Government mulls growing cannabis-based food/drug industry: report

  • Apr 7, 2022
News Image

With cannabis-based foods and pharmaceutical products getting more popular worldwide, governments and companies are closely monitoring how the cannabis market is moving.

An industry report said that the Korean government is also showing signs of easing regulations on medical cannabis.

On Monday, the Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization (Korea BIO) released a report on regulatory trends in the industrial use of cannabis.

According to the report, cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring chemical substance found in the most common form in Cannabis sativa L., tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a hallucinogen.

CBD is globally popular as an additive in foods and drinks because it is known to relieve stress.

Countries have different regulations on CDB. Some provide clear regulations and guidelines to allow CBD to be used in foods and additives, while others require a safety evaluation before marketing a CBD product. Some others apply very strict regulations or prohibit the substance. The U.S. FDA approved Epidiolex, the first drug containing an ingredient derived from marijuana, to treat epilepsy in June 2018.

However, the regulator has been cautious about granting the nod for marijuana-based foods due to limited knowledge of CBD safety evaluation. The FDA authorized CBD as an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) and said CBD should not be used as food additives or supplements.

In November 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union said a member state of the EU may not prohibit the marketing of CBD lawfully produced in another member state. It also said that the EU did not regard CBD as a narcotic drug.

According to current scientific knowledge, the court noted that, unlike THC, CBD does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health.

The Chinese government has long considered cannabis as traditional medicine or food and registered mature hemp seeds as natural ingredients for foods and drugs in 2002. However, China recently banned four cannabis-related ingredients as raw materials for cosmetic products, including CBD.

International organizations are also reviewing CBD regulations.

In June 2018, the WHO published a report saying there was no evidence that CBD poses any public health risk. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs also released recommendations for evaluating cannabis and its derivatives.

Korea regulates cannabis under the Narcotics Control Act. Regulated cannabis includes cannabis and its resins, all products manufactured from cannabis and its resins, cannabinol, THC, CBD, and mixed substances using these ingredients. Cannabis seeds, roots, and mature cannabis stems and products are exempt from the regulation.

Korea prohibits the export, import, manufacture, sale, or use of marijuana, except for official or academic research or the import of Korea Orphan & Essential Drug Center.

However, hemp seeds and hemp seed oil can be used as raw materials for foods only when the levels of THC and CBD in seeds with the skin completely removed are below a certain standard. The same regulation applies to cosmetics. The Korean central government and a local government are reviewing the possibility of industrial use of cannabis, Korea BIO’s report said.

The report added that the regulator might take out hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC, a hallucinogen, from the regulated list of the Narcotics Control Act to spur the growth of the hemp industry.

In April 2021, the Ministry of SMEs and Startups and North Gyeongsang Province started verifying the potential of industrializing hemp in the Gyeongbuk Hemp Regulation Free Zone.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs recently commissioned research to prepare a safety management system for the entire cycle of industrial hemp production.

“The global cannabis market is growing rapidly, but each nation has different regulations on cannabis. In this situation, companies are attentively monitoring the related market and changes in the regulatory environment, as hemp could become a big business opportunity,” the Korea BIO’s report said.