UK CBD Industry Holds Its Breath as Food Safety Deadline Looms

Regulatory bodies fear CBD is toxic to humans and companies must submit an application for approval.

CBD products subject to FSA compliance
Free THC product sample


  • The UK’s food regulator, FSA, warned the CBD industry last year that unless they provide consumers with further safety information on their food products, stocks could be pulled from shelves.
  • The industry has until March 31, 2021 to prove its safety by way of a dossier containing proof that its products conform to the European standards for food safety.
  • Any company that hasn’t submitted a valid dossier will no longer be permitted to sell its products in the UK.
  • The FSA’s decision followed a Committee on Toxicity (COT) report that found CBD to potentially cause damage to consumers’ health — though the report also admits that not enough is known to be sure.
  • CBD was made a “novel food product” in the UK in 2019 but is currently not under any kind of regulation. 
  • FSA is concerned that an unknown amount of CBD could be present in the products, which they fear could cause harm to certain people.

The CBD industry in the UK has less than six weeks left to provide information to consumers as to the safety of their food products, else risk their future on UK shelves.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) last year issued a warning to companies that their products will be removed from the market after March 31, 2021 unless they submit a “novel food authorization”. 

The application must provide proof that companies’ food products are in compliance with European standards on Novel Food safety and that CBD content is clearly labeled. In this case, “food” applies to anything that can be ingested.

“The actions that we’re taking today are a pragmatic and proportionate step in balancing the protection of public health with consumer choice,” said Emily Miles, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency, speaking in February 2020. “It’s now up to the industry to supply this information so that the public can be reassured that CBD is safe and what it says it is.”

What Are Novel Foods?

Novel Foods are considered by the FSA to “have not been widely consumed by people in the UK or European Union (EU) before May 1997”. 

CBD made it onto the list, which includes foods such as chia seeds and quinoa, in 2019. However, it remains largely unregulated in the UK. 

As a result, the FSA is concerned that some CBD food products could contain a higher percentage of CBD than advertised, resulting in users potentially consuming more than is recommended without knowing. 

CBD Adversely Toxic But Not Enough Evidence?

The FSA ruling followed a report produced by the Committee on Toxicity (COT). It found evidence of “potential adverse health effects”, though it also admitted that not enough was known to make a definite conclusion.

“My committee has reviewed the evidence on CBD food products and found evidence there are potential adverse health effects from the consumption of these products,” said Professor Alan Boobis (lol), Chair of the Committee on Toxicity. “We are particularly concerned about pregnant or breast-feeding women and people on medication.”

“We don’t know enough to be sure about such a risk but I am pleased with the sensible and pragmatic approach the FSA is taking,” he added.

Fact-Checking CBD’s Toxicity in Humans

There seems to be a slight contradiction in terms of the COT’s reasoning behind CBD’s so-called adverse side-effects. On the one hand, evidence pointed to adverse side effects. On the other hand, there’s not enough conclusive evidence.

Is this ruling fair?

Insofar as toxicity to pregnant women, there’s very little research, though some experts believe CBD should not be used. That’s perfectly fair, though there are a lot of approved drugs, medications, and foods women shouldn’t consume while pregnant. Many of them are easily accessible or purchasable over-the-counter. Alcohol, ibuprofen, aspirin, vitamin A & E supplements, and cough syrup are all potentially harmful, yet they’re not at all prohibited. 

In terms of CBD negatively interacting with medications. Yes. This is true. CBD competitively inhibits the very same liver enzymes that metabolize and break down 100s of medications currently on the market i.e. it can prevent drug metabolism and cause unwanted side-effects (in rare cases overdose and death). 

However, drug interactions can happen with non-cannabis-based medications and substances too. CBD isn’t somehow the common enemy of medications. Aspirin and ibuprofen shouldn’t be taken together, nor should antihistamines and motion-sickness drugs. Hell, even grapefruit can inhibit liver enzymes the same way CBD does. None are banned or prohibited for sale.

In our opinion, this ruling is largely baseless, intellectually dishonest, and scientifically unfounded.  

Application Unfair For Small Businesses?

There are concerns that the application required will unfairly impact smaller CBD businesses. The time and costs associated with the FSA application have resulted in fears that those that cannot afford it will simply go bust

Safety Data Consortium infographic by ACI
Safety Data Consortium for Novel Foods dossiers (credit: ACI)

However, the news has been widely welcomed by the industry. Current regulations have been described by some as the “wild wild west” in terms of clarity. 

A number of organizations have successfully submitted their dossiers to the FSA, including Vitality CBD and the ACI on behalf of their CBD Safety Consortium. All that is left for them, and others, to do now is wait.

The full impact of the FSA’s decision will not be realized until April at the earliest, but it is predicted that the CBD bubble, which has grown rapidly since 2019, will almost certainly be somewhat deflated.

However, the trade-off will hopefully be clearer regulation and better quality products, which can only be of benefit to future UK CBD businesses and their customers.