The Ministry of Health is aware that there has been some interest in the classification of cannabidiol (CBD) and access to CBD-based products. The following information has been provided for clarification.
The Classification of Cannabidiol
The Ministry of Health (the Ministry) considers cannabidiol (CBD) to be a class B1 controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 as an isomer of the class B1 controlled drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabidiol is also a prescription medicine under the Medicines Act 1981.
In 2015, Australia changed the classification of CBD to a prescription medicine. As a result CBD was referred by the New Zealand Medicines Classification Committee to the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD) for consideration. The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) submitted a document to the EACD detailing its view on the classification of CBD. The Ministry agrees with the majority of ESR’s points and both agree that CBD is an isomer of THC. However, to be captured by the Misuse of Drugs Act, CBD needs to be an isomer within the specific chemical designation of THC. The Ministry and ESR differ in their interpretation of this phrase as this is not defined in the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975
A drug captured by the Misuse of Drugs Act is controlled when present at any level. This means that any amount of a controlled drug in a product would cause that product to be treated as a controlled drug. We are not aware of any synthetic CBD products currently available. All naturally-derived CBD products are likely to contain small amounts of THC and other cannabinoids making them controlled drugs regardless of the classification of CBD. For this reason, the Ministry has moved forward from the debate around the classification of CBD to consider how CBD products with low levels of THC and other cannabinoids can be more accessible.
The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs
The EACD considered CBD at their April and October 2016 meetings. A large focus of these meetings was on determining an amount of other cannabinoids (including THC) that could be allowed in CBD products. At the time of this publication, the EACD advice to the Associate Minister of Health is being finalised out of session.
Classification of Cannabidiol Internationally
The classification of CBD internationally has only recently begun to change due to emerging evidence that CBD has a low risk of harm when used therapeutically. Prior to this knowledge, many countries’ legislation captured CBD as a controlled drug in a similar way to New Zealand’s Misuse of Drugs Act. The examples below show that it is not uncommon for CBD to be classified as a controlled drug internationally.
In Australia, CBD was considered a Schedule 9 prohibited substance until 1 June 2015 when CBD was reclassified to a Schedule 4 prescription only medicine:
The United States
In the United States, at the federal level, CBD is considered a Schedule I controlled drug as a component of cannabis (referred to as ‘marihuana’):
The wording ‘within the specific chemical designation’ that is used in the New Zealand Misuse of Drugs Act is also used in the US Controlled Substances Act.
The United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have recently released a statement on their opinion that products containing CBD used for medical purposes are medicines:
The UK do not include the wording ‘within the specific chemical designation’ in their Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
In Canada, CBD is specifically included in ‘Cannabis, its preparations and derivatives’ as a controlled substance under Schedule II of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (S.C. 1996, c.19)
In 2016 Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (SOR/2016-230) came into effect. These regulations improve access to cannabis (and therefore CBD) when used for medicinal purposes:
Access to CBD in New Zealand
Cannabis-based products (including naturally derived CBD products) are classified as class B1 controlled drugs and can only be prescribed with ministerial approval (regulation 22 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1977). The guidelines for the assessment of applications for these products reflects the increased risk associated with pharmaceutical grade products that do not have consent for distribution in New Zealand and non-pharmaceutical grade products.
Medicines prescribed in normal clinical practice in New Zealand are manufactured to Good Manufacturing Practice standards (pharmaceutical-grade). The only pharmaceutical grade cannabis-based product currently available in New Zealand is Sativex®.
The Ministry remains committed to working with health care professionals to ensure timely access to safe products in appropriate circumstances. Since 2008, the Ministry has approved 163 applications for Sativex®, most of which were for uses different to those for which Sativex® received consent as a medicine. Six applications for Sativex® have been declined since 2008, five have been withdrawn and at the time of this publication, two applications for Sativex® are currently in progress.
Since 2015, seven non-pharmaceutical grade cannabis-based product applications have been approved, two were withdrawn and one was declined as the product could not be lawfully supplied. The majority of these cannabis-based products were known to contain CBD and THC meaning they were not affected by the current classification of CBD.
Note: Figures as of 27 January, 2017
Information on how to access cannabis-based products for medical use can be found on the Ministry of Health website:
More information on bringing medicines into New Zealand can be found on the Ministry of Health website: