CBD oil: Complete UK guide to Cannabidiol (2020)
This UK guide is here to help you buy CBD oil with confidence. At for the Ageless we understand that information available online can be conflicting, vague and often factually incorrect. We have consulted experts, trade bodies and carried out extensive research to explain the UK law, give guidelines for how to choose a high-quality product that has the desired benefits, explain the side effects are and to better understand the options you have.
This guide focuses on the UK because, even within Europe, legislation differs considerably from country to country. In the UK you can buy CBD products legally as food supplements to support and promote complete wellbeing. Learn how to select and use different types of CBD products, from CBD drops to e-liquids.
1. How to find the best CBD oil
If you're looking for the best quality CBD oil, in our experience, there are 6 key criteria to consider:
1. Clear CBD content
Percentages can be confusing because the strength of the product also depends on its volume. The ultimate question you need to ask is: Does the product specify the total amount of CBD content in mg?
People are all different and there isn't a standard amount of CBD everyone takes. Knowing the exact amount in milligrams per millilitre (for example, 500mg in 10ml) ensures you can measure and monitor how much you take to be able to figure out what is right for you.
2. CO2 Supercritical extraction
Has the CBD oil been CO2 extracted? CO2 Supercritical extraction is considered 'the gold standard' for Cannabidiol extraction, because it preserves the full spectrum of cannabinoids.
Cannabis contains over 100 cannabinoids (including CBDA, CBG and CBC), and over 300 types of chemical compounds (terpenes, phenols, flavonoids). When extracting CBD along with these compounds, you're able to benefit from the entourage effect. Other methods of extraction such as butane do not preserve the integrity of the plant's active compounds and can leave dangerous chemical residues behind.
3. Safe THC content
Does the product's certificate of analysis prove that the THC content is within the legal allowable range? This is very important as it ensures you're buying a legitimate product that adheres to UK law.
4. Certified organic and free from toxins
5. Full-spectrum CBD goes beyond Cannabidiol
Is the oil rich in terpenes and other cannabinoids? Bonus: Is it whole-plant? The better the source and extraction method, the purer the oil. Ideally, you'd want to consume a CBD oil that also provides you with the many beneficial active ingredients present in the whole Cannabis Sativa L. plant: cannabinoids like CBDa (Cannabidiol Acid), CBN (Cannabinol), CBG (Cannabigerol), CBGa (Cannabigerol Acid), the plant's lipids, waxes, chlorophyll, flavonoids, terpenes, and other phytonutrients. The synergy or combined effect they create working together is being widely studied.
6. Tried and tested
Do not let yourself be deceived by empty marketing claims or inferior products like CBD drops made from crystal isolates or from undisclosed sources. (CBD isolates or crystal isolates are a concentrated, lab-produced form of CBD, with no other cannabinoids present.)
If a brand or retailer is not willing to show the source and what exactly is in their products via third-party lab tests, move on to the next brand. Certificates of analysis need to be made available upon request. In the best of cases, the oil will be tested for:
- the full cannabinoid and terpene profile and potency
- heavy metals
- microbiological and pathogenic bacterial contaminants
- volatile organic compounds
In short, the best quality CBD brands are clearly labelled, CO2 extracted, THC free, certified organic, full-spectrum and third-party lab tested.
2. Cannabis vs hemp and CBD law in the UK
For over 10,000 years, humans have used hemp and cannabis as part of their diet, for its medicinal properties, and for its fibres. The highly-nutritious hemp seeds can be ground into flour, eaten whole or turned into omega-rich hemp oil when cold-pressed. Its leaves and flowers have been esteemed for their medicinal properties throughout history. The multi-functional plants fibres have been used to produce durable textiles and rope. Every bit of the plant possesses properties that have been used for centuries to the benefit of humankind.
What is CBD (Cannabidiol)?
CBD or cannabidiol is one of the most well-known cannabinoids naturally occurring in the cannabis plant. Cannabidiol is non-intoxicating, unlike its more notorious cousin, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Taken with care, CBD is a safe food supplement that can be used as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
The distinction between cannabis and hemp
Cannabis and hemp are terms used to describe differing varieties within the “Cannabis Sativa L” plant family.
- Hemp – this is a term used for cannabis that contains less than 0.2% THC. Hemp can be used for its seeds (pressed to create cooking oil rich in omegas), stalks (to produce fibres) and its flowers/leaves (to produce CBD rich food supplements).
- Cannabis – this term is commonly used for varieties containing higher levels of THC. This is the variety commonly associated with recreational use.
What is the difference between CBD and hemp oil?
CBD oil is an extract made from the full cannabis plant (including leaves, flowers, stalks and seeds), whereas hemp oil is pressed from industrial hemp seeds only. The key differences are:
- CBD oils are rich in cannabinoids (CBD, CBG etc.) and are sold as food supplements in the form of extracts, e-liquids, gummies and balms.
- Hemp oil is an Omega-rich cooking oil, normally eaten raw (unheated) as a salad dressing. It contains negligible amounts of cannabinoids. Hemp oil is very versatile and is also used as a natural moisturiser in skincare products and for the creation of bio-plastics, paints and fuels.
Is CBD oil legal in the UK?
Yes, most CBD products are legal to purchase in the UK. However, there are various regulations that govern what it can contain, how it is produced and how it can be marketed.
Many websites will tell you that as long as it contains less than 0.2% THC then it is perfectly legal. This is a common misunderstanding. The 0.2% THC rule only concerns the hemp that is grown to produce the CBD extract. In the EU, there is a list of hemp varieties that are legal to be grown. These are allowed because once grown it contains less than 0.2% THC. This law does not apply to CBD products that are available for sale in the UK.
For a CBD product to be sold in the UK it must not be promoted as a medicine or having medicinal benefits. In October 2016 the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said:
“We have come to the opinion that products containing cannabidiol (CBD) used for medical purposes are a medicine. Medicinal products must have a product licence (marketing authorisation) before they can be legally sold, supplied or advertised in the UK, unless exempt. Licensed medicinal products have to meet safety, quality and efficacy standards to protect public health.”
The CBD products that you can purchase online and on the high street fall under the “unless exempt” section of this statement. Exempt products are sold as food supplements and not for medical use. To be considered exempt, the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 (MDR 2001) sets out certain criteria a CBD product must meet to be sold. These are found on a government fact sheet and state:
“An “exempt product” means a preparation or other product consisting of one or more component parts, any of which contains a controlled drug, where—
- the preparation or other product is not designed for administration of the controlled drug to a human being or animal;
- the controlled drug in any component part is packaged in such a form, or in combination with other active or inert substances in such a manner, that it cannot be recovered by readily applicable means or in a yield which constitutes a risk to health; and
- no one component part of the product or preparation contains more than one milligram of the controlled drug”.
In part c), the one milligram of the controlled drug refers to THC, CBDV (cannabidivarin) and CBN (cannabinol). This is key as it says that if the final product contains more than 1mg of THC, CBDV or CBN it is technically illegal to be sold in the UK.
So, does this mean you can buy any hemp product as long as it is not sold as a medicine and contains less than 1mg of the three controlled substances? No, a product is also illegal if the controlled substance can be recovered from the product or it is not a “preparation” such as in the case of hemp flower. With hemp flower the THC, CBN and CBDV can be recovered and in amounts that the MDR 2001 could consider “constitutes a risk to health”.
Is cannabis oil legal in the UK?
Before November 2018 it was also possible (but very unlikely) to receive a prescription for Sativex to help with the symptoms of MS. Sativex is a cannabis spray that includes both THC and CBD. It is however rarely offered to those with MS as NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) decided that the high cost did not make this product cost-effective.
3. CBD oil benefits
CBD is one of the most abundant and well known of the cannabinoids. ‘Cannabinoid’ is the name given to some of the natural compounds found in hemp. Full-spectrum hemp can contain more than 100 of these natural chemicals and each has a slightly different effect on the human body.
CBD and the many other cannabinoids affect us and interact with our body through a specialist network of molecules called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is made up of chemical receptors and human cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids. The receptors are found in your central and peripheral nervous system. Those in your brain and spinal column are known as CB1 receptors and those in the other parts of your body are called CB2 receptors.
The endocannabinoids that have been discovered so far, are anandamide and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol). They are produced by your body indifferent situations and have a wide range of different functions. The one we know most about is anandamide which means ‘bliss molecule’. It is believed that high levels of this are what produces the ‘runner’s high’.
What does the endocannabinoid system do?
The endocannabinoid system allows your body’s homeostatic mechanisms to work effectively. These are mechanisms that keep your body systems in a healthy balance. The moment that you get too hot, cold, ill, stressed etc. your homeostatic mechanism goes to work to restore the balance.
Research has begun to show that the response of your homeostatic mechanisms is key to preventing a huge range of diseases and chronic diseases. When the ECS is triggered it allows your body to restore homeostasis quicker and more efficiently.
The wonderful thing about the cannabinoids such as CBD, is that they can also interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors and many can give help your ECS work even better. There is growing research on the endocannabinoid system and the effects and benefits of CBD, but the scope of this research is still very limited, and this is why the medical community is reluctant to support its use.
In any case, CBD oil benefits are particularly appealing because Cannabidiol is non-intoxicating and non-addictive (unlike THC).
How does CBD make you feel? Does it get you high?
CBD does not make you feel high because it is non-intoxicating, unlike THC. Depending on the person and the quantity of CBD consumed, our customers report a feeling of relaxation and general grounding. Most importantly, the majority report experiencing its health benefits, as they would with other food supplements.
How effective is CBD oil?
Like any other food supplement or herb, the different forms of CBD will work for some more than for others and at different quantities. Many factors come into play, namely, the person’s own physiological makeup, circumstances, and the type and quality of the CBD oil you’ll be taking.
First, you need to take into account your physiological makeup and circumstances:
- Weight and height
- Whether or not you’re taking other supplements or medication
- Environmental factors (stress, pollution, climate, etc)
- Lifestyle factors (diet, amount of exercise, quality of sleep)
Second, you need to take into account these factors:
- Type of product you’ll be taking (drops, paste, vape, tea, edibles)
- Quality of the CBD product (organic, full spectrum, natural vs. synthetic)
- Bioavailability of Cannabidiol based on the type and quality of the product
CBD oil is not a painkiller and does not have an immediate effect (even though some people who are very sensitive to supplementation, do report an immediate effect). It depends on many factors and the only way to find out is to try. We suggest to start low and go slow, as explained in the next section.
4. How to use CBD oil
Because Cannabidiol is generally safe (non-intoxicating and non-addictive) learning how to use CBD products is simple because there is room for experimentation. However, there are three basic steps to ensure you do it correctly: choose the best quality (covered above), figure out what the best quantity to take for you, and find the product type that is suitable for your needs.
How much should I use?
If you’re starting with CBD, begin by taking 10mg twice per day. After a week, you can double that amount to 20mg twice per day. "Listen to your body" and increase the amount you take accordingly, without exceeding the 200mg daily amount. You may take the oil 3-4 times per day if needed. Once you feel the benefits, it’ll be easy for you to judge which is the best amount for you. If in doubt, consult with a healthcare practitioner first. To find out more about this, check out our in-depth article on how to take CBD.
CBD oil percentages and total content
Seeing percentages of CBD oil from different brands can be confusing (5%, 15%, 20%, etc.) because the % does not indicate the quantity of CBD oil on its own; you’d also need to take into account the product volume (10ml, 30ml, etc.) Look out for clear information on the total amount of CBD for each product and for each serving of the product in mg. This way you can easily compare them and choose the most suited to your needs.
5. Which type of CBD product should I choose?
There are 7 main types of CBD products that can be purchased in the UK. Each has its own pros and cons that should be considered before making a purchase. Each method of use will differ in terms of bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to the rate and speed of absorption or, more precisely, to how well and how quickly your body absorbs the cannabinoid content of a product and how long it will stay in your system.
1. CBD oil drops
The purest form of CBD oil is the full-spectrum, whole-plant, organic CBD extract. This oil contains CBD and over 400 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids (including CBDA, CBG or cannabigerol, BPC, CBDV), terpenes, phenols and flavonoids with a myriad of beneficial properties. These compounds work together to achieve what is called the entourage effect .
How long for CBD oil to work?
When you choose to take CBD oil orally, the effect can take between 30 minutes to 2 hours to take place but can last up to 8 hours. This is why CBD drops are the most popular way to take cannabidiol: it is convenient and the effect is longer than other methods of intake. Research points to long-chain triglyceride fats such as MCT and other active ingredients like turmeric increasing the absorption of CBD when taken orally. Taking CBD under the tongue also increases its bioavailability (by up to 36%).
Taking CBD oil under the tongue
Full-spectrum CBD oil from whole-plant extract is normally thick and viscous and has an undiluted hemp flavour. When taking it sublingually*, you need to have the dropper quite close to your mouth to avoid any drops spilling off. Most regular droppers hold around 5-6 drops at most so it's easy to take the right amount, especially if you do this in front of a mirror. Most of our customers take it right before meals with the advantage that this increases its absorption rate and lets you avoid any aftertaste. You can also mix the oil with food or inside a smoothie if you prefer.
*Sublingual application means taking desired amount under the tongue and holding it for 60 seconds or more before swallowing with a drink and following it with your meal. It ensures the fastest bioavailability (your body’s absorption of its active ingredients) because much of it will be absorbed through your mucous membranes directly into your bloodstream.
2. CBD spray
When diluted in a carrier oil like coconut oil, the CBD solution is thin enough to become a CBD spray , which many people find more convenient when on the go than CBD oil drops, because they won't leak.
CBD sprays are also ideal for those new to CBD because there are milder concentrates. Being able to choose between a selection of natural flavours is also attractive to those who prefer to disguise the 'green' aroma of the plant. Recently, also higher-strength CBD sprays have been developed.
3. CBD hemp tea
Taking hemp tea has become increasingly popular because it is an enjoyable and affordable way of taking cannabinoids. Brewing dried Cannabis flowers, buds, stems, leaves and seeds yields a different set of cannabinoids, terpenes, and phytonutrients than extracting the oil from the plant. For instance, a cup of hemp tea tends to be high in CBDa content. Find out more about the benefits of hemp tea. The dry herb can also be cooked, smoked, inhaled or vaporised. Some of our customers even bake with the dry herb. Hemp tea is a very well liked complement to CBD oil and, because cannabinoids are fat soluble, it is best taking with the oil or close to a meal that contains healthy fats.
4. CBD topicals (balm, salve, and face cream)
CBD creams, balms and body salves can be applied directly onto the skin for the cannabinoids to be absorbed into the small capillary blood vessels. Because these topicals bypass digestion and are absorbed directly into the bloodstream, applying CBD onto the skin directly allows you to target specific areas of your body. The balms, creams and salves combine cannabinoids with other essential oils to boost their effect. They are best applied after a shower or rubbing it well onto the skin, because warming the skin lightly and opening its pores increases its penetration.
5. CBD capsules
If you would rather take CBD oil as you would a multivitamin, capsules make an excellent choice. They are convenient because they can easily be carried and taken when you’re out and about (travelling or commuting), just like all other edibles. If you've already purchased an oil and don't like the taste, you can get some empty capsules from your pharmacy and fill them with your desired amount of oil. Capsules are also the right choice when you want to make sure you're taking a very specific amount (no drop counting necessary!). Capsules are still absorbed through the GI tract. When swallowed the effect takes longer to begin (1-2 hours) but also lasts longer (up to 8 hours).
6. CBD vapes / e-liquids
7. CBD gummy bears and sweets
Any other questions?
You made it to the end. Well, now you know more about CBD than most people. Feel free to share this guide and if you still have questions, head over to the FAQ, the CBD blog (which covers the topics above in detail), the CBD glossary or you can contact us. Thanks for the visit!
Last updated: 18 August 2020. Fact checked.
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