CBD has been hailed as a panacea for everything from acne to arthritis, and is rapidly claiming shelf space in health food shops, chain stores and luxury cosmetic outlets. You can snack on foods infused with it, drink CBD-laced water, lather your face and body in CBD creams, oils and washes, or take it as a daily supplement to reduce stress and enhance your wellbeing.
The market in CBD health products is booming and looks set to keep going. So how exactly did CBD, the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis, become the latest health trend, and why are so many people so eager to consume it?
Since the liberalising of cannabis laws around the world, pioneered by Uruguay, Canada, and various US states, cannabis and its multiple uses are regularly in the news. The high profile cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, two sick children who benefitted from cannabis medicines high in CBD, effectively changed the drug laws in the UK, enabling specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis-based medicines to patients previously unresponsive to standard treatments. Media attention to such cases and the increasing use of medicinal cannabis worldwide has almost certainly helped to fuel the current enthusiasm for CBD.
For countries maintaining prohibitionist drug policies, CBD is a way of obtaining some of the purported benefits of the cannabis plant, without the high, and without the risk of criminal penalties.
In the UK, CBD products are legal as long as they contain only trace amounts of THC (1mg of THC is legally permitted per packaged product). Medicinal cannabis, on the other hand, is almost impossible to legally procure, despite the legislative changes recently made. To date, very few prescriptions have been issued, and patients will likely have to wait several more years before specialist doctors become informed and confident enough to prescribe what is still a strictly controlled drug.
For CBD to be sold for medicinal purposes in the UK, a license from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is required. There are currently no licensed CBD preparations available in the UK. However, GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex, which is licensed for use in the US for severe forms of epilepsy, looks set to be granted authorisation in the UK later this year. In the meantime, specialist doctors may prescribe it in rare circumstances.
Legally speaking, unlicensed CBD products, which make up the entirety of the UK CBD market, should make no medicinal claims whatsoever. Yet research and market surveys tell us that most people using CBD products do so for specific health complaints. These commonly include pain, anxiety, sleep disorders and skin complaints.
Herein lies the irony: hundreds of thousands of people are buying CBD products regularly for specific therapeutic purposes, and yet producers of CBD products and CBD retailers are not allowed to advise them on this use, or share information from the published or ongoing clinical trials with CBD. This means that the dosage and appropriate use must be determined by the customers themselves, through trial and error.
Fortunately, the World Health Organisation’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence concluded that CBD is well tolerated by humans and has a good safety profile. They also noted the evidence supporting the use of CBD for epilepsy and various other medical conditions. Due to the time and expense involved in developing pharmaceutical drugs, the widespread prescribing of licensed CBD preparations remains some way off. Until then, it is unsurprising that large numbers of people are experimenting with an apparently benign natural product, for a number of therapeutic purposes.