CBD companies in the UK that want to introduce a new product face a difficult challenge: due to the Food Standards Agency (FSA)’s novel foods ruling they cannot offer an ingestible CBD product that was not sold before 13th February 2020. But some companies have found a loophole – cold-pressed hemp oils utilising the full plant, which makers are marketing as full spectrum CBD oil products.
“Cold-pressed CBD”, as they are often described, are products made with extracts from hemp – generally the whole plant – generated through physical pressure at low temperatures as opposed to a chemical approach such as solvent or CO2 extraction processes.
Companies such as Brown’s CBD claim the novel food process should not apply to ingestible products made using CBD extracted this way. Some regulators appear to agree.
“With the novel foods rules, we’re not able to launch any new kind of novel CBD products,” said company founder Laurence Brown. “So I contacted the Food Standards Agency in the UK and asked them if [cold-pressed CBD] would be classed as a novel product and they told me it wouldn’t, so I was able to launch a new product using cold-pressed oil.”
Paul Tossell, head of the FSA’s Novel Foods and Radiological Policy Team, told CannIntelligence: “The FSA have said that hemp and related products, as described in the EU novel food catalogue, such as cold-pressed oils, are not novel because there is evidence to show a history of consumption before May 1997.
“Providing you’re not selectively extracting, isolating CBD or enhancing the natural CBD content from the plant, then the complete cold-pressed hemp oil product is not likely to be novel. This is because there isn’t a significant change to composition after the cold compression.”
Europe passes the buck
He added that enhancing the levels of CBD by adding isolate would make it novel so the FSA would still need to know details of the production process to be sure.
European authorities have largely washed their hands of the matter. The European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) said it was up to the European Commission, in consultation with member states, to determine the novel status of a food product.
The Commission said it was the responsibility of the Food Business Operator (FBO) to verify whether the food they intended to place on the EU market was considered novel food or not – and if they were unsure they should consult the relevant authorities in the country where they intended to sell it. It added that there had been no requests for cold-pressed CBD under novel food regulation.
However, authorities in Ireland have noted in the past that cold-press extraction was a matter of debate among EU member states. Patrick John O’Mahony, chief specialist on food technology for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), said: “Other states [consider cold-pressed derived CBD products to be novel] but we don’t. We acknowledge others’ positions but we don’t follow the same line of reasoning.”
Scott Macdonald, CEO of Happy Hemper, faced a similar issue to Brown’s. For a small company like his, getting FSA authorisation is a costly and confusing process.
“It’s a lot easier to bring the likes of cold-press products to the market than it is getting full spectrum products on the market because of the rules and regulations,” he said.
As close to raw as you can get
Macdonald and Brown both spoke about the benefits of cold-pressed CBD, arguing that it is as close to the raw plant as you can get, is full-spectrum, and does not have any added chemicals, as can be the case with other extraction methods.
“It’s just a different experience just because the ratio of the cannabinoids is different to what you find in standard oils and there’s a higher terpene content as well,” said Brown.
Some studies have suggested that full-spectrum CBD, which contains all the plant compounds, has a more potent effect than pure CBD. But there has been very little research on whether cold-pressed CBD has a better effect than CBD extracted by other methods .
In terms of cannabinoid content, cold-press does lag far behind other methods, being a less efficient method of extraction. The lack of heat also means the process results in non-decarboxylated cannabinoids, so most constituents will be the acidic precursor versions, such as CBDA, rather than CBD.
To decarboxylate those acidic constituents, a producer would have to apply heat but this could destroy heat-sensitive compounds such as terpenes. Equipment such as a vacuum oven would be required to do this.
It should be noted that quite a few marketers of cold-pressed CBD products surveyed by CannIntelligence did not differentiate between CBDA and CBD in the information provided with their ingestible products but included both in their stated total CBD content. Those that did make the distinction showed significantly higher CBDA than CBD content.
Unwanted constituents may remain in the mix
While those not differentiating between the two are not guilty of false advertising per se, it may be seen as somewhat misleading to include the precursor cannabinoid, which is believed to have different effects, when giving a topline figure for CBD content.
Issues also remain around other contaminants, presenting the need for further processing, which is not usually discussed.
Carlo Buckley, managing director Europe at CBDfx, is concerned about the low levels of CBD produced by cold-pressing. He also told CannIntelligence the technique could potentially raise problems with minor cannabinoids such as CBN, which remains a controlled substance in the UK.
“You’re always going to be limited by the amount of CBD that you can put in cold-pressed products and, as it should technically be full-spectrum, you’ve got the banned cannabinoids in there as well and obviously there are certain thresholds that you can’t go over,” he said.
While CBDfx doesn’t offer cold-pressed CBD at present, and is not planning to introduce it on the UK market, Buckley said the company was considering offering it on the EU market, depending on how long the EU’s novel foods process takes. CBDfx’s products were included in the FSA’s list of products permitted to stay on the UK market pending novel foods validation.
Ultimately Buckley thinks retailers will be the ones to decide whether cold-pressed CBD is here to stay or whether they prefer to offer products from FSA-authorised producers. “I think it’s a potentially short-lived solution to what’s going on in novel foods,” he said.
– Moriah Costa CannIntelligence contributing writer