CBD In The UK: A 2019 Report From The Centre For Medicinal Cannabis
Within a single year, CBD has become a sought-after substance that people hope will alleviate many ailments. Indeed, CBD seems to be everywhere nowadays: powder, gels, capsules, pills, drinks, drops, oils, vapes, and creams are just a few of the forms CBD can take.
In view of this astounding appeal of CBD to consumers, the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis undertook a large survey to better understand the CBD market in Britain.
Here is a summary of its findings, highlighting the market for CBD, the consequences of its murky legal status, and several recommendations.
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How Big Is The UK CBD Market?
At first, some argued that CBD would be a temporary fashion like chia seeds and goji berries. Instead, it looks like CBD is here to stay. As ever more people experiment with CBD, the industry has responded by offering an increasing amount and a staggering range of CBD products.
Although millennials and trendsetters used CBD at first, the survey shows that CBD is now consumed by all classes and all ages.
This is an extra reason why researchers think it is not a craze but something that people believe in.
The survey found that four-to-six million people have tried CBD in the UK. This creates an estimated market of £300 million which is set to reach £1 billion by 2025.
Again, these numbers show the endurance and robustness of this market.
Who buys CBD and how?
Most people purchase their CBD products online. They prefer oils and capsules which contain more CBD and are thought to be more effective.
This tells researchers that people are mostly interested in the health benefits of CBD and want to see a real improvement in their condition.
Interestingly, CBD is taken by people of all ages—for different reasons.
People believe that CBD can help alleviate inflammations, pains, anxiety, and depression. Older people with arthritis are exploring CBD to see whether it can help them with joint pains. Younger people seem to use it for chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD and depression (click here to learn more about CBD’s reported health benefits).
The fact that CBD is relatively expensive does not appear to have an impact on what type of consumer buys it.
People taking CBD for a medical condition spend £55 on it on average, per month.
Is CBD legal in the UK?
The report clearly states several problems that stem from the poor legislation that controls CBD and its sale.
Although CBD is legal throughout the UK (as long as it contains no more than 0.2% of THC), it is relatively hard to obtain a doctor’s prescription for an actual CBD medicine.
CBD used for medicinal purposes carries a product licence and can only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. However, doctors seem reluctant to prescribe CBD for their patients.
On the other hand, the CBD products that people can and do purchase online are sold under the food supplement category or are considered cosmetics or foods. In this case, these products cannot make any health or medical claims because they are not medicine.
Therefore, all the creams, gels, capsules and other CBD products that consumers buy are not regarded as medicine.
Is CBD safe to consume?
Consumers seem undaunted by the fact that the CBD products they are buying is not technically considered a medicine.
However, the food supplement market is unregulated and uncontrolled.
In order to evaluate and examine the purity of the various CBD products, the report did a third-party testing exercise, purchasing 30 CBD oils and testing them for their purity and content in a reputable lab. Their findings were pretty revealing:
- 38% of the tested products had less than 50% of the advertised CBD content;
- Amazingly enough, one CBD oil had no CBD at all;
- 45% of the tested oils had levels of THC and CBN that would make them technically illegal in the UK;
- One tested oil had ethanol levels that could qualify it as an alcoholic product;
- Solvents and heavy metals were detected in a few CBD oil products. Their levels were within pharmaceutically acceptable levels but above food limit safety levels.
Choosing the right CBD provider
These results show how the market for CBD products has become quite anarchic and unregulated—and how important it is to buy your CBD from a reputable source.
Consider the fact that some CBD oil products had detectable levels of THC: in case of a random drug test, people taking these particular CBD oil products would be in for a shock. Similarly, THC being hallucinogenic, there is no knowing what effect these products could have on a long-term unsuspecting CBD user.
As for the presence of heavy metals, the hemp plant (where CBD comes from) absorbs heavy metals and pesticides from the soil it is growing. Therefore, organic CBD is better than conventional CBD.
Choosing the right CBD dosage
A further problem regarding the absence of regulation concerns the dosage and potency of CBD. Since CBD is sold on the high street (or the cloud!) as a food supplement, there is no recommended dosage. People are depending on anecdotal evidence or their doctor’s suggestions regarding the dosage they should be taking.
CBD has been generally considered as safe even in large doses and there is no known overdose on CBD.
However, the CBD industry has a concern: if people take too low doses of CBD and see no perceived improvement, they may consider CBD as ineffective.
This will hurt the potential for further clinical trials on CBD and limit the prospects of the industry. Even worse, if people take CBD products that contain no CBD, then the whole market spoils its reputation.
In the absence of compulsory product testing, good and reputable brands could get hurt.
Also, a government body should give some recommended dosage standards so that people can estimate with precision the quantity and purity of the CBD product they are taking.
How can the CBD business grow?
The report offers several conclusions and suggestions to improve the current CBD market.
Educate consumers on CBD
Educating consumers is key in creating a better, safer and happier world. The same is true for explaining the truths behind CBD.
Without rejecting the potential of CBD, there are still a lot of unknowns regarding its efficiency.
In the absence of more clinical trials regarding the effectiveness of CBD, people should learn that CBD is a potential tool in alleviating some conditions. However, large-scale studies are still required.
Educating people also involves explaining to people what CBD is and what to look for on a CBD product label. That way, they will make informed choices as to the products they buy.
Fix the legal framework for CBD
The complicated regulation with the food supplement loophole has created a vast under-regulated market with reputable and high-quality products competing with unreliable brands.
The report suggests that CBD should be classified either as a food supplement, a cosmetic, or a medicine.
Once classified, the whole market should be regulated and controlled to make sure that the final product adheres to standards.
Rooting out bad CBD practices
Bad practices involve brands and manufacturers that either make false claims or mislabel and misrepresent their final products.
Unscrupulous manufacturers should be reprimanded and penalized within a certain framework.
Ultimately, the whole CBD industry should be interested in rooting out dangerous players. Consumers will benefit from a market that has been cleared of unsafe players. At the same time, the level playing field will encourage the whole CBD industry to focus on its expansion.
Improve the CBD testing infrastructure
Testing CBD products is difficult. To further complicate matters, laboratories testing CBD products often use different standards and methodology.
The UK should set up a specific CBD testing standard to which laboratories and CBD manufacturers must adhere.
This will set the basis for CBD products to be tested across the UK.
Offer incentives to invest in CBD clinical trials
A major problem of the CBD business is the lack of clear, medical and scientific data.
Does CBD actually heal what anecdotal evidence seems to show? Without conclusive clinical trials, there cannot be any serious medical endorsement of CBD as a medicine.
So far, only Epidyolex has obtained the green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and talks are underway with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to have the medicine funded through the NHS.
For CBD to be prescribed for conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, or IBS, several large-scale clinical trials are required. These will prove or disprove the effectiveness of CBD on treating these illnesses.
It would be in the interest of the medical community to support such research to either find an effective medicine or debunk any myths surrounding CBD.
The clinical trials so far are showing promising results but not definitive.
Help UK Hemp And CBD Producers
Only 810 hectares of land are cultivated with hemp in the UK, as the British Hemp Association points out. This is not because of a lack of interest or opportunity.
Britain has the necessary climate and soil to grow hemp. It does not do so due to complicated licencing regulations. Instead, all hemp and CBD are imported.
There seems to be an opportunity for the primary sector to expand in a new agricultural crop that shows potential and which requires few—if any—chemicals and pesticides.
CBD in the UK report conclusions
Ultimately, the report presented by the Centre for Medical Cannabis shows the potential of the CBD market.
The expanding consumer basis implies that CBD is a trend with a long-term outlook.
More needs to be done in terms of regulation, setting nationwide standards and organising clinical trials for the whole market to expand in a safe and clear way.