JOHANNESBURG -  The CBD oil industry is in its infancy in South Africa, but is on a rapid growth trajectory and has the potential to grow into a multi-billion rand industry over the next decade. CBD oil pioneer Anthony Cohen delves into the positives, and negatives, of the burgeoning business.

I have been one of the pioneers for change in regulations, working with the Traditional National Health Alliance. We have successfully placed legal pressure on government to ensure CBD products are no longer classified as Schedule 7, and resulting in the temporary ruling that CBD has now been excluded from the scheduling. This allows for the legal the sale of CBD products in South Africa.

There is a lot of sensationalism, mistrust and misconception around both the sale and consumption of CBD products. We’re now seeing people jumping on the bandwagon with a range of local and imported products available. A burgeoning cottage and home industry is springing up, with the public now able to buy equipment to make products at home for personal use or to sell them online, or at retail outlets.

But there are many dangers and pitfalls for both the consumer and the producer to be aware of.  

We are now working with the regulators to create a viable, regulatory framework for the sale of honest, legal CBD products that have been analysed, certified and tested, in order to protect both the public and the industry itself.

In 2016 I was one of the founding members of United Kingdom Cannabis Trade Association (CTAUK), which we founded to push back against the regulators in the UK so as to create a safe CBD industry, and which has been instrumental in the formation of the United Kingdom’s policy on CBD. 

The Cannabis Trade Association (CTAUK) has the full backing of the Medical Health Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Food Standards Authority, giving the CTA the ability to help co-monitor the trade. In South Africa, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority fulfils the same role as the UK’s Medical Health Regulatory Agency.

The Cannabis Trade Association is now the largest cannabinoid-centric trade association for the UK and Europe, and works with all sectors of the hemp and cannabis industry to promote good practice, provide practical advice and ensure consumers of legal cannabis and hemp products have access to top quality information. 

We are now in the process of replicating this in South Africa, with the CTA SA under the TNHA, to educate and protect the consumer and to promote and support the industry for the benefit of all.

There is a proliferation of CBD products out in the market, both locally made and imported. If they have not been tested, if the person selling cannot tell you the ingredients, the amount of CBD oil it contains, and they can’t show you a verifiable test and certificate of analysis, then don’t buy it, because you don’t know what you’re getting.

The same goes for the DIY oil kits for sale. People will buy them, take them home, and if they do not know how to do the extraction correctly, they will most likely be left with a product filled with heavy metals and other contaminants. They might do it perfectly, but the risks are high.

We have seen high-levels of iron, uranium, heavy metals and chemicals in plants grown in Johannesburg, for example, due to the effect of the mines on the soil environment.

Hemp is a sequestrator of all the things in the environment. If we planted hemp in a contaminated area, it would suck up all the contaminants. So even when the oil is extracted and purified it could still be filled with contaminants.

It is still illegal to grow hemp in South Africa. Oil is imported, or locally extracted from the waste and offcuts of the marijuana plant, which contains high levels of THC and is low in CBD, which then makes it more of a recreational drug than an endo-cannibinoid system supplement.  

The difference between true cannabis CBD extract medical cannabis and the stuff that individuals or small producers are making is the level of quality control. If it has gone through a proper processing lab, using proper methods of extraction and distillation, this will make it a cleaner product, free of other residues and contaminants.

All products need to go through a good manufacturing practice (GMP) facility or similar that sets a high standard for packing, handling, hygiene and storing products, and provides verified safety certification.

CBD products make use of the plant extract, which means highly concentrated levels of ingredients that magnifies the efficacy of the products, so it’s essential to know exactly what the product contains.

Is it certified organic? This is one of the reasons we don’t buy hemp extracts, seeds or hemp protein from China because it’s not organic and from an extremely polluted environment. We sell USDA certified organic protein and seeds because we know exactly where it’s from – where it was grown, who the farmer was, what was in the soil and how it came into to our product.

If you’re growing marijuana at home, or using cannabis from an illegal grower for sale on the black market, and you’re making extract at home, you don’t know exactly what strain you’re using, or where or how it was grown. Yes, it will have some medicinal properties and it will offer some benefit, but it won’t be doing nearly as much as if it was a high CBD level product that has been properly processed and tested and the levels of THC are going to be super-high, vs from a reputable brand of hemp CBD that you know exactly what you are taking, and that you can go to work in the morning and function at your best.

Cultivating hemp is still illegal in South Africa and most of the CBD oil products made here are not made from hemp, but from marijuana, which contains high-levels of THC which is a known intoxicant, and can be damaging to growing children as well as animals. Most of the so-called medical marijuana products available here at the moment are nothing more than serious THC extract and very much more recreational than a true endo-cannabinoid supplement.

Any product that makes medicinal claims clearly needs to be registered as a medicine. The products out there making claims are damaging the credibility of our industry. We can’t behave like cowboys; you’re not selling gummies to your friends, you’re selling products to someone who is taking them as a supplement or for health reasons so you need to ensure what you’re selling them is correct, safe and regulated.

Far from being one of the naysayers looking to clamp down on small producers, we are rather looking to support them with an easy cost effective route to regulate their products for the benefit of all.

We need to ensure that all products are sold responsibly. That means within the legal current limit of THC, 10 parts per million, that the dosage of CBD is at maximum 20mg and certified.

CBD oil products are now coming into the mainstream and we need to facilitate consumer education and awareness around the industry and the products. Major retailers Clicks and Dis-Chem have both listed our range of Elixinol CBD products, which will be on shelf from September. We will be doing a national roadshow to educate and inform their sales staff on all aspects of CBD and how it benefits people. 

We are not here to give medical advice, as that would be illegal. However, we can advise on levels of nutritional supplements to supplement the diet. We can advise using the research we have from many documented case-studies and our own doctors on staff in the USA to help people in their real-world situations as to how best they can use a CBD product for their personal use.

In order to protect the public and support the industry, we recommend both the public and the producers familiarise themselves and adhere to the guidelines set out by the CTA SA under the TNHA: all products must be tested, full spectrum (as opposed to isolates that offer less efficacy and in some markets is considered novel and below the legal THC level. This will offer the public peace of mind and ensure that what they are buying is certified, correct to label and includes standardised dosage instructions so there is no level of guesswork involved.

Anthony Cohen is the founder and CEO of Elixinol South Africa, which manufactures a range of certified CBD products made from organic, grade-A CBD oil. He is also the founder of the CTA UK and of Helixir London. 

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