CBD – the touted cure-all with huge potential, but is it safe?

Cannabis expert, Shomi Malik, summarises the current regulations around CBD in the EU, UK and US, and the current science available around its safety.

This article looks at CBD as a food. Cosmetics and vapes have different answers to these questions, with their own regulations.

Is CBD safe for consumption?

The short answer is probably.

With many millions of CBD users around the globe, any serious concerns would have very quickly been highlighted.

But ‘probably safe’ isn’t good enough for an ingredient that is poised to disrupt many verticals. Authorities tolerate the sale of CBD products in the absence of a major safety threat, but ‘tolerated’ and ‘regulated’ are two very different things.

Major brands, retailers and, most importantly, users will want to know definitively that the products they are taking are safe. With that confidence, the sector will have the foundations to flourish.

The UK Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) official position is: “While we have no evidence of harm, there is no evidence to show CBD is safe.”

At the most basic level, ‘safe’ means something that doesn’t cause damage when we take it. Do we have data to categorically point to this? Not yet, but data is coming. One of the problems is that because this is so new, some of the testing methods we’re using weren’t even in existence until very recently.

Consider this: there isn’t even an accepted standardised testing methodology for testing THC levels – one of the compounds found in cannabis that makes it illegal in the UK. If that very basic requirement is still unmet, then imagine what else is.

For the first time, we will have concrete data on cannabinoids with regard to cumulative exposure.

The available literature is not enough to support claims of safety, a fact often repeated by the regulators. Fresh data needs to be generated.

An advisory committee to the FSA, the Committee on Toxicity (CoT), reviewed the safety profile of CBD and came to the conclusion that there were unanswered questions around hepatotoxicity (liver damage). However, this was drawn from Epidiolex data, a CBD-based medicine used to treat some forms of epilepsy.

Some have questioned the validity of the concerns based on data that evaluates medicine. Broadly speaking, food safety data looks at low dose, high frequency use; whereas medicines look at high dose, low frequency. The dosage given to the patients (children on other medications) that produced the Epidiolex data is many times higher than the 70 mg/day guidelines proposed by the FSA.