CBD laws UK

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CBD regulation & law in UK – 2023

To understand CBD law in the UK in 2023 we need to take a closer look at CBD – or cannabidiol – and its origins. The CBD in CBD oils on the UK market mainly comes from ‘Industrial hemp’ – also known by its Latin name Cannabis sativa L.

Historically, Industrial hemp has been cultivated for its fibre for use in clothing, paper and building materials. More recently, in part due to technological advancements and a better understanding of its therapeutic properties, Industrial Hemp is grown to make CBD for use in food, food supplements, cosmetics and vape products.

Is CBD legal in the UK in 2023?

According to UK law, CBD is legal provided controlled cannabinoids such as THC are limited to no more than 1 mg per container. But the picture is more complicated than that. Let’s look at the UK laws and regulations surrounding this remarkable substance.


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CBD regulation is changing 

Current laws in the UK governing CBD are not fit for purpose. This is because they were drawn up before the CBD oils appeared in the market. The laws are yet to catch up. 

Over the next few years we can expect to see a refinement of current CBD law in the UK. Work is ongoing in the background to clarify and the laws for CBD in the UK. One grey area is the legal limit of THC. Read on to learn more.

Speed read UK CBD laws in 1 minute 

Short on time? Read our quick guide on UK CBD law and regulation below. Further explanation follows the speed read section.

Updated: January 2023

Importing raw CBD into the UK

No strict requirements apply for importing CBD into the UK provided THC is below 0.0025%* or not detected* by the authorities at the border.

*as verified by UKAS accredited ISO lab or equivalent with LOQ 0.0025%. 

Selling CBD oils, other supplements, food & drink in the UK

As of 13th February 2020, new products on the market require a Novel Food application.

Selling CBD cosmetics 

Cosmetic regulation applies to CBD cosmetics along with specific rules relating to the CBD.

Selling CBD vapes 

Non-nicotine vape product regulation applies. Refer to General Product Safety Regulations. 

CBD flowers 

The sale of ‘CBD Flowers’ and buds is prohibited even if THC is below 0.2% and from EU approved origin. Read on to learn more.

Hemp Licence 

Whether you wish to apply for novel food status or any other type of license relating to CBD or hemp requires significant capital, time and resources.

Selling CBD in other EU markets

Each Member State has their own laws on CBD, most more strict than the UK. Expert advice is required to navigate local laws.


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What is legal THC limit in UK: 0.2% or 1mg?

There is a misconception that the THC limit in the UK is 0.2%. This is incorrect.  To clarify, the 0.2% figure refers to the cultivation of cannabis. It does not apply to CBD products derived by modern solvent and supercritical extraction, the methods by which the CBD products on the market are made. 

THC limit in UK is not 0.2%

So the 0.2% limit does not relate to the CBD oils, capsules, drinks available bought in shops. In fact, we are advising that products should contain no THC (or ‘not detected’) as verified by an accredited lab with a limit of detection of 0.0025%. We explore this matter in more detail below.

Guidance on the legal THC limit

The reason for the confusion on THC limits is probably because the rules for THC limits for CBD are not explicit in UK law. But we can get some clarity from the cannabis and controlled drug laws including Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, 2001 and 2010. These laws lay down the strict conditions for which THC is allowed. 

Specifically, under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, ‘exempt product’ status allows for the presence of no more than 1 mg of THC per pack provided certain conditions are met.

‘Exempt Product’

The ‘exempt product’ framework is not suitable for CBD products by virtue of its conditions. Nevertheless, the UK authorities have been applying this limit and testing CBD products at the UK border and seizing products that test for over 1mg of THC (per container). Learn more with our online CBD regulation course

CBD as a Novel Food

Authorities in the UK & EU member states now regard food, drink and food supplements with CBD as a “novel food”. A key requirement of novel food regulation is premarket authorisation, which means any manufacturer intending to put CBD into food are required to apply to the FSA in the UK and EFSA in EU (depending on where you want to market).

Examples of CBD foods in scope of novel food regulations:

  • CBD oils, capsules & oral sprays
  • CBD gummies, mints & other sweets
  • CBD infused tea, coffee, beer and soft drinks
  • CBD snacks including energy bars

Excluded from novel food regulations are CBD foods where the CBD is derived from cold pressed hemp seed oil or flour.

Read more about CBD as a novel food here.

Legality of CBD flower and bud in the UK

‘CBD flowers’ have become the popular term to mean the flower of cannabis. With claims of ‘legal’ levels of THC at below 0.2%, these products are commonly sold as ‘tea’. Despite the increasing availability of CBD flower in UK shops and online, they are in fact a controlled substance. Then why is it sold openly you might ask?


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Is CBD flower legal in the UK?

Like with many rules for CBD there is some confusion. Claims of legality of CBD flower made by retailers are commonly based on the fact that they have been sourced from ‘EU approved varieties’ and contain ‘less than 0.2% THC’.

Now, it is true that there are ‘EU approved varieties’ and these must have less than 0.2% THC (unless medicinal). But in the UK these rules relate to the cultivation of hemp for which a license is required; not for the sale of parts of the hemp plant.

To understand further we need to know more about the conditions of the hemp cultivation license. As part of the hemp cultivation license only the fibre and hemp seeds can be processed for commercial purposes (e.g hemp seed, hemp seed oil, hemp fibre for construction purposes etc).

Flowers must be destroyed at harvesting

The rest of the plant including the bud and flower must be (destroyed) left in the field to rot. On this basis, the bud and flower cannot be made for sale in shops. In the UK, only the stalks and seed can be processed to make building materials, hemp oil etc.

Is it illegal to sell CBD flowers in UK in 2023?

In 2023, it is illegal to sell CBD flowers in UK even if from an EU approved variety and THC content is below 0.2% for the reason set out above.


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UK Cannabis Laws: A Timeline

1928: Dangerous Drugs Act

First laws on the possession of cannabis introduced in Britain

1967: Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act

Recommendations made to reduce the penalties for possession of cannabis

1971: The Misuse of Drugs Act

A restriction is placed on the cultivation of all species of cannabis plant

2001: The Misuse of Drugs Regulations

New laws permits cannabis cultivation under a special licence issued by the Home Office and the smoking of cannabis for research purposes.

2015: The Misuse of Drugs (Designation)

The Misuse of Drugs paves the way for the first ‘medical marijuana’: Sativex – the first cannabis-based medicine in the UK –  is allowed on to the UK market under prescription.

2025: Draft new rules for CBD?

New CBD laws coming soon!


CBD Terminology

CBD – Cannabidiol. A cannabinoid. Non-psychoactive. Has medicinal properties.

Cannabinoid – A group of compounds almost unique to the cannabis plant. Other cannabinoids include THC, CBN, CBG and CBC.

THC – tetrahydrocannabinol. Psychoactive – the cannabinoid in cannabis responsible for mood changing effects (euphoria and sedation). Has medicinal properties.

Sativex – is the trade name for UK’s only approved cannabis-based medicine. An oral spray containing 2.7 mg THC and 2.5 mg CBD.

‘Cannabis, Hemp, Industrial hemp’ – what’s the difference in the name?

The plant genus: Cannabis
The plant species: Cannabis sativa L.
The plant variety: Armanca, CannaKomp etc (over 90 varieties)
The crop: ‘Hemp’ or ‘Industrial hemp’


MHRA and CBD

Over the last few years, the MHRA – the UK health authority – has been releasing sporadic statements on their view of the regulatory status of CBD and cannabinoid-containing products. The latest statement from December 2016 reads as follows:

Our primary concern is patient safety and we wish to reiterate that individuals using cannabidiol (CBD) products to treat or manage the symptoms of medical conditions should discuss their treatment with their doctor.

MHRA will now work with individual companies and trade bodies in relation to making sure products containing CBD, used for a medical purpose, which can be classified as medicines, satisfy the legal requirements of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012.

They have also written to some companies that market CBD products on their opinion. We can expect more statements from the MHRA in due course.

Trading Standards and CBD

Trading Standards is the authority that oversees the CBD retail market. So far, little has been said by the Chartered Institute of Trading Standards on the topic of CBD. This is probably because they are waiting for a UK regulatory framework and instruction from the MHRA and other authorities. But in due course, we are likely to see a surveying of the UK market including CBD and THC lab testing of product sold from shops.

Trading Standards may also investigate non-compliant labelling such as health and medicinal claims. Along with the police, they have the power to seize non-compliant or unsafe product from retail outlets.

September 2018: Police raided and confiscated product from a shop in Plymouth. Officers supported by Trading Standards seized the products for “testing and police enquiries” as reported by Plymouth Live.