Around the world cannabis is becoming more and more socially acceptable, with a growing list of countries changing their attitude – and laws – towards it.

Following Canada’s example, Mexico is the latest country that is looking towards full legalisation for commercial, medicinal and recreational use.

No longer seen simply as a drug for wasted hippies and red-eyed stoners, cannabis’ reported therapeutic properties has led even traditionally conservative countries such as South Korea and Thailand to approve its use for medical purposes.

But in the UK the situation remains a lot more hazy.

Cannabis and UK law

Cannabis, in its traditional dried flower or resin forms, is still a class B drug in the UK. While many police forces take a more hands off approach – and rarely arrest for possession – it is still illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell it.

Despite this, it is still possible to legally sell and buy certain cannabis products.

Cannabis contains many chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids. The two main active cannabinoids thought to have medicinal value are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Generally, THC is associated with the psychoactive effects of cannabis – it is the part of the plant that gets recreational users “high” or “stoned”.

CBD, once extracted from EU-approved plants that contain very little (or no) THC, is legal to buy, sell and use in the UK.

Often mixed with a carrier oil, and sold as CBD oil, CBD still has medicinal properties. It is reputed to have benefits for a wide range of both physical and mental health problems, from pain to anxiety, depression and PTSD.

It is products containing this CBD that are now widely – and legally – available across the UK, both online and on the high street. Health food chain Holland and Barrett are perhaps the most high-profile retailer to have started selling CBD products.

Just to confuse things…

Different to the CBD oil discussed above, as of November 2018, certain cannabis products can now be prescribed by a small number of specialist hospital doctors to a limited number of patients.

While this is rarely taking place, those dealing with severe epilepsy, extreme reactions to chemotherapy or MS-related muscular stiffness – and who have exhausted all other options – may now be able to receive cannabis products to ease their symptoms.

The difference between these restricted products and the widely available CBD oil is that the former also contains THC. When used together, studies have shown that CBD and THC increase and enhance each others therapeutic qualities, making them a far more effective medicine.

Unfortunately, fears of potential side effects, alongside doctors’ concerns over both a lack of official guidance and “infrastructure” to protect them should things go wrong appears to explain their rare prescribing of products containing THC.

What are the benefits of CBD oil?

Despite evidence suggesting that cannabis has been used therapeutically for at least 10,000 years, we are still at a relatively early stage of scientific research into the health benefits of CBD.

As its legal status requires it to be sold as a food supplement in the UK (and not a medicinal product), manufacturers of CBD products are not allowed to attach health claims to them.

While research is ongoing, evidence so far – both scientific and anecdotal – suggests that CBD may be beneficial for those dealing with numerous and diverse physical and mental health conditions. These include diabetes, acne, obesity, chronic pain, cancer, heart disease, insomnia, depression, and stress and anxiety.

There are also numerous calls for more research into the effects of CBD on dementia and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and many more conditions.

Where can I buy CBD?

Holland and Barrett are perhaps the most high-profile UK retailer to start selling CBD products on the high street.

Many vape shops (those that also sell e-cigarettes and nicotine products) have a range of CBD liquids to use in vaporisers, and the online trade in CBD products is large – and steadily growing.

Some shops, such as Hemp Botanics on London’s Portobello road exclusively sell CBD products.

All of these places offer a wide range of CBD products, of varying strengths and concentrations, and ways to take it.

What should I be aware of?

In an already crowded marketplace, it can be difficult deciding which CBD products to buy, and who to buy them from.

It is therefore advisable to do your research and investigate the retailer before making a purchase.

Read reviews, and stick to established and reputable companies. Avoid those that appear to offer a cheap bargain.

Some companies, for example Provacan, have links to research organisations, and work with scientific and medical experts to develop their products. Look for credentials such as this to help you make an informed choice.

The concentration of the product is key. You will see that most are sold based on the amount of CBD they contain. The more CBD a product contains, the more concentrated it is.

Unfortunately, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ universal dosage. Everyone is different, and factors such as weight, genetics and environment can all impact on CBD’s effectiveness.

This leaves new CBD users having to undergo trial and error when trying to establish what works for them.

It is advisable to start on the lowest possible dose and concentration. Try this for a few days before gradually increasing the dosage (and perhaps strength of products you are using) until you achieve the results you are after.

How do you take it?

CBD products come in many forms.

Possibly the most common one is an oil – drops of which you place under your tongue – or into food or drink.

E-liquids used in e-cigarettes and vaporisers, tinctures, pastes, capsules, edibles, drinks and topical balms or creams all offer alternatives to CBD oil.

Once more, it is a case of doing your research and choosing what method suits you the best.

Are there any side effects?

While more research needs to be done, most people can use CBD products without experiencing any side effects.

CBD is currently considered to be relatively safe, with a stomach upset or dry mouth being minor symptoms that a rare few experience.

As this article points out, it is the quality and purity of the product you buy, rather than CBD itself, that is likely to cause any problems.

This means, once more, that you should do your research before deciding which products to take.

Those on the cheaper end of the scale are more likely to be impure or of an inferior quality, and therefore, in rare cases, more likely to cause side effects.

CBD also inhibits the cytochrome P450 enzyme – the enzyme used by the body when processing certain medications.

This means that CBD has the potential to interact with other medications you may be taking in the same way that certain foods such as grapefruit – and supplements like St John’s Wort – can do,

This article suggests applying the grapefruit test to any medication you are on. If you have been told by your doctor or pharmacist not to eat grapefruit while taking them, the same applies to CBD.

As always, it is important to discuss all of these issues with a medical professional if you are in any way concerned.

CBD – A UK user’s guide

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