What is CBD oil? The uses, benefits and risks

Unsure of the uses and benefits of CBD oil – not to mention its legality? Cannabidiol is derived from the cannabis plant, and comes with a wealth of health benefits.

Cannabidiol (more commonly known as CBD) has experienced a surge in popularity in recent months, in part due to its availability in high-street health shops.

Previously viewed as an option only for the seriously ill, CBD oil is gaining traction among wellness fans – but why?

‘The media has no doubt helped drive this popularity,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan. ‘However, the main drive is because people who take it experience the benefits very quickly, and “word of mouth” is a powerful thing. CBD oil also has such a wide range of benefits, reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation, ensuring a good night’s sleep, reducing pain perception and improving general feelings of wellbeing. It therefore appeals to a wide range of people.’

But what exactly is CBD oil – and are there any associated risks?

Is CBD the same as cannabis?

CBD is one of 104 chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, that can be found in the cannabis plant. It’s a naturally occurring substance, which can be extracted and mixed with a carrier oil – often hemp seed or coconut – to create CBD oil.

Unlike the most well-known cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC), CBD is not psychoactive, meaning that it won’t make you ‘high’ – the sensation most commonly associated with cannabis. It is, however, reported to offer a range of health and medicinal benefits – the reason behind its growing acclaim.


Is CBD oil legal?

There has been a fair amount of confusion surrounding the legality of CBD oil. But while the vast majority of cannabinoids are controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act, rest assured that CBD oil is legal across the UK for medicinal purposes, provided it has been derived from an industrial hemp strain that is EU-approved. These strains contain very little to no THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid).

There are strict restrictions in place with regard to CBD oil’s THC content: for CBD oil to be legal in the UK, it must contain no more than 0.2 per cent THC, and the THC must not be easily separated from it.

How do you take CBD oil?

CBD oil is most readily available as a tincture. This can be taken by applying a few drops under your tongue, holding in your mouth for a few moments so it can be absorbed, before swallowing. It can also be added to water or smoothies. A spray form is available (simply spritz under your tongue), as are capsules, gummies, creams that can be applied topically, and e-liquid for vape pens.

When it comes to dosage, guidelines state you should start with the smallest possible dose – its effects should be immediate, so you will be able to tell if the lower dosage is working for you. However, it’s always best to consult your doctor before trialling any new medication or remedy.

CBD can be taken by applying a few drops under your tongue, and holding in your mouth.

‘I recommend starting with a low dose and slowly building up over a few weeks, to find the dose that works best for you,’ agrees Dr Brewer. ‘For example, start with Healthspan High Strength CBD Oil 6.4mg Capsules, taking one to three daily. Then, if needed, move up to Super Strength CBD 15mg Capsules, taking one to two daily. CBD is not psychoactive and is not addictive. I prefer capsules, as CBD drops have a strong taste, although filter-clear peppermint flavoured drops are available.’

What are the benefits of CBD oil?

While the majority of research done into the effects of CBD oil has been based on animal studies and anecdotal evidence, some pretty clear benefits have been highlighted:

CBD oil can alleviate pain

Many studies – both animal and human – have examined the link between CBD and pain relief, which are thought to be down to the oil’s ability to reduce inflammation and interact with neurotransmitters.

‘CBD has been described as a multi-target molecule,’ expands Dr Brewer. ‘It is highly antioxidant, so has anti-inflammatory effects on joints, to improve pain and stiffness. CBD also has an analgesic effect, to reduce pain perception in the brain.’

As well as pain relieve, CBD oil has been shown to offer benefits to those receiving treatment for cancer.

‘High CBD-content medicinal cannabis products can help reduce nausea, poor appetite, pain and sleep disturbance in cancer patients, as shown in multiple studies,’ says Dr Dani Gordon.


CBD oil can ease anxiety

Several studies have found that the use of CBD oil is helpful in reducing anxiety, meaning it could be a beneficial natural remedy for sufferers.

‘Cannabidiol interacts with the body’s own endocannabinoid system, enhancing the effects of other brain chemicals to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety, stress, restlessness and fatigue,’ explains Dr Brewer.

Back in 2011, a study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found that when people with generalised social anxiety disorder (SAD) were given 600mg of CBD oil prior to a public speaking test, as opposed to a placebo, they experienced significantly less anxiety, difficulty and discomfort during their speech.

CBD (cannabidiol) has strong anti-anxiety effects. Thus it may help in treating all forms of anxiety disorders ranging from gneral anxiety disorder (GAD) to post traumati stress disorder (PTSD). Serotonin is a hormone that stabilizes the mood and causes feelings of well-being. Low serotonin levels result in mental ailments like anxiety and depression. So having both higher or lower serotonin levels may be harmful. CBD interacts with the ECS and regulates the levels of serotonin in the body.  Thus by maintaining adequate levels of serotonin, CBD oil can relieve anxiety and depression.

CBD oil is a natural antidepressant

Many studies have examined CBD oil’s antidepressant-like effects. It’s also been shown to safely improve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children.

‘CBD has proven anti-anxiety effects and may be helpful in depression, based on anecdotal reports,’ says Dr Gordon. ‘I use high CBD prescription cannabis medicine products as part of a mental health protocol with my patients suffering with anxiety and depression. The antidepressant effects of CBD have been shown in animal models, but we now need large, depression-specific studies in humans as the next step.’

CBD oil could be beneficial in treating epilepsy and Parkinson's

Clinical trials have found CBD to be highly effective in the treatment of certain types of epilepsy. There is also growing evidence to suggest it could help more types, although further research is needed to fully understand safe and optimal dosing. CBD (cannabidiol) possesses potent neuroprotective properties. That means it may help in treating various neurological diseases like Parkinson’s Disease. It is prevalent among older adults. People who have Parkinson’s Disease experience psychosis, hallucinations, and delusions. According to a small study performed in 2009, the antipsychotic properties of CBD shrooms have helped reduce the symptoms of psychosis among patients who have Parkinson’s Disease. We need more research and scientific evidence to know whether CBD may help treat various other neurological diseases.

Can CBD oil treat acne?

Due to the effects of CBD oil on the immune system and its ability to help reduce inflammation, it may offer relief from acne.

‘Both CBD and THC have been shown in multiple in vitro studies to have anti-acne and topical anti-inflammatory properties,’ reveals Dr Gordon. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that CBD oil inhibited the production of sebum in the sebaceous glands in the skin. Should CBD oil be part of your skincare routine?

CBD Oil to aid sleep

Studies state that ten to thirty percent of adults experience sleeping troubles. However, older adults are more prone to chronic insomnia compared to other age groups. Having prolonged periods of deep sleep becomes challenging as we grow old. Many factors like anxiety, stress, and chronic pain cause insomnia among older adults. However, some people experience chronic insomnia due to prescription medication and changes in sleep patterns as well. CBD can help alleviate almost all factors causing insomnia and prevent it in the first place. We have already mentioned above how CBD oil can relieve chronic pain and anxiety. CBD is famous for its soothing and calming effects, which help the users relax. High dosage CBD oils may put you in a slumbering state. Insomnia is a result of stress as well. CBD oil may relieve stress by reducing the level of cortisol hormone. It is responsible for causing tension in the body.

CBD as Alternative to prescription medication

Older adults use many prescription drugs to treat various health ailments. We have mentioned earlier that prescription medications may lead to severe side effects. For instance, nausea and vomiting are the common side effects of asthma medications. Common NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may cause organ damage in some cases. Moreover, using prescription medication may also cause insomnia in some older adults. So CBD oil may act as a natural alternative to prescription medication. But, if you have any pre-existing medical condition, it’s better to seek a doctor’s advice before using CBD oil.  Using CBD with some pre-existing health ailments may cause side effects as well.

Does CBD oil have any health risks?

The majority of CBD oil users don’t experience any negative effects.

‘In doses used as a food supplement, CBD poses few risks, and side effects are unusual but can include a dry mouth or drowsiness,’ reveals Dr Brewer. ‘Higher doses used medically are well tolerated, and there are no serious safety concerns. A World Health Organization report issued in 2017 concluded that cannabidiol does not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm.'

However, CBD oil could interact with common prescription medications, so it’s important you always seek the advice of your GP before giving it a go.

'If you have a health condition, or are taking any prescribed or over-the-counter medicines, always check with your doctor or a pharmacist for possible drug supplement interactions before taking CBD,' says Dr Brewer. 'This is because CBD interacts with enzymes involved in metabolising some medicines and may result in increased drug levels that could cause side effects.

The majority of CBD oil users don’t experience any negative effects.

'If the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with your medication says to avoid grapefruit juice, for instance, then do not take CBD, as the same type of interaction can affect circulating blood levels of your medicine. Even if the leaflet does not mention grapefruit juice, you should still check with your doctor before taking CBD. You should also not take CBD if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.’

If your doctor is unable to help, Dr Brewer recommends visiting Drugs.com, and using the Drug Interactions checker.