A decision over whether natural and herbal preparations containing cannabidiol are hazardous to health has been put on hold, despite a recommendation that labelling them as such should be prohibited.
The Food Standards Agency issued guidance to a few key food retailers in the UK on Thursday that states cannabidiol “may not be added” to any products “where it is unlikely to have the intended health effects”.
But as the drug, which is one of the by-products of cannabis, is commonly consumed with food and drink, including honey, canola oil, teas and candies, the view of the FSA is that consumers must understand that some take-home products containing the substance could contain the same levels of the element.
As a result, it recommends all packaged organic foods containing the compound “should be marked clearly as containing cannabidiol”.
This includes items such as food products containing honey, honeydew melon fruit juice and kiwi fruit juice, extracts from teas such as tea tree oil, palm oil or coconut oil, and foods such as mouthwashes and lip balms.
The move by the FSA will put a stop to the sale of products such as kynectar tea bags — extracted from the bark of the kynectar tree and sold over the counter in Britain — that are using the extract as a digestive aid.
Cannabidiol is an element in cannabis which has only been found in high concentration in cannabis growing in the Netherlands. Use of the drug is legal in parts of the US and Washington state, and in 20 US states its legal for medical purposes.
British politicians have long lobbied for its inclusion in the EU ban list, which forces companies to dispose of all cannabidiol not labelled as one of its five constituent chemicals (cannabidiol, cannabidiol V6, cannabidiol A, cannabidiol V2 and cannabidiol N).
Deborah Quazzo, director general of the Health and Consumer Council, said: “Vegans and vegetarians should not have to look in food labels for the word cannabidiol.
“The FDA’s lack of regulation in this area is putting at risk the health of consumers. The FSA has rightly come up with evidence-based guidance to maintain their existing ban on non-approved cannabidiol preparations . . . This ban will need to be reviewed and removed.”
Neil Roberts, a policy manager at Action on Hearing Loss, which lobbies for vulnerable groups in England, said: “In many cases people who smoke cannabis regularly also take cannabidiol for pain relief, and research indicates that cannabidiol has beneficial effects on tinnitus and psychosis.
“Some drug-testing laboratories now check the levels of cannabidiol in food products, so it’s important that EU regulations are changed in the interests of consumers.”
Alan Douglas, chief executive of the Plant Based Foods Association, which represents companies including Holland & Barrett, the UK’s biggest food store, said there is little research of the effects of cannabidiol in its most concentrated form on the brain or bodily organs.
“Cannabidiol is neither dangerous nor harmful. Many of the plant’s benefits are mis-assessed and misunderstood by consumers and medical professionals alike,” he said.
The FDA’s lack of regulation in this area is putting at risk the health of consumers. Deb French, Action on Hearing Loss
The British Medical Association said studies have yet to draw firm conclusions about how cannabidiol affects health.
It said: “There is currently insufficient evidence to assess the effects of cannabidiol on the human body and there is often a lack of information about the effects that cannabidiol has on human health.”
As of last October, the FDA did not have regulations in place for the testing of products containing cannabidiol or growable marijuana.
A spokesman for the agency said there were no plans to change the rules and that consumers “should always use caution”.