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With its zero-tolerance cannabis laws, deep social stigma against the drug and moves to tighten rules on consumption, Japan is no stoner's paradise. CBD derived from hemp stems is legal, but the booming market is leaning towards friendlier hemp laws. Learn where to find CBD in Japan. From ingestible oils and gummies to skin lotions and makeup, products made from cannabidiol, an extract of the cannabis plant devoid of its psychoactive properties, are rapidly gaining popularity in Japan.

‘The power of cannabis’: Japan embraces CBD despite drug taboo

Tokyo (AFP) – With its zero-tolerance cannabis laws, deep social stigma against the drug and moves to tighten rules on consumption, Japan is no stoner’s paradise.

But you wouldn’t guess it watching Ai Takahashi and her friends twerking, body-rolling and lighting up to the weed anthem “Young, Wild & Free” at a tiny, packed club in Tokyo.

What they’re smoking isn’t illegal marijuana, but a joint containing cannabidiol (CBD) — a non-intoxicating component of cannabis that has become trendy worldwide and is fast catching on in Japan.

“When I was a child, I was taught at school and everywhere else that marijuana is an absolute no-no, and that’s what I believed too,” Takahashi told AFP.

“But being a huge reggae fan, I had a chance to smoke it when I travelled to places where it’s legal.”

The 33-year-old dancer later became interested in CBD, which is legal in Japan if extracted from the plant’s seeds or fully-grown stems, but not other parts like the leaves.

It is sold in vapes, drinks and sweets at specialist cafes, health stores, and even a shop in Tokyo’s main airport.

When Takahashi encouraged her mother, who was struggling with depression, to try CBD, it made a big difference, she said.

Despite its budding interest in the plant’s health benefits, Japan is not getting softer on illegal use, with cannabis arrests hitting records each year Philip FONG AFP

“That’s when I became convinced of the power of cannabis.”

Japan’s CBD industry had an estimated value of $59 million in 2019, up from $3 million in 2015, says Tokyo-based research firm Visiongraph.

And the government is discussing approving medicines derived from marijuana, already used in many countries to treat conditions like severe epilepsy.

But despite its budding interest in the plant’s health benefits, the country is not getting softer on illegal use, with cannabis arrests hitting records each year.

‘Don’t smoke outside’

It’s a curious contrast that has led Norihiko Hayashi, who sells products containing cannabinoids like CBD and CBN in sleek black and silver packaging, to advise discretion.

“It’s legal, but we ask customers to enjoy it at home. Don’t smoke it outside on the street,” the 37-year-old said.

Hayashi thinks Japan could eventually legalise marijuana for medical purposes.

But recreational? “Never. Not in more than 100 years. Maybe I’ll already be dead.”

A growing number of countries from Canada to South Africa and most recently Thailand are taking a more relaxed approach to weed.

CBD is legal in Japan if extracted from the plant’s seeds or fully-grown stems, but not other parts like the leaves Philip FONG AFP

But drug use remains taboo in Japan, where celebrities caught using narcotics of any description are shunned by their fans and employers.

Just 1.4 percent of people say they have tried marijuana, compared to more than 40 percent in France and around half in the United States.

Even so, cannabis-related arrests have been rising for nearly a decade to a record 5,482 last year, with most offenders in their teens or 20s.

“The internet is awash with false information saying cannabis isn’t harmful or addictive,” health ministry official Masashi Yamane told AFP.

The ministry warns that intoxicating substances like THC, found in cannabis, could compromise learning ability and muscle control as well as potentially increase the risk of mental illness.

‘Draconian’

To tackle the issue, authorities are looking into closing a loophole originally meant to stop farmers from being arrested for inhaling psychoactive smoke when growing hemp for items like rope.

It means consumption of marijuana is technically legal in Japan, although possession is punishable by up to five years in jail.

This rises to seven years and a possible fine of up to two million yen ($15,000) if it’s to sell for profit, with stricter sentences for growing or smuggling.

Japan’s Cannabis Control Act was introduced in 1948, during the post-war US occupation.

The United States “saw marijuana as a problem and a threat, even though consumption was really limited and very much stigmatised,” said Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, a University of Colorado history professor who studies narcotics in Japan.

So “these draconian drug laws against a drug that wasn’t really a problem remained on the books,” she told AFP.

While Japan could allow cannabis-derived medicines as soon as this year, there’s little sign that politicians or the public back further relaxation of the rules Philip FONG AFP

The rules have ensnared stars including Beatle Paul McCartney, who spent nine days in detention in Japan in 1980 after cannabis was found in his baggage.

But the country is not an outlier in Asia, where tough penalties for drug use are the norm, although Thailand now allows users to possess and grow cannabis under complicated new guidelines that still outlaw recreational use.

And while Japan could allow cannabis-derived medicines as soon as this year, there’s little sign that politicians or the public back further relaxation of the rules.

“Marijuana is seen as something favoured by outlaws,” said Ryudai Nemoto, a 21-year-old employee at a CBD shop in Ibaraki near Tokyo.

“I personally don’t see it that way, knowing there are people who gravitate towards it for medical and health reasons, but that’s not how general society views it.”

Buying CBD in Japan: What You Should Know [2020]

Historically, cannabis has held immense significance in Japan.

Unlike many other countries that used cannabis mostly for recreational purposes and fiber, Japan treated it as a sacred plant. Cannabis had a major role in Japanese symbolism, tradition, religion, and medicine.

Yet, despite 10,000 years of continuous use, cannabis became prohibited in Japan a few decades ago.

How did this happen?

war, politics, and international relations, of course. But times are changing in Japan once again.

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Today, hemp and CBD are legal under strict rules, but Japanese citizens are finding it easier every year to find CBD supplements.

In this guide, we’ll take a brief look at the history of cannabis laws in Japan and discuss the current regulations on CBD and hemp products. Perhaps most importantly — we’ll discuss how to buy high-quality CBD products from brands that operate or ship CBD to the region.

Summary: Buying CBD in Japan

  1. CBD extracts and products that are THC-free and made from hemp stems are legal in Japan
  2. The interest in CBD in Japan is increasing steadily, and laws are expected to become friendlier in 2020 and beyond
  3. Refrain from purchasing CBD products that contain any THC — it’s prohibited and severely punished by Japanese officials
  4. You can shop for CBD in local stores, or you can order online if you live in Japan
  5. You can use a mail forwarding service to buy from international brands that don’t ship to Japan

Best CBD Oils in Japan

Ananda Hemp Broad-Spectrum Zero THC CBD Oil

$0.14

Elixinol CBD Oil Liposomes

$0.13 – $0.20

Medterra Isolate CBD Oil

$0.04 – $0.07

Formula Swiss CBD Oil

€0.06 – €0.08

Reakiro CBD Oil

€0.07 – €0.08

Hemp Bombs CBD Oil

$0.07 – $0.17

A Brief History of Cannabis Laws in Japan

The history of cannabis in Japan begins in 10,000 BCE. The first findings were seeds and woven fibers used for clothes, food, bowstrings, and fishing nets and lines.

Hemp was of great importance to prehistoric Japanese people, and it’s mentioned in the most famous collection of poems — the Manyoshu (8th century).

Besides its many uses, the plant was also a symbol of strength and persistence. The Japanese would often tell their kids about hemp’s ability to grow tall and strong, encouraging them to do the same and to persist no matter what.

The popularity of this symbolism led to the creation of Asa-no-ha, a fabric made from cannabis leaves used for children’s clothes in the 18th century.

The Japanese also used hemp fiber for building shrines. There was a strong belief that cannabis is a sacred plant inhabited by the gods. Priests would use cannabis leaves to expel evil spirits and to bring purity in the shrines.

What’s interesting about cannabis’ history in Japan is that there’s no evidence of people smoking cannabis, but many documents confirm cannabis use in medicine. Various medicinal books and old ads from the 20th century demonstrate people treating muscle pain, asthma, allergies, and insomnia with cannabis.

During the Second World War, the Japanese military forces needed rope and cord for the ships and parachutes. When Imperial Japan surrendered in 1945, the US entered the country and took control over many government policies — including Japan’s agriculture. Shortly after the occupation, the US government imposed cannabis prohibition.

Although the ban was to “protect the public from drugs,” some history and economy experts believe that America intended to close the well-developed Japanese cannabis industry to open the doors to new American artificial materials.

With the implementation of the Cannabis Control Act (1948), Japan’s cannabis farms were nearly wiped out, leaving many farmers deprived of their right to grow cannabis for their survival.

Today, low-THC hemp is grown mostly for fiber, food, and CBD extracts, while marijuana is strictly prohibited with severe penalties for those using or possessing it.

Why Is It Important to Differentiate Hemp from Marijuana?

After being used for centuries throughout the world, hemp became plant-enemy number one for many governments in the 20th century. But what led to this?

Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, but they have one key difference — their THC concentration.

THC is the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis, and while highly concentrated in marijuana, it’s found in exceptionally small amounts in hemp plants — which means hemp can’t get you high.

In most of the countries, marijuana is considered any Cannabis sativa with more than 0.3% THC (0.2% in Europe). Any plants that contain 0.3% THC or less is considered hemp instead.

However, Japan’s Cannabis Control Act focuses on the plant’s parts, regardless of the THC content. The act prohibits the use of cannabis leaves and flowers but excludes the seeds and the stem. This is because even marijuana plants don’t produce psychoactive concentrations of THC in the stems.

Cannabis products made from hemp stems or seeds that don’t contain ANY THC is legal for purchase without a prescription in Japan.

You’re not allowed to use recreational cannabis products in Japan. If you get caught with any amount, you will receive a severe penalty.

Is CBD Legal in Japan?

Japan is one of the most ambitious players on the Asian market — CBD is unrestricted and available at airports, cafés, restaurants, beauty shops, and pop up stores. However, THC is still illegal, and CBD products must be 100% free from the psychoactive compound.

Although quite liberal in comparison with the other Asian countries, Japan applies strict rules on CBD. Besides the ban on THC, CBD can be extracted only from the hemp stems, but there’s a silver lining — the law doesn’t mention an upper limit on CBD in these products.

The principles of integrity are deeply rooted in Japanese tradition, and laws around CBD require companies to implement meticulous quality and safety standards. This is an on-point advantage for you as a buyer because you can indulge in high-quality CBD products such as CBD cosmetics, food and beverages, topicals, vape juices, and oils. The Japanese government takes steps to protect CBD users by making sure companies are following the rules.

The same can’t be said for CBD companies operating in the United States of Europe, where the industry is a bit of a wild west.

In summary, CBD products are legal in Japan as long as they’re made from cannabis stems or seeds, and don’t contain any measurable levels of THC.

How to Buy CBD Products in Japan (Legally)

CBD is not a brand-new concept in Japan — it’s been slowly progressing into the mainstream over the last few years. There are fortunately a few different ways you can buy CBD products in Japan.

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The rapid market growth and the high demand for CBD indicate that low-THC CBD could be legalized soon. However, it’s best to abide by the current laws when shopping for CBD, so you don’t fall into any trouble.

Japan is not as restrictive as you may assume — you can shop for CBD isolate products and broad-spectrum CBD both in-store and online.

Many countries that apply strict rules prohibit CBD imports, but Japan’s officials didn’t want to create an oppressive market. Instead, the government allows experienced foreign brands to introduce their CBD products on the market, following the country’s rules.

The best place to buy CBD products in Japan at the moment is online. Here you can shop from hundreds of different suppliers and have your products shipped to your address in Japan.

Alternatively, you can purchase CBD products at various local shops and stalls in Japan.

Buying CBD Online in Japan

If you do a little research, you’ll find many decent brands selling high-quality CBD on the Japanese market.

It seems that both online and local stores have found their customers — The Japanese love to shop for CBD online, and they also enjoy spending time at local cafés savoring different CBD-infused drinks and sweets.

When it comes to buying CBD oils, topicals, and beauty and wellness products, it’s best to shop at online stores. Online, you can choose from various domestic and foreign brands.

If you’re buying CBD from a foreign brand, ask the retailer about the ingredients and THC content in the CBD extract used.

You’re not allowed to buy CBD with THC or CBD extracted from hemp flowers or leaves. If you do so, customs will seize your product — you risk prosecution if you get caught importing a product with THC.

Other than this legal matter, you shouldn’t bump into any serious obstacles. Buying CBD online is convenient because you can choose from thousands of products sold at an affordable price, and you can shop at your convenience.

If you read through local magazines and websites, you’ll notice that many suggest shopping from Japanese brands. This may sound “patriotic,” but it has nothing to do with it. It’s sensible advice — domestic brands produce CBD abiding by the local rules.

On the other hand, foreign companies create products that can satisfy the international market, and a large portion of their goods contain traces of THC or CBD extracted from hemp flowers.

Don’t get discouraged — there are foreign brands that produce top-notch CBD products intended for strict markets like the Japanese.

Some brands, however, won’t ship their products to Japan, but you can use a mail forwarding service to get around this. We’ll clarify how mail forwarding works a little bit later.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Buying CBD Online in Japan
  • You can choose from thousands of products from reputable brands
  • You will save money and time — online stores have reasonable prices, and they operate 24/7
  • You can contact the seller for product details
  • You can choose between domestic and foreign brands
  • Rules on CBD quality are strict, so there’s a lower risk for scam
  • There’s a risk of customs seizing your product
  • You might need to use a mail forwarding service

Tips on Buying High-Quality CBD Products in Japan

There are thousands of CBD products to choose from, but not everything is safe. Even in the most regulated markets like the Japanese, you can spend your money on a low-quality CBD if you’re not careful.

There are several factors that you should consider when shopping for CBD. Let’s take a look at the most important ones.

1. Consider If There’s Any THC in the CBD Product

The Japanese law doesn’t tolerate THC under any circumstances, and you should always shop for either CBD isolate products or broad-spectrum CBD.

Pay attention to this when you’re shopping for CBD in a foreign country. Most brands that sell worldwide have CBD products with low amounts of THC. Opt for their 100% THC-free CBD.

2. Ask About the Origin of CBD

If you were buying CBD somewhere in Europe or North America, your only worry would be the origin of hemp. The environment where hemp is grown affects the quality of CBD.

However, when shopping in Japan, you shouldn’t forget that you can purchase only CBD that’s extracted from hemp stems. Besides the hemp quality, you should consider what parts of the plant were used for the extraction. Never pay for your CBD before the seller ensures you it’s legal in your country.

3. Stay Away From CBD Products With Exaggerated Health Claims

CBD is known for having many benefits, but it’s not a cure for all ills. Some companies might try to sell it to you as such just to earn some quick cash. If a CBD product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

4. Buy CBD From Reputable Brands

CBD’s popularity brings many new brands to the market. However, it’s best not to buy from a brand that still hasn’t established its reputation, because you can never be sure of their products’ purity.

On the other hand, brands that have been present on the market longer tend to fulfill their customers’ expectations. Reputable brands care for consistency, and they wouldn’t risk selling you CBD of questionable quality.

How Mail Forwarding Works

Mail forwarding companies can provide you with a local address in the region where you want to shop for CBD.

You may wonder how this is useful to you. Well, it’s simple — some brands may decide that they can’t ship CBD to your country, and your only option is to use a mail forwarding service to get ahold of this product.

The mail forwarding company will receive your parcel at a warehouse and redirect it to your home address.

FEATURE: CBD takes root in Japan as gov’t mulls easing laws for cannabis meds

From ingestible oils and gummies to skin lotions and makeup, products made from cannabidiol, an extract of the cannabis plant devoid of its psychoactive properties, are rapidly gaining popularity in Japan.

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CBD, as cannabidiol is commonly known, is touted to have numerous health benefits, such as helping treat stress and anxiety and possessing anti-inflammatory properties. CBD items are now readily available in shops in cities around the country, while trials for a British-manufactured CBD drug have also started this year.

Kazuma Uehara, 31, runs a trendy cafe in western Tokyo that sells CBD products. Named Hammock, several of the woven sling beds hang from the cafe’s ceiling, while the timber walls and rustic decor contribute to a relaxed atmosphere.

Kazuma Uehara, store manager of Cafe Hammock that sells CBD products in Mitaka, Tokyo, is pictured on June 10, 2022. (Kyodo)

Uehara first learned about CBD in early 2020 after it was recommended to him by the supplier who provided the cafe with its namesake hammocks. “I was struggling with insomnia at the time,” Uehara said.

He started eating CBD gummies, and after just a few days Uehara said he found himself sleeping better. “I wasn’t able to sleep for more than two or three hours, but then it went up to six or seven.”

Uehara now sells CBD oils and gummies at the cafe, and says some customers come in specifically to buy the products. “We have been asked if it’s really legal before,” he said. “But other customers are at ease and trust that it’s okay as it’s just another product being sold at the cafe.”

But while the CBD industry grows, possession of the plant it is derived from remains highly illegal in Japan, stemming from a law enacted in 1948 criminalizing cannabis following the end of World War II and subsequent U.S. occupation.

In reality, hemp has been used from ancient times for items such as “shimenawa” sacred Japanese rope at shrines, with some farmers still licensed to cultivate the plant.

Despite recreational cannabis use being far from widespread in Japan, a record 5,783 offenses involving the drug were documented last year. Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Shigeyuki Goto has said the government will “strengthen crackdowns and promote comprehensive measures” against drug abuse.

On the other hand, a CBD medication called Epidiolex has become the first of its kind to be trialed in the country for patients with rare and severe forms of epilepsy, and amid strong support from patient associations, the health ministry is looking to revise the Cannabis Control Act to make way for the drug.

Some are also calling for CBD products and potential medications that contain tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, to be made available in Japan. The constituent is responsible for cannabis’ psychoactive properties that make people feel “high.”

CBD is allowed in Japan as products derived from the stalks and seeds of cannabis are not criminalized, according to the law, unlike those made from extracts concentrated in other parts of the plant, such as THC.

“The issue is figuring out up to what amount of THC (in a product) is acceptable,” said Tomohiko Mizuno, representative director of the Association of Japan Cannabinoid, which supports revision of the cannabis act, in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

A former lawmaker, the 66-year-old Mizuno says that Japan “does not allow values other than zero,” and thinks that it should set legal standards for THC content from a “rational point of view, as other countries have set.”

Mizuno, a member of Japan’s House of Representatives until 2012, first learned about CBD in 2014. Also a qualified dentist, he took interest in CBD’s medicinal properties, and the benefits they could have for people in Japan’s aging society.

In addition to campaigning for revision of the cannabis act, the association offers consulting services for new companies learning to navigate the industry and conducts inspections on imported products while providing certifications that they can be traded legally.

Hirotsugu Suzuki, 49, knows from experience how tricky it can be running such a business, after he founded his company Organy Inc. in 2015 and created the first CBD skincare line in Japan.

“There were many difficulties like liaising with the health ministry and customs,” Suzuki said of starting his business. “There was nowhere to manufacture the products as well. I really started from zero.”

Photo taken on June 2, 2022, shows CBD products from Hirotsugu Suzuki’s business on display at a storefront in Tokyo’s Aoyama district. (Kyodo)

But Suzuki believes CBD has vast potential. He has since expanded to items such as tinctures and even pet treats, and recently collaborated with a flower shop in Tokyo’s upscale Aoyama district to put his products on display in its storefront window.

While Suzuki says the industry is still small, it is definitely growing, with U.S. company Medical Marijuana Inc. saying the Japan division of its CBD-selling subsidiary had its best-ever month of revenue in May.

According to data provider Statista, Japan is projected to become the second largest CBD market in Asia by 2024, behind only China.

With the widespread stigma surrounding anything cannabis-related in Japan, a person interviewed by Kyodo News who asked to be only known by their initials Y.I., said CBD had really helped with the anxiety triggered by their bipolar disorder.

“A lot of people think that cannabis equates to hard drugs. But I think that they would accept it if it were promoted for medical purposes,” the person said.

Mizuki Ishii, 33, agrees. Cannabis, she says, is generally demonized in Japan, although those with experience living overseas tend to think differently. Ishii proclaims to be a regular user of CBD, which she initially bought to help with her premenstrual syndrome.

Although it did not alleviate the immediate symptoms, Ishii said CBD helped her sleep better and she now shares a tincture bottle with her boyfriend.

“There are a lot of shops geared toward young people selling CBD recently, mainly toward women and coming in fashionable packaging,” she said.

“Compared to the older generation, I think a lot of young people have a better impression of it.”

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