New legislation has been introduced in Hong Kong making the possession, consumption and distribution of cannabidiol (CBD) illegal, Time magazine reported.

The ban – which took effect on 1 February - includes the manufacturing, supply, sale, import, export, and possession of CBD products, including cosmetics and food.

CBD is one of the chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant or hemp. In Hong Kong and elsewhere, the cannabis plant itself is considered a dangerous drug as another compound from the plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC), has psychoactive properties.

An expert panel from the World Health Organization found in 2017, that on its own, CBD appeared to be neither harmful nor prone to abuse – although it did not recommend the compound for medical use, the 31 January report said.

Some studies had also found that CBD use has therapeutic value, particularly for people suffering from seizures and clinical anxiety.

However, Hong Kong narcotics officials argued that these studies had not been authoritatively proven. They also cited expert opinion that pure CBD was difficult to extract from cannabis plants, and they claimed that, of CBD products seized, around a third contained THC.

Local authorities also said that the science behind CBD’s alleged therapeutic qualities was not absolute and that its use could have harmful side effects, the report said.

CBD had been categorised as a “dangerous drug,” in Hong Kong along with heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine since 1 February, Time wrote.

Hong Kong’s government had defended the change in policy saying that CBD could decompose or be converted into THC, Bloomberg UK reported. However, some industry players believed that the city’s decision was also made to bring it closer to drug regulation in mainland China, which banned the use of CBD in all cosmetics in 2021, according to the 2 March report.

Prior to the ban, a growing market had emerged in Hong Kong for products containing CBD, ranging from skincare to food and drinks, Time wrote.

“The ban has forced many CBD firms to remove the products from their shelves, remodel their businesses, or close down completely,” Hedy He, cosmetic regulatory analyst at ChemLinked, told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​.

According to He, CBD companies could look to markets such as Japan and South Korea, which had shown potential for development.

Meanwhile, other countries had legalised or moved towards decriminalising cannabis, including Thailand last year, the Time report said.

However, cannabis itself remained illegal in most countries, with related offences often punishable by long prison sentences.

Products containing CBD have become increasingly popular in recent years, due to claims of their therapeutic benefits. As of last February, the global market for CBD was estimated to reach US$48bn by 2028, Time wrote.