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What is CBD oil and what does it do?

Adrienne Wyper / 22 July 2019

With health claims for relieving pain and anxiety, is it time to take a look at this cannabis extract?

CBD oil

Sales of this cannabis extract have soared over the past year. According to the Cannabis Trades Association demand has trebled in that time and Lloyds Pharmacy say that over half of its CBD customers are over 45.

What is CBD oil?

CBD oil, or cannabidiol, is an oil derived from the cannabis or marijuana plant. The compound was discovered in 1940. It’s extracted from the plant with steam distillation.

Is CBD oil legal?

There are over 100 compounds in cannabis. THC, or tetrahydrocannabidiol, is psychoactive, ie the one that gets you ‘high’ or ‘stoned’, the effect that recreational cannabis users seek. However, CBD contains less than 0.2% THC, and it’s this absence that makes it legal. Nor is it addictive.

Don’t confuse CBD with medicinal, or medical, cannabis. This does contain THC and has been legalised for medical use in several countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, 33 US states. Two cannabis-based drugs have a licence in the UK, but both contain THC as well as CBD. They’re prescribed for chemotherapy patients to ease nausea, and for the muscle spasms and stiffness of multiple sclerosis.

In the UK over-the-counter CBD oil is not licensed as a medicine, only as a food supplement, so health claims cannot be made on product packaging or by manufacturers and stockists. Many natural remedies are classified in this way.

You’ll see lots of products, including cosmetics, containing hemp or hempseed oil but although CBD may be mixed with hemp oil as a carrier, the two are not the same. Hemp oil is extracted from the seeds of the plant, and contains no THC or CBD, while CBD oil is extracted from the whole plant.

What is CBD oil used for?

In his report for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, neurologist Professor Michael Barnes of Newcastle University explains that the brain contains cannabinoid receptors and chemicals that bind to these receptors, called the endocannabinoid system, with functions including modulation of pain, movement control, nerve cell protection and a role in brain plasticity, and that plant cannabis probably works in man by mimicking the effects of the human endocannabinoid system.’

CBD’s use for various forms of epilepsy is well documented, with several clinical trials having taken place.

The World Health Organization also records that there is preliminary evidence of CBD having beneficial use in treating Alzheimer’s, cancer and Parkinson’s disease, as well as reduction in some schizophrenia symptoms. Research also appears to show a benefit for people with multiple sclerosis in reducing pain, spasticity and fatigue.

Pain management, particularly joint pain, with CBD oil has been in the headlines and a study published in the journal Pain last year showed that CBD oil could ease osteoarthritis pain. Anxiety is the other condition often linked to CBD oil use and a research review concluded that: ‘existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.’

Professor Barnes has said: ‘We’re only just starting to understand the array of benefits connected with cannabidiol consumption.’

How do I take CBD oil?

It’s most often supplied in liquid form in small bottles with a dropper, to drop under your tongue or add to a drink, or in capsules. The amount of active ingredient is shown on the label as a percentage, eg 2.5% which means the liquid is 2.5% pure CBD.

What to watch out for with CBD oil

If you want to try CBD oil, you should discuss it with your GP or pharmacist if you’re taking any medication, in case of interactions, as it can, for example, increase levels of certain other medications in your blood by the same mechanism that grapefruit juice does. 

See this useful article from the Harvard Medical School for more information about CBD pros and cons.

Where can I buy CBD oil?

On the high street, Holland & Barrett were first to stock CBD oil in early 2018. You can buy it at Lloyds Pharmacy and Boots.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.