CBD: What is it and how is it being used in the UK?

The compound is used in everything from beauty products to brownies

Consultant neurologist Professor Michael Barnes insists medical cannabis 'is much safer' than street cannabis

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is having a moment.

Used in everything from snacks to moisturisers, products containing CBD (including oils, extracts, etc) seem to be everywhere.

In 2018, it was reported that the number of CBD consumers had doubled in the previous 12 months. But what exactly is CBD, and how is it making waves in medical fields and beyond?

Read on for everything you need to know about the herbal flavour-of-the-month.

What is it?

CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical compound found in the marijuana plant.

It doesn’t disrupt the central nervous system because it doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the other key compound in cannabis which causes users to get high.

This means that products containing CBD, such as oils and extracts (which contain concentrated amounts of the compound), won’t lead to changes in mood and perception like recreational use of marijuana in its complete form is known to do.

Is it legal?

Products containing CBD are not currently illegal as long as they contain only trace amounts of THC.

While cannabis is classified as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, CBD is itself a legal cannabinoid that has been sold in the UK for years.

However, products containing CBD which tout medicinal benefits need to be licensed under the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Legalities surrounding medicinal products containing CBD are more complex, given that these also contain THC, the compound that has psychoactive effects.

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However, in July 2018, home secretary Sajid Javid announced that doctors in England, Wales and Scotland would be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis oil as of 1 November after it was found to relieve symptoms of childhood epilepsy.

How is it used in medicine?

There are two cannabis-based medicines in the UK, which contain both CBD and THC.

Sativex has been licensed for a decade and is approved to treat shakes and spasms associated with multiple sclerosis.

However, NHS spending watchdogs in England and Scotland have said it is not cost-effective, however it is recommended in limited cases in Wales.

Epidiolex ia a medication used to treat two rare forms of epilepsy and is made by the same UK company that makes Sativex, GW Pharmaceuticals. In September 2019, GW Pharmaceuticals received European Commission approval for Epidiolex to be used to treat patients who have seizures due to "severe forms of childhood onset epilepsy".

How is it used elsewhere?

CBD oils are sold in mainstream health shops, primarily as food supplements, and advertise benefits such as relieving inflammation, pain relief and reducing anxiety, but there is a paucity of studies to scientifically prove such effects.

A number of beauty brands now make CBD-based creams due to the compound’s supposed anti-inflammatory properties.

Some studies also suggest CBD is useful ingredient for helping with irritation, signs of aging and reducing redness, all of which are highly sought-after qualities in skincare products.

You can also buy a number of CBD-infused snacks, with vegan eatery By Chloe launching an entire range of plant-based baked goods containing the compound.

How is it different from hemp?

Hemp is derived from the hemp plant, which contains low levels of both CBD and THC.

It is used primarily as a food supplement due to its high levels of vitamins E and B. It's also rich in antioxidants and is a popular staple in health food products.

In oil form, it's often used in shampoos and lotions around the world.

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