UK drastically downsizes daily intake guidance for CBD, warns ‘vulnerable’ consumers

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The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has drastically reduced its recommendation for total daily intake of CBD, in light of guidance from key government committees.

Under the update, FSA now recommends consumers take a maximum of 10mg or “about 4-5 drops of 5% CBD oil” per day, down from 70mg under guidance issued in 2020. For comparison, the European Industrial Hemp Association has proposed a maximum daily intake level of 17.5mg per day of CBD to the European Food Safety Authority.

FSA said it considered data collected during its safety assessment of more than 12,000 products that are candidates for market approval under UK rules for new or “novel” foods. That data was analyzed by FSA’s Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), an independent advisory committee that provides scientific advice to the UK government.

Effects on thyroid, liver

“We continue to advise that CBD is not taken by people in vulnerable groups, including children, people taking medication (who have not consulted a medical professional) and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those trying to conceive,” FSA said in a press release.

“Above this (10mg) level and over a period of time, there is evidence of some adverse impacts on the liver and thyroid,” the agency noted.

Robin May, Chief Scientific Advisor at the FSA said, “The more CBD you consume over your lifetime, the more likely you are to develop long-term adverse effects, like liver damage or thyroid issues. The level of risk is related to how much you take, in the same way it is with some other potentially harmful products such as alcoholic drinks.”

860 adverse reports

FSA sent out grave warnings over CBD in early March as it released a report that claims 10 people have died from taking the products; FSA said it had received 860 reports of adverse reactions (over an unspecified period) as of this past February. 

The updated daily dosage advice is based on the average lifetime exposure to food products containing CBD, such as drinks, oils, sweets, bakery items or drops, FSA said, urging consumers to check labels because some products available on the market have higher daily doses of CBD per serving than 10mg.

CBD extracts were designated “novel food” in the UK in January 2019 and all CBD food products must be approved before they can be sold legally. A wide range of such products have been on the gray market for several years, including drops, supplements and beverages. None of these products are approved yet as novel foods, but FSA allowed some to stay on the market under liberal rules as they await safety checks.

Safety reviews ongoing

To remain on the market pending final approval, products already in distribution had to have been on sale before Feb. 13, 2020. Those introduced to the market after that date were not eligible for the agency’s consideration.

FSA was inundated with CBD applications in early 2022 after stakeholders complained about the review process that guides the one-time chance for producers to get their gray-market products legal. The agency eventually reopened the application window by one full year, which brought a flood of additional products to the list, nearly quadrupling the original number under review from roughly 3,500 to more than 12,000.

Of those 12,000, roughly 5,000 are in the “validated” or first stage of the FSA’s review while 6,000 have advanced to the second stage, in which they face safety assessment. More than 400 products have been eliminated from consideration and banned from the market.

FSA said it expects the first CBD products to be fully authorized during the latter half of 2023. 

The UK’s domestic CBD market is estimated to have a value of roughly £690 million ($850 million/€798 million).

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