Low THC products: the EU analyses the CBD market

Low THC products: the EU analyses the CBD market

Benito Díaz

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction presented a document in which the situation of the “low THC” products is reviewed. In its pages we find an analysis of the merchandise and products commercialised, and warnings about their problems and the expanding market related problems, as well as a profile of the users and the measures adopted in different EU countries.

The challenge, according to the report, starts by delimiting the concept of “low THC product”. This definition would include, according to the EMCDDA, the products that are made of, or contain, grass, resin, extracts, or cannabis oil, and claim to have a low percentage of THC, so that the probability of intoxication is very low. “These can be commercialised because of their low levels of THC or their high percentage of cannabidiol (CBD). The definition excludes the authorised drugs and the products that only use the fibre from the plant of cannabis, like textiles”, according to the text. It should also be considered that some products derived from plants of cannabis or its seeds are presented many times as cosmetics, a matter where the Monitoring Centre leans towards monitoring only the goods for ingested or inhaled/smoked use.

The text reminds that all sorts of merchandise can be found under the label “low on THC” or “CBD”, such as mixed herbs for infusion, creams, balms, oils, drinks, flours, dough, vaper/ electronic cigarette liquids, resin and crystals.

Selling points

The sale of cannabis in Europe is linked to the appearance of retailers that are placing great trust on this kind of products. CBD is regarded as a growing business, capable of starting a new “gold rush” amongst salesmen, who already offer merchandise of this kind in wholesome products shops, health and well-being shops, pharmacies and coffee shops, in addition to specialised retailers, even tobacconists and other places, more oriented to the recreational context. With that in mind, the document divides retailers in those who praise the therapeutic benefits of CBD and those who boost a vision of relax and leisure. Having considered these two big groups, it is important to pay attention to the different regulations and laws that affect each European state. In Finland, for instance, THC is considered a medicine. Therefore, it can only be sold in licensed pharmacies; while in Luxembourg or Italy, the recreational market has reached such a point there are vending machines exposed on the streets.

The consumer of these products’ profile is also determined by the country observed, and the same distinction between therapeutic or recreational users apply. In the first case, we are talking about people over 60 years of age, patients with chronic pains or other diseases and people who are trying to improve their lifestyle. In the second case, people who are trying to reduce the effects of THC and do not want to be exposed to the illegal market. This would comprise an age range of 16 to 60 years.

Quality and labelling

Another controversial point is related to the THC percentages in the products. Due to there being different laws in each territory, the minimum percentage can vary, from 0.2% or 0.3% of THC in each case. This is the necessary condition to reach legal status and sell the products. Confusion grows, according to the study, when there are mistakes in the labels, sometimes on purpose. “Some products being commercialised as CBD products or low THC products, especially those being sold as wholesome or healthy, include information on the label about the levels of CBD and THC in the product, generally expressing the weight or percentage. In the case of THC, it can be presented as a maximum percentage, less than 0,2% THC for instance. In some cases, the product is presented as ‘certified THC free’ or certified of having a content below the maximum level. The label may orientate about the dose, including the maximum amounts that should be used”, says the report.

The text also points out the scarcity of identification labels and information about the effects of CBD on health, as it is a compound that has no usage limitation. Sometimes products include a high percentage of the substance, and the consequence of it on human beings is unknown. Many products do not include a warning about the dangers of smoking and potential cancer, or a reminder that its consumption is not recommended for minors.

The complaint about the organism regarding the necessary quality controls is understandable because these are products for human consumption that need to fully comply with the national and international regulations, especially in the case of shops targeted at wholesome product consumers.

Regulatory context

Legislations have changed notably when it comes to CBD, as we said, and they vary from one country to another. However, the EMCDDA reminds that “in March 2020, the UN Drugs Commission decided to vote, in its 63rd session period, the six World Health Organisation recommendations about international control of cannabis and cannabis related substances. The UN drug commission decided on December 2nd, 2020 (27 affirmative votes, 25 against and one abstention) to write both cannabis and cannabis resin off the IV List of the 1961 Convention List. These substances remain in the List I of the 1961 Convention and, therefore, are still subject to all levels of control. The Commission has decided not to follow the rest of the WHO recommendations”.

The entity defends the creation of a single framework of regulation that would include a fixed percentage of THC, having considered the plants and varieties of cannabis. It would also assess what part of the plant could be used, be it the roots, the stem and seeds (very low concentration of THC), leaves (higher) or flowers and resin (maximum concentration). This would be of use in distinguishing what parts of the plant can be used with industrial goals without any testing needed, or what could be useful to discover illegal extractions of THC. It also proposes establishing the levels by type of product, for instance, in the food products regarding the maximum of CBD doses.

Places such as our country have retired certain type of products from shops and specialised retailers show concern.


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