A groundbreaking report published by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has published advice that could provide clarity to consumers and manufacturers alike regarding CBD products.

The ACMD report, commissioned in January 2021 and published in January 2022, looked into a range of products that contain cannabidiol, such as CBD oil, drinks, gummies and cosmetics, and has provided recommendations for how much THC can be present in such products.

For CBD isolate, this is unlikely to cause any change, but for full-spectrum products that contain a range of cannabinoids and trace amounts of THC, this could provide both positive and negative changes to how novel foods containing CBD are sold in the UK.

Here are some of the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the ACMD report.

Establishing The Difference

One of the biggest findings of the report is what most people who use CBD products already know; CBD products you can buy do not produce a psychoactive effect and are fundamentally different to THC.

This finding, in itself, is not groundbreaking and has been known since the earliest studies of CBD. However, what is important is that a public body has reached that conclusion after a comprehensive study of CBD products.

Specifically, they pointed out that extracting the trace THC content in full-spectrum products to use to create an illegal drug compound would be unviable, and that when used at their recommended dosages, consumer CBD products are ‘highly unlikely’ to be harmful.

The only potential exception to this is if the product was spiked, and as the ACMD will later recommend, setting a controlled phytocannabinoid limit would solve that issue as well.

The one element that the report noted that needed further research is whether extreme heat could convert CBD to THC, which would have implications for CBD vape juices.

Setting Concentration Limits Is Complicated

Whilst the ACMD report suggests that the right method for ensuring products containing CBD have limits on the levels of certain compounds, it has noted the difficulty in determining what these limits should be.

The report notes that the dose limit for THC should be 50 micrograms (0.05 milligrams) per single serving, but given that there are so many products containing CBD that are taken in different ways, setting a single all-encompassing limit would be difficult and ‘inappropriate’.

CBD cosmetics, for instance, are administered topically and because of this will be absorbed fundamentally differently as compared to CBD oil which is most commonly taken under the tongue.

What is also unclear is whether this limit would go alongside the current 1mg limit for any THC product sold on shelves (regardless of the size of the product), as well as the industrial hemp guidelines that require CBD to be extracted from plants with less than 0.2 per cent CBD.

In practice, this means that most CBD products sold publicly have far less than the 50 microgram limit, which is per individual dosage.

Another complicated element is ensuring that all laboratories used for testing compliance with these new limits can detect, extract and separate THC with enough sensitivity to ensure the 50 microgram limit can be adhered to and enforced.

The recommendation to the ACMD report makes in this regard is to create a standardised testing system, using ISO-accredited laboratories that can detect THC with a sensitivity below the maximum levels.

What Does This All Mean?

Much like the novel food judgement of the Food Standards Agency meaning only authorised CBD products can be sold on the market as of April 2021, this new report provides a mix of clarity and confusion for consumers and manufacturers alike.

For products using CBD isolate, there is likely to be very little difference; the nature of extraction means that most CBD isolate compounds will already be far below the legal limit and the main focus will be on novel food authorisation instead.

This is also primarily the case for broad-spectrum products, which contain certain flavonoids and terpenes but with no (or at least no more than trace amounts) of THC.

Broad-spectrum products may change, but given that they needed to have THC levels under 1mg per product container, many of these products are already under the legal limit and if the ACMD report’s limit supersedes the current legal limit, provides even more clarity and safety.

The Cannabis Trades Association pointed out that most CBD products on the market would already meet the ‘straightforward’ and ‘helpful’ recommendations.

The biggest change is perhaps yet to come, with the FSA expected to make a statement regarding their guidance on CBD as a novel food, although to what extent their guidance changes remains to be seen.