across the pond – we have stood fast and only made the most minor of (what some would deem) positive changes to the law regarding possession.

This is, of course, grim reading for those that are pushing for legalisation of cannabis – or at the very least some form of easing up on the restrictions that are currently in place. Well, for those of you who are currently seated in that camp, I have some good news – news that many feel are a major breakthrough in the fight for the legalisation of cannabis.


On the 9th of October of 2018 several amendments to The Misuse of Drugs (Amendments) (Cannabis and Licence Fees) (England, Wales and Scotland) Regulations 20183. A mere two days later the aforementioned amendments were laid before parliament, during which it was decided that the proposals would be given the 'green light' and would come into force just several weeks later on 1st November 2018.

'What do the new regulations say?' you're no doubt wondering. Well, for those seeking a brief, succinct and to-the-point answer, from the first day of November in the year of 2018, the NHS will be able to prescribe cannabis. But before you jump off your chair, jump for joy, and head off to your local GP surgery to demand some marijuana, there are a few important aspects that must be noted.

CBD vapingAs mentioned in the previous section, drug legislation is extremely complex (and often mind-numbingly long), so to make your life a little easier we've summarised what we feel are the most vital points.

Firstly, only consultants are allowed to prescribe cannabis. Although there is no explicit reference to specific guidelines within the new legislation, it is our understanding that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (commonly referred to as NICE) will formulate guidelines in the coming months and years. Up until that point is reached, whether or not cannabis will be prescribed to a patient will be at the consultant's discretion.

Secondly, the definition of cannabis-based medical products within the guidelines is particularly broad, therefore oil-based and herbal cannabis preparations (manufactured to Good Manufacturing Practice – GMP) will be available via a prescription.

Thirdly, smoking cannabis for medicinal use will still be forbidden, but consultants may prescribe cannabis in herbal form for consumption through vaping. As all cannabis products are considered to be unlicensed medicines (often referred to as 'specials') consultants are only supposed to consider them if there are no licensed medicines that fit the bill. In addition, there are no restrictions with regards to which conditions cannabis-derived products can be prescribed for.

I'd call that progress. Don't you agree?

 

CBD Oil, Cannabis Oil, Hemp and Marijuana - UK Laws and Distinctions

Many people and companies use the terms CBD oil (Cannabidiol), Cannabis Oil, Hemp and even Marijuana indistinctively, but these terms have meanings (and connotations) of their own. Most importantly, they each bear a particular weight when it comes down to the law in the UK. 

CBD oil and Cannabis oil: Are they one and the same?

CBD vs CannabisAs was alluded to in the first section of this article, the wide variety of terms that are used within the realm of CBD can make it difficult to know the differences, similarities and distinctions between the various terminologies.

The most common misconception is between CBD and cannabis oil, i.e. interchangeable usage. Although on the face of it, it may seem that the two are homogenous, there are in fact several differences (as well as similarities between) the two. To help you avoid confusion in this area we've put together a little guide to assist you. (You're welcome.)

CBD oil: In layman's terms, 'CBD oil' is merely an oil that has been extracted from a cannabis plant and has a significant concentration of the cannabinoid cannabidiol (typically around 15%). However, unlike other cannabis-derived oils the levels of THC are extremely low (typically below 0.2%).

Cannabis oil: The term 'cannabis oil' can, in theory, be used to describe an oil (or substance) that has a THC concentration greater than 0.2%. Although there is ongoing debate (which will no doubt rage on indefinitely) about where, when and how the phrase 'cannabis oil' should be used, within most circles, it is completely valid to use it to encompass most forms of cannabis-derived oils.

We could start throwing even more terms into the mix (!), but that would merely confuse and complicate proceedings, so we think we'll leave it there. 

CBD from Hemp vs CBD from Marijuana

CBD oil Hemp MarijuanaThe derivation of CBD is also something that is very significant, in addition to being an area where there tends to be a lot of confusion too. CBD can either be derived from hemp or marijuana. Although both of these plants stem from the same plant family (no pun intended) and have many indistinguishable attributes, there is one critical difference between them: the amount of THC, i.e. the psychoactive part, that they produce. While hemp-derived CBD will contain up to 0.2% THC, marijuana-derived CBD can contain up to 100 times that.

'What bearing does this have upon the laws regarding CBD oil?' you're probably wondering. Well, it's simple really. CBD oil that is derived from hemp will have zero psychoactive effects (thanks to its extremely low THC content) and is therefore legal in many countries the world over (the UK included), whereas marijuana-derived CBD will induce psychoactive effects, therefore it is illegal in many countries across the world (the UK included).

The salient point here? The psychoactive component is the pivotal point where laws, legislation and regulations are concerned.

 

CBD Laws: How does the UK compare to the rest of Europe?

CBD oil Europe LawI don't know about you, but I love a comparison table. I get genuine thrills from learning about how we here in the UK compare to other countries (in a whole host of ways) – and there is no better way to learn about that than in the guise of perfectly-formed rectangular cells filled with data-based goodness. Ok, so I've exaggerated slightly there, but you get my point. Sadly, however, there was too much information to put into a table (apologies to all your fellow comparison table lovers out there!), so instead, we shall rely on good old solid text. But fear ye not, it shall be just as interesting and intriguing, I promise you.

Why compare the UK to Europe? A question worth asking, for sure. Even though it is unlikely that the UK will follow suit or take major direction from another country within the European continent, it isn't impossible, therefore, viewing how other countries are making changes to their laws, what scientific studies and research they are carrying out etc. may give us an idea of the direction CBD legislation could possibly go in the future. Plus, if you're a fan of CBD then you might simply want to know which holiday destinations to avoid next year!

We've researched CBD legislation in numerous of the major European countries and here's what we found: 

Is CBD oil legal in France?

CBD France
According to French law (4) both the cultivation of hemp and CBD are both legal in France. Just like the UK, products must contain 0.2% or less THC to be deemed as ‘legal’.

Is CBD oil legal in Germany?

CBD GermanyIn March of 2017, the Medical Marijuana Act came into force (5), which resulted in cannabis and cannabis-derived medicines becoming legal when prescribed by a doctor. This does, however, include CBD oil, which means that it is illegal to buy CBD oil over-the-counter in Germany (although from digging a little deeper it does appear to be readily available on the high street in stores commonly referred to as ‘headshops’).

Is CBD oil legal in the Netherlands?

CBD NetherlandsIf you were to ask someone from the UK what springs to mind when the Netherlands is mentioned then I’d bet my bottom dollar (or pound, as I’m English) that the following four things would be mentioned: clogs, windmills, tulips and cannabis. Holland is synonymous with marijuana and is certainly viewed as the ‘cannabis capital of Europe’. But what about CBD? According to Dutch legislation (6) CBD is, as you would expect, completely legal.

Is CBD oil legal in Italy?

CBD-Italy
Italian drug legislation (7) states that hemp-based products containing less than 0.6% THC are legal. We retail our CBD products regularly to Italian customers.

Is CBD oil legal in Spain?

CBD Spain
Spain adheres to both European and UN laws (8) with regards to cannabis and cannabis-derived medicines and products. Like many European countries, products that are less than 0.2% THC are legal in Spain; THC itself is illegal.

Is CBD oil legal in Belgium?

CBD Belgium
Belgian cannabis laws (9) are a little more relaxed than you’d find in most places across the European continent. In Belgium is it legal to possess up to three and a half grams of cannabis, therefore, as you’d expect, CBD oil is also legal.

Is CBD oil legal in Sweden?

CBD-Sweden
Both cannabis and THC are illegal in Sweden, however, according to Swedish law (10) hemp is not classified as being either cannabis nor THC and is therefore legal.

Is CBD oil legal in Switzerland?

CBD Switzerland
Swiss law (11) states that hemp plants/strains that have 1% or less THC content are permissible, whereas anything over that amount is illegal. There is no specific legislation that defines CBD as being illegal, therefore it can be considered legal providing that the aforementioned criteria are adhered to. 

As you can see from the above information, CBD oil is legal in the majority of the above European countries. However, laws, legislation and regulations change regularly, therefore people travelling to any of the aforesaid countries should fully research the current legality* of CBD oil prior to departing for their destination.

*The above information is correct as of November 2018.

There have also been several European-wide studies carried out on CBD and THC. This study explores the use of CBD and THC for treating multiple sclerosis for example, whereas another study looks at the medicinal use of cannabis throughout Europe. We’ll not enumerate these studies here but reading them is highly recommend if you wish to learn more about CBD, THC and cannabis usage within medical circles in Europe.

 

CBD Laws: How does the UK compare to the USA?

UK Cannabis Law vs USAIn a similar vein to the rest of Europe the legality of CBD in the USA is not something that directly impacts upon us here in the UK, but we feel it is important to briefly examine this as it may give an insight into the evolution of CBD and cannabis-derived products and medicines - and the laws surrounding them. With the UK leaving the EU, the lawmakers may well decide to take note of cannabis and CBD laws from our cousins across the pond rather than from within the EU. Of course, this is all speculation, but it is certainly worth inspecting.

The legal status of CBD in the USA is more complex than in the UK, which is largely down to the fact that a) each state has its own laws; b) the healthcare system in America is predominantly private; c) the market is far, far bigger than the UK.

USA America CBD legality flagLegality of CBD across America: Hemp-based CBD is 100% legal across all 50 states. It starts to get a little more complicated when marijuana-derived CBD enters the fray, so we shall try to make it as simple and straightforward for you as possible.

Is CBD legal for recreational use? There are a total of eight states where cannabis (both hemp and marijuana) are 100% legal for both medicinal and recreational use.

Is CBD legal for medicinal use? Currently, 46 states allow the use of CBD for medicinal purposes. Within this:

− 17 states have specific regulations regarding the levels of THC in the CBD and the conditions that can be treated with it.

− 29 states allow medicinal use of all CBD products derived from either hemp or marijuana.

THC % in CBD products that are fully legal for medical use (with a prescription) varies from state to state, but it ranges from 0.3% to 0.8%.

Marijuana-based CDB is illegal in only 4 states: Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

 

How big is the CBD Oil UK market?

CBD Oil UK marketThe UK market for CBD has grown from next to nothing to £50 million per year in an extremely quick time frame (12), and, thanks to continued publicity in the press an increasing number of people across the country are becoming aware of (and using) CBD and the fact that laws regarding cannabis and cannabis-based medicines heading in the 'right' direction, this figure will only continue to grow.

This, however, is nothing compared to the USA. Granted, the population of the USA is nearly five times that of the UK, but the extraordinary growth of the CBD market is something to behold.

The Hemp Business Journal (13) has gone on record stating that it estimates that sales of CBD will surpass $2 billion by 2020, with a quarter of those being from hemp-based sources. That is a huge increase from the figures in 2015, which showed that sales of CBD were a touch over $200 million (just under half of which were from hemp-based products).

Another source presents a table (14) that exemplifies the growth of CBD sales since 2014 and also predicts the increase in sales between now and 2022. Although it is somewhat less than the estimates made by the Hemp Business journal, it is still well over $1 billion dollars. Either way, one thing is certain - consumer sales in America (and the rest of the world) will continue to rise dramatically over the coming years. 

Conclusion on the Legality of CBD Oil in the UK

We're fans of brevity, so we'll keep this short and sweet.

We hope you found the above article of use; have found (some of) the answers you've been looking for, and now have plenty of CBD-based food for thought to chew through.

If you came here looking to find an answer as to whether CBD oil is legal in the UK and you made it all the way to the end, then I salute you, my friend.

Adios.

for the Ageless logo

References on "Is CBD Oil Legal in the UK?"

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2. BBC News. (2018). What are the rules about cannabis oil in the UK?. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44534861 [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
3. Legislation.gov.uk. (2018). [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/1055/pdfs/uksi_20181055_en.pdf [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
4. Eiha.org. (2018). [online] Available at: http://eiha.org/media/2016/05/16-05-17-European-Hemp-Industry-2013.pdf [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
5. Loc.gov. (2018). Germany: Medical Marijuana Act Enters into Force | Global Legal Monitor. [online] Available at: http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/germany-medical-marijuana-act-enters-into-force/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
6. Wetten.overheid.nl. (2018). wetten.nl - Regeling - Opiumwet - BWBR0001941. [online] Available at: http://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0001941/2010-05-29 [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
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8. Unodc.org. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.unodc.org/pdf/convention_1971_en.pdf [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
9. Ejustice.just.fgov.be. (2018). LOI - WET. [online] Available at: http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi_loi/loi_a1.pl10. Riksdagen.se. (2018). Förordning (1992:1554) om kontroll av narkotika Svensk författningssamling 1992:1992:1554 t.o.m. SFS 2018:1586 - Riksdagen. [online] Available at: https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/forordning-19921554-om-kontroll-av-narkotika_sfs-1992-1554 [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
11. P, B. (2018). CC 812.121 Federal Act of 3 October 1951 on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (Narcotics Act, NarcA). [online] Admin.ch. Available at: https://www.admin.ch/opc/en/classified-compilation/19981989/index.html [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
12. CLEAR. (2018). The Facts About CBD In The UK. April 2018. - CLEAR. [online] Available at: https://www.clear-uk.org/facts-cbd-uk-april-2018/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
13. Sumner, W. (2018). Hemp Business Journal | #1 for Hemp News and Market Research. [online] Hemp Business Journal. Available at: http://www.hempbizjournal.com/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].
14. Statista. (2018). Total CBD consumer sales U.S. 2014-2022 | Statistic. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/760498/total-us-cbd-sales/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].




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