Is CBD oil legal in the UK?

March 01, 2019

Understanding the complexities of the legality of CBD oil in the UK is no mean feat. The UK population has lived under the law that deems marijuana to be an illegal drug for a long time, but with the recent high profile cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, with the growth in awareness of the potential health benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant, changes in the law and the increase in availability of CBD products to the general public, the world of the cannabis plant is opening up before our eyes and things are changing.

With terms such as CBD oil, THC, cannabis, marijuana and hemp being thrown around, it can be easy to get confused, especially as they are often interchanged amongst those talking about them. In fact, they are all different things. To know where you stand, it is important to know what the differences are between each one, and where the law lands on them.

CBD Oil and THC

CBD – or cannabidiol is one of over 100 compounds found in the cannabis plant. It can be consumed in a number of different ways, including in an oil form, usually taken under the tongue or inhaled through a vaporiser or vape pen. CBD oil is made from mixing CBD which has been extracted from the plant, with an oil such as olive oil or coconut oil – helping it to be absorbed into the human body. One of the most important things about CBD in terms of its legality is that it will not make you high.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is another compound that is present in the cannabis plant. It is this compound which makes you high, and this compound that is illegal in high quantities.

Cannabis, Marijuana and Hemp

Cannabis, marijuana and hemp are often taken to mean the same thing, but they are actually all different.

Cannabis refers to a family of plants which can be divided into two varieties – cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. Although they are from the same family, the effects of consuming cannabis sativa and cannabis indica on the human body are actually very different.

Marijuana can be classified into both the cannabis sativa and cannabis indica strains of the cannabis plant and can have high levels of THC and CBD.

Hemp, on the other hand is classified under the cannabis sativa variety and has been specially developed to have lower levels of THC and higher levels of CBD. To be classified as ‘hemp’, THC levels must be below the legal limit of 0.2%. In addition to CBD products, hemp is also used to make a number of other things such as fabric, paper, biofuel and construction materials.

CBD and the Law

The Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) never used to differentiate between the cannabis plant and its compounds meaning that all of it was illegal. However, changes in the law in 2017 meant that the different compounds can now be separated out and classified separately. It was consequently stipulated that in the UK, pure CBD is completely legal to buy, sell and consume. The law also says that although THC may be present, it must be at very low levels – under 0.2%. This means that those who want to use CBD as a health supplement in the UK are free to buy CBD products to use, as long as the THC levels are kept under 0.2% (so that no ‘high’ will be experienced).

To be able to tell properly what is in a ‘CBD oil’ product, it is recommended to only buy those which have been formally lab tested and can give you a breakdown of exactly what is in it.

It is also illegal to grow your own cannabis plant and anyone who is caught in possession of cannabis in the UK – even if just for personal use, is liable to be issued with a PND (Penalty Notice for Disorder) on the spot – and if caught three times, be may be prosecuted.

cbd oil and a dropper

Full Spectrum CBD Oil

Some of the other compounds that are found in the cannabis plant can change the way that CBD interacts with the body. These can be extracted at the same time as the CBD, meaning that the effect of the CBD can be enhanced, and this is called the ‘entourage effect’. Full spectrum or whole plant CBD oil is made from the extraction of all of the compounds from the plant, instead of only the CBD, giving the full entourage effect.

This does mean that some THC will probably be extracted alongside the other compounds. However, if the full spectrum CBD oil is made from hemp – or has THC levels of below 0.2% – it is legal to buy, sell and use.

CBD for Medicinal Purposes

As it stands, it is illegal for companies in the UK to make medicinal claims about CBD, although it can be sold as a health supplement to help boost general good health and well-being. However, there is increasing medical research showing that CBD and other compounds (including THC) can be useful for medicinal purposes.

In November 2018, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid amended the law which means that specialist doctors in England, Scotland and Wales are now able to prescribe medicines which are derived from cannabis. This means that if you think that you can benefit medicinally from CBD or other cannabis derived compounds, you should speak to your doctor. They might not be able to help you directly but should be able to point you in the direction of a doctor who is specially trained in CBD.

Understanding where you stand with the legalities of CBD and hemp products in the UK can be difficult but is very important. On a basic level, however, it is very simple; if you are looking for CBD alone, it is 100% legal, and if you are buying products which include other compounds like THC, this must be at a level of 0.2% or less. If you only buy products which have been lab tested, you can know exactly what is included, what you are taking and that it is legal.

Armed with this information, you can ensure that you are getting the health benefits associated with CBD oil, but also stay completely within the law.


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