CBD, is it legal in the UK?

by for the Ageless Team July 15, 2022

Is CBD Oil Legal in the UK?-for the Ageless

 

Is CBD legal - fast facts
CBD legality criteria
Which CBD products are legal?

 

When buying cannabidiol (CBD), it is essential to know that the product you've chosen is legal in the UK. There are a number of rules and regulations in place meaning that some products are legal and some are not. Whilst others may be, depending on how they have been produced.

We spoke with Robert Jappie, partner at London law firm Ince who specialises in cannabis regulation in the UK and Europe. We wanted to gain the benefits of his expertise and share it here. Our first question was, is CBD legal? He said:

“It is absolutely legal. Whether it be ingestibles, vapes or cosmetics… there is strict regulatory requirements in place to ensure that only quality products are sold to consumers.”

These requirements include the 3 criteria for exemption, as set out by the MDR (Medical Device Regulations). Some product types also require Novel Food authorisation from the Food Standards Agency.

CBD legality: fast facts

  • CBD is legal to buy and sell in the UK. This includes all of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • CBD cannot legally be sold in the form of hemp flowers.
  • Oils, gummies, capsules and other edibles require Novel Foods authorisation from the FSA to be legally sold as of 2021.
  • CBD cannot be marketed and sold for pets in the UK as it is considered a medicine by the VMD.
  • Full-spectrum CBD products are legal if they contain less than 1mg of THC and have Novel Foods authorisation. 
  • CBD can be prescribed by the NHS in rare cases.

What is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid that has been extracted from the cannabis plant. The main rules and guidelines for CBD are the same as cannabis. Cannabis is illegal to grow, buy, sell and possess, according to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

However, due to its non-intoxicating nature, there are various exemptions so that safe effective food supplements containing CBD can be sold.

Criteria for CBD to be legal

When viewing CBD products online it is easy to get the impression that the legality of each product depends only on it having low levels of THC. The reality is more complicated. To be legal in the UK CBD products must meet the following criteria:

  1. CBD cannot be sold as a medicine.
  2. The container must include less than 1mg of THC, THCV or CBN.
  3. The product must not be packaged in a way that makes it easy to separate the controlled cannabinoids (THC, THCV and CBN).
  4. CBD capsules, gummies, oils, pastes and other edibles must receive Novel Foods authorisation.

Note: Novel Foods does not apply to CBD vape juices, hemp tea or cosmetic products such as CBD balms and creams.

1. CBD cannot be sold as a medicine

CBD Cannabis March

CBD supplements have not been subject to the scrutiny and testing required for a UK medicine. As a result they must not be sold or promoted as having medicinal benefits. 

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) made this clear in a statement released October 2016:

“Products containing cannabidiol (CBD) used for medical purposes are a medicine. Medicinal products must have a product licence (marketing authorisation) before they can be legally sold, supplied or advertised in the UK, unless exempt.”

The CBD sold here and in other UK shops is provided as a food supplement only. No medical benefits can be inferred and to do so breaks the law.

2. Less than 1mg of controlled cannabinoids

CBD buds legality

CBD is legal if it contains less than 1mg of THC, THCV and CBN in the final preparation as per part C of regulation 2:

“[N]o one component part of the product or preparation contains more than one milligram of the controlled drug

There is a good chance you have seen mentions of products being legal because they contain less than 0.2% THC. This is wrong, 0.2% is not a classification of a legal product but a guideline relating to which hemp varieties can be used by licensed commercial growers.

The Home Office factsheet clearly states:

“The '0.2%' reference is used solely to identify varieties which may potentially be cultivated. (2019)”

3. THC must not easily separate from the oil 

CBD Oil

A CBD product must not become a source for others to extract the THC (or any other controlled cannabinoids such as THCV and CBN). The Home Office states that in order to be exempt from the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001:

“[T]he controlled drug in any component part [must be] packaged in such a form, or in combination with other active or inert substances in such a manner, that it cannot be recovered by readily applicable means or in a yield which constitutes a risk to health.”

4. Novel Foods authorisation

Organic CBD collectionEU novel food regulations require all foods without a significant history of consumption before May 1997 to be classified as 'novel foods'. In January 2019, the European Commission declared that they had not received enough of the required evidence and updated the Novel Food Catalogue to include CBD products.

The UK Food Standards Agency was advised that CBD food supplements shouldn’t be sold unless they have been officially evaluated and permitted. As a result, on February 13, 2020, the FSA set a deadline for all CBD food supplements on sale in the UK to be authorised under the Novel Food regulations.

“After 31 March next year (2021), only products which have submitted a valid application will be allowed to remain on the market. The authorisation process ensures novel foods meet legal standards, including on [its] safety and content.”

Whilst these new rules are restrictive, it is believed that they will ensure any products available in the UK will be best in class. Robert Jappie was keen to point this out:

“With the introduction of the Novel Food regime, CBD compliance is now a serious business. Novel Food is the global benchmark for food safety, so UK CBD products can now be said to be the safest in the world.”

The FSA took much longer to process these applications than first anticipated. In June 2022, they finally published a revised list of products that can remain on sale either permanently or whilst further information is sought.

There are currently around 11,000 products on this list, anything that is not included here should now be removed from the shelves, except those products that are exempt such as e-liquids, balms and hemp tea.

Which CBD products are legal in the UK?

 

CBD oil

CBD paste

Edibles / capsules

Hemp tea

Hemp flower

Cosmetics

Is it legal?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Novel Food Authorisation

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

N/A

No

CBD oil, pastes, gummies, capsules and other edibles

CBD oils & sprays, CBD paste, CBD capsules, CBD gummies and other edibles are all legal in the UK as long as they meet the 3 criteria set out for exemption by the MDR. They must not be sold as a medicine, must contain less than 1mg of THC, THCV and CBN and these cannabinoids must not be included in a way that is easily separated from the final product.

All oils, pastes, capsules and edibles currently on sale must have received Novel Food authorisation from the FSA. If they are not on the list, they should no longer be available.

If anyone of these four criteria is not met, then the product is not legal and should not be sold.

Is CBD flower legal in the UK?

CBD vaping

CBD or hemp flower, is not legal in the UK. In this form, it contains THC which can be extracted and concentrated. So, it doesn’t comply with the MDR 2001 which says that for a CBD product to be legal, THC: "cannot be recovered by readily applicable means or in a yield which constitutes a risk to health".

We also asked Robert Jappie why there seems so much confusion surrounding hemp flower in the UK and he said:

“Nobody is getting high from consuming hemp flower, so some people think it’s legal. There’s also a strong legal market for hemp flower in Europe. Regrettably that isn’t the case in the UK, as the UK authorities do not distinguish between high-THC and low-THC flower… it’s all cannabis to them.”

UK law states that the leaves and flower of any plant within the genus cannabis are still controlled by Section 37(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971:

[...] "cannabis" (except in the expression "cannabis resin") means any plant of the genus cannabis or any part of any such plant (by whatever name designated) except that it does not include cannabis resin or any of the following products after separation from the rest of the plant, namely—
(a) mature stalk of any such plant,
(b) fibre produced from mature stalk of any such plant, and
(c) seed of any such plant;".

Is CBD for pets legal in the UK?

CBD for pets



The 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 (cannabidiol) to be medicinal, so marketing CBD oil for a pet in the UK is not legal.

Is CBD e-liquid legal in the UK?

CBD vape juices and e-liquids have the same MDR guidelines as oils. If there is less than 1mg of THC, THCV and CBN per container, it is not sold as a medicine and if the THC can’t be easily separated; then it's legal.

A CBD vape juice does not require Novel Foods authorisation to remain on sale.

Is hemp tea legal in the UK?

Yes, CBD tea is legal. The tea must be milled or crushed and cannot be sold as whole buds or unprocessed flower. 

No Novel Foods authorisation is required and it must of course meet the 3 exemption criteria set out by the MDR.

Other questions

Is it legal to drive after taking CBD?

CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid and won't impair your ability to drive. When we spoke to a Police Officer about taking CBD and driving, we were informed that it is completely legal, but they advised caution on the levels of THC that some products contain.

Is it legal to fly with CBD?

In most cases, CBD products that meet UK legal standards are allowed in your carry-on luggage if CBD is permitted at your destination. However, you should always check the laws of the country you are visiting as CBD may not be legal there.

Conclusion

Cannabis leaves in London street

This is the latest current legislation related to CBD oil and other CBD-based 'food supplements'. However, we must remember that laws can change very quickly, so it would be prudent to keep an eye on the news for any legal updates.

As of July 2022, most CBD products are legal in the UK as long as you purchase those that contain less than 1mg of THC, THCV or CBN, it is not sold claiming medical benefits and it has Novel Foods authorisation.

CBD sold specifically for pets is not legal and hemp flower remains illegal until cannabis laws are changed.

If you require further information, feel free to leave us a comment below, reach out to us via the contact us page or use the live chat button.

Join us to get updates and special deals monthly:

Big Ben for the Ageless banner



for the Ageless Team
for the Ageless Team

Author

We are a small but mighty team of experienced natural health researchers. We follow strict selection criteria and test everything we retail: from ground-breaking food supplements to natural skincare products. Our main area of expertise is CBD.


2 Responses

Andy Bird
Andy Bird

May 03, 2020

Great info! It’s important that the CBD industry acts in a responsible way, adhering to the laws and helping consumers to understand the facts behind the headlines. If we are going to take CBD then we want to know that it is safe, where it’s come from, how it’s made, etc. Keep up the great work!

Margaret
Margaret

February 18, 2019

Found lots of answers thank you.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in CBD blog

Why has my CBD oil crystallised
Why has my CBD oil crystallised?

by for the Ageless Team January 26, 2023

How does CBD make you feel
How does CBD make you feel?

by Laura Howarth January 10, 2023

Does CBD get you high
Does CBD get you high?

by Tom Russell January 09, 2023