The results of Canada’s public consultation on health products containing cannabis have been released in report form, showing strong support for allowing the sale of CBD outside the current cannabis restrictions.
The consultation on whether to modify regulations to allow the sale of CBD as a non-prescription health and wellness products was conducted earlier in the year by Health Canada, the country’s health authority. What was in question was essentially whether the sale of CBD products should be permitted outside the country’s legal cannabis regime, under which all derived products currently fall.
Health Canada said it had received responses from consumers (62% of responses), industry representatives (23%) and other interested parties (15%). A further 73 written statements that did not specifically respond to the questions posed were received from other groups.
The vast majority (93%) of consumers were interested in being able to purchase cannabis products intended to treat minor ailments – such as CBD creams for muscle pain – with only 2% opposed and the remainder interested, depending on having further information available.
“Consumers indicated a strong interest in products containing CBD throughout the online questionnaire. Moreover, 105 respondents provided additional comments in favour of access to CBD for therapeutic purposes without practitioner oversight,” Health Canada said. “Participants suggested CBD should not be regulated the same way as other substances or products, such as THC, alcohol or other pharmaceutical drugs, which they view to be more harmful.”
Thumbs down to unregulated market
Interest in products for a wide range of ailments was reported, with the most common being some form of pain or inflammation, followed by mental conditions such as anxiety, depression or stress.
Similarly, there was interest in most product formats, with oral items like extracts, tinctures, oils, capsules and sublinguals leading the way, being highlighted by 61% of respondents. Topicals such as creams or lotions came second, with 41% respondent interest.
Health Canada also noted interest in edibles/beverages and smoking/vaping formats, though these lagged far behind.
Many consumer respondents added that they would not want a completely unregulated market but would favour some level of oversight and regulatory control to remain.
“Respondents encouraged Health Canada’s approval of these types of products to ensure safety and quality, while allowing consumer choice and increased access to a wider array of products without practitioner oversight,” the report stated.
Interests of industry
There was concern over retail place of sale for CBD and other non-pharmaceutical cannabis-derived health products if they were to be permitted. A number of respondents said it would make sense not to restrict sales to provincially or territorially authorised retailers or federally licensed cannabis sellers.
“Allowing CHPs [cannabis health products] to be sold at pharmacies, health stores or other retailers would improve availability and deter from the stigma associated with cannabis use,” Health Canada summarised.
CBD products – particularly oral and topical – were also the main objects of interest to industry; 24 industry representatives indicated a desire to combine CBD with other cannabis-derived ingredients such as THC, flavonoids and terpenes, as well as approved natural health products (NHP) like vitamins, minerals, essential oils and herbs.
“With respect to health claims of interest, industry representatives from all groups emphasized their preference for providing CHPs for pain relief, inflammation, sleep disorders, and anxiety,” Health Canada said. “Other areas of interest include skin conditions (e.g. eczema, psoriasis) and digestive issues.”
Evidence standards divided opinion among industry representatives, with a third of those addressing the issue highlighting the need for robust scientific interest and the remaining two thirds claiming such requirements would discourage research and innovation.
Doubts on retail and packaging restrictions
“Of these respondents, a few representatives from NHP and veterinary health products (VHP) companies also mentioned that they would like to be able to use traditional evidence or make general health promotion claims on CHPs,” Health Canada noted.
Unsurprisingly, retailing restrictions were almost universally opposed by industry representatives in favour of the sale of CBD and other cannabis-derived health products outside the current regulatory framework. Limitations to provincially or territorially authorised retailers or federally licensed cannabis sellers would be a massive disincentive, they felt.
Many also said they had concerns that employees in licensed recreational facilities would not have the knowledge or training to assist customers. That added to the potential for consumer confusion between recreational cannabis products and cannabis-derived health products sold in such a setting.
There were also concerns that current packaging and labelling proposals would similarly stymie the industry, with respondents expressing a preference for a broader ability to promote and distinguish their products on the market. “Respondents proposed that the requirements should be similar to any other NHP or over-the-counter drug to compete with the illicit market,” Health Canada said.
What This Means: With strong public support, industry representatives responding to the consultation said the process offered an opportunity for Canadian regulators to differentiate between THC and CBD. “About half of the written submissions from the cannabis and NHP industries proposed creating two distinct pathways for CHPs that appropriately reflect their risk profiles,” the report said.
“Specifically, they suggested establishing two different pathways for CHPs with THC and CHPs with CBD. Furthermore, each potential pathway would have its own requirements for packaging and labelling, retail environment, youth access, and evidence standards.”
Health Canada will now continue putting together a scientific advisory committee to gather further information on the safety, efficacy and quality standards for health products containing cannabis that would be safe for use without practitioner oversight.
– Freddie Dawson CBD-Intel staff
Photo: Robbie Palmer