All CBD is created equal, right? If you’ve recently jumped on the CBD wellness bus and use CBD oil purely to feel a little less ‘ragged at the edges’, then the answer is probably yes. However, for the sizeable proportion of people who use OTC CBD products for medicinal or therapeutic reasons, they tend to be a lot more choosy and knowledgeable about the CBD oils they purchase.
Most opt for full spectrum CBD oils in their most unadulterated form; leaving pretty much everything intact (minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids etc), including the trace amounts of THC (0.2%) naturally found in the hemp plant which are too low enough to cause any psychoactive effect.
Full spectrum products have dominated the market since its inception six or seven years ago. Those early CBD pioneers knew firsthand the therapeutic nature of hemp extracts abundant in CBD, celebrating the whole plant nature of their products. Their modus operandi was usually to help others rather than financially benefit from the subsequent global green rush.
Operating largely under the radar of the authorities, this ‘need to know’ basis of the early CBD oil uptakers meant whether they contained THC went unnoticed by regulators. Plus due to their comparatively prohibitive cost, these early CBD oils were not some wellness luxury but a last chance saloon when all other options had failed.
Back then it was pretty much full spectrum CBD or nothing. That’s not to say every full spectrum CBD oil was the same. To this day, CBD consumers often have their favourite brand or product, stating that after trying several others, it is the only one that helps manage their pain, anxiety, seizures etc. They may not know whether this is due to the THC, some other cannabinoid like CBDA or a terpene like limonene - just that it works.
The 0.2% THC Myth
Back when I started in the industry I was told the following: if CBD products contain less than 0.2% THC they are considered legal.
However, according to the Home Office, any amount of THC is considered a controlled substance and is therefore not permissible in OTC CBD products.
Mostly, they have turned a blind eye to the hundreds of companies and retailers selling full spectrum CBD products. But with last year’s classification of CBD as a novel food by the Food Standards Agency, the wheels were set in motion for the coming demise of full spectrum CBD products.
Food Must Not Contain Narcotics
Foods are classed as novel if they weren’t commonly consumed in our diets before 1997 and in order to be legally sold, novel food applications must be made proving their safety. While we know that hemp has been cultivated and safely consumed for thousands of years, for European Food Standards Authority, CBD extracts remained an unknown quantity and are therefore novel.
The UK Food Standards Agency were in agreement with EFSA and have announced that from the end of March 2021, anyone wishing to sell CBD products must have made a valid novel foods application. However, an application for a novel food is not valid if it contains a controlled substance or narcotic. Therefore any full spectrum products containing any THC will not get novel food authorisation from the FSA and cannot be legally sold in the UK from April 2021.
CBD Isolate To Rule The Roost
For the vast majority of CBD consumers who barely understand the difference between full spectrum, broad spectrum and CBD isolate, these changes are no great shakes. After all, if CBD is so good, why not take it in its purified form.
This seems logical when you consider most of the clinical trials use purified CBD. However, when you take a closer look at these studies, it becomes obvious that extremely high doses of purified CBD (sometimes as high as 800mg a day) are used, compared to an average daily dose of 20-30mg for OTC CBD oil products.
Depending on who you speak to, this has different explanations. A scientist might say, these low levels of CBD are not sufficient to target receptors in a way that brings about any significant therapeutic effect and the reported benefits are therefore largely placebo.
Full spectrum advocates would say they need lower doses because of the entourage effect whereby CBD’s supporting cast of cannabinoid and terpene actors make the star cannabinoid more effective.
Either way, from April next year thousands of patients in the UK will no longer have legal access to the CBD products they use to manage health conditions as varied as anxiety, Parkinson's, fibromyalgia, epilepsy and autism.
And this concerns me.
Largely voiceless outside of the forums they inhabit on social media, their stories go largely untold. But these patients are real and include children with complex health conditions such as seizures who have turned to CBD oil because nothing else worked.
So what future beckons for them?
I suspect in a bid for survival, most CBD companies will continue to pivot towards CBD isolate or broad spectrum products, which customers will blindly accept as the new normal. For many, this won’t matter, as ‘jagged edges’ probably respond just as well to isolate as they do any other CBD product.
Sadly for those that have only found real relief from full spectrum CBD products, these new offerings just won’t cut the mustard. Undoubtedly, some kind of black/grey market will spring up, which will essentially mean them joining the existing 1.4 million patients in the UK who source their cannabis medicine illegally, and for those that can afford it, the private medical cannabis clinic route may be explored. Or perhaps they will just go back to the higher doses of prescription meds that were so unsatisfactory before they discovered CBD.
So while I full heartedly embrace a better regulated CBD market, I am frankly depressed by one that no longer contains full spectrum products. But whether I like it or not, it's a future that is coming our way.