CBD products contain extracts of the Cannabis sativa plant. In addition to large number of cannabinoids, they contain terpenes such as beta-myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, d-limonene, linalool, piperidine, and p-cymene, as well as flavonoids such as quercetin. 1. These chemical compounds are bioactive molecules which are likely to contribute to different biological effects within the body; however, the pharmacological effects of cannabis are usually attributed to CBD and THC. 2. Unlike THC, CBD and the majority of other cannabinoids, are not intoxicating and therefore do not make the user ‘high’.
Example CBD products: Oil, edibles and topical cream.
Types of CBD Products
There are many different types of CBD products available to buy in the UK, and there will something to suit everyone. Products that can be taken orally include pastes, oils, tinctures, sprays, gummies, capsules and beverages. Products that can be inhaled include e-liquids and vape pens. And topical products that are applied to the skin include patches, balms, creams, lotions, massage oils, and various cosmetics. CBD products can contain either full spectrum (whole plant) or broad-spectrum extracts or CBD isolate.
How CBD Extract is used to produce CBD Products
CBD pastes are pure extract so are the most concentrated form of CBD, typically containing between 15% and 90% CBD. For all other types of product, the concentrated extract is dissolved in a carrier of some sort, usually an edible oil such as sunflower, hemp, coconut or olive oil. CBD is a lipophilic molecule that does not easily dissolve in water; therefore, oil or alcohol-based solvents are typically used to dilute the extract. There are some CBD products on the UK market that claim to be water-soluble. Here a nanotechnology process has been used, which involves breaking clusters of CBD molecules in micro-sized particles that are small enough to dissolve in water. The strength of the products is determined by the plant chemistry and by the quantities of extract and carrier used. Higher strength products are more concentrated and less dilute, while lower strength products are more diluted.
Types of CBD Extract
CBD products available on the UK market contain one of three different types of extract; full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate. Full spectrum extract (also known as whole plant extract) products contain all the naturally occurring constituents of the plant including the full range of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that are present in the plant extract after processing. Significantly, this includes THC. Please note that all extracts differ because the constituents vary based on the chemical make up of the plant, the environment it was grown in, the storage methods (and how long it was stored before extraction), and the extraction method itself. 3.
The definition of broad spectrum extract is less clear. The general consensus is that broad spectrum extracts are not isolates and contain a range of cannabinoids and other naturally occurring compounds that are present in the plant extract after processing. THC is usually removed from broad spectrum extracts. Both full and broad spectrum extract products may be enriched by additional cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids to achieve a standardised level. CBD Isolate is the purified form of CBD, having been separated from all the other chemicals in the extract, including all the other cannabinoids, terpenes, etc. CBD is considered ‘pure’ when it contains more than 98% CBD. 4.
The Entourage Effect
Full spectrum extracts are thought to be more effective through the “entourage effect” where the blend of cannabinoids and other chemicals work together in a way that is better than the way the chemicals work alone. For example, a small number of studies examining the effectiveness of purified THC and/or CBD for the treatment of certain forms of neuropathic pain showed both positive and negative results, in contrast to 30 clinical studies that found full-spectrum cannabis extract to be effective in the treatment of neuropathic pain. 5. Other studies found that CBD-rich extracts of cannabis had a superior therapeutic profile for treating refractory epilepsy compared to the same dose of isolated CBD. 2.
The “entourage effect” has also been experimentally validated with various terpenes and cannabinoids being shown to modulate the binding of both endogenous endocannabinoids and exogenous THC and CBD in the endocannabinoid system. 5. However, it should be noted that widely varying inter-entourage effects are commonly observed, therefore every entourage must be evaluated separately. 6. It could be potentially dangerous to assume that all entourage effects are beneficial. To make full use of the “entourage effect” it is important that we understand how all of these molecules interact to produce specific biological effects in the human body.
Whole Plant Extract vs CBD Isolate
In a full spectrum hemp extract, the CBD to THC ratio is usually in the range of 20-30 CBD to 1 THC, although it can be higher or lower. Broad spectrum extracts usually have a CBD to THC ratio of 600-800 CBD to 1 THC, where the THC is so low it is considered to be zero. 7. Broad spectrum extracts are ideal for people who want to avoid THC, although they may not be quite so effective. This is because a small amount of THC works with the CBD to help control inflammatory balance in the body. 7, 8. CBD isolate contains more than 98% CBD and is the most widely researched type of CBD product.
Studies have shown that patients using CBD isolate had to use higher amounts of CBD to manage symptoms in comparison to patients using CBD rich plant extracts, with fewer side effects reported by those using CBD rich plant extracts. 9. However, further studies are required to determine any significant differences between isolate and plant extracts. 10.
Quality of CBD Products
Not only is there a huge array of products containing CBD available to buy in the UK, there are hundreds of different brands, each with their own range of products. As such, trying to find a suitable, trustworthy, high quality product can be a bit of a minefield. Currently there are no FSA approved CBD extracts or isolates on the market, but this will change after March 2021 with the introduction of the novel food regulations. The new regulations will make it much easier to find a high quality product that you can trust. Until such times, you cannot trust the information on the label alone.
Can you trust the information on the label?
A recent analysis of 29 CBD products, widely available across the UK, found that only 38% were within their advertised CBD content, most contained less. 55% contained measurable levels of THC (mean content 0.04%) and CBN (mean content 0.01%) as well as most other phytocannabinoids and a range of heavy metals, although they were within acceptable levels. 11. This shows that it is really important to only purchase CBD products with 3rd party, independent lab tests for each individual product, to ensure your own safety.
Link to “Research and Safety: Is CBD Safe?”
1. Meissner, H. and Cascella, M., 2020. Cannabidiol (CBD). StatPearls [Internet].
2. Uziel, A., Gelfand, A., Amsalem, K., Berman, P., Lewitus, G.M., Meiri, D. and Lewitus, D.Y., 2020. Full-Spectrum Cannabis Extract Microdepots Support Controlled Release of Multiple Phytocannabinoids for Extended Therapeutic Effect. ACS applied materials & interfaces, 12(21), pp.23707-23716.
3. Jacques, J., 2020. The Need for a Common Language. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 26(S1), pp.4-5.
4. Committee on Toxicity, 2020. Position paper on the potential risk of CBD in CBD food products. Available at https://cot.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/2020-08/cbdpositionpaper290720_accessibleinadobepro.pdf
5. Maayah, Z.H., Takahara, S., Ferdaoussi, M. and Dyck, J.R., 2020. The anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of formulated full-spectrum cannabis extract in the treatment of neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis. Inflammation Research, 69(6), pp.549-558.
6. Cogan, P.S., 2020. Reality and legality: disentangling what is actual from what is tolerated in comparisons of hemp extracts with pure CBD. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 17(5), pp.527-542.
7. Benson, D., 2019. Christopher W. Shade, PhD: Defining Cannabinoids. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 25, pp.30-33.
8. Koltai, H. and Namdar, D., 2020. Cannabis Phytomolecule ‘Entourage’: From Domestication to Medical Use. Trends in Plant Science.
9. Pamplona, F.A., da Silva, L.R. and Coan, A.C., 2018. Potential clinical benefits of CBD-rich cannabis extracts over purified CBD in treatment-resistant epilepsy: observational data meta-analysis. Frontiers in neurology, 9, p.759.
10. Marinotti, O. and Sarill, M., 2020. Differentiating full-spectrum hemp extracts from CBD isolates: implications for policy, safety and science. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 17(5), pp.517-526
11. Liebling, J.P., Clarkson, N.J., Gibbs, B.W., Yates, A.S. and O’Sullivan, S.E., 2020. An analysis of over-the-counter cannabidiol products in the United Kingdom. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.