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Controlled drugs

RPS asks Home Office for guidance on THC levels in cannabidiol oil

Confusion around the legal threshold for tetrahydrocannabidol in cannabidiol oil has led the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to request “clear guidance” on the matter from the home secretary.

cannabis oil


An analysis of 30 cannabidiol oil products available in the UK market showed that 45% of the products tested had “measurable levels of THC”, making them technically illegal at present

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has written to the home secretary calling for “clear guidance” on the permissable level of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabidol (THC) in cannabidiol (CBD) oils.

In the letter to Sajid Javid, Ash Soni and Gino Martini, president and chief scientist of the RPS, respectively, wrote that the Society “is keen to advise its members on the steps they should take” to ensure that they do not inadvertently breach the law when handling CBD oil products.

A report published on 26 June 2019 by industry trade body the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) found that almost half of the commercially-available CBD oil it tested contained detectable amounts of THC, making them “technically illegal within the UK”.

The CMC commissioned analytical company PhytoVista to test 30 CBD oil products available in the UK market, both online and on the high street. In a summary of the findings, the CMC said that 45% of products tested had “measurable levels of THC”, with a mean content 0.04%.

There has been confusion around the legality of trace levels of THC in CBD oil products.

CBD is not psychoactive and so is not a controlled substance. It may be sold through retail outlets as long as no medical claims are made for a product. 

But the RPS letter raised the issue of reports that suggest CBD oil products with THC content of less than 0.2% would be legal.

A drug licensing factsheet published by the Home Office  states that licences may be issued for the cultivation of plants from approved seed types with a THC content not exceeding 0.2%. But this permitted limit of 0.2% in plant matter does not relate to the THC content of the final product to be consumed, explained Martini.

The RPS letter says pharmacists in hospitals and the community want clear guidance on the legal position when handling CBD oil products that contain trace levels of THC.

In its report, the CMC also called on the government to clarify the law around CBD oils, and amend what it calls “ambiguous, out-dated” legislation.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206419

Readers' comments (3)

  • It's a popular myth that the law on this is unclear. It isn't, it's crystal clear, in black and white and there are no grey areas.

    It's astonishing that the RPS or its lawyers can't simply read the law. But there's no point asking the Home Office. It regularly gets the law wrong and frequently gives what can only be deliberately incorrect advice such as in its drug licensing factsheet which is incorrect.

    CBD products are 'exempt products' under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 2(1)(a)(b)(c). Thus the maximum amount of THC permitted is 1mg per container.

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  • It doesn't appear that clear to my reading. All three elements must apply for 'exempt product' status and the CBD preparations marketed are designed for use by human beings thus the lack of recoverability or the very low content are irrelevant:

    “exempt product” means a preparation or other product consisting of one or more component parts, any of which contains a controlled drug, where—
    the preparation or other product is not designed for administration of the controlled drug to a human being or animal;
    the controlled drug in any component part is packaged in such a form, or in combination with other active or inert substances in such a manner, that it cannot be recovered by readily applicable means or in a yield which constitutes a risk to health; and
    no one component part of the product or preparation contains more than one milligram of the controlled drug or one microgram in the case of lysergide or any other N-alkyl derivative of lysergamide;

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  • @Alexander, CBD is not a controlled drug. The two controlled drugs that are likely to be present in a cannabis extract, which is what all lawful CBD products are as isolate is unlawful, are THC and CBN, to both of which the 1mg limit applies.

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