Is the craze for CBD oil justified or just crazy?

  • By ITV News Multimedia Producer Charlie Bayliss

Walk down most high streets in the UK and you'll recognise many of the familiar sights: betting shops, clothing stores and fast food chains.

In the past few years, there's been a new fixture greeting shoppers: CBD retailers.

There has been an explosion in the mainstream market for products containing the cannabis derivative, ranging from sweets to creams and even sexual lubricants.

With around six million people in the UK having tried CBD bought in shops and online, ITV News delves deeper into the compound craze.

What is CBD and which products does it appear in?

Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is the non-intoxicating component in marijuana, which means it can't get you high.

You’ll find it in an array of products, from teas to shampoos, on the high street - often in small businesses selling vapes - and on the internet.

Clare Hales, who runs Synerva CBD Oils UK, told ITV News: "The majority of our customers use the oil drops. They tend to provide the best value for customers.

"But we're always looking to extend our range and are looking to delve deeper into the skincare market."

Big-name brands like Holland and Barrett, as well as Boots, have also muscled into a market which is proving lucrative.

A 30ml bottle of Jacob Hooy 5 per cent CBD oil cost around £60, while 60 capsules of 10mg each cost £34.99. Other brands offer products at a similar price.

A vast array of CBD products are available on the open market. Credit: PA

What are the claimed health benefits?

Much of the buzz about CBD comes from recent studies of medical marijuana.

Among the findings from extensive research is the suggestion CBD can have a positive impact on patients with epilepsy.

Earlier this year, the first ever cannabis clinic in Britain opened on Harley Street in London, treating patients suffering from conditions such as chronic pain, PTSD and epilepsy using medicinal CBD.

While in the US, the federal government’s health branch recently approved its first ever cannabis-derived medicine for epilepsy conditions, Epidiolex, which contains CBD.

The substance is also being researched to see if it could have a positive impact on patients suffering from anxiety and arthritis.

Gels and rubs targeted at athletes are readily available in shops now, while pensioners use the products in the hope it will help their arthritis.

But there’s a big difference between CBD administered by healthcare professionals and what you can buy on the high street.

Gummy bears, oil drops and lubricants are some products sold by retailers. Credit: PA

What’s the difference?

The strength of CBD on the high street, its quality and where it is sourced from is vastly different to CBD used in clinical trials.

Patients in clinical research are given much higher doses of CBD compared to what you can get over the counter in shops.

According to the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal (BMJ), the non-medicinal high street products contain around 25 mg (2%) CBD, compared to 150-1500 mg/day in clinical trials, which is often administered orally.

Professor Val Curran, who has carried out research into the effects of CBD, is highly sceptical of the CBD being offered on the open market, labelling it "rubbish".

She told ITV News: "I think it’s the biggest placebo ever. Tiny proportions of CBD are being sold in these products and there is no research into this stuff. I like to deal in evidence-based studies.

"We pay a fortune when we carry out proper clinical trials. The products sold on the high street don't come under the medicines authority.”

CBD products marketed at pets are available online.

How do CBD sellers respond to doubts about it?

Synerva CBD Oils UK director Ms Hales told ITV News she understands why people are sceptical of the substance.

"I had massive reservations before getting into the business," she said. "I didn't really understand the customer and was worried about who I was dealing with.

"I'm a 42-year-old mum of two and if I'm really honest, I was sceptical about the health benefits it has."

But in November 2017 her husband suffered a bad accident while cycling, ending up in intensive care with a broken back.

"He was having nerve pain and muscle spasms. He wasn't having much relief from painkillers and we got to the stage where we thought 'shall we try it?'" she said.

Her husband believes using CBD was a "turning point" which helped his recovery. Mrs Hales said she has used the product to help her sleep and anxiety.

She said: "I noticed that I stopped getting PMT and it's balanced my hormones and started to feel something for myself."

However Mrs Hales is quick to point out that her products are not medicinally approved and downplays suggestions that high street CBD is a remedy to all ailments.

While some of her customers use the products for a multitude of different reasons, she said she would never make any guarantees.

"If you haven't got anything to lose, then why not try it," Mrs Hales said. "But it doesn't work for everyone. It's not a miracle cure."

What’s the scope of CBD use in the UK?

Despite scientific scepticism, when it comes to the high street, it seems the British public has already been buying into the anecdotal benefits of CBD.

According to two surveys conducted in May and June 2019 by Dynata and YouGov, between eight and 11 per cent of UK adults - around four to six million people - have tried CBD.

The consumer base is broad and reaches across a sizeable proportion of all age groups and social classes.

However proposed regulation of high-street CBD products may have an effect on the market.

There has been a growth of CBD products in the UK market.

What is the regulation being proposed?

The CBD products are not classified as a medicine, and cannot be marketed as such.

Typically the products are deemed to be food supplements.

CBD extracts sold online and in the high street are considered novel foods and the Food Standards Agency currently reviews the best way to ensure CBD-related products meet with those regulations.

High-street brands have to ensure their products do not contain THC, the psychoactive element of cannabis.

According to the BMJ, CBD products sold in health shops and on the internet are not advertised or regulated as medicines.

As with other herbal remedies, the declared contents of non-medicinal CBD preparations are variable, and can be inaccurate.

The products sometimes exceed the legal limit of THC, according to the BMJ.

The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis has called on the government to clarify, consult and revise the law around CBD.

It said: "The legal framework that now impacts CBD products is decades old, and the applicable regulations were enacted in 2001 - long before the emergence of a mass consumer market in cannabidiol products.

"The laws have not been affected by the wider changes enacted for the recent legalisation of cannabis-based medicinal products."

Mrs Hales welcomes the possibility of regulation but with a caution to protect businesses who are already meeting the proposed standards.

"Putting regulation in place would sift out the cowboys which give the industry a bad name,” she said.

"The worry is that the Home Office could turn round and say no one is selling CBD until regulations are in place, which could come after an 18-month consultation. We employ people and pay taxes.”