Ottawa

'It should be available': Natural health food stores hope to cash in on CBD craze

The natural health food industry wants to break into the growing market for products containing cannabidiol, better known as CBD oil, and is calling on the federal government to make that possible.

Industry calling for government support ahead of next federal election

CBD oil is one of several cannabis-derived products the natural health food industry hopes to sell. (BC Cannabis Stores)

The natural health food industry wants to break into the growing market for products containing cannabidiol, better known as CBD oil, and is calling on the federal government to make that possible.

CBD is a cannabinoid chemical derived from the cannabis plant. It has gained popularity as an over-the-counter treatment for everything from aches and pains to insomnia, though some health professionals caution that claims of its effectiveness are not always backed by research.

Under the Cannabis Act, CBD products can only be sold by provincially and territorially authorized retailers or by federally licensed medical cannabis sellers.

But the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) says those regulations limit the number and type of people who can access them.

The CHFA kicked off a campaign Tuesday to end what it calls a monopoly on cannabis-derived products held by licensed retailers.

The organization said it hopes that the looming federal election will pressure political parties to listen to the industry's demands. 

'Should be available'

"At the end of the day, CBD is a natural health product. It should be regulated as a natural health product. It should be available to Canadians," said Dan Demers, vice-president of regulatory affairs at the CHFA.

The CHFA said the industry wants to be able to apply to Health Canada to sell CBD products in natural health food stores, but won't invest in research on the subject until the federal government opens up that possibility.

Cyrus Kuhzaranim, president of Ottawa-based Pure Lab Vitamins, said the natural health food sector could provide offerings from nasal sprays to suppositories, and even combine them with other products such as herbs.

Each product would have to be individually regulated by Health Canada and manufacturers would need to provide proof of any specific health claims.

Robert Assaf says customers come into his health food stores looking for CBD products because they often don't want to go to recreational cannabis retailers. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Robert Assaf, who owns Kardish Health Food Centre, said the majority of his customers are older women who have told him they don't feel comfortable patronizing recreational cannabis retailers.

"We get customers really every day coming in, expecting us to sell these products because they've seen so many similar products already," he said.

A local retailer makes the case for Health Canada allowing his industry to produce and sell CBD products. 8:28

Amy Manser's mother buys CBD products.

Manser said that opening up their sale to natural health food stores would benefit those who don't want to shop in recreational cannabis stores.

"She feels comfortable going in those stores for the most part, but I can assure you that she would probably much rather come to a health food store than go downtown to these dispensaries," Manser said.

CBD products can't make health claims on labels, according to Health Canada. 

But in an email statement to CBC Ottawa, the federal agency said it's currently consulting Canadians and the health and cannabis industries about what kind of cannabis-derived products they'd like to see manufactured and sold. 

Health Canada then plans to seek scientific advice on what standard of evidence would be required to prove products are safe and effective.

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