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The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that CBD is not a narcotic. Thousands of CBD users around the world already know that CBD is not a narcotic, regulators know it too. So how is it that it became necessary for a European Court to make a ruling on something so obvious? It all comes down to the complex regulation of cannabis over the years.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is an extract of the hemp plant (cannabis sativa). People use CBD for stress, anxiety, pain, sleep, athletic recovery and more. A highly concentrated version of CBD is even used as a prescription medication for two types of childhood epilepsy. CBD has been shown to have positive effects and few or no side effects when used by healthy adults. Since CBD became popular over the past few years, scientists around the world have been studying how CBD might help with such diverse ailments as arthritis, migraines, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Other studies are focusing on how CBD might be part of the solution to opioid addiction.
Even with that impressive track record, officials at the European Commission were gathering information which indicated that it might classify CBD as a narcotic, along with drugs like heroin. The Court of Justice of the European Union put a stop to that possibility.
Cannabis contains dozens of kinds of molecules which produce different effects in the human body. For years, the most famous of these molecules was Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. THC produces an intoxicating effect in users, and it was the reason cannabis was banned in the first place and that it remains banned or restricted in many countries.
When countries around the world banned cannabis, then mostly known as marijuana, they banned the entire plant and all of its extracts. That included cannabidiol, or CBD, and other cannabinoids which do not produce a psychoactive effect. Indeed, many of these cannabinoids, including CBD, are increasingly showing positive health effects.
There was an exception to the ban on cannabis. Industrial hemp was allowed in many countries, including most of the countries in Europe. Industrial hemp is the same species of plant, cannabis sativa, as the cannabis used to produce marijuana but it has very low levels of THC, not enough to get the user high. For thousands of years, people have grown hemp for its fibre and for the nutritional value of the seeds. When CBD began to become more well known, farmers and scientists quickly realized that industrial hemp could be used to produce large amounts of CBD with little or even no THC.
In the face of all this confusion, regulators faced a conundrum when looking at CBD. They knew that CBD does not create an intoxicating effect, but the various laws and treaties regarding cannabis did not make a distinction between the psychoactive parts of the cannabis sativa plant and the other, non-intoxicating cannabinoids. In the United States, Congress passed a bill specifically excluding CBD from the list of banned substances. The UK simply decided that the ban against THC did not apply to CBD and moved forward. In Europe, regulators struggled. At first, they took the same approach as the UK, but recently they have been considering the question of whether they would be forced to classify CBD as a narcotic. Such a decision would go against all of the available science and would effectively be a ban on CBD in EU countries.
It was a complex trade dispute, of all things, which moved the CJEU to act. France had banned imports of CBD vape products from another country because it allowed only the seeds and fibre of hemp to be used. It banned products from the leaves and flowers, which is where CBD occurs in the hemp plant. France brought criminal charges against of the directors of the importing company.
The Court ruled that France’s ban on CBD is null because CBD is not a narcotic. It acknowledged the varying definitions used by regulators but cut through them quickly with the application of common sense. Specifically, the court found that “according to the current state of scientific knowledge, which it is necessary to take into account, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly called THC), another hemp cannabinoid, the CBD at issue does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health.”
Freed from any ambiguity by the court’s ruling, the reaction of regulators at the European Commission was swift. They have informed CBD producers across the continent that CBD can now be considered as a novel food. Hemp Industry Daily reported that the Commission told CBD novel food applicants that “cannabidiol should not be considered as drug within the meaning of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 in so far as it does not have psychotropic effect.”
European Union Countries will now put in place a regulatory regime for CBD products similar to that of the UK. The process for many CBD products is known as “novel foods.” A novel food is any product someone one ingests which was not commonly used in Europe prior to 1997, including products like capsules, oils, and tinctures which most people don’t think of as food. In order to sell a novel food, the producer must describe the food and explain how it is produced, prove that the food is safe, and demonstrate that the production methods are consistent from batch to batch of the food. It is a rigorous process which ensures that consumers can be confident in the products they choose.
Other CBD products, such as lotions and vape products are covered by other regulatory regimes. The larger point is that Europe will now be bringing out a regulatory regime which CBD users can trust. Over time, the sketchy products which now characterize much of the market will disappear, and legitimate companies will be better able to produce and sell their CBD throughout Europe. This outcome is obviously great news for CBD users, and holds the promises of good jobs for Europeans throughout the continent as the CBD industry takes hold.