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What is the MHRA? [All You Need to Know]

Green Shoppers Written by Green Shoppers
Updated on April 26, 2019

As you might be aware, the laws surrounding the use of cannabidiol in the United Kingdom are complicated. Nothing is ever easy, and that applies to CBD.

The popular CBD food supplements you see online and in shops are all unregulated. This means that no authoritative body is checking these products to ensure they are safe and compliant with laws. The closest thing we have here in Britain is the Cannabis Trades Association (CTAUK), who are pioneering for a better future in cannabis products. If a company is affiliated with them, you know they can be trusted.

Fortunately, competition in the industry means that most brands are pushing for high standards in order to make their products stand out above the rest. However, this will not stop some brands from trying to sell scam products to make a quick buck. With this in mind, you need to be really careful as the consumer.

So, where do the MHRA come into this? Well, the MHRA do in fact regulate some CBD products, but only those that are licensed medications, not food supplements. In this article, we will be looking at everything you need to know about the MHRA and their stance on CBD.

Who Are the MHRA?

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the government body responsible for ensuring that medicines, medical devices and blood components for transfusion in the UK are all compliant with the law.

The agency has 3 subsections:

  • Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD): The data research service that uses anonymised NHS clinical data to improve public health.
  • National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC): A global leader in standardising and controlling biological medicines.
  • MHRA: The UK government body that regulates medicines to ensure safety, quality and effectiveness.

The MHRA employs more than 1,200 people who work toward these goals. They regularly update their guidelines and conduct reviews into medications in order to keep the public safe.

In 2016, the MHRA published a statement regarding cannabidiol, in a perhaps futile attempt to curb the growing market.

The MHRA’s 2016 Statement on CBD

In October 2016, a spokesperson for the MHRA said:

“We have come to the opinion that products containing cannabidiol (CBD) used for medical purposes are a medicine. Medicinal products must have a product licence (marketing authorisation) before they can be legally sold, supplied or advertised in the UK, unless exempt. Licensed medicinal products have to meet safety, quality and efficacy standards to protect public health.”

This came as a response to a growing market in which cannabidiol was being used to treat epileptic children. The MHRA conducted a review into CBD, much in the same way that the World Health Organisation (WHO) did in 2017. According to contemporary research, the MHRA decided that CBD was a medicinal compound that could, in fact, be used to treat certain disorders, including epilepsy.

As a result, they reached out to 18 businesses who were trading CBD products in the UK, informing them that they had to shut down operations within 28 days. This sparked major concern in the industry.

However, many companies spoke out about the fact that they had not been contacted. This being the case, they did not feel as though they would have to cease trading. The MHRA has since issued updates regarding the matter.

They have stressed several times that their stance on CBD is an “opinion.” Because they are a government body, though, what they say goes. Companies now can no longer sell medicinal CBD, but are allowed to sell CBD food supplements. Thus, CBD manufacturers can make no overt medical claims with regard to their products.

What Has Changed Since 2016?

The introduction of MHRA’s “opinion” made it much harder for patients to get hold of the CBD products they needed. Fortunately for the government at the time, very few people were using CBD to help with their conditions, and little stir was caused.

That is, until 2018, when the uproar was caused. A little boy named Billy Caldwell had his cannabis oil confiscated at Heathrow airport after his mother had travelled to Canada to get it for him. The cannabis oil was the only thing helping Billy fight off severe seizures, which happened many times per day. His epileptic condition was having severe consequences for his development, and the public was outraged that the government was refusing him treatment.

During the summer of the year, Home Secretary Sajid Javid called for a review into cannabis as a medicinal substance. At the outcome of the review, it was announced that specialist doctors would be able to legally prescribe cannabis-based medicinal products.

Of course, these cannabis-derived products must pass the vetting of the MHRA. As of yet, only a couple of cannabis medications have been licensed in the UK, including an MS treatment called Sativex.

At the time of writing, it is still incredibly hard to be prescribed these medications. Even if you have a qualifying condition and have exhausted all other forms of treatment, doctors may be reluctant to prescribe cannabis. Furthermore, the prescriptions are essentially no good, as the UK is currently refusing to stock these cannabis medications on our own soil. By the time your prescription has been shipped and arrived at your door, the prescription may have expired!

So, what about those of us who wish to use CBD for general health?

Is It Actually Legal to Use CBD?

If a CBD product is advertised for medical uses, then it must be licensed by the MHRA. If it has no license, then it is illegal.

However, this rule does not apply to CBD food supplements. As long as the company makes no medicinal claims on their products or on their site, then you can be confident that the oil is legal. Of course, all products must also be made from industrial hemp and contain less than 0.2% THC. If you are not sure of this, then look for third-party lab reports on the company’s site.

There are a lot of regulations set by the MHRA as to advertising standards, so that CBD brands don’t find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Luckily, these are all corporate regulations that don’t apply to the consumer.

As the CBD sector is such a nascent industry, nobody will blame you for accidentally buying a CBD oil that has broken an advertising law. After all, it is the company’s fault for not complying with regulations! Really, all you need to look out for is the CBD content.

Final Thoughts – It’s All So Confusing!

When the MHRA made a statement on CBD, it really set a ball rolling. Their decision made it impossible for some patients to get their hands on life-changing CBD products, which in turn thrust the cases of severe childhood epilepsy into the spotlight. Suddenly, the entire British public was aware of CBD oil and what it could do. This led to a review of cannabis in general, which in turn has (in theory) legalised cannabis-based products for medicinal use.

This change in legislation has led to a huge shift in public opinion. Now that cannabis is no longer demonised, people are more willing to try out CBD products. After all, they are not psychoactive and could have good effects on your health. Knowing this, huge numbers of people have turned to CBD, and the industry has exploded.

Unfortunately, it is still pretty new. It is possible that the regulation of CBD products will improve in the future, only pushing for higher standards and better quality. We also hope that the medical cannabis industry will improve to the point where patients can truly get the medication that they need.

For now, consumers simply need to know the basics of buying CBD oil online. The MHRA’s guidelines really only matter for businesses who need to comply with certain regulations.