What you need to know: using cannabis or its derivatives in a food and drink product

12 February, 2019

Here at Leatherhead Food Research, our Regulatory department has been monitoring the recent developments occurring within cannabis and cannabis-based ingredients. With our ‘Novel Food Application Dossier Service’ we’re leading the way in providing regulatory, toxicological and scientific expertise and knowledge to companies seeking to develop and/or utilise Cannabidiol (CBD) and any cannabis-related ingredients/products.

With all eyes on Canada, which legalised cannabis in October 2018, there is cautious but palpable interest from food, beverage and pet food companies in using cannabis and its derivatives in food and drink product applications. Every aspect of the supply chain, from crop specification to bioavailability within product are currently being scrutinised by product developers with oversight from technical, regulatory, sensory and consumer insight teams to ensure product safety, compliance and acceptability.

So, what do you need to know if you’re considering the use of cannabis or its derivatives in a food and drink product?

Hemp and marijuana are two different species of cannabis, a highly complex plant with over 400 chemical substances. Of interest are the two cannabinoids, which are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). The key difference between these two are that THC is psychoactive, whereas CBD is not. Hemp, or even industrial hemp, has very low concentrations of THC (~0.3% or less), whereas marijuana is abundant with THC being over 0.3% onwards to ~40%, depending on varieties

Our ‘Novel Food Application Dossier Service’ can provide regulatory, toxicological and scientific expertise and knowledge to support any companies seeking to develop and/or utilise CBD and any cannabis-related ingredients/products.

In Europe, although the European Commission’s Novel Food Catalogue [1] indicates that some products derived from the Cannabis sativa L. plant or plant parts such as seeds, seed oil, hemp seed flour, defatted hemp seed have a history of consumption in the EU and therefore, are not novel; the uses of these ingredients may be restricted as a food or food ingredient in some individual EU Member States and manufacturers are therefore strongly recommended to check the regulatory status of these ingredients at EU Member State’s national level.

However, any extracts from Cannabis sativa plant, created by other industrial processes than cold pressing used to produce Cannabis sativa L. seed oil, and any derived products containing CBD, are considered as novel in the EU, and will therefore have to be submitted for a pre-market safety assessment under the EU Novel Food legislation. The Novel Food Application process is crucial in ensuring that any food/food ingredients not available on the EU market before 15 May 1997, are safe before reaching the consumers. Due to the complexities associated with the cannabis and hemp species, varieties, extraction methods, purification methods and so forth, the journey is not expected to be smooth sailing.

A novel food application for ‘trans-cannabidiol’ to be used in food supplements in the EU intended for the adult population and excluding pregnant and lactating women is currently being assessed in the EU. The full novel food assessment process takes a minimum of 17 months so if all goes well, this ingredient may be approved to be used in the EU by mid-2020.

If you want to learn more, have any questions about the use of cannabis, CBD or novel foods please get in touch – or need regulatory advice or guidance on this or other topics please get in touch to see how we can assist you.

We can also advise and support on a range of other services including regulatory advice, product development, consumer insight evaluation and marketing insight review, all of which are vital to successful market launches.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/novel_food_en


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