A seemingly ground-breaking decision for medical cannabis in the United Kingdom may actually make access to products more difficult, at least in the short-term. The Medications Health Care Products Regulation Agency (MHRA) recently determined that cannabidiol (CBD) has medicinal properties.
This means that the non-intoxicating, non-psychoactive cannabinoid now must be regulated like any other medicine, meaning that current CBD vendors must stop marketing and selling products and apply for a license. Distributors have a couple of options to get a license, although they are either pricey and not guaranteed to be successful, or more difficult for CBD given the prohibited status of cannabis.
UK decides that CBD is a medicine
The CBD market has grown in the UK over the past few years, as it has in many countries. CBD vape oil, capsules, creams, tinctures and other CBD-infused products have emerged onto the British market. People were treating chronic pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety and much more with these products, but were somewhat held back due to their unregulated status.
The public health can be put at risk by having unregulated industries, particularly for products designed for human consumption. With no product standards, there were few ways of knowing how effective and safe CBD products being sold in the UK were. At best, a bad product may not have the amount of CBD specified on the label, but at worst, these products could contain ingredients which pose a health risk.
British cannabis activists have argued for regulation, but the MHRA’s move has been met with plenty of concern and criticism. Peter Reynolds, a spokesman for Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR), succinctly explained the problems with the decision to VICE.
Reynolds clarified that the MHRA deciding to classify CBD as a medicine was definitely the correct move, but that it’s key to remember CBD products consist of hundreds of compounds, not just cannabidiol. Indeed, whole-plant cannabis oil extracts will probably contain traces of THC, albeit not enough to cause hallucinogenic effects.
But by determining CBD to be a medicine, the MHRA is going against the official stance of the government which is that cannabis has no medicinal value, as stated by the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. Cannabis is currently classified as a Class B drug. However, between 2004 and 2009, the plant enjoyed a more relaxed Class C status. The Labour government was responsible for both changes.
But for consumers, the most damaging aspect of the MHRA’s move is that the CBD products they have been medicating with are, for now, not readily available.
British CBD distributors forced to stop selling products
The MHRA gave distributors just four weeks to take products off the shelves, barely enough time for consumers to stockpile CBD – and only those keenly aware of cannabis news are likely to have spotted the change. It’s also immensely frustrating and threatening for CBD distributors which have been reliant on sales to stay in business. Now, to continue selling products, these companies must shell out for MHRA-approved trials and meet strict product requirements.
A letter was sent to the biggest British CBD distributors, advising them that they now need a license to sell CBD since the compound is now deemed a medicine. This is according to CBD Oils UK director Tony Calamita, who spoke to VICE.
Calamita added that the necessary trials could “potentially cost millions,” and that it may take years to acquire the clinical data that would satisfy the MHRA’s demands.
Is the MHRA’s decision good or bad?
By declaring CBD a medicine, the MHRA seems to be taking a progressive long-term attitude towards cannabis, and has shown a desire to make the plant a legitimate form of treatment. But by moving CBD into pharmaceutical circles, fewer companies are able to sell products, which is a raw deal for consumers. Moreover, there are now strict rules on what hemp plants are eligible to be used for CBD extraction.
Ensuring that CBD products are safe for public consumption across the board should be a primary goal of any government. However, Calamita has speculated that the MHRA has changed CBD’s status for financial reasons, not public safety.
He points out that CBD has been shown to be safe in “very high doses,” suggesting that such tight regulations are not needed for the compound. Calamita believes that this yoke of regulation benefits pharmaceutical companies more than anyone else. Indeed, the fear of Big Marijuana taking over in similar fashion to Big Pharma is a real one among cannabis communities worldwide.
And understandably. GW Pharmaceuticals has just gotten one step closer to having its CBD-based drug approved by the UK, after positive third phase trials. The drug is intended to be used as treatment for unusual and severe types of intractable epilepsy. This happened just four days after CBD distributors received their MHRA letter. And if you’re still in any doubt, pharmaceutical companies fund the MHRA.
The near future looks bleak for British citizens seeking CBD treatment. While US states and several countries in continental Europe are introducing medical – and some even recreational – legislation, the UK either stands still or takes one step forward and two steps back.
The average cannabis user has harnessed the medicinal potential of the plants for decades, centuries – millennia, even! Yet now pharmaceutical companies think they know better by developing drugs that includes cannabinoids and other ingredients. Why not trust people to use cannabis how they wish, and purchase flower or other cannabis-based products for self-medicating purposes?
For now, though, it seems crucial that some UK-based companies acquire the necessary license to stock CBD once again, so it’s there for those who want, and maybe need it.