The Legality of Herbal Medicine in Canada

selling herbal products in canada

The Legality of Herbal Medicine in Canada: Introduction

This post is all about the legality of herbal medicine in Canada. We’ll discuss requirements for selling herbs, farmers markets, Natural Health Products (NHP), the difference between compounding and manufacturing for distribution, and the changes to NHPs from Bill C-47. 

The law around our practice doesn’t have to be a grey area in our minds. 

For an herbalist or similar holistic health care practitioner, understanding in detail these legal points is important. If you want to be a force to be reckoned with in this world, if you want to be able to defend the life-giving modalities you trust and love, you must understand what forces are coming up against you or which have already entrapped you. 

So let’s get into it as quickly and succinctly as possible: the legality of herbal medicine in Canada as of March, 2024. 

legality of herbalism in canada

What is A Natural Health Product

The Natural Health Products Regulations came into effect in Canada on January 1, 2004. These are a set of regulations which require manufacturers of health products to: obtain a site license; obtain product licenses for each product; adhere to labelling regulations; and adhere to a number of government oversights, all in an attempt to increase the safety and efficacy of products which are aimed at the health of the Canadian populace. The enactment of Bill C-47 in 2023 (see below), has even further increased the stringency of regulations implemented on NHPs. 

The definition of a “Natural Health Product” is quite broad, and includes: probiotics, vitamins and minerals, homeopathic medicines, herbal remedies, traditional medicines such as Chinese medicines, other products such as amino acids and essential fatty acids. 

The definition goes on to include: … a medicine that is manufactured, sold, or represented for use in:
(1): the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of a disease, disorder or abnormal physical state or its symptoms in humans;
(2):  restoring or correcting organic functions in humans; or,
modifying organic functions in humans.

In other words, an NHP is an umbrella term for virtually every single product which could even slightly suggest to be health-giving. Whether you buy into the disease theories, or whether you are claiming that a product repairs tissue or assists with sleep, you are required to have an NHP number and abide by the government regulations to sell it. 

But despite that bleak reality, there is a stipulation to the NHP regulations which allows herbalists to work legally in Canada. 

selling herbal products in canada

The Natural Health Product (NHP) Compounding Policy

When the NHP Regulations came into effect, a group of dedicated herbalists and other health care practitioners consulted with the NHP regulators, and managed to orchestrate the Interim Natural Health Products Compounding Policy. 

I’d recommend just reading the above link, but the gist of the policy is that if an herbalist or other practitioner conducts a consultation in a 1:1 practitioner-patient relationship, and compounds a unique formula specifically for that patient and their unique health needs, the practitioner is not required to abide by the NHP regulations. 

So, as long as an herbalist is doing a 1:1 consultation and compounding a unique formula for the patient, they are permitted to do so. They can use wild-crafted or farmed herbs, utilise creams, oils, capsules, tinctures, and teas. 

But if you want to sell your herbal blend in a store or online without a consultation preceding the sale, you will require an NHP number. For the farmers market herbalist, selling pre-made blends without consultations but with at least a bit of conversation, it’s a bit less clear.  Personally, I sadly don’t think it is legally permitted. There is a stipulation in the NHP Compounding Policy, which states that it is permissible to forego the NHP regulations when a: “Practitioner compounds a product in advance of a practitioner-patient relationship (i.e., bulk compounding) AND product is given to the patient in the context of a practitioner-patient relationship.” Within this context a vendor could do bulk compounding and sell that same formula to a variety of people, so long as there is at least some form of a “practitioner-patient relationship”. 

I know there was an apothecary in Victoria, BC, which sold pre-made blends to the public, but which required a 10 minute consultation before the sale. I think that’s likely the only option for the farmer’s market herbalist (legally). 

Overall it’s still a shaky situation, even for the herbalist doing 1:1 consultations. It requires activism and heroes in the community to preserve or better our situation, like the ones who went to the table with the NHPD in 2004-2006. 

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Changes to NHPs Introduced in Bill C-47

The “slow-boiling” of restricting natural products in Canada is not about the safety of consumers, it is about furthering the monopoly stranglehold of pharmaceutical companies and the medical industrial complex. Not a single death has been reported in Canada from NHPs, and adverse effects are rare (juxtapose that with the hundreds of thousands of deaths from pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and hospital error every year).

Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Conservative Party, stated of Bill C-47: “We will stand up against Trudeau’s attempts to shut down natural health products. He’s trying to shut those down. This is about nothing more than giving more power, more control to multinational pharmaceutical companies, rather than letting Canadians have the freedom and choice to try different kinds of treatments. We need more freedom and choice, not less, in the health decisions that we make.”

Bill C-47 was enacted into law in June of 2023, and it essentially changed the definition of an NHP to a “therapeutic product”. A therapeutic product is defined as: “a drug or device or any combination of drugs and devices.” Essentially, this new definition treats natural health products as drugs, creating stricter regulations, increasing fees to manufacturers, decreasing the chance of a new NHP passing regulation, and in effect making the introduction of new NHPs to market very expensive and difficult. The consumer will suffer from a lack of options, higher prices, and probably an inferior quality. The Bill sequesters the market to the big companies, cuts out small entrepreneurs, and gives more power to the government (and in effect the pharmaceutical companies). In Canada we are already mandated to pay 25%+ of all taxes to the medical industry, and now we can barely get access to natural health products with our own money. 

This was attempted before in the 1990s, but it was met with outrage in the USA and Canada and shoved off. Actor Mel Gibson famously took part in an ad where a swat team raided his mansion to take away his Vitamin C supplements (the USA is currently much more relaxed in NHP regulations than Canada). 

There is still hope for this current situation due to outrage from the public. Some MPs have tabled petitions against it (in Canada, “tabled” means brought forth for discussion), and MP Blaine Calkins has tabled Bill C-368 in an attempt to reverse the regulations. 

Hope is not lost. The absolute latest date at which Justin Trudeau can call a federal election is August of 2025 (though it will most likely be earlier). If the conservatives take control of the House of Commons, it is very possible that a petition or Bill C-368 may come into effect. 

Until then, keep practising herbalism and the healing arts in 1:1 consultations, keep having faith in humanity, join up with some herbal organisations, and keep educating yourself so that you can become a force to be reckoned with against evil. 

This Post was all about the Legality of Herbal Medicine in Canada...

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Justin McArthur

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