Written by Hayley Bromfield • Published 17th July 2019 • 5 minute read

Cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1928, but recently, cannabidiol, one of the hundred or so chemical compounds found in the marijuana plant, has been gaining huge popularity. What makes cannabidiol (also called CBD) different is that it doesn’t contain psychoactive substance THC, which is also found in marijuana but is a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

According to recent research by the Brightfield Group, Europe’s CBD market is estimated to grow over 400% in the next four years. So why the sudden surge towards all things CBD? A turning point was when a World Health Organisation report revealed last year that CBD could have medicinal benefits, and may help to provide relief from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.

But it’s not just scientists and medical professionals that are getting excited about the potential of CBD. Brands have been launching CBD-containing products left right and centre, initially constricted to the pharmacy and supplement sector, but now reaching almost every aisle in the supermarket. Products range from oils, face masks and body creams to sweets, soft drinks and baked goods. The alleged benefits include relaxation, pain relief, focus, energy, reduced anxiety, digestion… the list goes on.

As with any trend that sweeps the nation seemingly overnight, along with all the promise comes challenges. Here are some of the reasons why promoting your CBD product may feel like an uphill battle.

Consumer scepticism

Not long ago, anything cannabis-related was widely considered as dangerous and harmful. Many consumers will therefore be understandably worried about the safety of CBD, given how recently it was legalised. Scepticism about its long-term effects, as well as concerns around the (lack of) regulatory testing that companies are required to undergo, might be causes for hesitation, and this is something brands need to address if they are to win over the public.

There is also a lack of knowledge and confidence around its benefits; even if it is safe to consume, will the product actually do what it says on the tin? These days you can purchase cannabidiol in so many different forms, each claiming to have a slightly different effect. CBD doesn’t fit into a neat box and new types of CBD-related products and services are popping up everywhere. You can now buy a CBD bath bomb, hemp oil infused coffee, CBD vapes and even cannabis tampons. It’s no wonder there are controversies about the apparent benefits – can CBD-infused blueberries really make a positive difference to your health, over and above the natural benefits of the fruit itself?

A legal question mark

Questions around the legality of the constituents of cannabis are not straightforward, and a comprehensive answer will come with qualifications and restrictions. There is continued confusion over whether CBD oil is legal in the UK, and an ongoing debate about whether it should be. The facts are that as of November last year CBD is legal in the UK, provided it contains no more than 0.2% of the psychoactive ingredient THC, which is responsible for the high marijuana is known to induce.

So… ‘CBD’, also called ‘cannabidiol’ and ‘medical cannabis’, was legalised last year (with caveats), but ‘cannabis’ and ‘cannabis oil’ are still illegal. With so many similar names having different meanings, coupled with conflicting opinions in the media, it’s hardly surprising that consumers might hesitate to get on board.

Advertising restrictions

While CBD products are legal to sell, advertising them will prove a little more difficult than one might suspect. Any CBD products claiming to have a medicinal effect require a medical license from the MHRA, and the ASA’s website hosts lists of regulations and requirements that need to be adhered to before any CBD-containing product goes to market. Crucially, companies without a license can legally sell CBD oil only when advertised as a food or supplement; any medical or health claims are prohibited.

Navigating social media is equally confusing. Facebook and Instagram don’t permit any drug-related products to be advertised, and Twitter denies brands to use paid advertising for herbal drugs. On LinkedIn, “ads related to illegal, prescription, over-the-counter or recreational drugs are prohibited”, including any herbal medicines. There are ways to get around these restrictions, and many companies have managed to find loopholes to weave their way onto these platforms, but it’s certainly not straightforward.

Companies might also face challenges around influencer engagement. It can be difficult for any brand to find an individual with the right demographic, engagement and tone of voice for your product. But with CBD, there are the added hurdles of influencers potentially not wanting to be associated with such a controversial product, because of possible backlash from the media and the effect it could have on their reputation. The good news is that a PR agency can help to identify the right relationships and introduce brands to influencers they may not otherwise have considered, like councils or membership boards who are already active in the CBD space.

Media relations

It can be tough to secure coverage in the media, unless you know how best to communicate your key messages and have the right journalists in your network. The controversy around CBD means businesses need to be particularly aware of what to say and what topics to steer clear of. Without this, they risk alienating their target audience, communicating too scientifically, or jeopardising their reputation. Having access to a wide contact list also opens doors because it means you can be put in touch with the specific individual who writes for the product placement list you want to be featured in, rather than having to rely on emailing whoever you can find on Google and hoping for the best.

In conclusion, CBD brands hoping to entice customers need to think carefully about how to address these issues and position themselves as a credible, safe and desirable choice. One of the best solutions for promoting a CBD product lies in PR, which can help to instil this confidence by tapping into the right news publications, allowing businesses to get around many of the challenges that print and digital advertising restrictions present.

If you need help promoting your CBD product, get in touch with our award-winning team today.