CBD: the latest buzz word to hit Irish shores.
Cannabidiol (or CBD for short) is the latest buzz word on everyone’s lips. Thanks to growing legality and accessibility, CBD is featuring on TV programs, covering the front pages of health & beauty magazines and taking the internet by storm. It is being touted as a miracle molecule, a cure-all available in a range of forms such as food supplements, foodstuffs, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even pet treats!
CBD has been receiving praise the world over, from Hollywood A-lister Jennifer Aniston, who claims that “CBD helps with pain, stress and anxiety. It has all the benefits of marijuana without the high”(1) to UFC fighter Nate Diaz (who notoriously defeated Conor McGregor at UFC 196 in 2017) who, when asked what it was that he was smoking at a post-fight press conference, replied “It’s CBD. It helps with the healing process, the inflammation and stuff like that. You want to do this before and after a fight, during training, it will make your life a better place.” (2).
However, it’s the interest that CBD is drawing from the medical community which is giving the molecule more legitimacy. Neurosurgeon and medical reporter Dr Sanjay Gupta, famous for his appearances on TV shows in the USA, is on the record for saying “CBD has been shown for some time now, decades, that it can have a medicinal effect.”.
In Ireland, CBD hasn’t gone unnoticed either. As a matter of fact, the first CBD store to open in an Irish shopping centre cut the ribbon in July 2017(4). Just over a year later, Ireland’s first cannabis coffee shop (Bloom Café), selling a variety of CBD-rich products from CBD infused coffee to CBD flowers, opened its doors in Waterford(5). A number of Irish online CBD stores have also gone live in recent months, offering the Irish consumer a wide array of CBD oils (or hemp oil drops as are they are sometimes called) and CBD products. All of these events have drawn massive attention from the Irish media and sparked the interest of health-conscious Irish consumers from Dublin to Galway and from Cork to Belfast.
“But what exactly is CBD?”, you might ask. Let’s take a look at the chemistry!
What is CBD?
CBD (Cannabidiol) is a phytocannabinoid – one of over 100 identified phytocannabinoids which are naturally present in the cannabis plant. CBD can account for up to 40% of the plant’s extract (6).
Unlike its infamous counterpart Tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC for short), which is also a phytocannabinoid and the main psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant, CBD does not induce the characteristic “high” which recreational cannabis users seek to experience.
Nonetheless, it’s also worth noting that THC has also been proven to have medicinal properties, in particular when combined with CBD and/or other constituents of the cannabis plant such as terpenes for example. Therefore, it’s not necessarily a simple case of CBD = good and THC = bad! For instance, Epiliodex, a plant-derived prescription drug developed by the British pharmaceutical manufacturer GW Pharma and the first US FDA approved drug derived from cannabis, contains CBD and THC in a 1:1 ratio. Epiliodex is used to treat seizures in people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.
What is CBD used for?
Because CBD doesn’t induce a “high” it has become a very popular option for those seeking a natural alternative to treat conditions such as chronic pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis (MS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), epilepsy and other mental disorders.
CBD is thought to work by activating the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) which is comprised of a series of cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body. It is widely believed that the ECS is involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory(8). However, the field of medical cannabis research is still relatively young and comparatively to other fields of study, relatively little information is available. New research programs are being given the go ahead almost daily and many hope that conclusive evidence will soon become available to confirm the many positive claims which have been made about the therapeutic effects of CBD in particular, and cannabinoids in general.
However, it’s also worth clarifying that until then, even if positive therapeutic uses of CBD have been reported, the CBD oils, pastes and capsules which can be purchased online or in high street shops are classed as food supplements and not medicines. Therefore, in theory, they shouldn’t be used to prevent, treat, cure or diagnose diseases until further notice.
Now that you know what CBD is and what its purported benefits are, let’s look at where it comes from.
The origins and legality of CBD in Ireland
As we’ve seen, CBD is one of the main compounds found in the cannabis plant. However, according to the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1984(7) cannabis is an illegal substance. So, if cannabis is illegal in Ireland, and CBD is extracted from cannabis, how come CBD isn’t also illegal? The answer is that not all cannabis is illegal.
The CBD which is present in the food supplements widely available in Ireland, is derived from hemp. Hemp is effectively cannabis, or a variety of cannabis sativa to be precise. Even though the number of species of cannabis is disputed within the scientific community – with the genus being generally split into 3 species, namely cannabis sativa, cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis – cannabis sativa is the only variety of cannabis recognised in law (and in particular in the Misuse of Drugs Act).
Hemp is a variety of cannabis sativa which has the particularity of containing very low levels of THC. It’s sometimes referred to as “industrial hemp” and primarily grown for fibre. It also has hundreds of different industrial uses such as in the production of food, building materials, biofuels or plastic and composite materials(9). Nowadays, hemp is also increasingly grown for the CBD and other phytochemical compounds with therapeutic uses which it contains.
In order for hemp to legally grown in the EU and in Ireland, it must contain less than 0.2% THC in dried plant material. The producer must also have a special licence in order to grow hemp legally and the seeds used must come from a list of EU approved seeds. If all those criteria are met, then the hemp which is grown is perfectly legal, even if it’s technically still a cannabis plant. As a result of this, the CBD which is then extracted from it is also perfectly legal.
So, there you have it! From CBD trending in the media, to the chemistry of CBD and its therapeutic uses and finally the origins of CBD and its legality in Ireland, we hope this short overview will have given you an understanding of what you need to know. Hopefully now you’ll be fully equipped to give your friends and family the low-down at your next party!