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'Pharmacies must reassess whether to sell CBD products'

New advice for pharmacies on selling products containing cannabidiol (CBD) leaves few patients to buy them, says lawyer Noel Wardle

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has announced a new approach to products containing CBD, so pharmacies need to reassess their relationship with these products.

Products containing CBD have been around for years. They are sold as food supplements, which allows them to be marketed without much regulatory oversight so long as no medicinal claims are made about them.

Last year, the European Commission added CBD to its novel food catalogue. This was a significant step because a novel food has to go through rigorous safety checks to be authorised before it can be sold. However, inclusion in the catalogue is not binding on individual EU member states, who can decide how to implement regulation.

The FSA was slow to impose compulsory regulation, preferring to work with the CBD industry to find a proportionate way to regulate a market that is worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year in the UK. The organisation seemed to support a voluntary approval process but its patience seems to have run out, perhaps because not one product had been approved under the voluntary regime.

Yesterday (February 13) it announced the change of approach. From March 31, 2021 it will be illegal for CBD products to be sold in the UK unless a novel food authorisation application has been submitted for that product.

In the meantime, the FSA advises “those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any medication not to consume CBD products”. It continues: “Healthy adults are advised to think carefully before taking CBD, and the FSA recommends no more than 70mg a day (about 28 drops of 5% CBD) unless under medical direction.” The FSA also points out that there is evidence of “potential adverse health effects” from the consumption of CBD products.

It is fair to say that community pharmacy has had an uncertain relationship with CBD products, but they are widely sold in pharmacies. With advice from the FSA that vulnerable groups and those taking any medication should not use CBD products, it is time for community pharmacy to reassess whether these products should be supplied until they have novel food authorisations.

After all, how many people come into a pharmacy who are not part of the groups mentioned in the new guidance? It would seem an appropriate moment for representative bodies to issue clear guidance to pharmacists on the supply of CBD products.

In the meantime, pharmacies need to ensure their products do not have a single dose stronger than the FSA’s recommended maximum of 70mg a day, and advise patients not to consume more than that amount daily.

Noel Wardle is a partner and head of healthcare regulation at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP


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