By Rachel Moss
You shouldn’t be consuming CBD products if you’re
‘No Evidence’ That CBD Wellness Products Work, Say Experts, As FSA Cracks Down
So why is the FSA cracking down?
Put simply, we don’t know enough about CBD to consume it at the rate we currently are. Critics have long pointed out that the CBD wellness industry is largely unregulated, with “little evidence” these products work.
Last June, the first major third-party testing of CBD wellness products in the UK found many products didn’t include the ingredients listed on their labels. The research, conducted by the Centre for Medical Cannabis, blind tested 29 oil products available in the UK, both online and in stores.
Only 11 out of 29 (38%) of the products were within 10% of the advertised CBD content, and 11 out of 29 products had less than 50% of the advertised CBD content. One product, from a well-known high street pharmacy, was found to contain 0% CBD.
Despite this, research from YouGov suggests 9% of the UK population has already tried a CBD product, the equivalent of nearly six million people. Among those who are yet to sample CBD, a further 28% said they’d consider it.
“There is so much press around the potential benefits of CBD, customers are trying them without clear understanding of the products or the potential quality of the products,” Dr Sarah Gaunt, from the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) told HuffPost UK ahead of the FSA announcement.
The lack of regulation around CBD until now has meant it’s “difficult to know the responsible brands from the cowboys,” she added.
But isn’t CBD used for medical conditions?
CBD products available on the high street are very different from the CBD-based medicines now available on the NHS for conditions such as epilepsy.
“These [wellness products] typically contain low concentrations of CBD mixed in with other cannabinoids, and there are wide variations in what they contain,” Professor Philip McGuire, an expert in psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London, previously told HuffPost UK.
“It’s often difficult to know what the concentration of the different ingredients in these preparations is from just looking at the product label.”
Some medical trials have began looking at CBD in relation to multiple sclerosis and anxiety, with some positive results – but more research is needed. The results from such studies, however, can not be translated to the CBD available on the high street.
Could CBD on the high street be harmful, then?
The new precautionary advice from the FSA is based on recent findings by the government’s Committee on Toxicity (COT), which reviewed the limited research available on CBD and warned of some negative health outcomes.
“Potential effects [could] include damage to the liver, adverse effects during pregnancy and in young children, sedation/somnolence and interference with the action of some medicines, leading to drug interactions,” Professor Alan Boobis, chairman of COT told HuffPost UK ahead of the FSA announcement.
“CBD used in food/supplements is often of lower purity than the medical-grade CBD used in the clinical studies. It is possible that there are impurities in non-medical CBD that could lead to side effects in addition to the ones listed.”
Boobis said it’s “always a possibility” that the positive reviews from CBD wellness products are the result of a placebo response.
What regulations could CBD sellers face?
To help consumers make safer choices, the FSA has also announced a crackdown on CBD sellers, on top of the precautionary advice to consumers.
Last year, ingestible CBD products were reclassified as “novel foods” under EU law, meaning they should be evaluated on the basis of their claims and safety before being authorised to be sold. However, no immediate action was taken to remove existing products from shelves.
Now though, the FSA is giving the CBD industry a deadline of 31 March 2021 to submit valid novel food authorisation applications. After 31 March next year, only CBD sellers who have submitted a valid application will be allowed to keep their products on the market – others will face being removed from shelves.
These new rules will only impact CBD products that are designed to be ingested, though, and will not tackle the growing world of CBD cosmetics, or the rise of CBD tampons purporting to tackle period pain.
In relation to the latter, gynaecologist Dr Brooke Vandermolen told HuffPost UK consumers should be cautious. “There is little to no evidence about CBD, period pain and the impact on the vagina and its ecosystem,” she said.
“It’s unclear what the short or long term risks are and if the potential benefits would justify these. It would be advisable to be wary of products designed for use in the vagina that contain medication without discussion with your doctor in the context of your own medical history.”
The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry would like to see clearer regulatory marking on CBD products so consumers can make informed choices. “We need government regulators to endorse or adopt a self-regulated kite-mark,” Dr Andy Yates, a pharmacist working with the ACI, told HuffPost.
“A simple kite-mark showing companies had signed up to, and were held up to, an agreed set of principles means that consumers can have confidence [it’s] a safe, legal and well-regulated CBD market.”