We get this question a lot, so our toxicologist Brad has put together a response.
The short answer is that both CBD and THC, phenolic terpenoids from cannabis plants, are already legal.
If you meet the prescribing criteria as set forth in the Special Access Scheme, a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) program, you can access either locally grown and extracted cannabis products or import from overseas. This is usually coordinated through a facilitator who has access to the approved suppliers.
The TGA maintain an approved supplier list of products which meet quality standards.
Pharmaceutical drugs are regulated through the Standards for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP). CBD is a Schedule 4 medicine and THC is a Schedule 8 Poison. If you have the medicines without permit, then you are considered to be in possession of marijuana resin, aka hashish. This is not dissimilar to other drugs such as oxycodone (hillbilly heroin) which is Schedule 8 if you have a prescription, but falls under the Crimes Act(s) if you don’t.
So why then are there so many places selling CBD oil? This is what I ask myself at least, as do my friends in the various drug units in the police.
We have had the opportunity to carry out testing on a number of purported CBD products and they have all proven to be fake. People have used the rouse that they are made in a university laboratory, by the university itself no less, or by their doctor to sell the balms and drops.
But none contained CBD. This, of course, makes sense.
Australian Border force operate fast and reliable detection equipment which use infrared lasers to flex the bonds within the chemicals in the products and read the emitted spectra, identifying the presence (or otherwise) of various compounds. Given that the commercial importation of CBD would be treated the same as the commercial importation of marijuana, it is not worth the risk. It makes much more sense, as our testing has verified, that unscrupulous companies are simply putting hemp oil in bottles and calling it CBD. The consumer really would have no idea.
CBD has been touted as a panacea for all things pathological but this is not the case. The only aspect that makes CBD and THC special is the legislation governing their use; they are after all only terpenoids. They have activity at CB1 and CB2 receptors as do many terpenes and terpenoids. THC from Cannabis has the seemingly unique effect of producing visual hallucinations, but so do a number of other non-scheduled plants.
We were not surprised that we found no actual CBD in purported CBD oils, but one would expect to find at least some given the compound falls under the Dietary Supplement and Education Act 1994 in the USA. Given its legal status in the USA you would not expect to find fraudulent products there, but you do. In fact the FDA has issued many warnings to companies making fraudulent health claims or for selling under-dosed or non-CBD products as CBD.
The truth is that since CBD has been introduced as an over-the-counter supplement, new and emergent health conditions from the over-use of CBD (such as hyper-emesis) have arisen, causing their own concerns. Some research has shown that rather than CBD, many products contained research cannabinoids such as HU-210, CP 47,497 and homologues, JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-398 and JWH-250 (aka K2 or Spice). In fact, in regard to adulteration or under-dosing in the USA:
A 2019 report found that of the 31 products tested for cannabinoids, 21 products specified the amount of CBD in the product (e.g., CBD amount per serving). Of these 21 products, seven products (33 percent) contained CBD within 20 percent of the amount indicated. Of the 10 products that did not indicate the amount of CBD included in the product, six contained CBD and four did not. In addition, 15 of the 31 products (48%) contained THC.
In another analysis, of the 102 products that indicated a specific amount of CBD, 18 products (18 percent) contained less than 80% of the amount of CBD indicated, 46 products (45 percent) contained CBD within 20 percent of the amount indicated, and 38 products (37 percent) contained more than 120 percent of the amount of CBD indicated.
Most concerning are the CBD products which were found to contain THC, which comprised 48% of those tested. The issue arises in the case of roadside drug tests, workplace drug testing and court mandated drug testing. A test positive for THC could see charges laid in the case of an accident, revocation of insurance and other liability concerns.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is currently taking submissions to shift CBD from Schedule 4 to Schedule 3.
Where schedule 4 encompasses prescription only medicines, schedule 3 is effectively ‘over the counter’, however restrictions will still apply as it will remain a Pharmacy Only Medicine. That means the purchase will be recorded, the volume of purchase restricted and you will still need to meet a ‘prescribing’ criteria before purchase.
It is unlikely there will ever be pot shops on every corner in Australia like Colorado, especially since every pharmaceutical company who entered into the CBD/THC supply chain spent a huge sum of money to legalise the products. Once CBD enters schedule 3, someone will have to spend up big to register the first product through safety and efficacy trialing, after which many will follow without needing to spend the money. In my experience, it is unlikely anyone will be the first to spend, just to open the doors for their competitors. Time will tell.