CBD products banned in EU enter Estonian market

A cannabis plant.
A cannabis plant. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Estonian Agriculture and Food Board (Põllumajandus- ja Toiduamet) is concerned that products containing CBD, or cannabidiol, have become more widely available on the Estonian market. Although the use, sale and advertising of these products is banned, articles promoting CBD products can be found on social media and in the press.

A CBD product is a food item that contains an extract of hemp's flowers and foliage. Brigitte Salmus, chief specialist in the food division of the Agriculture and Food Board, explained that it is regarded a novel food, i.e. a product that had not been introduced in significant quantities in the European Union prior to 1997.

"Because the European Commission has not granted food authorization for CBD products, the use, marketing, and sale of these products, including the oils, are prohibited throughout the European Union," Salmus explained. The primary reason for the prohibition on the use and sale of CBD products at this time is that it is currently unknown whether they are safe for human health.

Salmus said that the majority of CBD products in Estonia came from third countries and the United States. "The United States is without a doubt the starting place of the trend's wide dissemination. This was spurred by the public's curiosity in various cannabis products. People were initially unaware that it was a novel product. The product has been researched as people's interest in it has increased," she went on to say.

Salmus emphasized the need to differentiate between CBD products and cannabis oil. In Estonia, the use of hemp seed oil is permitted. In contrast, CBD oil designated for internal consumption is not.

The following keywords are used to market CBD products: positive health effects, restful sleep, and enhanced well-being. Some media marketing articles state that CBD products that contain less than 20 percent THC are lawful. Salmus emphasized that the product is prohibited regardless of the THC concentration.

"In any case, CBD oil is a prohibited novel product. THC is a psychoactive drug. In such a scenario, it would already fall under the purview of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA). We have notified the media that these advertisements are prohibited and deceptive to consumers. As the Food and Agriculture Board is not liable for advertising and does not administer the Advertising Act, we have asked the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) to oversee these ads," she explained.

Aap Andreas Rebas, head of communications at the TTJA, said the agency was working on the issue. Kevin Kõnd, Postimees' online advertising sales manager, said that Postimees is aware about the appeal and has restricted access to articles about CBD products pending the results of the investigation.

Mairi Peetersoo, Delfi Media's business manager for special solutions and content marketing, said that the product's distributor has confirmed that the offered product complies with all applicable regulations, so there is no justification for considering it illegal. She added that Delfi Meedia AS has no reason to dispute the veracity of the distributor's explanations because they are consistent with the information published by the Estonia State Agency of Medicines.

The website of the agency states that CBD is not listed as a narcotic or psychotropic substance. It also has no psychotropic effects. As the THC content of the products advertised in the article is less than 0.2 percent, according to the manufacturer, this product made from cannabis is not considered a narcotic substance, Peetersoo added.

Olga Kamp, a specialist at the State Agency of Medicines, explained that it is forbidden to sell products with a THC content of 0.3 percent or more. For products with lower THC content, a number of requirements for food, cosmetics and cannabidiol (CBD) use need to be taken into account.

However, extracts derived from hemp oil and/or leaves, or CBD, and other cannabinoids, such as CBD oils, capsules and pastes are prohibited. These are unauthorized novel foods that cannot be marketed in Estonia (and the EU) as food or food supplements, Kamp specified.

She added that hemp and its processing products can be used in cosmetic products if they are not hemp flowers and if the processing products are not derived from hemp extract, tincture or resin.

Kamp said that THC in itself is already in the first category of narcotic drugs and its handling is prohibited except for medical, scientific or crime prevention, detection and suppression purposes. Even when cannabinoids are extracted from a plant with a very low THC content, THC is formed as a residual product. Thus, THC can only be extracted from cannabis for medical, scientific or crime prevention purposes.

Kamp added that hemp seeds and products derived from the processing of the seeds, such as hemp seed oil and ground hemp seeds, can be used in food.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

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