Can You Trust Your CBD Brand?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is proving to be a juggernaut of an industry, particularly in the UK, one of Europe’s largest CBD markets.

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How is CBD being regulated?

It would be wrong to say that European CBD products are unregulated, as different CBD products are regulated by a patchwork of rules at both the EU and national level. However, no CBD-specific regulations or standards are currently in place, meaning that consumers do not always know what is in their products, or whether they are even safe.

In addition, many of the regulations affecting CBD products (such as the EU’s Novel Food Regulations, which require CBD products to be authorised by the EU before they may be sold) are often misunderstood or completely overlooked by CBD companies.

This results in a hazy ‘grey area’ with unclear legal requirements and varying accountability of CBD firms. For example, EU General Food Law demands that all food sold must be safe for consumers, that businesses are responsible for the food they produce, store & sell, and that the product supply chain must be traceable. However, rules like this don’t explicitly require CBD manufacturers to share a detailed analysis of what’s in their products with consumers.

The hands-off approach taken by regulators like the UK’s Food Standards Agency has enabled the CBD market to flourish, but also enabled bad actors to capitalise on this current craze. As consumers, we don’t expect to check a third-party certificate for all the food we eat or supplements we take.  But in the developing CBD industry, looking for proof of CBD quality and safety is highly recommended.

How can a consumer trust what is on the label?

As CBD producers aren’t obliged to show consumers exactly what’s in their products, it’s vital that consumers do their homework. Consumers should only purchase from brands that provide certificates of test results (ideally from multiple third party laboratories) on a per-batch basis.

As CBD is extracted from the flowers of hemp, which is an annual crop, the cannabinoid profile (the various percentages of different cannabinoids within the flowers - CBD, THC, CBG, CBN etc) will vary with each harvest. Each of these harvests will be processed in batches. Potentially, every batch may be different.

Should a company not have test results available on a per batch basis with no batch number, it will be incredibly expensive for them to do a product recall - should they chose to do one at all.  Recalling a single batch is one thing, but if batches aren’t properly tracked and and there is a problem, companies would need to recall everything ever produced - a likely bankrupting scenario for many firms.

Should a product not have a batch number and a test certificate, then what are the potential risks?

There are a number of potential issues to be aware of when purchasing an untested CBD product.

First of all, CBD content: Without accurate testing, there is no assurance that the CBD content actually reflects the label. It could be higher than the stated dose, or even contain no CBD at all.

Secondly, THC content: THC is a psychotropic and controlled substance across Europe. However, different countries impose different limits on the amount of THC that can legally be present in products. In the UK for example, THC levels in all non-medical products must be non-detectable- and not 0.2%, as is frequently reported.

Depending on the source, the THC level in an untested product may exceed the legal limit. Worryingly, it could also be at a dose that results in the person consuming it getting high. This may be a nice problem for some, but not if you are about to do the school run or are working in a dangerous environment. It also presents a major risk to those who have unintentionally consumed THC, and those with adverse reactions to cannabis use.

And that’s just the cannabinoid content. You also need to be on the lookout for contaminants. Hemp is a bioaccumulator, and metals and pesticides from the soil can find their way into the final product. These can be especially harmful for people who have a weakened immune system. According to Hemp Industry Daily, blind testing programs from Spain, Czech Republic and Austria have all discovered CBD products that did not match the label, contained contaminants, or did not specify the THC content.

When purchasing a product lacking proper quality analysis, consumers risk being ripped off, exposed to harmful elements and consuming mind-altering quantities of a controlled substance - putting both themselves and others at risk.

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How could things work moving forward?

As the market matures, it’s increasingly clear that CBD products will benefit from greater oversight and quality expectations. This is already starting, with some responsible manufacturers realising they must build up consumer trust to survive in this increasingly crowded (and profitable) market place.

Later this month the UK based Centre for Medical Cannabis (CMC) will launch results of a study of the UK CBD market, using this to form the basis of policy recommendations.
If accepted, such recommendations could put the UK ahead of European counterparts, and establish a CBD-specific product framework to both help protect consumers and give market certainty for honest producers.

For legitimate market players, clear regulations are welcomed since they justify their extra investment in building an accountable and trustworthy brands. Hannah Skingle, COO of Dragonfly Biosciences who market and supply the brand Dragonfly CBD explains:

 
With consumers always at the core of our mission, we have worked hard to achieve increasing presence within UK retailers and ensure everyone is operating at the highest of standards. We welcome a more regulated market and hope that this report aids such standards going forward.