In fields across Switzerland the harvest time for cannabis is coming to an end, and workers are distributing the crop to shops in France and Switzerland. Soon, the plants could be available across much of Europe.
The man behind the operation is 31-year-old Jonas Duclos, a former banker, and what he is doing is legal. His business, CBD420, sells BlueDream, a strain of hemp cultivated to ensure the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, is low enough (0.2%) to be lawful in most European countries. The UK is one of the exceptions: any trace of THC is outlawed.
While low in THC, BlueDream is high in cannabidiol (CBD), another compound found in cannabis, which is non-psychoactive and has been shown to have medicinal qualities, for example, acting as a powerful anti-inflammatory. CBD is not a controlled substance in Europe, and in Britain does not require a licence from the Home Office to be sold if it can be extracted from cannabis.
Duclos’s “legal weed” is on sale in more than 1,000 tobacco shops in Switzerland, where THC is allowed up to 1% concentration, and in 15 to 20 shops in France, where the limit is 0.2%.
“There is a loophole that lets us bring it on the market,” Duclos explains. The plan is now to take the product elsewhere in Europe, with Italy among his next targets. While the company’s low-THC hemp is illegal in the UK, its CBD oils and balms will be available in some British shops from mid-December.
To comply with European law, Duclos has to make sure his CBD products are not marketed as medicines. Last year, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) ruled that any product containing CBD marketed as a medicine must have a licence before it can be sold.
Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health at York University, explains: “There is considerable confusion about the legal status of products which contain cannabis extracts such as cannabidiol. Suppliers of these products were instructed by the MHRA to remove any products they were selling until the appropriate licence was obtained. But this will leave many people who use these products unsure if they are breaking the law or not.”
He adds: “Some CBD products are already marketed as nutritional supplements. But irrespective of how it is marketed, the main risk to the individual is probably not that of being arrested … if they try a do-it-yourself treatment they may be putting their health at risk, and even if they do consult their GP it is unlikely they will have sufficient evidence or knowledge to advise the individual.”
Duclos says the slow expansion of BlueDream in France is because of uncertainty as to how the government will respond, Duclos says. “Every shop gets an order of 100 jars to prevent any reaction from the authorities … But the demand is huge.”
He adds: “If the French government goes against it, then that is its choice, but the population there are now very pro-cannabis. We shall see; it is obviously not our decision and we will comply and stop any distribution in France if required. For now, all we can do is make sure our products respect the THC level under 0.2% and just like in Switzerland, we are not allowed to market hemp as a medicine. We don’t recommend people smoke it. Even if someone can experience potential benefits, smoking is never healthy.”
Growing interest in products containing cannabis extract comes at a time of changing laws around marijuana use. Several European countries have relaxed their laws, including the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, and in the US eight states have formally legalised recreational use of the drug. Many other countries, including Germany, now allow the drug to be used for medicinal reasons.
Such changes in legislation have also prompted scientists to call for a safer way to produce cannabis. One suggestion is to boost levels of CBD so users can get their hit while lessening the potential risks from THC.
Amir Englund and other researchers at King’s College London have begun an experimental study to find the optimal ratio between THC and CBD. Volunteers are given THC to CBD ratios of 1:0, 1:1, 1:2 and 1:3, and the study will look at which combination is associated with fewest negative effects on memory and paranoia.
Englund says: “Most of the cannabis sold on the UK black market [has] high THC and low or absent CBD levels. Several lines of research have pointed towards this type of cannabis being riskier.
“Recent UK figures have found that overall cannabis use has been declining while number of people seeking treatment for cannabis use problems or psychiatric admission have been rising. One of the main candidate explanations has been the growing dominance of this high THC-potency cannabis. Some studies have found that CBD on its own can be antipsychotic.”
Duclos says: “All we need now is a real law and regulation around the use of these substances for everyone, and for authorities to apply the law and for all products to be fully controlled. A law covering every aspect so people get the cleanest product possible and can choose which THC and CBD level they want, depending on their needs. Under a controlled regulation, we can even expect a better education for everyone, the black market to decrease and tax revenues for the state to increase as it has in the US.”
But whatever the future holds, Duclos says this is an issue that will not go away. He adds that he does not mind being the one to push the government for a response. “At any moment, the French authorities could say, ‘Oh let’s say CBD is now the same as THC and should be illegal. Then it is over in France … honestly, it is fun – we are poking the government and saying ‘What you think about that?’”
Original post from TheGuardian