With so much hype surrounding cannabidiol (CBD), from medical applications and skincare to investment opportunities and beyond, it can be difficult to hash out the truth around this curious substance. Not only that, but European entrepreneurs looking to enter the space are often faced with similar complexity from EU regulators.
Put the two together, and the entire value chain is discredited due to a lack of education.
To ease some of that stress, Strain Insider spoke with experts in the field to uncover the medical and retail applications of CBD. And for businesses based in Europe, we’ve also outlined the current regulatory landscape, focusing particularly on the esoteric novel food regulation.
Medical benefits and retail use cases of CBD
As Strain Insider has outlined on several occasions, there are several measurable benefits from consuming CBD in one form or another. Understanding these benefits has a lot to do with understanding how the human body functions.
The scientific community has long known that the human body has its very own cannabinoid system. The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) helps to regulate pain, mood as well as cognition, and it also aids the immune system. There are two different endocannabinoid receptors, with CB1 located typically in the brain regions and CB2 located primarily in bone marrow cells and throughout the immune system.
Adding CBD to this kind of system doesn’t simply overload each receptor, however. Instead, consuming CBD inhibits the enzyme FAAH from breaking down what some have called the ‘bliss molecule’, anandamide.
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that is responsible for feelings of happiness and uplifting moods. Increased levels of anandamide have shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as slowing down the formation of cancer cells. For a further breakdown of the science behind CBD, visit Strain Insider’s in-depth report here.
An artistic rendition of CBD blocking the enzyme FAAH from breaking down anandamide.
Since the discovery of and development around anandamide, CBD has found a home in almost every wellness-centric industry.
In the case of professional athletes, many of them take CBD to reduce neuropathic and inflammatory pain post-competition. This use case has quickly been adopted by patients of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases like asthma, peptic ulcers and multiple sclerosis.
This is just a brief smattering of the physical woes CBD can help soothe. The psychological impact has also been well-documented in the health community.
In an interview with Strain Insider, Dr. Scott Shannon, the Assistant Clinical Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado, explained that he and his colleagues have found many advantages in treating anxiety, sleeplessness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when using CBD.
Unfortunately, the research has been relatively thin. Dr. Shannon even confirmed that there simply wasn’t enough data to make categorical conclusions about the medical benefits of CBD. The lack of accurate information also makes it difficult to determine precise doses for retail markets. More on that shortly.
It’s in moments like these that regulators around the globe also begin to pay attention to a market. Federal authorities double down on their scrutiny when evidence points out that these products may inflict harm on their citizens. The vaping crisis in both Canada and the United States is a prime example.
Now, with a vast array of CBD-based skin creams, drinks and salves on offer, nation heads are following the CBD boom very closely indeed. The backing from the wellness and beauty scene is especially noticeable.
‘We will start to see CBD-infused makeup hit the scene this year in a big way. Think foundation and blush for all-day coverage and care, to mascara, eye pencils, and brow gels.’
This trend also comes with a serious bounty. In Europe, for instance, Brightfield Group, a CBD and cannabis research firm, predicts that the continent’s market ‘is expected to grow over 400 percent through 2023.’ This growth will likely fall on the shoulders of EU members Germany and France as well as the soon-to-be independent United Kingdom.
Despite popular opinion, none of these countries are approaching CBD regulation in the same way.
The current legislative patchwork in Europe has long been a worry for many businesses in Europe. Now, cannabis companies have to contend with a pesky novel food ruling from earlier this year.
Is Europe really open for CBD business?
The formation of the European Union and the slow but sure collection of countries into the agreement has been hugely advantageous. It allows a certain degree of uniformity for travel and currency, and it has helped modernise many member states. Though skeptics abound, especially since Brexit, the overall sentiment since its formation in 1993 has been positive. That being said, entrepreneurs or investors hoping for identical regulations throughout will be sorely mistaken.
In an event organised by ACTIVE, a European trade association focused on CBD, Frederik Hendriksen from Mile High Labs said:
‘Europe is difficult because you need to look at things on a country-by-country basis. What’s holding back the industry is the fragmentation.’
Indeed, every country on the continent has a unique approach to the production, sale and consumption of CBD. This disparity makes it incredibly difficult to move CBD-based products between EU members, too. Combine this regulatory uncertainty with a misunderstanding of what CBD is, chiefly its distinction from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), few investors are willing to take on such risk.
This is also a huge problem for consumers. At the moment, Europe is replete with various products and divergent standards in quality. ‘Companies need to realise that what the customer and market wants is high-quality products’, said Kathleen Denoodt, a legal and regulatory consultant for biotech companies, in an interview with Strain Insider.
She added that:
‘Unfortunately what we have on the market is a bit of everything, some high quality, some pure scams and some outright dangerous.’
With an extensive background working with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Denoodt is uniquely placed to witness the rise of cannabis in Europe.
She counselled several companies through the approval process for therapeutic medicines, genetic analysis and even introducing seed products to the retail market. ‘Medical cannabis’, said Denoodt, ‘is the exact crossroad of these experiences.’
Her advice for companies working in the cannabis space is, thus, pretty straightforward: ‘don’t cut corners on regulation, legislation or quality.’ For their part, authorities have very little research to rely on when attempting to draw up legislation focused on safety.
Denoodt said that, historically, individuals working at agencies like the EMA ‘are either specialists in plants or in medications. But regulators need to understand both parts of medicinal cannabis because you cannot make a quality medicinal product if your basis is not a quality plant grown under ideal circumstances.’
The confusion, mixed with over-hyped medicinal benefits, has created a thriving ‘grey’ market throughout Europe. The latest novel food regulation from the EU has only added to this. The ruling stipulates that products which haven’t been commonly consumed in Europe before 1993 need pre-authorisation before stores can shelve them. Enforcing this regulation, however, has been a mixed bag.
Austrian regulators demanded that pharmacies remove all CBD products, and Ireland has advised many stores not to stock any CBD-related items. Still, without uniform execution, many have hopped on the CBD craze to make a quick buck.
It’s inevitable, according to Denoodt, that authorities will eventually end such ventures. ‘The EU is increasing its interest in medical cannabis and cannabis products focused on wellness. I hope that this will lead to more harmonised rules, which is necessary both for companies and users (patients)’, she said.
As for 2020, Denoodt hopes that clearer regulations will emerge following experiments in places like Luxembourg. ‘I think we are all looking at how this tiny, rich and politically-stable country will deal with legalisation of all adult-use cannabis’, she said.