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Cannabidiol: What Is CBD? A Look at Benefits & Side Effects

There’s no denying it — cannabidiol has gone mainstream. 

Few people who didn’t already have a special interest in hemp or its extracts had heard of CBD a decade or so ago. Now that CBD has been “plucked from obscurity”, you’ll even find CBD oil at some Tesco, Boots, and Holland & Barrett locations!

Are you still wondering what all the fuss is about?

This quick guide to cannabidiol and CBD products is for you! We’ll answer all the top questions curious UK shoppers who may want to try CBD have and leave you with some tips on using CBD responsibly.

What Is CBD? Where Does Cannabidiol Come From?

Cannabis sativa plants produce over 100 active compounds called cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (shortened to CBD) is the second most common one. 

Unlike its more famous (and illegal) counterpart, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD doesn’t have any mind-altering effects — it won’t get you high. Instead, consumers embrace CBD as a food supplement to add to their wellness routines. 

Curious consumers who don’t know much about CBD, or the difference between hemp and marijuana, are often confused about how that works. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Industrial hemp and marijuana are two varieties of the same plant species: Cannabis sativa.
  • Both varieties contain THC and CBD but in wildly differing amounts. 
  • Marijuana plants are specifically bred for their psychoactive potential, so they’re high in THC — the primary mind-altering cannabinoid. 
  • Industrial hemp is a versatile crop valued for its fibre and high CBD content. Industrial hemp plants are naturally low in THC, and the ones cultivated in the UK and European Union have a maximum THC content of 0.02 per cent. They are high in CBD, making them the source of most commercially-available cannabidiol products.

Is CBD Legal in the UK?

Authorised cannabidiol products with a THC content of 0.02 per cent or less are legally available over the counter in the UK. While marijuana is a Class B controlled substance, CBD is considered a novel food product.

However, the Food Standards Agency cautions people to think carefully before they try CBD and advises vulnerable groups like pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and people who use medications to be extra careful. Anyone with questions about CBD is advised to address them to their GP.

CBD manufacturers and stockists have to comply with strict rules and aren’t allowed to make any claims about the potential benefits of CBD. Research into CBD’s potential benefits and side effects is still ongoing, and the CBD products currently on the market are intended as food supplements rather than medications. 

How Does CBD Work?

The human body is home to a curious and vast network of signals and receptors called the endocannabinoid system. Two receptors, CB1 and CB2, respond to the cannabinoids it encounters. CB1 receptors are found all over, but especially in the brain and spinal cord. CB2 receptors are mainly concentrated in the peripheral nervous system. 

Together, they play an important role in regulating vital bodily functions — including behaviour and mood, memory, pain management, appetite, and inflammation. 

It’s common for people who hear about the endocannabinoid system for the first time to marvel at the idea that the human body “was practically made to interact with cannabis”, but that’s not quite true. That’s because cannabinoids come in two forms. Your body makes its own endogenous cannabinoids, but it can also react to the exogenous cannabinoids you may ingest. 

CBD doesn’t appear to bind directly to either of the receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Instead, it affects this unique system by inhibiting the action of an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). That, in theory, gives your body access to more endogenous cannabinoids.

What Are the Benefits of CBD?

While the World Health Organisation says that CBD is “generally well tolerated with a good safety profile”, research into the potential benefits and applications of cannabidiol is still in its early stages. 

One CBD-based prescription medication called Epidiolex is currently available to manage rare seizure disorders like Dravet Syndrome. Research has also investigated CBD’s potential to alleviate chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions, but further studies are needed before any definitive claims can be made. 

UK residents interested in trying CBD should note that the commercially-available CBD products you’ll find in online shops and on your local high street aren’t intended for medical use. They are considered novel foods. You would be advised against using CBD to prevent, treat, or cure specific medical conditions and to talk to your GP if you have any concerns. 

What Are the Side Effects of CBD?

CBD is not risk-free. As with any other substance, consumers can experience a range of side effects. The most common adverse reactions include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Mood changes

CBD also has the potential to cause liver damage, highlighting the need to practice responsible dosing. Consumers who experience side effects are advised to stop taking cannabidiol and to seek medical attention. 

How Can You Take CBD?

People interested in including CBD products in their personal wellness routines should first know that CBD comes in three forms. 

Full-spectrum CBD includes all parts of the hemp plant. Besides cannabidiol, these products may also have terpenes, flavonoids, essential oils, and other minor cannabinoids. Full-spectrum CBD can have a THC content of up to 0.02 per cent in the UK. CBD is very similar but has been further processed to remove as much THC as possible. Only trace amounts remain.

Some people believe that these plant compounds work synergistically to produce the desired effect. This theory is called the entourage effect. However, people who don’t want to ingest any THC can opt for CBD isolate products. These pure CBD products don’t contain any other cannabinoids.

Once you choose which formulation is right for you, you can pick from many exciting CBD products. The most popular options include:

  • CBD oil. This popular CBD option is famous for its versatility. You can place your desired dose under your tongue for 60 to 90 seconds for a quick effect. You can also choose to cook with CBD oil or add it to skincare products.
  • CBD capsules. CBD capsules are softgels that look similar to Omega-3 capsules. Since they’re swallowed with water, CBD capsules provide a convenient experience.
  • CBD gummies. People who prefer CBD sweets or edibles can choose CBD gummies as a tasty and portable way to enjoy cannabidiol.
  • CBD creams. “Topicals”, like creams, balms, lotions, and salves, are absorbed by the skin (which also has endocannabinoid receptors). 
  • CBD vape liquids. Vapers might enjoy vaping CBD, and CBD is highly bioavailable in this form.

That quick look is, of course, just the start! If you’re looking for different ways to use CBD, cannabidiol shampoos, pastries, energy drinks, tea, and coffee are also around — and your options don’t end there!

How Should You Dose CBD?

If you’re new to CBD, starting with the lowest possible dose is an excellent bet. This gives you time to see how you feel and to keep an eye on any side effects you may experience. You can gradually build your dose until you experience the desired effect. 

New to CBD? Don’t Leave Without These Crucial Cannabidiol Shopping Tips!

To recap our dive into the basics of cannabidiol:

  • CBD is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid in Cannabis sativa plants, and it’s usually extracted from industrial hemp plants low in THC. It acts on the endocannabinoid system in the human body.
  • CBD products with a THC content of 0.02 per cent are legally available in the UK and classed as novel foods.
  • Research into the risks and benefits of cannabidiol is still in full swing, and CBD can have side effects. If you have any specific questions, ask your GP!
  • CBD is available in three formulations, but you can take it in numerous different ways.

If you’d like to try CBD yourself, consider the formulation that’s right for you, and look for reputable manufacturers that share the results of third-party lab tests to confirm their products’ strength and ingredients.

Once your product arrives, take things slow, see how you feel, and enjoy your cannabidiol!



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