What’s going on with the UK CBD industry?

by Katya Kowalski

The regulatory landscape for CBD in the UK can be confusing. What does the latest guidance from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) mean?

Last week, in a “surprise” reversal the FSA dropped the recommended daily limit of CBD from 70 mg to 10 mg. This was unexpected, disappointing and confusing – especially given that proven efficacy in studies is significantly higher than 10mg. 

Though the new advice is based on “new evidence from the industry and independent scientific committee”, it goes against previously published studies. Take this 2019 paper which found efficacy of over the counter CBD at 150mg, with no side effects or toxicity was seen below 300 mg for the average adult.

Dr Callie Seaman, Co-Chair of the Cannabis Industry Council, told Volteface “It was a bit of a surprise to see the recent announcement, I would like to see the data to support this decision and how this concentration was decided on”

Let’s take a look at what this means for the industry and consumers. 

The new guidance has come into effect as a result of new evidence from toxicological studies suggesting a risk of liver damage and thyroid issues from frequent use of CBD. This mandated the change to the recommended dosing.

The FSA stated that there was “no acute safety risk” with consuming more than 10 mg of CBD a day for a short amount of time, based on the data it had assessed. However, going above this level over a long period of time “there is evidence of some adverse impacts on the liver and thyroid.”

Parallels between this latest news can be drawn to consumer advice issued for alcohol in the UK. Women are recommended to not exceed 2-3 units a day, men shouldn’t exceed 3-4 units. Again, this is advice and plenty of people will exceed this on occasions.

Highlighted by the Cannabis Trades Association, this announcement is consumer advice and is not legally enforceable by any regulatory body. Recommendations at this time are only advisory and shouldn’t result in products being taken off shelves.

However, a number of products in the UK market will have more than the recommended daily intake. Key brands are likely to be impacted, but it’s not yet clear to what extent. There are many unanswered questions about the impact this will have and how it will come into effect. Will labels for products be updated? Will there be warnings on product labels? Will some products be taken off shelves?

Holland & Barrett, a UK lifestyle and wellness chain has already removed over 30 products from their shelves due to the FSA’s guidance.

Robert Jappie, Partner at Fieldfisher and well-respected lawyer in life sciences regulation said: 

“All businesses want is certainty and the FSA just keeps moving the goalposts, which is extremely frustrating. It just increases the downward pressure on the sector, and I think it is really challenging for businesses to operate effectively in such circumstances.

Even though the advice from the FSA is guidance only, the H&B announcement already demonstrates the negative commercial impact the announcement is having and will continue to have. On that basis, I think there would be grounds to mount a legal challenge, it just remains to be seen whether anyone has the appetite to take it on.”

The UK CBD industry is left in limbo with uncertainty around its future. This is frustrating position for the entire sector, especially given that CBD is key to normalising the medical and wellness aspects to the cannabis plant. 

We will be keeping a close eye on developments and reporting back with any updates.

This piece was written by Katya Kowalski, Head of Operations at Volteface, Tweets @KowalskiKatya

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