New report explores open sale of low-THC cannabis products and regulatory responses in Europe

An increase in the open sale of cannabis products in Europe has raised questions around the possible legal and commercial status of these products. In a new report released today, Low-THC cannabis products in Europe, the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) presents an initial overview of the current situation in this increasingly dynamic area.

Cannabis contains many different chemicals, the best-known being Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — largely responsible for the intoxicating effects of the plant when it is ingested. But it also includes many other cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD). There is now a growing commercial interest in developing products that contain cannabidiol or other extracts of the cannabis plant, but without THC, or with only very low levels of THC present. For the purposes of this report, these are referred to as low-THC products.

The study found that low-THC cannabis products are being offered for sale in the majority of EU countries. A wide variety of retailers are active in the low-THC market in Europe. While cannabis-themed products can now be found in everyday retail outlets (e.g. health food chain stores, chemists and cafes), there are also dedicated shops selling low-THC cannabis products. Some of these focus on health and well-being, while others appear to be focusing more closely on products that look more similar to those that exist on the illicit recreational cannabis market, but with only low levels of THC present. This means that products containing extracts of the cannabis plant are appearing in a number of different commercial areas where differing regulatory frameworks exist. In some cases, this is also creating tension with drug control regulations.

In addition to products, such as balms, creams and pastes, the wide variety of products available include cannabis-infused edible products (e.g. ready-to-eat products, beverages), and some that mirror established illicit cannabis products (e.g. herb, resin, oil, e-liquids, crystals). As the sale of low-THC products gains visibility, so the regulatory environment has started to change to both acknowledge and, in some cases, restrict their availability. At EU level, there have been some recent important developments in this area.

As well as describing the current situation, the report highlights the need for ongoing monitoring of this diverse and dynamic phenomenon in order to ensure that the most appropriate consumer safety, health protection and drug control frameworks are applied.