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A young cannabis plant is shown in Fenwick, Ont., on June 26, 2018.The Canadian Press

Experts say new recommendations published by Health Canada will move the country a step closer to allowing broader retail sales of cannabidiol – commonly known as CBD.

CBD is an active ingredient in cannabis often used as a remedy for pain relief that is not believed to cause addiction and does not produce a high like tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Unlike in the U.S., Britain and Australia, Canada only has one legal framework for regulating the two components.

While CBD products are currently available through prescription from a physician or at licensed cannabis stores, recommendations published Thursday by the Science Advisory Committee on Health Products Containing Cannabis, an external body, lay the ground work for introducing them over the counter at pharmacies, or through other retailers like health stores.

The report follows a 2019 consultation by Health Canada seeking feedback from cannabis users and health products industries about the potential market for non-prescription health products containing cannabis.

Experts say the committee’s report signals a commitment from Ottawa to study the use of CBD as a recognized pharmaceutical, and moves toward a legal framework that could allow users to get CBD products covered on their medical plan.

University of Saskatchewan pharmacy professor Robert Laprairie said that while he doesn’t expect any major changes to the way that CBD is distributed within the next two or three years, change is almost certainly on the way.

“The current market is really geared towards individuals who are not using it for non-medical purposes, but instead for recreation” Prof. Laprairie said. “There’s emerging evidence that it has health benefits beyond that.”

Self-medication among the public has increased significantly since legalization, especially among seniors and other vulnerable populations, said Erin Prosk, president of Santé Cannabis, a Westmount, Quebec-based medical cannabis clinic.

She said she was encouraged by the report, which responds to repeated calls from cannabis patients and clinicians for a greater acknowledgment of CBD’s medical use.

While movement toward a possible future regulatory framework is possible, it carries a risk: to date, there is inadequate data supporting the use of CBD on a wide scale, said James MacKillop, director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University.

“The reality is that research evidence only really supports CBD for a very small number of conditions. The possible risk here is that having a new class of non-medical CBD health products may communicate greater evidence of support than there actually is,” Prof. MacKillop said.

Health Canada has a high bar for studies into CBD, making generating evidence challenging, Prof. MacKillop said.

George Smitherman, president of the Cannabis Council of Canada, said the report is a positive for Canadian pot businesses. While licensed cannabis retailers could face greater competition for CBD sales in the future, greater recognition of its medical uses could provide additional support for the market.

“This will create opportunities for cannabis retailers who have their own clientele to advance the sale of those products as well,” Mr. Smitherman said.

One such company is High Tide Inc., a cannabis retail chain, which owns three CBD subsidiaries. In an e-mail, High Tide’s chief executive officer Raj Grover said he was encouraged by the steps to create a regulatory pathway “so that Canadians and their pets can get access to reputable CBD products they can trust.”

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