Cannabidiol is the new buzz ingredient. Alice Whitehead gets the lowdown…
When cannabidiol (CBD) oil – an extract of the cannabis plant – appeared on our high streets in 2017, many people mistakenly linked its effects with the class B drug. But since then a raft of experts and users have begun to shout about its health-boosting properties.
Since slipping a disc in her back two years ago, 52-year-old Nicky Fensome has relied on prescription painkillers to get her through the day. Working, gardening, and walking her beloved dogs Frankie and Floyd were all near impossible tasks. “I couldn’t sleep. I sat for most of the day and took a cocktail of pain medication such as codeine and cocodomol, as well as laxatives for the digestion problems they gave me,” says Nicky. “Life was very difficult.”
That was until this year, when Nicky began taking a hot drink with honey before bed. The honey was in the form of a CBD Honey Stick (cbdvirtue.co.uk) – a combination of honey and ‘cannabidiol’, commonly known as CBD, a naturally occurring constituent of cannabis – which can be stirred into tea or even squeezed onto porridge. “It worked almost immediately,” she says. “I’m now able to sleep through the night for the first time in years. My movements are much more fluid and I’ve reduced how many painkillers I take. I feel holistically much better.”
Now legal to buy as a medicinal product in the UK and available on the high street and in various online retailers, CBD oil has gathered quite a following, with proponents suggesting it can help with all kinds of conditions from osteoarthritis to sleep disorders, mental health issues, fibromyalgia and even epilepsy.
Cannabidiol is one of more than 100 naturally occurring chemicals extracted from the cannabis or hemp plant. It is extracted by soaking the plant in alcohol and evaporating off the liquid, and is often mixed with hemp seed or coconut oil to create the finished product. Today, the oil is available in many forms from sprays, teas and capsules to creams, vape pens and gumdrops. Reports suggest the Coca-Cola Company may even be considering creating a health drink infused with cannabidiol in the future.
So does this mean we’ll be able to get our hands on psychoactive fizzy pop at the local supermarket soon? Highly unlikely. In fact, CBD oil does not produce the ‘stoned’ effect associated with cannabis oil. “My first thought was ‘am I going to get high?’” says 90s Brit-pop icon Meg Mathews, who credits CBD oil with reducing her crippling menopause symptoms. “But CBD cannot make you high because it doesn’t contain THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol) – the psychoactive component in marijuana.
“More specifically, legal CBD needs to contain less than 0.2 percent THC by UK and EU standards,” adds Meg, who sells CBD oil, gummy bears and moisturiser containing the substance via her website megsmenopause.com. “A recent report by the WHO found there is no risk of getting addicted or overdosing.”
Its legions of fans suggest the way the chemical binds to our own ‘endocannibinoid’ cell receptors in the body can affect everyday functions, regulate pain and mood, and much more. “Research has shown it’s beneficial for a number of conditions including depression, autism, migraines, joint pain, MS, Parkinson’s, and even some skin conditions including acne,” says Sarah Flower, nutritionist at Power Health (powerhealth.co.uk).
Indeed, although research is in the early stages, several studies have indicated CBD oil is helpful in reducing anxiety. One of these, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, found people with social anxiety disorder experienced less anxiety when given 600mg of the oil before a public speaking test. “I often recommend CBD oil for my patients to relieve stress and anxiety,” says functional medicine expert and clinical nutritionist Dr Will Cole (drwillcole. com). “It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and also works to increase prefrontal cortex activation and lower amygdala activity, which are two areas of the brain that play a role in anxiety. It can even activate receptors in the brain to rebalance glutamate and GABA levels, which, when imbalanced, can also contribute to anxiety.”
After experiencing debilitating anxiety as a result of the menopause, Meg Mathews says CBD oil has been genuinely lifechanging. “I’ve had periods where I couldn’t eat, couldn’t leave the house and couldn’t work – I was just completely overwhelmed by anxiety,” says Meg. “Since taking CBD, this has dropped to zero. It’s simply the most effective product I’ve ever used for anxiety.”
Dr Daniel Clauw, professor of anaesthesiology at the University of Michigan, suggests CBD oil might also have applications for pain relief. He cites a study by pharmaceutical company Zynerba, which has been the only study done to date on CBD oil as pain relief. “The study suggested it was effective in the relief of knee osteoarthritis,” says Dr Clauw. “And while I’m generally supportive, we still need far more studies regarding the appropriate dosage.”
Other studies have proposed CBD oil might be helpful for reducing the pain associated with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis – in combination with THC. But there’s good news on that score. In November 2018, after a review into medical cannabis, it was made legal for doctors to prescribe cannabis products – including those that contain THC – to patients in the UK.
As with any treatment, there are some downsides. The thick oil has a very distinctive and bitter taste and there have been a few reports of side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and dizziness. Some users have had to stop using the oil due to suggestions it may cause liver damage. “It’s worth doing your research and speaking to your GP before you start. Although it has been deemed safe, CBD oil can affect some medications, including antidepressants,” says Sarah. “There is often confusion over strength, potency and dosage, too. It’s best to start slow and low and increase as you go. Let the oil stay in your mouth for several minutes before swallowing to get optimum absorption.”
If you have a history of smoking or ingesting marijuana, your body may also be more tolerant to CBD and you may need a higher strength option. Registered nutritional therapist Lola Ross (lolaross.com), who specialises in women’s hormonal health, says some products are also more effective than others. “Although they are more expensive, the vape pens are not bitter tasting and cross the blood-brain barrier very quickly often bringing more instant effects,” she says.
Regulated in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), all reputable brands will have to be licensed, so check before you buy. “You will find authentic CBD sold in stores like Holland & Barrett or from online boutiques like Kiki Health or Spirit of Hemp,” adds Lola. “Currently Amazon UK does not allow sale, so if you find any on the site, be cautious. Go for CBD that is cultivated from non-GMO hemp, without the use of fertilisers or pesticides, and has full-spectrum (CBD-rich) extracts – which can be more effective than CBD ‘isolate’. It should also be packaged in light-protective bottles, which protects the integrity of the oil.”
For Nicky, however, CBD oil has given her a new lease of life. “I’m happier and healthier,” she says. “I do yoga sessions every morning to help with my mobility as I feel more relaxed and the pain has eased. And, I am now taking my dogs for a walk – twice a day!”
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