Growing like a weed – the CBD phenomenon

13 mins read

Talk about sprouting strong – CBD product sales in the UK have gone up over 99% this year alone and have doubled since last year, carving a solid niche in the health and wellbeing industry, as well as expanding to the restaurant sector, and being snatched up by major skincare and cosmetics retailers. From oils to tinctures, spa treatments to cocktails, vapes to chewing gum and mascara – the CBD wave is omnipresent at the moment. So, what made it such a lusted-after ingredient?

Molecular Miracle

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound extracted from marijuana. Not to be confused with the hemp-extracted THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the substance responsible for producing the ‘high’ commonly associated with marijuana use, CBD contains less than 0.2% of THC and is therefore legal to consume in the UK.

Not merely legal but revered, in fact, since CBD is believed to hold a range of therapeutic benefits, as well as being a strong antioxidant and neuroprotective. This led to the substance being used for a wide variety of ailments, from pain management to anxiety and depression, as it is thought to provide strong pain relief for both minor tensions and afflictions as well as a number of serious conditions, including multiple sclerosis and cancer treatment symptoms.

Not only that, but it is believed to regulate sleeping patterns, help lower blood pressure and slow Alzheimer’s, while numerous universities and research centres in the US, Dubai and Spain are studying CBD as a potential treatment for autism disorders, and even as a possible aide in bone-marrow transplants.

Credit: Hempalta

The world of A-list celebrities followed suit, vouching for the potency and effectiveness of the extract, with stars like Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma Roberts and Morgan Freeman being open about their CBD use to aid with pain relief, stress and general anxiety. Kim Kardashian, meanwhile, threw a CBD-themed baby shower earlier this summer, where guests were encouraged to blend their own CBD bath oils, while sipping from a CBD-infused chocolate fountain.

Many professional athletes are also public proponents of CBD – Welsh rugby player Dom Day and his teammate George Kruis treat cannabidiols as daily supplements, claiming that they help recover from previous injuries and normalise sleeping patterns, while former WBC champion boxer Tony Bellew was in the habit of drinking CBD-infused ‘hemp water’ in preparation for his fights. But how exactly did CBD garner its reputation as an all-round healer?

According to CBD expert and creator of Graces London skincare line Shiona Redmond, the answer lies in the process of homeostasis. Human bodies have cannabinoid receptors, which are part of a self-regulatory system called the endocannabinoid system, whose primary function is to create and maintain consistent internal balance within the body.

‘The endocannabinoid system plays a key role in maintaining our overall health and is vital in the regulation of hormone secretion, particularly the hormones related to reproductive function and stress response,’ Redmond says. ‘So, while our bodies actually produce their own cannabinoids, these have the same composition as cannabidiol, so CBD intake can therefore help maintain the body in the coveted balanced state of homeostasis.’

Hemp craze

Despite CBD oil being around since the early 1940s, it is only recently that this wonder extract entered the spotlight and made its way into the leisure, wellness and hospitality industries. Now, CBD oil is everywhere. Spas all across the UK are incorporating it into their treatments, offering anti-inflammatory CBD facials and massages. CBD oil is becoming popular in e-vapes, and features in numerous new brands of organic chewing gum, while global giant Coca Cola is even considering launching a new beverage with added CBD extract.

Credt: Agrodolce

Cocktail bars and restaurants all over Britain are also getting in on the hype, including Glasgow’s own Pizza Punks on St. Vincent Street, who are now proudly serving the Dazed and Confused cocktail – a citrusy CBD-oil infused drink.

Glasgow health food restaurant Down to Earth, meanwhile, hosted an entire CBD-infused food and cocktail night this April. Dubbed ‘An Evening with Mary Jane’, the event offered drinks and dishes which all featured cannabidiol, while maintaining the legal UK THC guidelines. Elsewhere, companies such as Scotland CBD and Greenshoppers offer their host of customers personalised cannabidiol tinctures, which are thought to deliver all of CBD’s wellbeing properties.

Credit: Pinterest

Stirling, meanwhile, is preparing to welcome its first ever cannabis establishment later this year – The Hemp Room Café, which is due to be opened on Upper Craigs. Claire Watson, the proprietor of the future hemp shop, aims to offer people a chance to sample food prepared using hemp oil, and drinks featuring CBD oil. Apart from CBD products, the café will feature a range of vegan menu options (all items will be cooked using hemp oil), an outdoor lounge area, and a collection of informative literature on the benefits of cannabidiols.

For those who would prefer not to ingest CBD orally, topical products such as skincare balms, body oils, face masks and bath bombs are available. The hot new CBD beauty brands include CBD Daily, Herbivore and Milk Makeup, the latter being a newcomer to the UK market this year.

Milk Makeup’s new Kush line of CBD-infused lip balms, glazes, and volume-enhancing mascaras are flying off the shelves, while prominent brands are racing to keep up by releasing their own cannabidiol products: Holland & Barrett launched a cannabidiol Day Cream and a post-workout CBD Muscle Balm, and both Boots and Holland & Barrett are now stocking the entire Ambience CBD line of skincare which features everything from face moisturisers to foot treatments.

Established brand UTan, meanwhile, released its new CBD Tanning Water, which on top of infusing the skin with antioxidants also claims to stop pore clogging.

Credit: Heart Radio

Further growth of the CBD phenomenon within the UK market is inevitable, particularly now that larger retailers are eyeing the products and international beauty brands are launching their own cannabidiol lines. This summer even saw UK’s first-ever CBD Expo held in London, which featured hosts of industry speakers, over 80 exhibitors, and thousands in attendance. Additionally, Facebook has recently relaxed its rules on CBD advertising, now allowing for the promotion of topical CBD products, which will massively expand outreach.

However, as is the case with many popular novelty products and proposed miracle cures, there is a fine print. So, what are the downsides of this worldwide cannabidiol infatuation?

Jumping on the herb wagon

The most pressing concern for CBD use is quality control. With the substance becoming so popular so quickly, a host of online and overseas companies are selling unregulated CBD products, for a fraction of the high street cost, which pledge to deliver all of the extract’s benefits. As a result, numerous products found on Amazon, Ali Express and other major online retailers are ridden with reviews reporting fraudulent marketing at best, and harmful side-effects at worst.

Moreover, the same lack of quality control is evident in many high street CBD oils as well. UK research centre PhytoVista Laboratories recently published a report for the UK Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, which revealed numerous instances of poor practice among producers of cannabidiol products. This was discovered through a blind test of 30 major retail CBD oil brands, in which 38% of the products had less than half of their advertised CBD content, and one product was completely free of CBD. Moreover, 45% of the products contained significant amounts of the psychoactive TCH – with values averaging at 0.4% — making the products technically illegal.

Credit: Thecbdistillery

Another marketing issue that is often flagged up with CBD is the mix-up between hemp oil (or sativa seed oil) and CBD oil. Sure, they both come from the same plant, but they are two completely different compounds, with different characteristics and health benefits. Hemp oil is primarily viewed as a superfood which adds a nutritional value to your diet, while in skincare it acts as a lightweight, non-greasy moisturiser and antioxidant. It does not, however, hold any of the other anti-inflammatory, pain relief, neuroprotective properties that CBD claims to hold, since hemp oil contains absolutely no cannabinoids.

Media analyst Jane Waney believes that promoting these two elements interchangeably equates to false advertising: ‘Marketing the two extracts as the same substance is inaccurate and unfair to the consumers who may be expecting to find the benefits of CBD in a hemp oil product, or paying more for a marketed CBD product which in fact contains no cannabidiol,’ she said.  

Credit: Ministry of Hemp

Finally, the great sceptical elephant in the room must be addressed – the proposed virtues of CBD use have almost no scientific data to back them up. To date, the only use for cannabidiol that has significant scientific evidence supporting it is the use of CBD to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy. This treatment comes in the form of CBD medication called Epidiolex, which has received unanimous approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, and is currently awaiting licensure by the NHS in the UK.

Besides this sole medical use of cannabidiol, there is currently insufficient data to corroborate any other properties off CBD’s long list of benefits, leading many to believe that cannabidiols are a temporary hype and the raving reviews are the result of placebo effect, akin to the rise of homeopathy a few decades ago.

However, soon there will be tangible evidence to either verify or disprove the claimed CBD wellness properties – case studies are ongoing on both sides of the Atlantic. In the meantime, following the current trajectory, Forbes predicts that the global cannabidiol market is expected to grow by 700% and be worth £1.8 billion by 2020, so the lack of concrete proof does not seem to spoil this herb’s blaze.

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Hi there. I'm Irina, a student/staff member at University of Stirling, studying English and Journalism.

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