UK CBD market ‘the world’s second largest behind US’, association body claims

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Sarah Pender
Image: Getty/Sarah Pender

Related tags Cbd

Consumer demand for CBD products has soared during lockdown, according to the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI), which estimates the sector will generate £690 million in annual sales this year, above a previous forecast of £526 million.

The body’s new report, jointly written with the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC), concludes that the UK now has the most evolved regulatory framework in the world for CBD, citing recent interventions by the Foods Standards Agency to consider what are safe and tolerable levels of THC contained in products. The FSA began formally accepting Novel Foods applications for CBD products from January 2021.

The report, called Green Shoots - Sowing The Seeds Of The New UK Cannabis Industry​, argued that the UK market represents a key growth sector for the UK and it is time for the government to adopt a proactive strategy to seize opportunities in cannabinoids.

The report authors call for a dedicated agency to licence and oversee the industry; a new centre of excellence to fund, synthesise and promulgate the best new clinical evidence to boost the UK’s nascent medicinal cannabis market; and urgent reform of licensing policy to steer and harness the emerging scientific evidence across the whole spectrum: from agri-science and plant genetics, to novel synthetics, new therapies and clinical trials.

“The size of this cannabinoid sector is now impossible to ignore. Today’s report reveals that sales of CBD products up to the year end of April 2021 are valued at £690m, almost a third higher than our last projection in 2019,”​ said CMC and ACI co-founder Paul Birch, adding: “Almost without notice and certainly by accident rather than design, the UK has improbably become the world’s second largest consumer cannabinoids market.”

Steve Moore, co-founder and strategic counsel to the CMC and ACI, noted: “With new government support the accidental consumer cannabis revolution that has allowed CBD to become available on every high street in the UK could become permanent, nurturing hundreds of new businesses, thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in exports. It’s hard to imagine there many more industries that could benefit almost immediately from the proposals set out in our report.”

He observed the size of the cannabinoid sector is “getting impossible to ignore… We now spend more on cannabis extracts than Vitamin B and C combined.”

He said that the regulatory confusion in the period before the novel food status of CBD extracts was confirmed allowed a 'grey’ market to flourish which “has created huge consumer demand for these products, one the pandemic has predictably accelerated given what we know about why people purchase CBD. But it remains a sector that is wholly dependent on overseas import of raw materials and is now crying out for a public policy framework to reap the latent economic and social benefits of cannabinoids”.

FSA reveals first products list

The report comes after the FSA published its list of CBD products that can remain on sale in the UK until a decision on their authorisation is made​.

This list, when it was first published at the end of April, contained only 22 products from just three countries. Sarah Ellson, co-head of regulatory and cannabis expert at Fieldfisher, said the short list of authorised products – from around 400 applications in total from CBD products intended for food or beverages -- was “surprising and perhaps worrying for the current state of the UK CBD market”.

However, it is believed it could take up to a year to for CBD products to get the green light, due to the need to submit time-consuming toxicological dossiers before they can receive FSA authorisation. The FSA’s list of CBD products that can remain on sale in the UK until final approval is updated on a weekly basis as the FSA processes applications and now has 44 products made by four companies. Meanwhile, no CBD product that has applied for FSA authorisation to stay on the market is believed to have been rejected.

Moore told FoodNavigator he expects all of the applications submitted by ACI members (covering hundreds of products from 17 companies) to be approved by the summer of 2022. He added that he expects members to be able to sell CBD products to markets in mainland Europe. Late last year the European Commission resumed Novel Food applications for edible CBD products.

“The approvals here in the UK should meet all the EU's requirements as well,”​ he said. “We're basically following line by line the EU's novel food process and we've strongly advised our members to make submissions to EFSA as well as the FSA.”​