‘It’s imperative to recognise that not all CBD is created the same’: CBD players digest potential ‘dagger-blow to the UK industry’

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

'CBD quality varies massively across the industry and that’s what we need to standardise', said Eoin Keenan, CEO and Co-Founder of Goodrays, whose CBD drinks contain 25-30mg of CBD per serving
'CBD quality varies massively across the industry and that’s what we need to standardise', said Eoin Keenan, CEO and Co-Founder of Goodrays, whose CBD drinks contain 25-30mg of CBD per serving

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In a move that has potentially far-reaching implications for the CBD industry in the UK, the Food Standards Agency has issued new precautionary advice, recommending healthy adults should limit their consumption of CBD from food to 10mg per day, down from the 70mg level recommendation set in 2020.

The new advice has been based on the average lifetime exposure to food products containing CBD, such as drinks, oils, sweets, bakery items or drops. Some products available on the market will have a higher dose of CBD per serving than 10mg a day. The FSA said consumers should now check labels and consider their daily intake, adding it “will work with industry to agree a way forward on these products”​.

According to the FSA, there is no acute safety risk with consuming more than 10mg of CBD a day, based on the data it has assessed to date. However, above this level and over a period of time, there is evidence of some adverse impacts on the liver and thyroid. The higher the dose that is consumed and the more often higher doses are consumed will increase the risks of experiencing an adverse health effect.  

It continues to advise that CBD is not taken by people in vulnerable groups, including children, people taking medication (who have not consulted a medical professional) and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those trying to conceive.

Professor Robin May, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Food Standards Agency said: “Our independent advisory committees have reviewed the safety assessments submitted by the industry as part of their novel food applications and we are advising that healthy adults should take no more than 10mg of CBD a day.

“The more CBD you consume over your lifetime, the more likely you are to develop long-term adverse effects, like liver damage or thyroid issues. The level of risk is related to how much you take, in the same way it is with some other potentially harmful products such as alcoholic drinks.

“We encourage consumers to check the CBD content on the product label to monitor their overall daily consumption of CBD and consider if they wish to make changes to how much they take based on this updated advice.”

Emily Miles, CEO of the Food Standards Agency, added it will continue to review its advice. “We have always advised the public to think carefully about taking edible CBD products and as with all foods, we continue to review our advice based on the evidence we gather from industry,”​ she said.

We understand that this change to our advice will have implications for products currently on the market that contain more than 10mg of CBD per serving. We will be working closely with industry to minimise the risk, to ensure consumers are not exposed to potentially harmful levels of CBD.”​ 

Why the update?

The FSA published consumer advice in February 2020 which recommended healthy adults not to take more than 70mg of CBD per day. This level was based on limited evidence where CBD was studied as a medicine, and where the dosage is determined by balancing the benefit of the drug with the potential side-effects. The FSA said the change in advice is based on new evidence from the industry and updated advice from its independent scientific committee​.

But there have been suggestions the move is a result of the FSA’s notoriously complex and delay-ridded regulatory process that has left the industry complaining of being in limbo.

For example, the FSA began regulating the market in 2020, prompting CBD suppliers to invest large sums in toxicology and other studies to prove that their products were safe. But the legal status remains a grey area, however, with many applications yet to be approved. All products awaiting authorisation and which have a ‘credible application’ in with the FSA, can be viewed on the FSA's Public List​.

CBD business experts at The Canna Consultant complained that ‘one poor study’ from a novel foods application now threatens collateral damage to the whole of the UK CBD. Calling the move a ‘dagger-blow to the whole of the UK industry’ it said: "When regulatory scientists are provided with data by an applicant who asserts the quality and accuracy of the data, then they cannot fail but act upon it. It is to be noted that we do not criticize the FSA for acting upon the data with which they have been provided – what else can they do?"

Neither can the industry expect the new 10mg limit to be revised any time soon. "The industry should accept that this will be the applicable figure for years to come,”​ continued The Canna Consultant.

Eoin Keenan, CEO and Co-Founder of Goodrays, whose CBD drinks contain 25-30mg of CBD per serving and which are available in UK supermarkets including Waitrose, told FoodNavigator the FSA has changed the daily intake guidance based on tests from ‘three early market brands that have shown that repeated daily usage of those specific products over a lifetime period carries some risk of adverse impacts’. “However, it’s imperative to recognise that not all CBD is created the same and the guidance is not based on our products or those of many other market leaders,”​ he stressed. “We work with the market-leading CBD supplier who has a recommended daily intake of 70mg per day, which is over two cans per day, and we’re sure that the guidance will soon take this research into account. As an industry, we need to get to a place where that quality and safety is recognised and we’re not being led by the worst-quality applications.”

Could brands be cut from shelves?

According to The Canna Consultant, there is a risk that CBD products containing more than the 10mg limit could be removed from shelves, although it expects manufacturers to be given time to reformulate and re-label products. “Clearly, tinctures and other multi-dose products which are in the UK Public List will need to change their dosage instructions and we believe that the manufacturers will be given time to implement that change.

“We are also informed that single-unit consumption products will be invited to reduce their strength to bring them in line with the FSA’s new recommendation… Again, we understand that time will be allowed for such changes to flow through the supply-chain system.”

Higher-than-recommended dosages also bring retailers reputation and compliance risks, the group added. “If retailers continue to sell single-use products which breach the FSA’s recommended daily safety limit, then they as the retailer are exposed to any Consumer Safety litigation risk (from the Consumer, not the Regulator) for the period that they do so.

“Now, any reader of this document will appreciate that the actual health risk to consuming 10mg or 30mg or 70mg per day of CBD is less than negligible, but reality has nothing to do with the perception of litigation risk that may be held by the legal departments of these retailers or, more pertinently, by the legal and underwriting departments of the insurers of those retailers.”

Others stressed nothing will change instantly in light of the FSA move. The representative body the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) said: “We urge retailers to take this as guidance, which it is. Nothing will change immediately in terms of products included on the FSA’s public list. We highlight to consumers that this guidance demonstrates the FSA still considers CBD to be safe and their advice relates to lifetime consumption of daily high doses of CBD. In light of this updated advice, the ACI trusts that the FSA, after considering the implications of their announcement, will find a suitable solution for companies that have invested heavily to submit Novel Foods authorisation applications for their products. We remain committed to engage with the FSA to support our members who have acted in good faith throughout the Novel Foods process so far.”

Keenan from Goodrays added: “There’s no change to the legality of our products and there’s loads of other categories that sell products which have a higher recommended daily intake, such as alcohol, soft drinks, vitamins and supplements. It’s in no way unusual. We’ve got incredible relationships with all our retailers who have been really positive and supportive during this update as they understand the difference between our products and the rest of the market.

“We know that consumers want high quality products and safe products so we welcome any further guidance from the FSA, which ultimately protects the consumer and advances the market forward. The next step is to work alongside the regulators to recognise the safety levels of our products versus the worst-case actors which are forcing them to set a lower guidance across all products. CBD quality varies massively across the industry and that’s what we need to standardise.”

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