How will the introduction of medical cannabis impact on the UK CBD industry?

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few months you will have noticed a lot of talk about medical cannabis in the news. Earlier this year, seemingly from out of nowhere, the UK government dramatically shifted it’s thinking towards the potential medical benefits of cannabis.

Currently steps are being taken to make cannabis available on prescription to eligible patients. We are all eagerly watching these developments as they unfold, and in the past few days the government announced what, in their eyes, defines cannabis-based products for medicinal use.

But many people are concerned about how this will affect the thriving UK CBD market. Will CBD oil still be available to buy from your favourite company, even after medical cannabis becomes available on prescription? How does the government’s definition of a cannabis-derived medicinal product affect you? What products will this cover and what restrictions does this definition place on the cannabis treatment options available? Could CBD oil be classed under this definition?

Summary of recent events.

Before I try to answer these questions let’s first run through a summary of the recent changes in the UK with regards to medical cannabis, where we stand at present, and what the future is likely to hold.

  • Earlier this year, following a couple of high profile cases, the government ordered a review on medical cannabis.
  • An initial review by Dame Sally Davies, chief medical adviser, concluded there is evidence medicinal cannabis has therapeutic benefits.
  • This was further backed by the recommendations put forward by Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to the Home Office about the scheduling of cannabis-derived medicinal products.
  • The ACMD said “doctors should be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis provided products meet safety standards.”
  • Following the recommendations of these reviews a temporary panel was set up to assess applications for licences on a case by case basis.
  • The home secretary, Sajid Javid, added: “Following advice from two sets of independent advisors, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products – meaning they will be available on prescription.”
  • And most recently the Government announced the definition for cannabis-based products for medicinal use. It’s a broad definition but the wording is important. It states:

There are 3 broad requirements for products before they can be prescribed:

  • the product is or contains cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol or cannabinol derivatives
  • the product must be produced for medicinal use in humans
  • it must be a product that is regulated as a medicinal product or an ingredient of a medicinal product

What does this definition mean for patients eager to access legal medical cannabis?

Although this seems a broad definition, the second and third points are important and are likely to place the biggest restriction on the available treatment choices:

  • the product must be produced for medicinal use in humans
  • it must be a product that is regulated as a medicinal product or an ingredient of a medicinal product

This will restrict treatment options but it’s not unexpected. It’s in-line with the current guidelines in place for all prescription drugs and any product that is sold as a medicine. Safety of patients has to come first.

The development of approved and regulated medicines costs millions and therefore only likely to be a viable option for large pharmaceutical companies with the financial backing to carry out the extensive tests and trials needed. This is likely to anger many in the cannabis community.

Large companies who already have approved cannabis-based products including Epidiolex and Sativex, developed and produced by GW Pharmaceuticals, will likely benefit the most.

Unfortunately this also limits the options available for patients, as large pharmaceuticals are more focused on single cannabinoid products. So it doesn’t seem to leave room for the development of new “whole plant” medicines.

Although for many the statement “ingredient of a medicinal product” may be open to interpretation. For example, Sativex, an already approved cannabis-based medicine, contains THC. Therefore it could be argued that, as THC is an ingredient of an already approved medicine, all products that contain THC are eligible under this definition.

Medical Cannabis vs CBD oil.

Firstly, I would like to discuss the difference between medical cannabis and CBD products, like CBD oil. Although there is currently one licenced cannabis-derived medicine in the UK that is CBD only, the majority are THC based. THC is the compound most associated with the treatment of conditions like cancer and some forms of epilepsy. While CBD oil has many beneficial properties it only contains trace amounts of THC.

Unfortunately, there are a few unscrupulous sellers who attempt to misguide consumers into thinking that the CBD oil they purchase from them has the same properties as a full spectrum cannabis oil (including THC). This is not the case. Please do not buy from companies making these claims. Also, if a CBD company is making ANY medical claims they are breaking the law, and I would seriously question their reputation.

Having said that, even after the introduction of medical cannabis under prescription it looks like legal medical cannabis will only be an option for the few, not the majority. Many will simply not qualify under the strict guidelines and limitations which are likely to be placed on the application process. This of course may change.

But for many, medical cannabis also isn’t a favourable option. Concerns over the potential side effects of THC act as a big deterrent to pursuing this treatment option for many. It also needs to be noted that the limited options available for licenced cannabis medicines do not give patients the wide variety of choices available in the thriving UK CBD market.

The stance in the development of cannabis-derived medicines seems to be geared towards isolated single cannabinoid products rather than full spectrum. As many are aware, full spectrum cannabis products, with an array of cannabinoids and terpenes, are seen to be more beneficial than single isolated compounds alone.

However, the potential therapeutic benefits of THC cannot be ignored and may be the best treatment option for a number of patients with a variety of ailments.

How will this affect the current CBD market in the UK?

Many believe there will always be a need for low THC, CBD products. The majority of CBD users are drawn to this natural therapeutic substance due to its safety and minimal side effects. The “high” associated with THC is also a deterrent for many.

But the question whether the introduction of legal medical cannabis will have an affect on the availability of CBD products in the UK still needs to be answered. As CBD oil is derived from cannabis and contains many compounds from the cannabis plant, will it too be subject to the same restrictions?

As the government has stated a cannabis-based medicine must be “regulated as a medicinal product” and “produced for medicinal use in humans”, it appears theCBD industry will be largely unaffected by this change. CBD products are sold and regulated as a food supplement, not a medicine, but could this change?

How does the Cannabis Trade Association (CTA) view the recent changes?

Obviously we can’t predict the future so we cannot say for certain how the UK CBD industry will be affected by the changes surrounding medical cannabis, but we asked Mike Harlington, chair of the CTA, for his thoughts on this matter. Mike sees the recent changes as a positive step, stating:

“The impact of the food supplement industry will be positive, we operate under an entirely different set of rules and regulations and as such totally different from drugs policy.

CBD is coming more and more to people’s general radar for healthy and wellbeing. It’s also possible we will see a slight change in policy to allow slightly different selling conditions.

It does look increasingly likely that CPD (Cannabis Product Directive) will happen in short term creating a fully regulated environment in a public private partnership to ensure quality and safety across the entire sector.”

We eagerly await the next step.

So, it appears likely that the CBD industry in the UK will largely be unaffected by the introduction of medical cannabis on prescription. I believe this is good news for consumers as it means more choice.

There is still little known about eligibility and possible restrictions placed on the application process for accessing a prescription for medicinal cannabis, but we all eagerly await the next step in the journey.

Do you currently take CBD oil to treat an illness? If medical cannabis becomes an option for you, would you try it, or stick with CBD? Do the potential side effects of THC deter you from trying medical cannabis?

If you would like to find out more about CBD, or you have any specific questions you need answering, please head over to my Facebook page CBD Resource Centre

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