It has been the year medical cannabis hit the mainstream. The government has announced that it is relaxing laws on when cannabis medicines could be prescribed by doctors, following high-profile cases including that of Billy Caldwell, the 13-year-old boy hospitalised by his epileptic seizures after he was denied legal access to the cannabis oil that can help control them. Meanwhile a brand new generation of cannabis medicines has shown great promise (both anecdotally and in early numerous studies) for a range of ills from anxiety, psychosis and epilepsy to pain, inflammation and acne. And you don’t need to get stoned to reap the benefits.

Caldwell’s medicine was illegal since it contained THC, the psychoactive compound that smoking weed socks you with. However, the brand new treatments under development use a less mind-bending cannabinoid referred to as CBD (or cannabidiol).

Natural, legal with no major negative effects (to date), CBD is actually a marketer’s dream. Hemp-based health goods are launching left, right and centre, cashing in as the research is in their first flush of hazy potential. Along with ingestible CBD (also sold as hemp or cannabis oils or capsules) the compound has turned into a buzzword among upmarket skincare brands such as CBD of London. Predictably, Gwyneth Paltrow is a proponent of the trend, and contains stated that taking CBD oil helps her through hard times: “It doesn’t cause you to stoned or anything, a little bit relaxed,” she told one beauty website.

Meanwhile, so-called wellness drinks infused with CBD are gaining traction. The UK’s first has been launched by Botanic Lab, promoted as “Dutch courage using a difference”. Drinks giants Coca-Cola, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Diageo are all considering launching their particular versions, while UK craft breweries including Green Times Brewing (formerly Cloud 9 Brewing) and Stockton Brewing Company are offering cannabis-oil laced beers, and mixologists are spiking their cocktails with CBD mellowness. The fancy marshmallow maker, The Marshmallowist, has added CBD-oil flavour to the menu, promising that “you feel the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects might be.

While THC can make you feel edgy, CBD does the contrary. Actually, when used together, CBD can temper the negative effects of THC. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much CBD in recreational cannabis strains such as purple haze or wild afghan; it is far richer in hemp plants.

Whether these CBD products will do anyone anything good (or bad) is moot. “Cannabidiol is definitely the hottest new medicine in mental health since the proper clinical studies do suggest it has clinical effects,” says Philip McGuire, professor of psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London. “It is definitely the No 1 new treatment we’re considering. But although there’s plenty of stuff in news reports regarding it, there’s still not that much evidence.” Large, long-term studies are needed; a 2017 review paper into the safety profile of CBD concluded that “important toxicological parameters are yet to get studied; for instance, if CBD has an effect on hormones”.

McGuire doesn’t advise buying CBD products. You should differentiate, he says, in between the very high doses of pharmaceutical-grade pure CBD that participants inside the couple of successful studies received as well as the dietary supplements available over the counter or online. “These could have quite small amounts of CBD which may not have access to large enough concentrations to have any effects,” he says. “It’s the difference from a nutraceutical along with a pharmaceutical.” These supplements aren’t able to make claims of the effects. “If you’re making creams or sports drinks with CBD, you can say whatever you like as long as you don’t say it can do such and the like,” he says.

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Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured in the united kingdom, are licensed for prescription only for very specific uses. Sativex has become available in the united kingdom since 2010 and uses THC and CBD to treat spasticity in multiple sclerosis. As well as a new CBD-only drug, Epidiolex, was approved in June in the united states to take care of rare childhood epilepsies, having a similar decision expected imminently for Europe and the UK.

Another concern with non-pharmaceutical products, says McGuire, “is that individuals try them and find, ‘Oh, it doesn’t manage to work.’ Or they get side-effects from a few other ingredient, because, if you buy an oil or fmavoi product, it’s going to contain all kinds of other stuff which can have different effects.”

You simply have to read the reviews within CBD product on the Holland & Barrett web site to begin to see the extent which anecdotal reports cannot be trusted. Greater than 100 customers gave Jacob Hooy CBD Oil five stars, with a few saying they always noticed when they missed a dose (presumably this made them less relaxed, although they failed to reveal whatever they were taking it for), while 93 people gave it one star, saying it did nothing, or was too weak. One couple even stated it gave them palpitations and a sleepless night. Each one of these people had different conditions, expectations and situations. “And,” says McGuire, “you have to understand that anything can have a placebo effect.” Even though it looks unlikely that this recommended doses of those products will do any harm, McGuire’s guess is the fact that doses are really small “that it’s like homeopathy – it’s not planning to do anything at all”.

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