It’s one of the fastest-growing health supplements in the UK, but what is CBD or cannabidiol, and how can it help us? We get the lowdown from two doctors and a menopause campaigner who has tried it for herself.

  • Dr Sarah Brewer is medical director of health supplement provider Healthspan.
  • Meg Matthews is a broadcaster and journalist and founder of
  • Dr Andrew Thornber is the Chief Medical Officer at Now Patient,

What is cannabis oil?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is extracted from the flowers and leaves of non-drug varieties of cannabis plants that are known as industrial hemp. This extract is then combined with an oil – often hemp oil derived from the seeds of the same plant – to produce CBD oil. SB

Is CBD oil legal?

CBD is legal as it is extracted from non-drug strains of cannabis. These have naturally high levels of cannabidiol but only trace amounts of the legally-regulated, psychoactive ingredient known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is found in medical marijuana. Because CBD does not stimulate the psychoactive receptors that are targeted by marijuana, it does not cause a high, is not addictive, and is therefore legal to take. However, the Cannabis Trades Association UK recommends that CBD should not be sold to anyone under the age of 18. SB

Does cannabis oil get you high?

CBD is not psychoactive so does not produce a ‘high’ and is not addictive. SB

What is cannabidiol for?

CBD is used as a food supplement to promote general feelings of relaxation and wellbeing. It helps to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, lift mood, suppress inflammation and reduce the perception of pain. It may also have beneficial effects on immunity. It does all this by interacting with your body’s own endocannabinoid system, enhancing the effects of other brain chemicals, such as serotonin and melatonin. SB

CBD oil (and other CBD-based products like gummy bears and creams) have many reported benefits including improving your overall sense of wellbeing. I’ve taken it for my anxiety and joint pain and it’s been amazing. I’ve not felt this good in years. My joints are much better, I have more energy than ever and my anxiety is all but gone. MM

There has been some research to link CBD oil to improved health benefits for people with certain ailments, and pain management, however, this should be treated with caution as the individual needs of the patient vary and what works for one person, may not work for another, and this is not currently classed as an official medication which can be prescribed by a doctor. AT

Are there any side effects when taking CBD?

In doses used as a food supplement, side effects are unusual but can include a dry mouth or drowsiness. Higher doses used medically are well tolerated, and there are no serious safety concerns. SB

The World Health Organisation published a report in 2017, which found that naturally occurring CBD is safe for humans and is not associated with any negative health effects. MM

Does cannabidiol help with anxiety?

CBD helps to reduce anxiety and restlessness, and relax muscle tension. Clinical studies show it can help with social anxiety, helping to overcome muddled thoughts, discomfort and ‘nerves’. CBD may also help with the anxiety that can occur when stopping smoking, and is being studied as a treatment for panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. SB

CBD is known to have a relaxing and lifting effect on your mood. However, this isn’t prescribed by a GP or pharmacist at present, as we still don’t know the full side-effects, so I would not personally recommend this as a medical practitioner. I would always recommend anyone wanting to take any medicine that isn’t registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council to do so with caution and always have a chat with your pharmacist or GP at your next visit to take their advice. AT

Can you drink alcohol while you’re taking CBD?

CBD and alcohol both have a relaxing effect and lower inhibitions. Combining the two can therefore result in drowsiness and difficulty concentrating. Best advice is to avoid the combination altogether, and bear in mind that the combination can be sedating, so if you do mix them avoid putting yourself in a vulnerable position. Stick to a low dose of CBD and stay within recommended intakes of alcohol. SB

Why has it suddenly become so popular?

CBD helps you feel relaxed and chilled, countering the effects of stress and anxiety. It induces feelings of general wellbeing but without any addictive potential. This makes it a healthier choice than other lifestyle crutches used during times of stress, such as alcohol and nicotine. SB

I think the stigma around it is going away and people are finding that it’s actually really effective. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and classify it as a drug like marijuana. The more people start seeing it for what it is – a health supplement – and the more people start to understand the benefits, the more popular I think it will become. MM

Do you need to look for a certain quality mark when buying CBD?

Look for products produced to standards agreed by the Cannabis Trades Association UK which ensures legal and ethical CBD trading standards. Products produced by CTA members will provide certification of analysis at the point of sale to show the actual CBD and THC testing levels for each batch; this will confirm that the stated amount of CBD is present, with only trace amounts of THC. SB

How do you take CBD? What does it taste like?

CBD supplements include capsules, gummies, drops and sprays. Naturally-flavoured drops often have an earthy taste which some find unpleasant. Drops are also available flavoured with peppermint, orange or lemon, for example. Capsules have no flavour. SB

For the oils, I place a few drops under my tongue three times a day. There are different strengths and I started out with the lowest strength. Then it’s trial and error to figure out what works best for you. MM

Does CBD help with sleep?

CBD aids relaxation when taken at night to promote a deeper sleep. It appears to have beneficial effects on REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. SB

Yes, many people who use it report that CBD can help with insomnia. This may be because of its calming effects. For me, it stopped anxious thoughts from keeping me up at night. It also relieved aches and pains, which definitely kept me awake in the past. With that gone, I’m getting a good night’s sleep almost every night. MM

What happens if you take more than the recommended dose of cannabidiol?

Taking a lot more than the recommended dose could lead to drowsiness and stomach pains, but there is no known risk of overdose. MM

Does CBD affect any other medications?

CBD interacts with liver enzymes involved in breaking down many prescribed medicines. This can slow the way some drugs are metabolised, so their blood levels rise, which may lead to side effects. If you are taking any prescribed medicines, it’s important to check with a doctor or pharmacist before taking CBD. SB

CBD interacts with your body on many levels, one of which is involved in metabolising many medicines, in the same way that grapefruit, watercress and St John’s Wort do. CBD could either reduce or increase the effects of other drugs you may be taking.
You should always consult your doctor when taking multiple types of medication
and supplements and CBD is no different, so check with your GP. MM