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What is CBD and what does it do?

Dr Hilary Jones
Article written by Dr Hilary Jones

Date published 20 June 2024

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Dr Hilary Jones explains where CBD comes from, what it can do for you, and why it's safe to use.

🕒 4 min read

CBD has attracted a huge amount of publicity in recent years for all sorts of reasons. There's a fundamental curiosity about its real or imagined properties, and all kinds of claims have been made about its health benefits. But real benefits do exist. So what is the truth about CBD and how can you use it safely and effectively to improve your health and wellbeing?

What is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid, one of over a hundred present in the cannabis plant. But unlike THC, the best-known cannabinoid, CBD has no psychoactive effects that produce the psychological "high".

Where does it come from?

CBD is extracted from the stems and leaves of the industrial hemp plant, a variety of cannabis naturally low in THC. It can also be manufactured in the laboratory. Industrial hemp plants that are used to produce CBD have been specially grown to contain high levels of CBD and extremely low levels of THC.

Only trace amounts of THC make it through the extraction and CBD isolation process; far less than would be required to produce a high.

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Is CBD safe?

As long as a CBD product is batch-tested to ensure it contains only minute traces of THC, and is provided with a batch-testing certificate, CBD is very safe. The WHO has stated that there is little potential for abuse or dependence, and that there is no evidence for public health concerns.

The medical journal Neuropsychopharmacology agrees that CBD alone is unlikely to significantly impair daily functioning or workplace performance. CBD is not addictive, as it does not have the psychoactive effects of THC that can lead to psychological dependency.

Despite this, those taking high doses should be aware of the possibility of abnormal liver-related blood test results, and that it might be wise to have these checked occasionally.

Are there any side-effects?

Reported side-effects include nausea, fatigue, indigestion and irritability, particularly if newcomers to the supplement take too high a dose to start with.

It's important to be aware that CBD can increase the level of blood-thinning medications in the blood by competing for the same liver enzymes that break them down. For the same reason those on anti-epileptic or immuno-suppressant medication should avoid taking CBD.

What are CBD's potential benefits?

Medical studies on both humans and animals increasingly suggest that CBD may be useful to control anxiety and stress. It may be helpful with insomnia, helping people to both fall asleep and stay asleep.

It can also be useful to treat chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain, which is difficult to treat conventionally, as well as where there is inflammation due to arthritis.

CBD can be used to help with addictions by reducing cravings for substances like tobacco, heroin, alcohol, cannabis and recreational stimulants. Medicinally it can also be used to reduce the frequency of seizures.

CBD Support group logo

CBD Support Group

Want to know more about CBD and what it can do for you, from the people who use it?

Check out the Healthspan CBD Support group on Facebook.

Is it legal?

CBD oil must not contain any trace of THC to be sold legally in the UK. UK law states that the products must be tested to meet certain criteria to be lawfully available for human consumption.

However, many high-street products are not properly authorised, so make sure you choose a trusted, reputable source and beware of products advertised as "full spectrum", as they could contain significant amounts of THC.

Athletes and employees working in environments where there might be workplace testing should also be aware of the possibility of false positives for the presence of THC.

CBD formulations

CBD comes in many different forms: oil drops, tinctures, balms, gummies, capsules, patches, topical creams and even bath bombs.

It may also be contained in e-cigarettes or vapes, although the best medical advice is to not inhale anything other than clean air.

Different formulations may confer advantages in terms of absorption, efficacy and side-effects. Capsules, for example, which dissolve in the intestine rather than the stomach, are less likely to cause indigestion than drops, and also make it easier to tell how much CBD you are taking.

What strength do you need?

CBD oil products come in various strengths. In bottles this is expressed both as a percentage of CBD oil in the product, such as 2.75%, and as a total amount of CBD, such as 260 mg.

When it comes to capsules, look for the total amount in the pack as well as the amount per capsule. For example, Healthspan's starting CBD product has 6.4 mg CBD in each of its 60 capsules, for a total of 384 mg CBD in a whole pack. 

This product also uses an olive oil carrier to aid absorption in the body, together with added vitamin D for muscle health and immunity.

When choosing a CBD product, it's always best to start low and slow. Begin with a small dosage of a lower-strength product and then move to higher strength if you feel you need to.

CBD remains a supplement rather than a medication, and as a result regulation is not as strong and labelling cannot always be relied on. Provided the products are bought from a reputable and trusted source such as Healthspan, CBD is non-toxic and helpful in all sorts of ways, while pharmaceutical medications and other remedies may be less advantageous and more capable of causing side-effects.

Shop Healthspan's CBD Oil range.

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Dr Hilary Jones

About Dr Hilary Jones

Dr Hilary Jones is a GP and Medical Advisor to Healthspan, and the patron of several medical charities, including the Meningitis Research Foundation and London's Air Ambulance. He is currently the Health Editor for Good Morning Britain. Dr. Hilary received an MBE in 2020 for "services to broadcasting, public health information and charity."

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