CBD is a natural extract of the cannabis plant. This extraction process results in an oil in a similar way that olive oil is extracted. But instead of olive oil we get CBD oil.
The resulting CBD oil is highly concentrated. So it is usually consumed at very small amounts - a single drop on the tongue, or combined into more convenient products like capsules or gummies. When consumed at these levels it is perfectly safe for human consumption. As such it is generally classified as a plant based food supplement.
It has, however, been credited with a wide range of health benefits. This list is formidable. It includes cancer and Parkinsons. Those who take it as a food supplement, do so for more generalized benefits, such as calmness and well-being. But also as an aid in dealing with anxiety and depression.
CBD is also known to possess anti-inflammatory properties and many have found it useful in treating skin conditions. Especially if they have sensitivity to some of the man made products used on our skin.
Where does CBD come from?
CBD is one of the over 100 natural compounds produced within the cannabis family of plants which includes hemp. There is nothing unusual about the number of compounds within the cannabis plant. This is normal for any plant. What is unusual is the interaction with the human body that these compounds have.
CBD itself is short for “cannabidiol” and the compounds found within the cannabis plant are collectively called "cannabinoids". Science has only fairly recently identified these cannabinoids and described their interaction with the human body.
However, the plant that produces cannabinoids, in particular Hemp, has been used for thousands of years. Not only for its medicinal properties, but as a pretty damn good fibre. There is even evidence of hemp fibre being used make rope as early as 10,000 BC!
Generally people quote the ancient Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung (c.2700BC), often described as the father of Chinese medicine, as documenting the first medicinal use of cannabis.
It has been used by Egyptians as analgesic suppositories for hemorrhoids and by Indians as a treatment for insomnia, headaches, gastrointestinal problems and for pain. The Ancient Greeks used it to treat epistaxis. The Arab world had used it from the eighth to the eighteenth century as an analgesic, an anti-inflammatory and an antiepileptic.
One of the interesting things about reading the ancient description of cannabis use is that there are very few references to psychoactive effects. It seems that the use of cannabis for mind altering effects is a fairly recent development. But for many people these recent developments set off alarm bells when mentioning cannabis, cannabidiol and cannabinoids. This is the hump that CBD has to get over, the hemp hump.
The Hemp Hump
CBD’s reputation suffers from its family connection to marijuana. Whilst both hemp and marijuana are cousins, and part of the cannabis sativa family, they are not the same plant.
The mind altering effects we associate marijuana comes from the compound THC. Marijuana has been specifically bred by man to maximise its THC content. Because of this it is fairly difficult to grow.
Hemp, however, is largely unchanged from its ancient relatives. It is the plant that most resembles what the ancients must have cultivated. It has very little THC – effectively none.
Nevertheless, many people do not understand the difference between marijuana and hemp. They may think that hemp is a back door trick to get marijuana legalised. And to be honest it is quite difficult to visually distinguish between the two plants.
Even law enforcement agencies have trouble distinguishing between the two plants. In January 2019 Idaho State Police seized a truck carrying over 3,000 kg (6700lb) of industrial hemp. The driver was charged with trafficking marijuana. The company that owned the cargo sued the police for the return of its hemp and a US federal judge consequently ordered its return (Idaho Statesman).
Why Use CBD
In 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report on CBD. In this report they suggest that CBD could provide therapeutic benefit for conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Multiple sclerosis. It also suggested benefits for treating pain, anxiety and depression.
At the very least the WHO report suggests that CBD has a generally positive effect. It also states that "CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile" and "CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential".
Additionally there are many other studies that show that CBD has benefits for a range of issues. These can be acne and other skin conditions, to sleep disorders, motion sickness, migraines, inflammation, asthma and even tobacco addiction. Of course, whilst many of these indications displayed in individual studies require further rigorous investigation to qualify as scientific proof. There are many people who individually report benefits for such issues.
Since CBD is regarded as safe for human consumption - the worst result someone can expect from consuming legally available CBD is that there is no effect. This is certainly the case with CBD available in the UK as a food supplement.
Most consumers of CBD do so because of "word of mouth". They hear of someone else who has benefited and decide to give it a try themselves.
Generally these people are not treating severe conditions like Parkinson's. It may just be general well-being, anxiety or sleep. Applying CBD to alleviate skin conditions is also common. But at this stage in the research scientific claims are unable to be made about the effectiveness of CBD in relation to these issues.
Nevertheless, the anecdotal evidence is almost deafening. For all of these use cases you will find a chorus of people who swear by CBD's benefits. These are people who have tried CBD, often on a friend's recommendation, and now sing its praises.
How CBD works
CBD seems to work through the body's own endocannabinoid (ECS) system to promote homeostasis. Effectively this is the body's own system for maintaining the correct balance and levels within itself. One of the most obvious examples of the body maintaining homeostasis is the way it maintains your body temperature.
The body produces endocannabinoids naturally. But occasionally this can get a bit off, for a variety of reasons or because you have a particular vulnerability. Taking CBD then allows you to top up your endocannabinoids naturally. This is similar to the way vitamins work.
CBD Legality in the UK
Whilst cannabis and most cannabannoids are controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, CBD is not.
"Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and has been the subject of interest and research for potential medical uses." Commons Library Briefing - Medical Use of Cannabis
In short, this means that CBD is perfectly legal in the UK. As long as there are none of the other illegal cannabinoids present.
What this boils down to is that there must be none of the psychoactive THC present in a CBD product such as CBD oil. The definition of "not present" being less than 0.2% THC (0.3% in the US).
In addition to these requirements, CBD products cannot be sold as having a medical benefit. This would require the product to be licenced in the way all medicines must be. However, it can be sold as a food supplement in the way that vitamin supplements are sold.