Even though it is illegal, cannabis is very popular in Ireland. About 24 percent of the Irish population admitted to having used cannabis at some point in their lives, and around 14 percent of young adults aged 15 to 34 years in Ireland reported using cannabis in 2019. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that cannabidiol (CBD) oils and other CBD products are also popular in Ireland, especially considering how prevalent CBD is these days.
On June 26, 2019, Ireland’s Minister for Health even signed legislation that made certain CBD oils available as prescription drugs. This may sound promising at first, but the CBD laws in Ireland are very convoluted.
These cannabis-based medicines are also only available for patients with specific medical conditions, such as spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy.
Is cannabidiol legal in Ireland?
While the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 prohibits all hemp derivatives that contain any amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it doesn’t ban CBD. Further, the cultivation of hemp varieties with less than 0.2 percent THC is legal in Ireland according to an EU regulation that permits the growing of hemp with a THC content that is lower than 0.2 percent.
So, yes, CBD is legal in Ireland. However, since cannabis is a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is illegal to import, export, possess or supply THC without the appropriate documentation issued by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) on behalf of the Department of Health.
Now, pure CBD may not be banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but it’s restricted under the Novel Food Regulation of the European Union, which is why the legal status of CBD products, such as full-spectrum CBD oil or CBD isolate, is so convoluted in Ireland.
Why the legal status of CBD oil isn’t clear cut in Ireland
CBD that is extracted with solvents, like ethanol or supercritical CO2, requires a novel food permit from the European Commission (EC). Without this permit, it can’t be marketed as a food product or health supplement.
However, in conjunction with the Novel Food Regulation, CBD oil that is extracted via extraction methods that do not fall under the Novel Food Regulation, like cold-pressing, is legal for sale in Ireland, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
The FSAI regulates foods and food supplements, and new products for the Irish market must get its approval. Because of the Novel Food Regulation, products that have been sold in the EU prior to 1997 are legal to sell as well. Also, cosmetics and health-related products that are not medicines are regulated by the HPRA under the Cosmetics Regulation and cannot make or imply any medicinal claims.
Keeping in mind that the Misuse of Drugs Act bans THC, this means that CBD oil can only be sold legally in Ireland if all traces of THC are removed. However, according to the FSAI guidelines, CBD extracted this way cannot be legally sold in Ireland without novel food authorisation from the European Commission.
If businesses only sell cold-pressed CBD oil, they are left vulnerable to the legal repercussions of any trace amounts of THC naturally occurring in hemp oil that is processed this way since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 doesn’t allow THC at all. But if they use an extraction method that gets rid of all the THC, companies need to get approval from the EC.
So, what does this all mean for CBD in Ireland?
For businesses, this means that being able to legally sell CBD oil or other CBD products in Ireland can be quite the process. With the right licences, it is perfectly legal to grow hemp plants with a THC content of less than 0.2 percent and use them to produce CBD oil, which can be legally sold according to the FSAI.
However, since THC is still illegal in Ireland, this means that customers risk getting their CBD oil seized. Alternatively, businesses can use other extraction methods to get rid of the THC, thus eliminating the possibility of the CBD oil getting seized. But to be able to legally sell such CBD oils, the companies need to get their CBD oil approved by the EC.