Why Creating MHRA Compliant CBD Content Is Key
Much is made of creating a regulated CBD market where consumers are guaranteed the quality, safety and strength of their CBD products. It’s the justification used by regulators and certain industry players for the implementation of Novel Foods regulations. However, what doesn’t appear to be of concern is the flagrant flouting of the MHRA rules concerning what can and can’t be said in marketing materials about CBD nutritional supplements.
Based on my own research I can confidently say there’s an increasing number of companies of varying sizes who market their CBD brands as medicinal products, most of whom have entered the market in the last two or three years.
I’m not talking overt ‘CBD cured my X’ type medical claims (although I still see that from time to time). These days the most common breaches include SEO driven blog posts about CBD and anxiety, arthritis, fibromyalgia etc, testimonials waxing lyrical about the company’s products for various customers’ ailments, or simply linking from the homepage from health conditions and symptoms such as anxiety, pain or sleep to a selection of products. All of which in the MHRA’s eyes constitute marketing CBD products as medicinal products.
It’s important to point out, this is not some personal grudge the MHRA has against CBD. It’s simply that for any product to be marketed as a medicine it has to have gained MHRA marketing approval, which usually involves conducting clinical trials. However, when it comes to CBD, so far only Epidyolex meets that criteria.
MHRA Takes Notice
If we step back in time only five or six years ago, the handful of companies selling CBD to UK consumers had been successfully operating under the MHRA’s radar. Consequently, their websites were filled with claims regarding CBD and their product’s ability to treat everything from cancer to depression.
This all changed when in 2016, the MHRA issued a statement saying:
“We have come to the opinion that 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. Licensed medicinal products have to meet safety, quality and efficacy standards to protect public health.
“Our primary concern is patient safety. In order to ensure that products remain available until individuals have the opportunity to discuss their treatment with their doctor, companies now have until 31 December 2016 to voluntarily operate within the law, by withdrawing their existing products from the market, or working with MHRA to satisfy the legal requirements of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012.”
An immediate wave of panic went round the CBD industry and consumers alike as it appeared this nascent industry was about to get closed down. Thankfully though, a compromise was found whereby as long as companies didn’t market their CBD products as medicines, they could continue to be sold. With this, CBD became essentially a borderline product - both a medicine and a nutritional supplement.
In order to navigate this new landscape, trade bodies such as the Cannabis Trades Association (CTA) were formed, who as well as becoming a voice for the industry with regulators, required any members to be fully compliant with MHRA regulations in their online content.
Rumour goes they also became a self-appointed ‘medical claims police force’ reporting non-compliant websites to the MHRA who in turn investigated any wrongdoers.
These days many companies feel less inclined to join a trade body, and so have only themselves to hold accountable as to whether they stick to the rules or not. And from what I can see, many do not bother.
The fact that the MHRA borderline team is limited in bandwidth means deciding to write claim-filled content may be a conscious one as when weighing up the risks, unless a company is reported by a third party, realistically nothing is going to happen.
I suspect this is the case for many of the venture capitalist-backed CBD big hitters whose focus is on driving traffic to their site regardless of the compliance of their content. However, from the conversations I have with small scale CBD companies started by CBD enthusiasts or first-time entrepreneurs, any noncompliance is generally committed on a basis of ignorance and confusion.
That’s why I’ve decided to create a webinar aimed at taking the guesswork out of creating compliant CBD content.
My time in the CBD industry straddles the pre-2016 'wild west' days and the 2021 over-regulated novel foods era. As a writer, while I initially felt both irritated and hamstrung by the MHRA rules, these days I personally believe it is irresponsible to present CBD nutritional supplements as medicinal products to vulnerable consumers.
That said, this webinar will give participants the tools to know whether their own content could put them at risk of being investigated by the MHRA and from there it is up to them to weigh up the risks and consciously decide where on the continuum of compliance they decide to sit. It will also explore what can be safely and ethically said about CBD products, giving ideas for blog posts and future content.
The webinar will take place this Tuesday, 13th July at 7pm BST.
For more information and to purchase your ticket: