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On the 13th October 2016, UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) officially announced it was designating Cannabidiol or CBD as it is more widely known (a non-psychoactive cannabis compound) as a medicine that can be administered for the purpose of "restoring, correcting, or modifying physiological functions."
This means that CBD products, which British law has been silent on until now, will be regulated like other medical products in the UK, requiring medical "marketing authorisation" before they can be sold.
This is according to a letter sent to 18 CBD manufacturers shortly before the MHRA published its statement.
The reaction from cannabis reform groups in the UK however has been a mix of confusion and hostility, with many worrying that this will actually harm the interests of people who use CBD products.
Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR), which campaigns for the full legalisation of cannabis, has called the decision "an unholy mess" that is "endangering public health." Another group has started an online petition asking MHRA to reconsider its move.
Their concern is that the sudden application of medical regulations to the manufacture and sale of CBD will actually prevent those who use such products, which are used to treat a variety conditions including multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, from accessing the product by shutting down their suppliers.
Indeed, the letter MHRA sent to CBD manufacturers gave them 28 days to obtain their medical marketing authorisation or otherwise cease operations. Getting this type of authorisation is no small ordeal. The application fee alone is £92,753 pounds and the process takes a minimum of 210 days.
It's now unclear whether any of the CBD products currently being sold on the UK market will remain there after those 28 days are up. Crispin Blunt, a Conservative member of parliament who favours cannabis legalisation, has demanded clarification from the MHRA on how exactly CBD products will be evaluated, and whether the agency will consider regulating them as food supplements until they can achieve medical authorisation. So far all the MHRA has promised to do is to provide "regulatory guidance" to those companies seeking marketing authorisation for CBD.
The UK government is for the first time recognising the medical benefits of a cannabis product, it looks like those medical benefits will be off-limits for patients for the foreseeable future.