What is CBD oil, is it legal in the UK and what are the benefits and risks of using it? We asked a dietitian to take a closer look at this food supplement.
CBD oil is increasingly becoming popular, both as a food supplement and as an oil to apply topically to the skin. We asked a dietitian to explain what it is, why people use it and whether it's safe.
What is CBD oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid – a chemical compund that acts on certain parts of the brain – that is becoming increasingly popular in the health world. It comes from the cannabis plant; however, unlike its counterpart, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the 'high' from marijuana, CBD is non-intoxicating and some believe it may have potential health and wellness benefits. Once extracted from the cannabis plant, it is diluted with a carrier such as olive or coconut oil.
Is CBD oil legal in the UK?
Contrary to popular belief, CBD oil is legal in the UK as it is not a controlled substance. There are, however, strict restrictions over its THC content. CBD oil that isn't medically prescribed can only have a maximum THC content of 0.2%. CBD oil products that have a higher THC content may be available to buy online, but not legally.
A small number of patients in the UK may be prescribed a cannabis-based medicine to treat epilepsy or nausea during chemotherapy. Visit the NHS website for more information on medical cannabis.
What is CBD oil used for?
Supporters of CBD oil believe it can help with a number of clinical conditions, including refractory epilepsy, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and acne. However, further robust evidence is required as much of the research is carried out on animal models.
A systematic review looking at the use of CBD for epilepsy concluded that there is insufficient evidence to conclusively support the efficacy and long-term safety of using it to treat epilepsy. It does, however, suggest, albeit in very low numbers, that small daily doses were safe in a small group of adults for a short period of time.
One study reported reduced pain and muscle spasms in people with multiple sclerosis.
Early evidence looking into the use of CBD in the treatment of anxiety and depression has found some exciting results – although on very small samples. The first study assessed anxiety links with public speaking; it found a very specific dose of CBD (300mg) showed anti-anxiety effects. The second study was a stand-alone case report of one child with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It found CBD oil helped the child safely reduce her anxiety and improve sleep.
CBD may also have the potential to help reduce acne; however, it is important to note that this research is still in its infancy.
For all the above uses of CBD, more human studies are needed to draw conclusive results.
Is it safe to use CBD oil?
If you're considering using CBD oil, you should speak to your GP or other health provider to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for you to do so.
This is particularly important if you are experiencing any concerning symptoms, if you have any pre-existing conditions or if you are taking any other medication.
Although the use of CBD is controversial, it does seem to be well tolerated in most people. It has however caused hypotension and light-headedness in a very small number of patients. As it does not contain the THC part of the cannabis plant, the oil will not induce a ‘high’.
CBD oil should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Can I buy CBD oil safely?
Most large health food stores will stock 'pure' CBD oil. However, as it is classed as a 'food supplement' rather than a 'medicinal product', it isn't regulated in the UK. For this reason, the NHS highlights there is no guarantee that these products will be of good quality or provide any health benefits.
This article was published on 14 February 2019.
Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London's top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.
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