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BgVV recommends guidance values for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in hemp-containing foods

07/2000, 16.03.2000

Varieties of hemp which are low in narcotics can now be cultivated as useful industrial plants. Consequently, components of the hemp plant are increasingly being used to produce foods. The constantly growing range of products takes in for instance hempseed and hemp oil as well as cakes, pastries and pasta products, confectionary, sausage products, herbal teas, lemonades and beers produced using hemp. In the opinion of the Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV) it is mainly the content of the diverse action, psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or its precursor delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid which is decisive for the health assessment of these products.

Already in the past BgVV has recommended (Press Release 26/97) that the daily intake of THC in hemp-containing foods should not exceed 1-2 µg per kg body weight. Examination of these studies confirmed this assessment which means that it is now the basis for the proposals elaborated by BgVV for THC values in foods. Assuming that average amounts of various hemp-containing products are consumed every day, the following THC guidance values were derived for foods:

  • 5 µg/kg for non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages
  • 5000 µg/kg for edible oils
  • 150 µg/kg for all other foods

The above values refer to ready-to-eat foods and apply to total THC including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid. Compliance with this value means that the principles of precautionary consumer protection have been respected and no occurrence of harmful effects are to be expected according to the current level of scientific knowledge. Since the dose dependency of some effects of THC has not been clarified in a definitive manner, the proposed guidance values must be seen as temporary. They are meant as an orientation aid in food monitoring and for manufacturers.

The guidance values suggested by BgVV were confirmed in consultations of the Senate Commission of the German Research Society for the Assessment of Health Safety of Foods (SKLM). In this context, a need for research was identified on all these issues. For instance, there is a lack of more exact knowledge about the dose-effect relationship of the psychomotor and endocrine effects of THC when administered orally to human beings. Studies on impairment of psychomotor abilities are especially important given the relevance of these effects for traffic safety and safety at the workplace. In this context, examinations must also be undertaken of possible interaction with other hemp ingredients and with alcohol and/or medicines which affect the central nervous system in man.

A working group within BgVV is currently looking at the development of suitable standardised analytical methods for the determination of total THC in various foods.

After consultation with its Cosmetics Committee, BgVV also recommends that only hemp oil which complies with the above guidance value for edible oils should be used in cosmetics.

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