Although Covid-19 continues to have a profoundly negative effect on the UK’s economy, some businesses have seen growth. One market that appears to be doing particularly well is cannabidiol (CBD): the beneficial, non-intoxicating cannabis compound.
According to multiple reports, the demand for CBD products has only risen since the pandemic.
Surveys done in 2019 suggest that as many 6 million people in the UK have already tried a CBD product, and these numbers have continued to grow in 2020.
This shouldn’t come as a shock because most Brits turn to CBD oil and other CBD products as a natural alternative for relieving anxiety and stress, getting better sleep, and supporting overall well-being.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues as people continue to struggle with lockdown measures, job losses, and a general sense of uncertainty about the future.
The UK’s CBD market was valued at £300M in 2019, making it arguably the second largest in the world after its United States counterpart. The double-digit growth we’re seeing is expected to continue for years to come, reaching close to £1 billion by 2025.
At that point, the CBD market will be about as big as Britain’s entire herbal supplements market.
UK Regulators Say No to CBD as a Narcotic
The CBD industry saw another boost when UK food regulators rejected the European Commission’s preliminary decision that CBD should be treated as a narcotic.
Paul Tossel of the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced in September that the UK’s Home Office did not share the Commission’s view, putting fears of CBD products becoming illegal in Britain to rest.
If the Commission’s stance becomes official, it would effectively make CBD illegal in all of the European Union, destroying a market that’s expected to grow by 400% by 2025.
Aside from that, however, the UK’s regulations for CBD products remain archaic and frustrating for businesses. For starters, it’s illegal to grow and harvest hemp for its CBD content in the UK and the plants can only be used for their fibre and seeds.
Consequently, British companies have to purchase hemp and finished CBD extracts from mainland Europe, increasing costs and hurting British farmers.
On top of that, CBD products cannot contain more than 1 mg of THC — a controlled substance in the UK — per container.
This is problematic because CBD products are typically sourced from hemp, a type of cannabis that doesn’t contain enough (0.2% or less) THC to make people high.
As a result, CBD manufacturers have to perform an additional step to remove most or all of the THC, adding further costs and arguably reducing the effectiveness of the product.
CBD as a Novel Food
Another recent challenge to the UK CBD market was the FSA’s February decision to follow the European Union and treat CBD as a novel food.
This means that manufacturers will have to submit a novel food authorisation to sell any ingestible CBD products in the UK. Meanwhile, for those that are already being sold, an application must be submitted by March 31, 2021. Otherwise, the products will be removed.
The change in regulation certainly makes things harder for the UK’s CBD companies as they will have to go through a lengthy and costly process before being able to sell their products. In particular, small-sized CBD businesses may be forced out of the market due to the high cost of the novel food approval.
Nonetheless, health authorities see this move as a positive development meant to make CBD products safer and more reliable for British consumers.
According to the FSA, “the actions that we’re taking today are a pragmatic and proportionate step in balancing the protection of public health with consumer choice. It’s now up to industry to supply this information so that the public can be reassured that CBD is safe and what it says it is.”
There’s certainly some truth to this view, as a 2019 report by the UK’s Centre for Medical Cannabis found that out of 30 tested CBD products, 38% had less than half of the advertised CBD content, one had no CBD at all, and almost half contained illegal levels of THC.
The Future of CBD in the UK
Although things remain uncertain for the British CBD industry, demand for CBD continues to grow. CBD oil products are offered by dozens of online UK retailers and are becoming increasingly available in high street shops and health food stores across the country.
And while CBD oil remains the most popular form of this non-intoxicating compound, the market has expanded to include many other product types, including CBD gummies, capsules, drinks, topicals, and much more.
If changing laws and attitudes towards cannabis around the world are any indication, highlighted by Canada’s 2018 legalisation and ongoing changes in individual U.S. states, we can expect CBD to become a staple of the food supplement industry in the UK.
Image: European Commission
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