Cannabidiol in food – what is it, and why is it banned?
I was in New York City a couple of weeks back, and everywhere I went there was this new offering of Cannabidiol, also known as CBD. Baked into cookies and added to cocktails, it was offered as a way to give extra oomph to a huge variety of foods. Intrigued, when I returned to Britain I immediately started to do some research about this mysterious new food trend.
What is CBD?
According to Project CBD, it is:
a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of cannabis…CBD is closely related to another important medicinally active phytocannabinoid: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that causes the high that cannabis is famous for.
Unlike THC, however, CBD does not get you high, and is not addictive. Most CBD being sold is extracted from the flowers and buds of cannabis plants. Unlike THC, it can be extracted from both male (used for industrial hemp) and female cannabis plants. THC can only be found in the flowers of female plants.
Why add it to food and drink?
According to various studies, the oil has a multitude of health benefits. From helping with anxiety and depression to inflammation and sleeplessness, CBD is being hailed by some as the new cure-all. It’s best to take that with a grain of salt, however. Many of the studies have only been done in animals, with only one or two moving to human patients. The only conclusive statement has come from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel, which recommended a CBD-based medication for the treatment of two forms of childhood epilepsy.
In terms of the taste, the oil has a bitter and earthy flavour. In my search for information about it, the majority of my search about the taste led to articles on how to mask it rather than enhance it. (Apparently mint is a strong enough flavour to hide the distinctive bitterness.) It seems that very few people really enjoy the flavour on its own.
Why is it currently banned in the UK?
CBD was having a moment in London, with Behind this Wall serving three CBD-infused drinks, one of which, the Chitty-Chitty Bhang-Bhang, was alcohol free. According to Alex Harris, a co-founder of the Hackney bar, this gave teetotallers a buzz without consuming alcohol. Aussie-inspired cafes Brickwood Coffee also embraced the trend with their CBD scrambled eggs.
However in a recent statement, the European Commission decided to consider CBD a ‘novel food’. This means that the EU wishes to conduct further tests on the oil before officially accepting it into the market for human consumption. This makes sense, as there is currently very little regulation regarding recommended dosage levels or purity. It is also possible to extract and sell CBD from marijuana rather than hemp, which increases the likelihood of the oil containing THC.
The UK Food Safety Agency has now tried to remove CBD from commercial sale until the European Commission has come to a verdict. This could make CBD unavailable to consumers for up to 18 months, and potentially prevent independent distributors from selling it in the future. The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis has now offered their assistance to help the FSA to:
…devise regulations that are evidence-based and practical, whilst not impacting responsible CBD suppliers who offer a valuable service to a significant number of UK consumers deriving health benefits from these products.
There are some hemp growers in the UK, including Margent Farm. A statement from The Cannabis Trades Association agrees that the new ruling by the European Commission is ‘not conducive to business’ and that any action should be ‘proportionate and not hinder the economic activity of the industry’. However, the FSA has been ‘misinformed’ about CBD, which has negatively affected the hemp and cannabis industry in the UK.
It’s not clear when, or if, CBD will be available for consumption in the UK in the future, even in a medical capacity.