Cannabis Industry Global Activity Update


It has been a busy month for regulatory movements within the cannabis industry globally.  World Health Organization reportedly made positive recommendation while the EU’s EFSA move to class CBD as a novel food.  What does this all mean for the consumers?

 World Health Organization (WHO) made meaningful overdue recommendations with respect to cannabis on the 1st of February. Those recommendations have not been formally released but are expected to be released soon. If implemented, wholesale by the United Nations (UN), the recommendations will have a significant impact globally as to controls placed on cannabis and its constituent parts.

The WHO recommendations are reported as follows:

  • Remove whole plant marijuana and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the single convention on narcotic drugs of 1961 (the “Single Convention”) but leave them on Schedule I of that treaty. (Under international law, Schedule I drugs are relatively safe, and Schedule IV drugs are the most heavily controlled.)

  • Place cannabis extracts and tinctures containing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Schedule III of the Single Convention.

  • Remove THC and its isomers completely from the 1972 protocol to the Single Convention. (The 1972 Protocol is a follow-up treaty requiring states to actually enforce laws on their books against cannabis cultivation.)

  • Clarify that that cannabidiol and CBD-focused preparations containing no more than 0.2 percent THC are “not under international control” at all.

So, what would all of this mean? Firstly, cannabis containing more than trace amounts of THC would still be controlled. Whole plant marijuana would no longer be in the same class of drugs as heroin and fentanyl, but it would not be eligible for trade in the same way as coffee or even tobacco. Second, concentrated preparations of THC would be controlled more strictly than flower, but not at draconian levels. Third, penalties for possession and distribution of cannabis in any form would significantly decrease. And fourth, CBD could be treated more freely. In all, the WHO approach is measured and scientific.  They ultimately seek to isolate various parts and preparations of the cannabis plant to distinguish their effects.

Will the UN adopt these recommendations by WHO?  It is important to note that the WHO is not recommending the unfettered legalization of marijuana so don’t expect a free for all on marijuana.  Still, the WHO development is welcome news after nearly 60 years of unmerited and unexamined prohibition of marijuana under international law.

It is expected that at some point later this year the UN will vote on the WHO’s cannabis rescheduling recommendations.  According to ‘The WHO recommendations were initially expected to be released at a meeting in Vienna in December, but the announcement was delayed for unknown reasons. The proposals will next go before the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs, potentially as soon as March, where 53 member nations will have the opportunity to vote on accepting or rejecting them.’

What impact this will have in the US and globally is uncertain.  These days, though, things are changing fast – both domestically and worldwide.


Across the water


The month the EFSA have moved forward to classify CBD as a novel food.  This is not surprising as last year with MHRA declaring CBD to be medicinal by function and the FSA stating that CBD would be considered to be a novel food if the CBD content in the product is greater than the CBD concentration in the plant it was extracted from.  This move comes with great controversy as the question of legality is being asked? Have the EFSA acted legally in this classification will be determined in time as legal challenges are likely to be brought. This is a big market sector and there is a lot of money involved.

Technically this classification doesn’t affect topical CBD products as the EFSA's remit only covers food.  However, it does instil a fear that retailers and distributors may be cautious of handling CBD related products generally now.

Where does the UK/EU sit in terms of topical CBD products?

In the UK/EU at least in theory CBD that does not contain THC is not banned or restricted for use in cosmetics/skin care products. Cannabis sativa extracts that meet the definition of narcotic in the 1961 ‘single convention’ includes all extracts from Cannabis sativa except cold pressed seed oil (hemp carrier oil). So distilled hemp oil is not permitted in cosmetics as it meets the definition of a narcotic.  

All this is of course medicinal and food use. None of it includes topical use provided that medicinal claims are not made for it.

 The question for those companies that are marketing skin care products containing CBD is what the consumer and ultimately MHRA (Medical Regulatory Association) think they are buying when they buy skin care products containing CBD.

Based on current research CBD applied topically has well defined anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. It also has documented antioxidant properties but there is a lack of evidence that it is antioxidant in the skin, the site of action for antioxidant properties is the nerve endings. As more and more companies market CBD containing skin care, albeit without making specific claims for it other than including it in the ingredients and marketing information there is an inevitability to some kind of reaction from MHRA especially if the MHRA feel this CBD skincare products are associating their products with the potential medicinal claim associated with CBD

A greater misleading occurring in the market today is the use of cannabis sativa seed carrier oil to promote CBD concentrations within skincare.  The skin care properties of cannabis sativa (hemp) seed oil are well known and have been promoted for years in our industry. Their omega 3 and 6 content being hero properties, but the seed oil contains considerably lower levels of CBD than the cannabis sativa extract which can have up to 45% of the cannabinoid in focus, CBD.  Consumers are not in a position to know this therefore the promotion of CBD within the cannabis sativa carrier oils is gravely misleading.

 So, whilst the regulators make up their mind on what move to make next and off course we wait to see the impact Brexit will have on the cosmetic regulations, savvy marketers have boarded the green rush train and they move forward at speed.

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