THC in CBD oil & CBD novel food. Are you consuming safe CBD products?

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Last reviewed on: 3 December 21

There are misconceptions about food safety among consumers and marketeers of CBD products. THC in CBD oils and CBD edibles marketed with levels below 0.2% EU | 0.3% US imply legal and safe to consume.

However, the %THC threshold relates to cultivation only, it has no bearing on the safety of the final product for human ingestion.

Furthermore, almost all CBD products in Europe and the UK require an approved novel food application to be sold as a food safe product. To date there are no CBD products with approved novel food status.

However, hidden in plain sight is the lesser known cold pressed CBD oil. A product of mechanically cold pressing the Hemp plant, where all the compounds of the plant are released without chemical alteration to the oil. This doesn’t require novel food application, as it is already accepted as a food safe method in Europe.

THC is the psychoactive compound in Cannabis

THC in CBD oil. Chemical composition of THC, Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol.

Delta‐9‐tetrahydrocannabinol or simply THC, is a chemical compound called a Phyto cannabinoid. One of 100+ identified in various strains of Cannabis Stevia L. THC is the primary psychoactive compound of the plant.

In a growing plant it mainly occurs in its non-psychoactive acid forms; THCa-A and THCa-B. Whereas the process of decarboxylation, converts THCa to the psychoactive compound THC. Depending on the concentration of THC, it can induce a ‘high’ associated with smoking or eating Cannabis.

Many refer to Cannabis containing higher concentrations of THC as marihuana. However, we would prefer to see this term dropped. Leaving it in the past along with its racist connotations promoted during prohibition in the US.

Hemp and Cannabis plant classification

Info graphic Hemp vs Cannabis

The 2018 US farm bill allowed for large-scale cultivation of industrial hemp by licensed growers. Both Cannabis and Hemp are variations of the same Cannabis plant. What creates the classification to legal industrial Hemp or illegal Cannabis is the THC content by dry weight. Where the THC levels are below 0.3% dry weight, the harvest classifies as industrial hemp. Similarly, 0.3% in Canada and China.

In Europe these levels were 0.5%, dropped to 0.3%, and in 1999 reduced to 0.2%. The reduction aimed at minimising production for illicit use. However, the measure has not demonstrated any evidence of effectiveness. Instead, it has impacted Europe’s competitiveness in hemp production by restricting seed varieties.

European hemp associations have continued to lobby to revert to at least the 0.3% mark and their efforts have been heard. The THC level of 0.3% on harvest is to be restored from January 1st 2023; good news for EU farmers and the hemp industry as a whole! This will increase the range of approved seeds for EU agriculture leveling the competitive playing field with the rest of the world.

When cultivated by licensed growers, plants of the Cannabis Stevia L. variety with less than 0.3%(US) | 0.2% (EU) THC by dry weight classify as industrial hemp. Anything above these levels are illegal without special licencing for growing varieties classified under Medical Cannabis. Hemp products like CBD oil derive from industrial hemp.

Safe levels of THC in CBD oils and CBD edibles

In Europe, EU food law sets no tolerance in food for THC, considered essentially a contaminant. However, in 2015 the European Food Safety Authority ( EFSA ) set the safety limit – acute reference dose ( ARfD ) for the consumption of THC at 0.001mg/kg of body weight.

This sets a level of daily or short-term consumption where no psychoactive effects would be expected. Therefore, a serving containing less than 0.1mg of THC is considered safe for a 100 kg adult.

Survey of CBD oils and edibles market by authorities

February 2020 the Food Safety Authority of Ireland ( FSAI ) carried out a survey regarding hemp-derived CBD oils and edibles on the Irish market. These finding are very similar to other like surveys commissioned in other countries in Europe and the US.

Using the EFSA’s 2015 ARfD the FSAI determined which products were considered unsafe for consumers and had them recalled.
With respect to the products sampled, other findings included:

• A high proportion of issues with the declared amounts of CBD. Levels were significantly different to those analytically determined and therefore likely misleading consumers.

• A considerable number of products were not notified to the FSAI. A requirement for all food supplements under Irish law.

• More than half of products sampled had associated unauthorised medical, health and nutrition claims.

• They also applied the interpretation that using non-aqueous extraction including Supercritical CO2, Ethanol etc did not produce food supplements but novel foods.

Just like traces of alcohol will not get you drunk; trace amounts of THC will not get you high

The basis of the EFSA’s 2015 ARfD level is scientifically questionable.

For a CBD Hemp product to create a high, THC levels would have to be far greater than the 0.2% levels acceptable in the EU to grow industrial hemp. Most studies indicate 2.5-5mg for isolated THC to have any measurable psychoactive effect and others confirming CBD counteracts the psychotropic effects of THC.

A study published December 2020 on the impairing effects of THC while driving concluded that there was no significant difference in driving by subjects taking CBD 13.75mg+THC 1.53mg dose and a placebo control.

Currently under the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) consortium partnership the largest study ever undertaken to demonstrate the safety of trace amounts of THC is being carried out with up to 200 participants in the clinical study.

Based in scientific fact this will enable EU authorities to establish once and for all safe limits of THC in food. The research costing over €3.5million might also help to address Ireland’s continued enforcement of outdated legislation.

CBD Novel foods

Infograpic - showing conditions whereby a CBD product classifies as novel food. CBD Synthetics, Isolates and enriched cannabinoid products are novel foods. Lipid, Supercritical Co2 and other solvent based extractions by require novel food approval. Mechanically cold pressed hemp is exempt.

In many parts of Europe and mostly all US states you can buy food products containing CBD. Everything from coffee, beer, water, gummies, brownies, oils and whatever else is flavour of the month.

However, according to the current position of the FDA, products containing CBD cannot be sold as dietary supplements. Nor used as an ingredient in conventional food under the FD&C act and are illegal in interstate commerce.

In Europe and the UK, CBD products are mostly treated as novel foods. These are foods that have not been consumed to a significant degree in the EU before 15 May 1997. This was when the first regulation on novel foods came into force. Ultimately this is aimed at protecting the health of consumers.

CBD products like lab grown synthetic CBD, isolates or cannabinoid enriched products require approval; before being considered safe for consumption. Where the process of extraction selectively extracts, concentrates, or removes compounds, the final product is significantly different from Hemp. In this case the product may also fall under the scope of novel food.

Currently, there are no CBD brands in the UK or Europe approved as a Novel Food.

Cold Pressed CBD oil – Wholefood Hemp Products

Hemp and related products, such as whole plant cold-pressed CBD oils, are not novel because there is evidence to show a history of consumption before May 1997.

Mechanical cold pressing is a method of extraction used for centuries in Europe. Just like producing extra virgin olive oil; it’s simply applied pressure that extracts the plant oils and juices, it does not alter the chemical structures of the plant.

This should not be confused with supercritical Co2 extraction which is a solvent based method sometimes marketed as ‘cold’ pressed. Technically its a low temperature process, but it is not a traditional food safe mechanical pressing of the plant. It destroys the cell wall to produce an orange foam precursor, that is further refined to resemble a ‘natural’ oil.

In some cases hemp seed oil with CBD isolate added is marketed as cold pressed CBD oil.

Consume quality, safe CBD Hemp products

Unless quality and purity are verified by 3rd party labs, think twice before consuming CBD products. In most CBD hemp products including isolate novel food, traces of THC may be found, while not considered a health risk it may be illegal in some countries or professions.

Even the non-psychoactive precursor THCa, while non-psychoactive is still considered a positive in workplace urine drug tests. Therefore, in general, if a workplace test is a concern for you do not consume hemp products.

For your peace of mind purchase products with recent, comprehensive 3rd party lab testing. In particular safety testing for contaminants and heavy metals. Be sure to understand the results and know the extraction process used. If it is anything other than mechanically cold pressed it may be considered an unapproved novel food in UK and Europe.

Our philosophy at Seshat Botanicals is consuming wholefood as first line support for body and mind. Give the body what it needs, it will adapt and find its own balance.

Our product Seshat HempOil+ is mechanically cold pressed certified organic whole plant oil. Non-psychoactive and non-addictive. 3rd party lab tests confirm THC is not detected, or is at the labs limit of quantitation. It is completely legal and safe. You can see our most recent test results here.

Our cold pressed whole plant oils are fully compliant with the food supplements Directive 2002/46/EC (S.I. 506 of 2007), the provision of food information to consumers Regulation (EU) no. 1169/2011 (S.I. no. 556 of 2014) and nutrition and health claims Regulation (EC) no. 1924/2006 (S.I. no. 11 of 2014).

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