Hemp vs Cannabis Natural Health Products
Hemp vs Cannabis natural health products - what is the difference?
What is the legal status of hemp in food & supplement products in Canada?
By now, you may have noticed that the hemp industry has seemed to explode overnight, however, with so many products advertised on social media and available in online or retail stores, you may be wondering how many of these products are actually legal. In order to answer this question, we must first define hemp, also known as “industrial hemp” in Canada.
Hemp has been a legal ingredient in Canada in food since 1998, provided it meets the strict definition of “industrial hemp”, which is defined, in plain language as:
Thus, any food or supplement product that contains hemp seed or hemp seed derivatives in compliance with this definition, would be considered acceptable for sale in Canada, whether the product is sold online or in retail stores. Hemp seed products are known for being nutritious (due to their fiber and protein content) and as a source of antioxidants, and thus make a great addition to your diet! Moreover, since hemp seed products are required to contain 0.3 % or less of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in cannabis, they will not cause feelings of euphoria.
What about edible cannabis products?
If you have been following the legalization of cannabis in Canada, you have noted that edibles (an edible product from either hemp or cannabis) was legalized in Canada on October 17, 2019 under the Cannabis Act. This means that edible cannabis products (including high CBD-hemp from the flower or leaves, without therapeutic claims, would be legal by provincial and territorial retailers and federally licensed sellers of Cannabis for medical purposes. As a consumer, this means that while it appears that edibles are readily available, there are restrictions specific to your province or territory. If you are purchasing an edible Cannabis product from outside one of the following approved retailers (as noted by province, from Health Canada, here: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/laws-regulations/provinces-territories.html) the product you are purchasing would be illegal.
What about supplements that are sold online with either high CBD or therapeutic claims?
You may have noticed an increase in hemp supplements for sale that promote health benefits, particularly in connection with the constituent cannabinidol (CBD). CBD products purport to offer a multitude of benefits from anxiety and stress reduction to reducing pain and inflammation, reducing blood pressure, fighting insomnia and as a treatment for drug addiction.
However, hemp permitted for use in supplements is only derived from the non-viable seed, which are characteristically low in CBD (in the range of 5 mg/kg to 20 mg/kg CBD in the hemp seed), the component that is reported to be responsible for the plants therapeutic benefit. The flowering parts and leaves of hemp plants contain higher amounts of CBD, but, these plant parts are not legally permitted in a supplement product at the present time – meaning that any hemp supplement product that is claiming to offer health benefits beyond antioxidant support or nutrition would be considered non-compliant and not legal for sale in Canada. Moreover, any food or supplement claiming to contain 100% CBD with therapeutic effects would be classified as an unlicensed prescription drug in Canada.
While Health Canada has indicated there has been a strong interest from consumers and industry to permit hemp products with high levels of CBD to be sold as over the counter health products with claims for minor ailments, there is currently no framework in place for these products. Health Canada is currently assembling a Science Advisory Committee for Health Products Containing Cannabis, so a final framework for cannabis health products is likely quite some time from now.
In summary, when it comes to hemp products in Canada it pays to do your research. If your intention is to purchase a hemp product for it’s nutritious attributes or an edible product for adult recreational purposes, it is important to purchase from established retails that can guarantee the legality of your purchase.
Written by Jacintha Roberts, B.ENG, M.ENG
Jacintha Roberts is an Engineer, and Director of Regulatory Affairs at dicentra, specializing in the safety and quality of food, dietary supplements, natural health products (NHPs), non-prescription drugs, cosmetics, medical devices and consumer health products. She has previously worked in the Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) of Health Canada.
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