The legal status of CBD around the world

  • The legal status of CBD, as well as the regulations that govern both the medical and recreational use of cannabis, are constantly changing in most countries in the world.
  • As the therapeutic potential of the plant becomes increasingly evident, more and more countries are relaxing their laws on cannabis cultivation, production and distribution of derivatives.
  • In the absence of a clear international framework, the distinction between hemp-derived and cannabis-derived CBD only adds to the confusion of an increasingly heterogeneous global landscape.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a substance naturally occurring in cannabis. Contrary to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not produce any psychoactive effects, but in return delivers a host of therapeutic benefits including relief from anxiety, reduction of some forms of pain and prevention of seizures. The current legal status of CBD is a complicated one, varying from country to country, and even from continent to continent.

This is mainly because even if CBD is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, in most countries the legislation distinguishes between two subtypes of plant depending on the THC content – i.e. cannabis and hemp. Plants containing more than 0.3 per cent THC fall within the definition of cannabis, while plants with less than 0.3 per cent THC are generally classed as hemp. CBD can be derived both from cannabis and hemp.

As a rule, but subject to national laws, CBD – whether hemp-derived or cannabis-derived – can be divided into three categories: fully legal, medical and strictly controlled. Fully legal CBD means it is available without restrictions, but only a limited number of countries including Colombia, Jamaica and Uruguay have legalised CBD completely. Far more numerous are the countries that allow medical CBD – e.g. Australia, Canada and Chile – but in many others the substance remains illegal or has not been specifically regulated.

Other peculiarities

The cannabis/hemp distinction leads to ambiguities like the ones we see in the U.S., where hemp-derived CBD is legal nationwide and cannabis-derived CBD is only allowed in some states.

Added to this is the fact that distinctions are also made between hemp seeds oil and CBD oil. While the former is free of cannabinoids and has been commercially available as a foodstuff for years, the latter has come on the market only recently and cannot be marketed as food.

Some countries may make exceptions and allow CBD oils to be sold as food, but a license is often necessary depending on the extraction and purification techniques employed. Then there are countries where topical CBD products can be marketed as cosmetics, as well as countries where CBD products are available under prescription.

The upshot of all this is that, despite its complexity, the CBD market is already a reality. As research improves our understanding of the benefits of cannabis, we are seeing an increasing demand for CBD, which hopefully will result in easier access to legal products.

The articles below provide an in-depth analysis of the legal status of CBD across the continents:


North America

South America


Asia and Oceania


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