Historical and scientific advances
The legalization of cannabis-related products has been a major issue for European countries in the past few years. Most European countries have always had strict drug-related policies, and so the possibility of legalizing the use of any substance related to any psychoactive drug has always been thoroughly evaluated under different perspectives, and most of time the subject has been avoided.
In the late 1990s, scientists discovered a cannabinoid system in brain cells, thus opening new doors and perspectives as to how cannabinoids could be used to treat brain disorders and pain. And so, the investigations regarding this matter started to grow all over the world.
While cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to have no psychoactive effects and considerable healing properties, the fact that other cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have psychoactive and harmful effects has always been a major barrier to accepting CBD as a relatively safe and beneficial substance.
How cannabinoids are currently revolutionizing European and international laws
As scientific research regarding the benefits of using CBD (one of the compounds present in cannabis) as a medicinal substance started to yield interesting results in the treatment of several different types of conditions, government and agencies all around Europe have been thoroughly revising the existing laws, which slowly beginning to change.
The medicinal use of cannabis and cannabis-related products has been officially decriminalized in countries like Denmark, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Finland, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Czechia, Croatia, and the United Kingdom.
According to the European Union’s Novel Food regulations ((EU) 2015/2283), CBD and other cannabinoids are not allowed for internal consumption (in other words, as food supplements) but can be used in topical and external applications. A request was made to change this decision regarding CBD, and now a novel food application for CBD is being evaluated by the European Food Safety Agency.
Following the tendency in many countries and the scientific evidence, in 2018 the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officially removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances during sports competitions, thus allowing athletes to use it in a medical context, to treat or prevent injuries. Also, in the same year, the World Health Organization released a critical report regarding the medical use of CBD.
Market growth and future predictions
In terms of market availability of medical CBD products, the sector is growing fast. According to the Reuters agency, big pharmaceutical companies like Novartis and Intec Pharma are now studying and developing new CBD-based medicines, which are expected to be available in the market soon. Also, in February 2018, GW Pharmaceuticals received permission of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to study the use of CBD in cases of tuberous sclerosis.
In December 2018, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction released a report entitled “Medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids: Questions and answers for policymaking”. It lists some of the countries where cannabinoid-based products are allowed and under what laws, while detailing the challenges in regulations and the potential documented benefits of these substances.
CBD’s European market value was estimated at $318 million in 2018. In a recent evaluation by the Brightfield Group, the largest CBD markets in Europe are in the United Kingdom and Austria (each of them evaluated in $80 million, in 2018). According to the same source, “the UK is expected to remain a market leader over the medium-term, though Germany’s growth is expected to outpace that of other EU countries”.
The policies regarding cannabinoid use in Europe are complex due to the different laws and regulatory agencies in different countries, but the market is growing fast as many prohibitions are being lifted (while the quality control rules grow stricter), due to advancements in medicine and proven medical value.
As a result, more and more pharmaceutical and food supplement companies are invested in developing these types of products. According to the report by the Brightfield Group, the European CBD market is expected to grow around 400% in the next four years, estimated to reach around $1.7 billion by the year 2023.