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Over-the-counter CBD vs prescription cannabis – expert brand guidance from the MCCS

With over-the-counter (OTC) CBD more accessible than prescription medical cannabis in the UK right now, new guidance may help consumers find a reputable product.

Over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products are now very popular in the UK and it is a growing, multi-million pound market.  Whilst UK brands are not allowed to make medical claims about their products, many users are adding it to their supplement routine in order to address and manage their health concerns, whether they be physical or mental health issues.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that doctors and pharmacists are often asked about which CBD products to choose.

OTC CBD is easily accessible by purchasing online or in-stores and is cheaper than a medical prescription.  

When it comes to prescribed medical cannabis, other cannabinoids, like THC, may also be needed to produce an optimal effect.

In medical cases where CBD alone is sufficient, or when the condition is not eligible for a prescription, OTC CBD may be a preferred option due to cost, accessibility and ease of access.

So, what is the problem with OTC CBD?

Well, the issue arises in that there are now hundreds of CBD companies, a bewildering choice of product types, strength, brands and so on. As a result, choosing a CBD brand and knowing what you are getting is not easy.

If a patient asks their GP or pharmacists about CBD, they may not feel confident offering any advice.

How is the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society addressing this?

The Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society (MCCS) is a UK, expert-led, independent group of clinicians with an interest in cannabis medicine.

They have seen the UK CBD market grow over the past few years, and they recognise that there have been instances where OTC CBD products breach the applicable regulatory standards, either in label claims, quality, or the Misuse of Drugs Regulations.

To address this important safety issue,  they have set out relevant criteria that they see as necessary for products to make the grade and, therefore, be safe and trustworthy for use in the UK.

“Good CBD” criteria

The MCCS has considered the criteria that a medical practitioner would want to see in a good quality product, and the full report can be seen here

Examples of the 10 criteria include:

Does the company provide Certificates of Analysis (CoA) for their products?

Do they make any medical claims?

Does the product clearly state the allergens?

Does the company highlight the FSA recommended daily dosage guidance?

Does the product contain legal levels of controlled cannabinoids?

These are criteria that you may expect from a product available to purchase online and often on the shelves of high street stores, but surprisingly a significant number of those reviewed by the MCCS did not meet the criteria

What did this research highlight about the UK CBD market?

It was apparent from MCCS’s market analysis that some CBD companies are not adhering to guidance and regulations such as, stating medical claims (e.g. relief from anxiety or pain) or failing to include certificates of analysis. These factors are concerning and misleading for consumers.

Among other safe measures, companies should be recommending that pregnant or breastfeeding women do not use CBD, and that those on any other medication first speak to a healthcare professional. Companies also need to ensure that minors (i.e. those under 18 years of age) are not purchasing online by improving security measures regarding proof of age.

Summary and next steps

This report is aspirational and not legally enforceable; however it is reputable, independent guidance provided to healthcare professionals (GP’s, pharmacists etc) as a trusted guide for when patients ask for their advice on choosing a CBD brand.

CBD companies can contact MCCS moving forward if they believe they meet the criteria, and the MCCS urge all new and existing brands to adhere to this guidance to support consumers wellbeing as well as the credibility of this growing UK market.

This article was written by Tincture Tailor a cannabis wellness company which features in the MCCS list of approved CBD brands.  The article was published by Cannabis Health Magazine.

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