CBD started the biggest wellness trend in decades. Is the UK ready for it?


With an estimated global market value of over $414 million, the CBD industry is without a doubt the fastest-growing subsector in the wellness industry, and it’s on track to exceed $3 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 33.5%.

From health professionals to celebrities and influencers, it seems that everyone is talking about. And that’s not surprising, considering that CBD has a plethora of health benefits. So far, clinical studies have shown that CBD is effective for certain forms of epilepsy, and research on the role of CBD in the management of anxiety and chronic pain also looks promising. However, users also report excellent results when using CBD for inflammation, acne, and psoriasis.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis only accelerated customers’ interest in CBD. Stuck at home, trying to cope as best as they could with the stress of the pandemic, many people tried CBD in its various forms, from the classic CBD oil to newer varieties, such as sprays, powders, creams, and edibles. Although trade has focused mainly on essential supplies during the lockdown, borders weren’t closed, and stores did manage to maintain the supply chain. CBD is now a part of everyday life, and it’s about to get bigger.

CBD consumers fall into two categories:

  • People who take CBD to treat a chronic illness: people with severe anxiety, chronic pain (such as the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, or migraines), or epilepsy.
  • People who take CBD recreationally, to relax and improve their sense of calm and focus.

Given this growing popularity, CBD (and the hemp industry as a whole) is also becoming a major investment opportunity. However, sentiment differs across the globe. While the US has been quick to embrace CBD and its potential, other countries, like the UK, are still navigating regulatory roadblocks.

The current status of the CBD market in the UK

By the latest estimates, the current value of the CBD market in the UK has reached £300 million, but this number is expected to triple by 2027. At present, more than 8 million Brits take CBD, either for health concerns or relaxation purposes, and demand continues to increase. Encouraged by the many studies conducted on the benefits of CBD, and the glowing reviews that products get online, people are more and more open towards CBD. The initial scepticism is regarding the effects of cannabinol, but that’s one quickly to dispel: unlike THC, the psychoactive compound in the hemp plant, CBD does not get you high or alter your behaviour in a negative way. On the contrary, CBD has been scientifically proven to induce a sense of calm and relaxation.

CBD has become so popular that, for the first time ever, CBD sales have overtaken those of vitamin C and vitamin D as the most popular health supplement. In 90% of cases, Brits buy CBD online, where there’s a broader product selection.

Apart from CBD oil (the most popular CBD consumption method), they also buy other products, such as CBD spray, edibles, powders, tinctures, and creams. Since CBD has different effects depending on how it is consumed and where it is applied, it’s normal to see consumers experimenting with intake options. For example, people who need to feel the effects of CBD throughout the day (such as those struggling with chronic anxiety) prefer oral CBD products, while the ones who need immediate results (i.e. chronic pain management), are more likely to purchase CBD vape pens.

In terms of regulation, things are a bit unclear, and there are a number of guidelines that consumers need to consider.

First of all, CBD is legal in the UK but only as long as it doesn’t include more than trace amounts of THC (>0.2%). Under UK legislation, THC classifies as a controlled substance and consumption is prohibited.

Secondly, CBD is only legal in the UK if the manufacturer can prove that the product is derived from an approved industrial hemp strain. This can come either from the EU or outside of it, but it has to be approved.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions as to what people can and cannot do with CBD. Even though CBD consumption is legal in the UK regulations are generally quite strict when it comes to growing and selling cannabis or hemp:

  • Producers need a license from the UK Home Office.
  • Companies who sell CBD oil must be either authorised medical distributors or label the product as a supplement.
  • All CBD products must be labelled accordingly, following the guidelines from the Food Supplements (England) Regulations 2003.
  • Those who sell CBD products as cosmetics need to comply with the Cosmetic Product Safety Report (CPSR).
  • In addition to these CBD requirements, all CBD vape products must also comply with e-cigarette regulations.
  • Selling CBD flowers remains strictly prohibited in the UK, even if they have less than 0.2% THC and they are sourced from approved origins.

Although this isn’t exactly a law, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends people to limit their CBD dosage to 70 mg per day. This makes the UK the only country to set a recommended limit for CBD, even though the scientific community hasn’t backed up this limit. So far, studies show that a CBD overdose is almost impossible because one would need to consume a huge quantity of it. Plus, side effects are rare and shouldn’t normally pose a health threat.

After finding that certain CBD products were inconsistent with the claims on the label, the FSA pledged to better regulate the market and announced that sellers would have to submit the paperwork for a new license by March 2021. In theory, this should make CBD products safer for consumers, but many voices say that this red tape will backfire and kill many promising small, local companies and favour imports instead. At the same time, they’re also advocating for a strong, self-sustained local market, which has already proven to be quite resilient when faced with a pandemic.