Is CBD legal in the UK?

Is CBD legal in the UK?

In 2021 there is no avoiding the skyrocketing rise in popularity of CBD, also known as cannabidiol. There's been a lot of focus on CBD because it has many therapeutic potentials. Many studies show that CBD isn't dangerous, can't be abused, and cbd may reduce pain and inflammation improve sleep. CBD has become widely available in a range of products from oils, cbd balms edible cbd gummies, capsules, moisturisers, facial oils, and creams! It has become so popular that huge grocery chains like Tesco now stock CBD products.

You might be wondering, how is that possible when CBD comes from Cannabis, a substance that has been illegal for decades? The answer to that question is a long and complex one. We need to look at UK cannabis laws and how they got this way. Join us as we dive into the history of cannabis laws and find out why CBD is legal in the UK today, but cannabis isn't.

Cannabis related laws in the UK

CBD officially became legal in the UK in 2017, however the UK law states that the product has to meet certain criteria to be lawful for human consumption:

+ CBD must be derived from industrial hemp, which is grown according to EU standards.

+ CBD products must contain less than 0.2% THC (the intoxicating compound found in cannabis plants)

+ UK CBD products as of March 2021, now must file for approval through the Foods Standards Agency (FSA) – an independent government body on all food and health supplements - this is to ensure the products are safe and contain tolerable and legal levels of THC (the compound that gets you ‘high’).

Medical cannabis was made legal in 2018, paving the way for people with conditions such as Epilepsy, Parkinson’s and Dementia to gain access to life  saving and changing medicines. However, cannabis for recreational purposes is still a B-class drug under the MDA and carries penalties of years in prison and heavy fines.

Why was cannabis banned in the UK?

In order to understand why cannabis was made illegal in the UK, we must first look at why it was banned in the USA, as around the turn of the 20th century, this sparked cannabis becoming prohibited around the world.  This was despite the fact that cannabis was used around the world for millennia across a vast range of civilizations. Cannabis was used for food, fiber, medicine, religious rites, and recreation. In 1841, William O'Shaughnessy introduced the healing properties of cannabis to Western society. Cannabis would remain a staple in pharmacies and was used to treat a variety of illnesses.

Cannabis was banned firstly in the USA, not because governments feared for their people's safety but because they feared immigrants. In the early 1900s, the US saw an influx of migrants fleeing the wars from the Mexican revolution. Many xenophobic Americans decided to demonize cannabis to further their anti-immigrant views. For instance, the term 'marijuana' did not exist before 1900 in the USA because it had always been called cannabis. However, the US press began to call the drug 'marijuana' to give it a foreign name and play off of anti-immigrant sentiments.

The press began to spread stories about how consuming "marijuana" would turn someone into a homicidal maniac. Eventually, the drug would be associated with anyone on the margins of society, such as African-Americans. To give an illustration of the racism surrounding cannabis, here's what the architect of US cannabis prohibition, Harry Anslinger, had to say:

"Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind… Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage."

In 1937, Harry Anslinger led a political campaign for the prohibition of all cannabis products in the USA. This campaign sparked confusion and racist connotations surrounding the use of cannabis not only in the USA but also across the world, resulting in cannabis becoming banned in the UK in 1928 under the Dangerous Drugs Act. The criminalisation of cannabis in both the USA and the UK would go on to cause many social problems throughout the 20th Century.

Social problems caused by cannabis criminalisation

It wasn’t until the 1960s that cannabis use skyrocketed in the US and the UK. The anti-war movement in the US and subsequent counterculture kicked off a cannabis revolution. This time, white middle-class kids were the ones smoking weed. Citizens began to fear the counterculture's influence on their families, which they saw cannabis was a part of.

In the US, President Richard Nixon not only had a personal vendetta against drugs but leveraged them for political gain. He started the "war on drugs," which boosted his declining popularity. Nixon then created the Controlled Substances Act 1971 (CSA). Cannabis was then considered a Schedule I drug, which states it has "no medical benefit and a high risk for abuse." Following in close step with the US, the UK created the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA). Like the US's drug policy, the MDA imposed harsh fines and imprisonment for cannabis use and possession.

The war on drugs set the stage for current drug policy and policing, which unfairly targeted minorities and led to cruel laws and severe punishments. However, the drug war wouldn't be contained in the US but would spill across the world. The UK would be no exception, and the UK's current drug policy was shaped by the war on drugs. By all measures, the war on drugs was and sadly still is a complete failure. Drug use has not declined, and drug-related deaths are at  their highest in the UK.

The understanding and awareness surrounding the cannabis plant were at an all time low and it wasn’t until a new discovery in the 1980’s which would spark the legalisation of cannabis once again.

How did CBD become legal again in the UK?

When cannabis was first banned in the UK, it was caused by a global knee-jerk reaction to propaganda from fear of immigrants in the USA. Ironically, when CBD became legalised in the UK, this was also triggered by events in the USA.

In the 1980s, public opinion about cannabis was at its lowest. However, during the 1990s, cannabis research led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is involved in mood, sleep, the immune system, hunger, and more. There was now verifiable scientific proof that cannabinoids interact with the ECS and could aid many different ailments.

Thanks to cannabis advocates and further cannabis research on epilepsy, pain, and mood, public opinion began to shift. People began to discover the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and realise that it wasn't a dangerous drug. CBD and medical cannabis are legal in the majority of states in the US. Recreational use of cannabis has also now been legalised in a number of states including Colorado, Washington, California, Alaska, Oregon, Maine, and Massachusetts. This led on to the eventual legalisation of CBD and medical cannabis in the UK, paving the way for millions of people to benefit from the therapeutic effects of the plant.

The Role Mission C Play

Mission C plan to become a hub of information for the CBD industry, collating stories, data, news updates, consumer experiences, opinions, feedback, and the latest scientific knowledge – in order to push the UK government towards more progressive cannabis laws and also help to the medical cannabis and CBD world to verify the benefits through clinical trials. 

Mission C have created three ranges of CBD products to help people lead healthier, happier, and more fulfilled lives. We believe in open, honest, and balanced communication, we tell people everything they need to know about CBD. All information is trusted, vetted, and backed by scientific evidence. If you want to learn more about CBD and have any further questions, please reach out through our contact form on the website or contact@missionc.comAbove all else, we’re human. Our team is made up of real, contactable people who are on hand for anything you might need.


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 Further Reading:

  • Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: Case Study
  • Cannabinoids & anti-inflammatory: Study
  • Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Epilepsy: Study

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