Are you curious about the future of cannabidiol and CBD’s legal status around the world?
Cannabidiol’s journey to acceptance has been rocky, partly because CBD was not considered separately from cannabis as a whole. Recent years have marked exciting policy shifts, though, and CBD products have definitely been lifted out of the proverbial naughty corner.
Why? International law moved away from seeing CBD as a controlled substance because scientific research into the potential medicinal effects of cannabis and its compounds led international organisations to challenge old beliefs about its harms and benefits.
CBD is now increasingly recognised as a novel food and wellness supplement. Consumers should be careful, though — cannabidiol’s legal status around the world remains complex!
Join us for a deep dive into trends in how international law deals with CBD, and see how different countries worldwide see and regulate cannabidiol.
International Law: Trends Towards the Reclassification of CBD
Cannabis was a Schedule IV drug under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs for 59 years. This international treaty outlines a broad global consensus around the regulation of substances.
Given the fact that it was first introduced before THC was even identified as the main psychoactive compound in Cannabis sativa plants, it’s not really surprising that the convention made no distinction between the different compounds found in plants belonging to the Cannabis genus (including high-THC marijuana and low-THC industrial hemp).
So, cannabis and all its parts sat on a list alongside deadly drugs like heroin and opium, reflecting local laws in many individual countries.
Growing research into the medicinal potential of cannabis and its specific compounds ultimately drove these changes, and global interest in cannabidiol played a crucial role in that. The World Health Organisation proposed serious changes in 2019.
A critical report on cannabidiol concluding that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile” was one part of the WHO’s reevaluation of products containing cannabis derivatives. The World Health Organisation additionally recommended an amendment to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, reading: “Preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol and not more than 0.2 per cent of THC are not under international control.”
The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) ultimately voted to remove cannabis from the Schedule in 2020, with a narrow majority. This step marked one milestone in a global trend toward recognising the potential of cannabis and its derivatives as medicines and wellness supplements. Recreational use of cannabis largely remains illegal, but international law has become increasingly open to the use of CBD and other cannabis derivatives as medicines or wellness products.
It is, of course, important to remember that the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is simply an international treaty. It doesn’t determine laws in individual countries, but does show how attitudes have shifted over time.
CBD Legality by Region: A Closer Look
Do you want to know how cannabidiol products are regulated in your part of the world — or anywhere else? The United Nations currently recognises a grand total of 206 states, and examining them all would be a little too ambitious. We can, however, take a look at the world’s regions and their approaches to CBD.
CBD in Europe
The European Court of Justice (associated with the European Union) ruled that cannabidiol extracted from industrial hemp plants cannot be considered a controlled substance in 2020. It has decided to consider CBD products “novel foods” — food products that have recently entered the market — instead, but only if they’re in line with EU Food Safety Regulations.
This ruling didn’t cover synthetic CBD, which isn’t extracted from cannabis plants but manufactured in labs.
Despite EU-wide rulings about the status of CBD products, each member state may have its own laws and regulations about CBD, including the conditions under which it can legally be sold.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency also considers CBD a novel food. Buying CBD products with a THC content of 0.02 per cent is legal in Britain, and consumers don’t need a prescription. However, CBD manufacturers and stockists are subject to strict regulations and must apply for authorisation.
CBD in North America
The 2018 Farm Bill was a major milestone in the United States. This bill clarified that industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa with a THC content of 0.03 per cent or less) does not fall under the Controlled Substances Act — and made hemp cultivation legal.
The Food and Drug Agency (FDA) is responsible for regulating food products made with industrial hemp, including CBD products. It’s currently reexamining how cannabidiol should be regulated and whether it should be considered a medicine.
Canada amended its Cannabis Act in 2019. Industrial hemp plants with a THC content of 0.03 per cent may be cultivated, and Canada doesn’t set an upper limit for CBD content. CBD products are legally available, but Health Canada does regulate the production and sale of cannabidiol strictly.
CBD in Australia and New Zealand
The situation is more complicated in Australia and New Zealand. These countries have a joint Food Standards Code that allows for the production and sale of certain industrial hemp products, like hemp seed oil, as foods. However, importing CBD products made in other countries is strictly prohibited unless proper authorisation has been obtained.
CBD in Asia
Cannabidiol products have been banned in China’s mainland since 2021, marking a significant change in the attitude the country’s drug regulator, the National Medical Products Administration, takes toward CBD. Hong Kong followed with a similar U-turn in 2023.
Japan is still mulling its approach to CBD over, but CBD products derived from the stalks and seeds are currently allowed, and CBD is increasingly popular in Japan. In South Korea, products derived from the roots and seeds of the hemp plant are legal.
CBD in South and Central America
South and Central American countries have opted for radically different approaches to CBD products. For example, Uruguay has legalised the recreational use of marijuana, thereby also making CBD legal. Brazil’s laws leave space for the medicinal use of cannabis derivatives.
CBD in Africa
African countries also take diverse approaches to CBD. In South Africa, for example, a prescription is required. Zimbabwe has legalised cannabis in scientific and medicinal contexts, including CBD, and Rwanda has a booming hemp cultivation industry.
What to Do if You’re Wondering if CBD Products Are Legal in a Particular Country
CBD consumers from countries where cannabidiol is legally available sometimes wonder if they can travel with CBD products. If you’re a monolingual English speaker, that information is fairly easy to come by if you’re travelling to an English-speaking country. The situation is quite different if you’re going somewhere with a different language. You won’t always be able to find English-language information from official sources, and if you do, it may be out of date.
The penalties for carrying CBD products are potentially severe, so you don’t want to make any assumptions or take any chances. In these cases, it’s always best to check in with the local consulate or embassy of the country you’re travelling to. If you’re a UK citizen, you can also contact the UK embassy in your destination country with this question.
Remember that laws change. While the global trend is toward the legalisation of CBD, we’ve already seen that law can change in the other direction, too. Be careful, and make sure you know that you’re on solid legal footing before you bring CBD products with you or consume any cannabidiol on holiday!