A pipette of cannabidiol

FSA’s cannabidiol update highlights ‘grey area’

Over 2,000 new CBD products have been added to the FSA’s approved list
26 May 2022 , Steve Smethurst

The Food Standards Authority (FSA) has updated its list of approved cannabidiol (CBD) products. The announcement, on 27 April 2022, adds a further 2,446 products bringing the total to almost 6,000. The FSA has told local authorities that these products, marked as ‘validated’ or ‘awaiting evidence’, may stay on the market in England and Wales, pending further consideration.

The FSA published its original list of ‘credible applications’ on 31 March 2022 which prompted many businesses to come forward with additional evidence relating to their products. The FSA has now made a ‘final call’ for products and plans to ‘lock down’ the list by the end of June 2022.

CBD is a chemical compound extracted from the cannabis plant and is thought to help regulate functions such as sleep, immune response and pain. Studies are also looking at its potential for treating anxiety, psychosis, schizophrenia and rare forms of epilepsy.

Pre-Brexit, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) handled all novel food applications. The FSA now performs these duties but has little prior experience and is faced with many CDB products that have not been subject to any approval process.

Emily Miles, Chief Executive, FSA said: “This is a booming sector, but products have not been through the formal safety assessment required in law. There is little evidence of significant harm, but neither is there evidence of safety. We are also concerned that some products may not be what they say they are.”

CIEH has already spoken out about a related issue concerning cannabis sweets, or ‘edibles’, typically only sold online, that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These can cause nausea, difficulty breathing and hallucinations.

Paul Tossell, the FSA’s Head of Novel Foods said: “We share the desire from industry to get clear and consistent information into the public domain. Once validated, CBD applications will move onto the safety assessment stage. This usually takes between six and nine months, but may take longer.”

“Food-enforcement officers have been seeking direction from the FSA for several years on the marketing and sale of CBD products, but it remains a grey area.”

Kate Thompson, CIEH Wales Director told EHN Extra: “The FSA is in an invidious position. A ban on CBD products until properly authorised would have effectively killed the industry, so it made a decision to allow products that were already on the market by February 2020 to remain in place, so long as they submitted a validated novel-food application.

“The resulting situation is one of uncertainty. What happens if these products are subsequently found not to be safe? The FSA has not adopted the precautionary principle. Also, there is the danger that this will form a precedent. Food-enforcement officers have been seeking direction from the FSA for several years on the marketing and sale of CBD products, but it remains a grey area.”

The FSA acknowledged that it has been ‘a difficult process’ but described its approach as ‘pragmatic and proportionate’.

The FSA list applies to England and Wales. Information about Northern Ireland can be found here. Novel foods regulations in Scotland are covered by Food Standards Scotland.


Image credit: Shutterstock

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