It will be a $47 billion global opportunity by 2028, according to Vantage Market Research, but is the growing cannabidiol (CBD) market safe and legal? Producers and retailers alike need to know the answer to that question before they seek to cash in on what appears to be a growing demand for CBD products, buoyed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cannabis in healthcare

First, the basics. Cannabis has a long association with health and wellness benefits – evidence of the herb’s use in healthcare is available in both Greek and Roman writings, for example – but only in modern times have researchers sought to understand what might actually produce those benefits.

Most interest has centered on just two of the more than 100 different chemical compounds in cannabis: CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Importantly, both these compounds may have healthcare applications, but THC is a psycho-active ingredient, the compound in cannabis that gets people high, while CBD is not. For that reason, in many countries, regulation discriminates between products containing CBD, which are more likely to be legally allowed, and those which also contain THC, which are routinely barred.

While there is growing scientific evidence for the benefits of both CBD and THC, there is not yet clear consensus. In a medicinal setting, cannabis products have been seen to help with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to epilepsy, as well with mental health problems. However, medicines regulators in most countries have authorised very few drugs for doctors to prescribe.

It is beyond medicine where the CBD market is growing fastest. There’s a lot of excitement in the health and wellness industry for CBD products that claim to produce benefits for consumers, ranging from reduced anxiety to healthier-looking skin. The COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted people to think more seriously about their health, has also provided a boost. In the U.K. alone, the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry says the CBD industry generated sales of £526m in 2021, almost a third more than it had expected when making projections in 2019.

Learn how one CBD-infused skincare line discovered new potential retail opportunities with RangeMe’s insights feature here.

Globalizing the CBD boom

Those numbers tie in with global projections, with the U.S. and Europe expected to be the world’s largest markets for CBD in the next few years. “The market potential for CBD is too large to ignore,” says a report recently published by the consultancy Deloitte. “One in seven consumers in developed markets is estimated to have consumed CBD in some form, and that’s expected to rise to one in three.” That “some form” loosely divides into two different types of CBD products. First, there are consumable products for ingestion, including edibles such as gummies and chocolates, as well as tinctures, oils, capsules, and sprays. And second, there are lotions and salves containing CBD that can be applied to the skin. Importantly, regulation of these two different categories often differs markedly. Understanding that regulation is vital for producers and retailers looking to take advantage of the growing market.

Treading Carefully in the CBD Boom

In the U.S., CBD is now legal in every state – courtesy of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp, the main source of CBD, from the Controlled Substances Act – but state laws then dictate what type of CBD products can be sold and used. Broadly speaking, the rules on CBD in cosmetics and skincare products, where applied to the skin rather than ingested, are more liberal in most places. Consumable CBD products, particularly edibles, are more likely to be prohibited.

In the U.K., meanwhile, there is a clear distinction between CBD products applied to the skin and those that are consumed. The former are legal as long as they have a Cosmetic Product Safety Report (CPSR), which demonstrates that the product formula has been signed off as safe by an accredited professional; these cosmetic products must also contain clear information about the ingredients on the packaging. Consumable products, by contrast, are only legal if the producer has applied for a “novel food authorisation” from the Food Standards Agency; securing this approval can be an extended process.

The U.K. approach broadly follows the European Union framework on CBD regulation, where there is also a split between beauty products and consumables. Producers and retailers inside the bloc will need to make sure their products can be sold in the EU if they are targeting this market. 

In other parts of the world, the law on CBD products is tougher. In both Australia and New Zealand, CBD products fall under medical cannabis and prescription regulations, with very few authorised – though policymakers are considering reforms. Large parts of the Middle East outlaw CBD products altogether, with stringent criminal penalties for possession and supply.

Nevertheless, the world is slowly liberalising, with growing numbers of countries relaxing laws that would once have prohibited CBD sales. For producers that understand how to navigate a path through this legislative patchwork quilt, the opportunity is an exciting one, particularly as retailers look for products enabling them to respond to growing consumer demand.

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