The Food Standards Agency will not fully approve CBD products until at least 2024 because it is waiting for changes to legislation, The Grocer has learnt.
A source familiar with official thinking said the agency could not recommend authorisations to the health minister because CBD products generally contain cannabinoids controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The controlled substances include THC, the main psychoactive element of cannabis that gives consumers a high, as well as other related cannabinoids.
“The application process continues with the potential for authorisation recommendations in 2024, but for most applications this remains subject to the introduction of a defined permitted level” for controlled cannabinoids, the source said.
Currently many CBD suppliers operate under the so-called ‘three limbs’ exemption for controlled cannabinoids.
This stipulates that a product can be traded if the controlled cannabinoids are not intended for human or animal consumption, cannot be easily recovered and weigh in below a 1mg threshold, or one thousandth of a gram.
However, many policymakers and suppliers working on CBD feel the law requires updating to meet the needs of the industry, for example by stipulating controlled cannabinoid content per total product volume.
“The guidance indicates that the ‘product’ is considered as the container, rather than the dose, which can cause issues for larger pack formats or broad-spectrum products,” said Goodrays CEO Eoin Keenan.
In December 2021, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended that the dose of each controlled cannabinoid in CBD products did not exceed 50 micrograms – 50 millionths of a gram – per serving.
A Home Office factsheet published in 2019 also expressed concern that many CBD products “do not fully disclose their contents or provide a full spectrum analysis” to determine whether they should be controlled.
“The presumption has to be one of caution,” it said, declaring that “a CBD-containing product would be controlled” under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Asked about potential changes to the law, a Home Office spokesman said: “We want to provide greater clarity for responsible suppliers by introducing defined permitted limits on the controlled cannabinoid content of consumer CBD products.
“This will enable responsible suppliers to produce and supply CBD consumer products more easily. This is a complex area of policy and we are giving close consideration to the recommendations in the ACMD’s report.”
However, news of a delay to the FSA novel foods process has been met with dismay from CBD suppliers. “It sounds like the FSA is trying to buy themselves more time,” said CBDfx Europe MD Carlo Buckley.
He added that his brand’s products are free of controlled cannabinoids, this being backed up by certificates of analysis “produced to the highest analytical standards”.
“In my view there would be nothing stopping the FSA from evaluating the safety of most applications and therefore moving to authorisation, where appropriate,” Buckley said.
Thomas Vincent, head of chemical safety policy at the FSA, said the agency was “carrying out a rigorous and thorough assessment of CBD products” which “naturally takes some time to complete”.