Cannabidiol-based products have soared in demand over the past couple of years, with current sales estimated at £300m in the UK and growing rapidly. Around 1.3m British people are regularly using CBD, with an average spend between £20-50 per month.

Such popularity has rightly encouraged new brands to enter the market, but a fragmented and complex regulatory framework has caused many to come unstuck if a low-quality supplier is selected. 

The growth in awareness has precipitated more judicious scrutiny from regulators, media and professional bodies. This has exposed malpractice within the market, causing concern for those regular consumers.

Recently, the BBC and the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis conducted blind analyses of CBD products, culminating in similar conclusions: 

  1. Many CBD products on the market do not contain the correct amount of CBD stated on the label. In fact, two separate analyses on a product revealed non-detectable levels of CBD.
  2. Lots of CBD products have traces of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a controlled substance and illegal even in trace amounts. Many in the industry continue to perpetuate the misnomer that products can contain up to 0.2%. This refers to the crop, not the finished product, that cannot contain any THC.
  3. Some CBD products contain residual solvents well above the levels permitted in food, a result of low-quality extraction methodology and technology.

There remain practical concerns arising from products containing THC: athletic, workplace and roadside drug tests could be triggered, not to mention contravention of religious and ethical beliefs.

As a pharmacist with ranging experience (community, hospital and industry) and a PhD in cannabinoid chemistry, I am often asked by journalists, pharmacists and distributors about choosing a CBD supplier with confidence. To this end, I have outlined my top-tips to avoid any nasty surprises.  

  1. Over the counter CBD is a food supplement, not a medicine. Avoid manufacturers who make overt or even subtle medical or pseudo-medical claims (i.e. X times more bioavailable than another product), they won’t have done the required clinical work to demonstrate the effect they are claiming.  
  2. No CBD product in the UK has currently received Novel Food approval. Therefore, when picking a CBD supplier, elect a company committed to placing their products under the scrutiny of an independent scientific and safety assessment, like DragonflyWholesale. The FSA has now made it clear that after 31st March 2021, only products that have received Novel Food authorisation can continue to sell products in the UK market. Any CBD products without authorisation will be removed from shelves.
  3. Choose a CBD supplier that has a zero THC content. Find out how the manufacturer tests for THC and what their definition of “zero” is. 
  4. Choose a transparent CBD supplier that allows examination of its test results. Test results should be independent, batch specific and conducted by a laboratory with a validated methodology. The analytical results for any given batch should be available for scrutiny. 
  5. Choose a manufacturer belonging to a self-regulating body with values aligned to all the above principles. I, myself, am the Pharmacy Lead at the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI); set up in response to the 2019 CMC report, in which it became clear that committed members of the industry needed guidance to ensure a safe, legal and well-regulated UK market. 

Using these guidelines to choose a supplier limits risk and maximises the chances of compliance with the law. Most importantly, it will ensure the best quality and accurately labelled CBD products reach consumers.