Photo by Rick Proctor

Sorry, Your Hemp-Based CBD Oil Is Still Probably Illegal in Canada

Editor’s note, November 8, 2018:

This story originally ran on April 16, 2018, and was titled ‘Sorry, Hemp-Based CBD Still Isn’t Legal in Canada’.

A few things have changed since then: adult recreational cannabis is now legal, as are certain hemp-based CBD products processed by Health Canada-approved licensed producers. Health Canada classifies CBD as a phytocannabinoid regardless of origin, and phytocannabinoids are regulated under the Cannabis Act. The production, possession and distribution rules that apply to other cannabis products are the same for hemp-derived CBD products.

So if anyone tells you that their American-produced hemp CBD oil is legal in Canada, or that hemp-derived concentrates are covered under the Industrial Hemp Act, the most generous thing we can say is that they are misinformed.

Don’t believe us? Please see this section of the act, which spells it out.

Thanks for reading!

-DS

Most mornings, Lorraine Crawford wakes up with a stiff, painful body. The Toronto resident and fibromyalgia patient relies on cannabis oil to help alleviate her pain. Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue throughout the body. “The combination oil helps me sleep at night,” says Crawford, “and if I wake up stiff, I’ll take the oil in the morning just to help me get through the day.” It also means she can enjoy taking her dogs, Ruby and Luna, for a walk in her Rexdale neighbourhood.

Since her diagnosis in February, Crawford has joined a few fibromyalgia support groups on Facebook. She says that these groups have been helpful, but that they can also become marketplaces for people to tout their wares and spread misinformation. “I don’t like seeing people in pain being taken advantage of,” says Crawford.

One product that can leave many confused is CBD-rich hemp oil, which some sellers allege is legal to produce or import into Canada.

The buzz about CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the most well-known cannabinoids found in cannabis, alongside its sibling tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD does not have the same psychoactive properties as THC, but it does have therapeutic analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. The CBD molecule is the same regardless of whether it comes from marijuana or from its botanical cousin, hemp. And this is where the confusion seems to originate. If CBD oil from marijuana is legal by prescription, surely CBD oil from hemp is as well… right?

Wrong.

Under Canada’s Industrial Hemp Regulations (IHR), hemp seed oil must contain no more than 10 parts per million THC and no CBD. At the same time, the production of products or derivatives from whole industrial hemp plants, not just the seed, falls under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), not the IHR, or the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR). And the ACMPR do not include hemp as a source of authorized cannabis products.

“Hemp as a medicine has never been approved in Canada,” says Jennifer-Kelly Larry, president of CBD Strategy Group, a brand strategy firm serving the cannabis industry.

“There are no documents under any of the ACMPR stating that CBD hemp products can be found in legal licensed producers (LPs) and are available for purchase.”

In other words, drugs containing any form of cannabis are currently restricted to prescription-only access, since it is still a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). However, any legal hemp-based products you might find in a retail store are permitted because they meet government regulations.

So, if you stumble upon a hemp-based product that claims to contain a high amount of CBD, it is either a restricted product that has slipped through the system or doesn’t contain enough CBD for therapeutic value.

Can I import hemp-based CBD from the States?

Another source of confusion is that many American states allow the sale of hemp-based CBD, despite restricting all other forms of cannabis. But just because you can get legal hemp products in the U.S., doesn’t mean you’re allowed to bring them here.

“This is a challenge I imagine many Canadian citizens have because they may come across polished, beautiful websites selling these products,” says Larry. “But until the government passes the Cannabis Act, if individuals choose to purchase hemp products from such websites, they are living in the grey zone.”

Be wary of anyone trying to sell CBD-rich hemp oil, as only hemp seed oil – with less than 0.3 per cent THC and no CBD – is currently authorized for retail sale. If you are researching medical cannabis or already have a prescription, make sure to ask lots of questions.

“I’ve found that ‘snake oil’ sellers usually get really defensive,” says Crawford of the sellers in her Facebook groups. “Two in particular were trying their hands, and now both have been absolutely quiet since they’ve been found out. The more experienced members of these groups will question these sellers immediately, but the sellers won’t answer any specific questions.”

It’s an exciting time for cannabis in Canada, but it’s crucial for individuals seeking cannabis therapy to do their research and talk to licensed professionals. THC and CBD are still controlled substances and can only be procured through a prescription, which must be filled by a licensed producer.

The future of hemp-based CBD in Canada

Hemp is a much richer source of CBD than cannabis, and it makes economic sense to extract CBD from this abundant crop. Currently, Canadian farmers are forced to destroy the leaves and flowers of their hemp plants. But this will all change when the Cannabis Act comes into effect, likely in the late summer or fall of 2018. Once enacted, hemp farmers will be able to sell their crops to licensed producers for CBD extraction.

For consumers like Crawford, regulating both hemp and cannabis-based CBD under the same set of rules will provide some much-needed clarity.

“It’s my hope that younger and older generations can have access to medicines that will allow them to live their lives and not get stuck on the couch from opioid-based medications,” says Crawford. “Cannabis can help a lot of people, the legal way, without them getting duped.”