In the past few years, Cannabidiol (CBD) products in the UK have emerged from nowhere to become a multi-million pounds industry, but the expansion has raised concern over the quality of products as hundreds of smallscale producers enter the market.
Cannabidiol is a versatile compound that interacts with our bodies by mimicking and augmenting effects of ‘endogenous cannabinoids’ which are part of a regulatory system called the ‘endocannabinoid system’.
One of the biggest drivers of the rise in popularity of these products has been anecdotal success stories, the majority of which reported that CBD had a positive effect when taken for discomforts and illness of many kinds.
Ali Sparkes, director of The Health Dispensary in Neath, South Wales has been selling CBD products for over a year. It was in response to a number of queries her pharmacy was getting from the public.
“It felt silly to be sending potential customers to Holland & Barratt when we could provide expert advice and develop an ongoing supportive relationship,” she said.
“We were very picky about finding a clinical product and haven’t gone into the vaping or more commercial ranges. Most people are asking for the product directly but we do offer CBD when traditional medicine is not working or there are unwanted side-effects.
“We’re having some great feedback- I’ve even tried the product myself following ankle surgery and found it a useful alternative to opiate analgesics and also gave a good night’s sleep. Pharmacists are ideally placed to advise on CBD and use their professional judgement to help patients who would otherwise go elsewhere.”
Ali Atcha, CEO of Elixinol Europe, is worried that unregulated market has created hundreds of brands with little or no transparency as to what precisely is in the OTC product, which has led to mixed public perception about CBD products.
However, he thinks this puts pharmacies in a very strong position as a trusted retail outlet for CBD and offers an exceptional retail opportunity for premium branded CBD products with full transparency and traceability.
“The CBD market is robust in the UK and is set to continue its meteoric growth for the foreseeable future as more research, studies and consumer reports into its benefits gain mass-market exposure,” Atcha adds.
James Thorne, a partner at Gravells’ pharmacies in Llanelli and Llangennech in Wales, has been selling CBD products for almost two years. For him, it has been an outstanding success with strong growth in repeat business.
“You have to build up the business initially,” says James. “But when people start buying it, using it and getting the dosage right, they come back to tell you how good it is and buy more.”
“We see customers reporting benefits of CBD across all sorts of pain and inflammation, sleep and anxiety,” adds James. “For pain relief, such as the symptoms of fibromyalgia, I would say eight out of 10 patients that I sell CDB to come back saying ‘oh my God, my life has changed completely’. I have had patients come off Tramadol, Co-codamol and Naprosyn in favour of CBD.”
Marketing Manager of Canabidol and British Cannabis, Steve Batchelor, says: “Education is key for this emerging market and there are three things that every pharmacist and patient should have knowledge of before they select the product to stock. Is it safe? Is it legal? Is it as described?”
He suggests pharmacists should only select brands that can provide assurance via thorough batch testing.
“This does not mean testing randomly, once per year, as a tickbox exercise, as some brands may do, but rather pharmacy-quality testing of every batch produced, so that printed on every product is an individual batch number to allow complete transparency of results.”
Batchelor advises that pharmacists perform their due diligence when purchasing CBD products and ensure that the National Pharmacy Association’s announcement and update on CBD in July this year is understood by them.
The Times newspaper reported on Aug 21 that laboratory tests on a batch of 30 popular CBD products this summer found that more than half did not contain the level of CBD promised on the label.
But as long as pharmacists stock CBD products with the highest compliance standards, this will help continue the growth of the market, which is moving forward at high speed. The medicinal knowledge and expertise of the pharmacist should be an advantage when adding CBD products to the repertoire of consumer options.
Ali Sparkes, Ali Atcha, James Thorne and Steve Batchelor contributed to this article.
This article also appears in the September issue of Pharmacy Business.