What is CBD oil - and is it legal in the UK?
10/02/2020 | James Marsh
Advocates of CBD oil say it can relieve chronic pain and inflammation, anxiety, depression, insomnia and epilepsy. But many people are confused over the legal status of medicinal cannabis.
Here's what you need to know:
What is CBD oil?
Cannabis plants are made up of more than 100 different cannabinoids, chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells that alter neurotransmitter release in the human brain. These have different impacts on the body and are concentrated to different extents in certain parts of the plant, the BBC reports.
The most well known of the compounds are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
In the UK, it is possible to get a prescription for oil made from CBD because it won’t get users “high”. By contrast, THC is a psychoactive chemical and is a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Why and how is it used?
A 2017 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that CBD could provide relief for a variety of debilitating conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer and diabetic complications, as well as general pain, anxiety and depression.
However, licences for CBD oil as a medicine have not been granted yet, and manufacturers cannot make claims about their alleged medical benefits.
CBD oil can be used in a number of different ways, says health information site Verywell. “You can smoke it (typically in vape pens), take it in capsule form, use it sublingually (under the tongue), use oral sprays or drops, or apply it topically to your skin,” the site explains.
“A crystalline form of pure CBD is also available, and it’s generally taken sublingually.”
CBD is available in a range of products sold on the high street and online, including creams, oils, tinctures and edible treats such as gummy sweets.
But is it legal?
As Business Matters notes, there is currently “a great deal of confusion around CBD oil UK law”, with the vast majority of cannabinoids listed as controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
However, CBD is an exception and is completely legal in the UK, “provided it has been derived from an industrial hemp strain that is EU-approved”, says NetDoctor. These strains contain very little to no THC.
For CBD oil to be legal in the UK, it must contain no more than 0.2% THC, and the THC must not be easily separated from it. By contrast, cannabis oil, which has a higher THC content, is not usually allowed in the UK.
There is an exemption to this rule, the BBC reports. Sativex, a 50-50 mix of THC and CBD produced in a lab, has been approved for use in the UK as a treatment for multiple sclerosis.
And specialist clinicians are allowed to prescribe other cannabis-derived medicinal products under changes to the law that came into force in November.
The NHS says that although cannabis-derived products may also be available to buy over the internet, most of these items – even those sold as “CBD oils” – are unlikely to meet the required purity standards and may therefore be illegal and potentially dangerous.
The UK government says it currently has no intention of legalising the use of cannabis for recreational use, and possessing cannabis remains illegal in all circumstances.