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Consumer Watch: What you need to know before buying CBD products

Published Jan 20, 2020


Cannabis products are widely available, from farmers’ markets and health shops to mainstream retailers and online stores.

Most of these products are untested, operating in a regulatory vacuum, with unverified levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which could render them even toxic.

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Is it worth spending hundreds of rand on a product that may or may not be inert, coloured and flavoured oil?

The question consumers need to ask is where does it come from? Is it manufactured in an approved, controlled laboratory with quality cannabis, produced from home-grown stock from the garden in someone’s kitchen, or imported from questionable sources and adulterated?

In three months, the health ministry is expected to announce whether or not to continue its temporary exclusion of some cannabidiol (CBD) preparations from the schedules to the Medicines and Related Substances Act.

In September 2018, the Constitutional Court decriminalised the cultivation and private consumption of cannabis by adults. Eight months later, the health minister announced that cannabis preparations below a maximum daily dose of 20mg of CBD (which do not make any specific medical claims) and small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis (less than 0.001%), are legal.

The law

Cannabis, THC and synthetic cannabinoids are otherwise controlled substances listed as Schedule 7 (alongside heroin) in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Act. Medical marijuana falls under schedule 6.

Any CBD-containing products that fall outside the parameters of the exclusion notice or do not meet the criteria, remain classified as Schedule 4 products, and are subject to the provisions of the schedules and registration as a medicine.

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Status quo

But many products, widely available on the shelves of health shops, major retailers and sold online, do not fall within the exemption’s parameters, nor are they registered as medicines, which makes their sales illegal.

Last November, the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) and the police issued a “joint” statement, warning about the establishment of illegal dispensaries/outlets, online sites and social media platforms marketing and selling cannabis and cannabis-related products to the public remains illegal, “except where specifically allowed in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Act”.

It comes in the wake of the arrest of the owner of the Canapax cannabis franchise. Russell de Beer was arrested for possession of around 500kg of cannabis, with a street value (far below the actual sales price) of R3million. De Beer, who claims to be a sangoma, had been franchising Canapax stores nationally.

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Their website,, advertises cannabis oils, tonics “for stress and anxiety”, while the “dispensary” outlets were said to do a roaring trade in the raw product.

De Beer had tried to exploit the Traditional Health Practitioner’s Act, claiming sales through his licence were legal. They weren’t: the statement said that the act “does not create a mechanism to sell cannabis and cannabis-related products that are not exempted in terms of the Medicines Act”. To import or manufacture CBD-containing medicines, sellers must be licensed in terms of section 22C(1)(b) of the act and comply with the relevant standards. They must be able to present verified assessments of the CBD/THC contents, conducted by an accredited laboratory, when requested to do so by Sahpra.

Manufacturers and importers of CBD-containing processed products which are not for medicinal purposes and which fall within the exclusion notice’s parameters, do not require a licence but they must be able to provide verifiable proof of the CBD and/or THC content. If they’re importing the raw material, they need to be licensed. Selling CBD and THC products to children is illegal: acting director at Sahpra, Jerry Molokwane, says there are no limits in place for paediatric use: “It is purely illegal.”

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One such company, Laki Health, markets online and on Facebook. It has a range of feco oils, or “full extract cannabis oil” for men, women, pets and even children, claiming to treat “autism, epilepsy, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, and anxiety and many more”.

Their sourcing is unclear, although they claim to be using a combination of indoor and outdoor strains, which should be a red flag as batch concentrations can differ vastly.

Consumer lawyer Janusz Luterek explains: “The real problem is that you can’t just do the testing like you would for food products - you have to test every single batch of cannabis, which is just not happening.”

He says personal use only applies to self-grown cannabis, not that which is commercially sold: commercial sale is for medicinal use only. “However, there are many shops with apparently little or no enforcement at retail level despite threats by Sahpra.”

He says the bigger problem is not testing: it’s that it’s become a free-for-all. “I was recently at a market in Sea Point. They were selling CBD products near the entrance. When I asked about the concentrations, they pointed to a sign saying: ‘Our products don’t make you high - but they’re not for children under 18’. What does that tell you?”

Then there’s the cannabis vaping products, which are clearly illegal and intended to get users “high”.

“Until there’s visible enforcement and someone is prosecuted, we won’t see a change. There’s a lot of false information being spread around - people believe the ‘Concourt made it legal’ - but it’s only legal if you grow it and use it privately.”

* Netflix fans, don’t miss Rotten: High on Edibles, which explores enforcement issues in the US and concerns around THC levels in so-called “edibles”. These have landed a number of children in hospital after accidental ingestion.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.

** Receive IOL's top stories via Whatsapp by sending your name to 0745573535

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