In 2018 cannabis products were finally legalized in Canada when the Cannabis Act was introduced. This was highly regarded as the right move for a Majority of Canadians who were already purchasing from the black market. There were of course certain regulations put into place regarding the point of sale and distribution in Canada relating to Cannabis products.
Cannabidiol (CBD) on the other hand seems to be left behind and due to being grouped into the Cannabis Act, it’s treated like its counterpart Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as a regulated product. There is of course a very significant difference between CBD and THC though. THC which is known to be a recreational and medical drug intoxicates while CBD on the opposite end does not have an intoxicating effect. This is a significant difference for people who are looking for the healing powers of Cannabis without the intoxicating effects of THC.
If you were unaware of all these changes and rules and simply did a google search on “where to buy CBD in Canada”, you would think it’s totally legal in all channels and accessible everywhere. This is due to the significant black market of CBD products in Canada. Consumers are not educated by any means on the legal paths to buying CBD and the government of Canada has done a poor job up to this point on regulating CBD as the USA has done as of 2018.
In the United States Of America, you can buy CBD containing under .03% at many different retail channels online or in person. In 2018 Donald trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This law made CBD products that contained under .03% THC a product under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and no longer classified as controlled substances as illegal under federal law.
In the above chart, you can see the interest in 2018 for searches of “CBD” in the USA. The searches peaked in 2018 due to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
Comparing the first chart above to the second chart, the second chart is for people in Canada searching for CBD. You can see the same spike in 2018 which we can only assume was due to the Act in 2018 in the USA.
Due to the popularity of Canadians searching for CBD in Canada and no real products in legal pathways, this became a haven for the illicit market to thrive and has continued to thrive for the last 5 years. So where does this leave us?
Will Canada make buying CBD easier for Canadians in the future?
That’s the big question mark that everyone in the illicit market is really hoping for. Do companies really want to be taking a chance on something that could cause them to get in trouble, likely not. They want a pathway to be able to create great products and bring a product to the market which has as many or more benefits as THC, but without the intoxicating effects, but in a legal way.
Health Canada Public Consultation
In 2019, only a year after making marijuana products legal in Canada, Health Canada became aware that Canadians also really wanted cannabis products for therapeutic uses such as sleep, pain relief, or even for their animals which did not need to consult a physician. Health Canada released a questionnaire for Canadians to give feedback on.
The consult sought information from Canadians on the type of products they would want to see legal. Once the consult was finished there were a finalized number of 1,104 people who responded to that consult. Out of those 1,104 individuals who submitted feedback, 85% of them desired to use these products, such as CBD, to treat issues such as inflammation or pain, headaches, arthritis, joint paint, mental health such as anxiety or depression, sleep aids, and so on. From our knowledge of the CBD industry in Canada currently, this certainly lines up with the knowledge we have about what consumers are buying high CBD and low THC products for.
The overall goal of the 2019 consult into CBD products was to see if there was a potential market for these products containing cannabis without practitioner insight. Health Canada this point intended to create an advisory committee in 2020 to seek external scientific advice that would support the consideration of this.
Health Canada 2020 Scientific Committee formed
On the back of the Health Canada Public Consultation held in 2019, Health Canada created the Science Advisory Committee on Health Products Containing Cannabis. The goal of The Committee was the provide scientific and clinical advice on the basis of these products being used without practitioner oversight. This is essentially the same model as they have in the USA, there is no practitioner oversight needed if the product contains under .03% THC.
Between November 2020 and December 2021 The Committee met a total of 12 times.
In March of 2022 The Committee’s finally awaited review was published.
Science Advisory Committee on Health Products Containing Cannabis Review
Health Canada gave the Committee four objectives:
- Assess the evidence regarding the safety, efficacy, and quality of cannabis.
- Provide the information to Health Canada in which they should consider when making the decision on which products can be used without needing a doctor’s advice
- Look into and explain any issues that arise in regards to dosage thresholds and conditions when they are being used without a doctor’s advice
- Suggest priorities and considerations for research for the therapeutic uses
The Committee early on decided to focus exclusively on products containing CBD.
A summary of items The Committee focused on:
- Information gaps on the use of CBD in health products
- The safety of CBD overall in regards to dosing, is it safe and tolerable, is there potential for serious risk of overdosing, etc.
- The side effects of CBD, looking at the evidence
- Can using CBD be habit forming
- What are the considerations and risks for public health?
- Is there evidence that CBD may be effective?
- Factors to determine dosages
- Looking at animal safety if CBD is used for pets.
- Is CBD suitable specifically for dogs without veterinary oversight
- Research considerations for human use
A summary of recommendations that The Committee made after their review and following the four objectives that Health Canada gave them.
- Agreeance that it was not appropriate for CBD to be used by children, adolescents, or youth without a doctor’s insight, breastfeeding mothers.
- The Committee agreed that CBD is safe and tolerable for short-term use (max of 30 days)
- CBD products should include any potential interactions with other drugs
- Any CBD products should include a warning on the label ofo the product. Mostly these warnings would be for breastfeeding mothers, people considering getting pregnant, and women who are pregnant.
- Clear dosing instructions should be listed on the bottle with potential side effects at higher dosages
- CBD is not habit forming
- CBD should be packaged in boxes so that inserts can be placed into the box with further information
- There was supporting evidence that CBD is beneficial for dogs, but not enough information is available to make further recommendations. Most information is regarding dogs with arthritis.
- The committee recommends that high-quality clinical studies are done further on CBD and other phytocannabinoids.
What’s the next step for Health Canada and CBD products?
From the above information, you can tell that Health Canada certainly seems to be on the right path for allowing CBD to become possibly a Natural Health Product (NHP). If CBD products were regulated as an NHP in Canada this would give Canadians much easier access and retail points Canada-wide. We could see it being available online, in natural health food stores, anywhere else you would see vitamins, etc.
We would hope that the path to re-regulating CBD products would be a quick process but due to the fact, the Cannabis act would have to be amended to restructure CBD products we assume this is a few years away. Nonetheless, the process seems to have started and they are on the right track.
We are among the most hopeful to see CBD products in Canada widely available.