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CBD market is worth £300m in the UK – in depth analysis

CBD brands are having a tough time. The makers of Cannabidiol products believe their potions make people feel better, and cure a range of illnesses. But they aren’t allowed to say so because they can’t prove it.

Nevertheless CBD seen as a cure-all by its growing army of users. Which is just as well as there are suddenly a lot of products competing for shelf space right now.

And the fast-growing user-base tend to take it for two main reasons: anxiety and sports performance. This seemingly innocuous product is driving one of the most high-octane ­industries on the planet. There is work to be done, and money to be made.

Although it has only recently hit the headlines, CBD products have been on sale since 1998 in the UK. One of the UK’s oldest hemp shops is called Hemp In Avalon in the town of Glastonbury, and long-term devotees feel baffled – if vindicated – by CBD’s sudden popularity. And there is no arguing with the figures.

“In the UK we really had no grasp of how big the CBD market was until the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) commissioned an extensive market sizing exercise which was published in June,” says Shomi Malik, development director of the CMC.

“We found out that it was far bigger than anyone had anticipated, with some 1.3 million British consumers using CBD products, and a market that had doubled, year-on-year, for the past three years. Today the CBD market is estimated at £300 million. This is a market that nobody can ignore, not policymakers, not investors.”

A 2017 report by the World Health Organization found CBD could provide relief for conditions and illnesses including ­Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and cancer as well as pain, anxiety and depression. The studies were based on relatively high doses of around 100mg; the average pipette dose or CBD capsule sold as a food supplement is between 10mg and 30mg. But even in these smaller quantities, users report benefits for symptoms varying from low-grade anxiety to menstrual cramps to sports injuries.

This may be due to the fact the body has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that regulates functions such as sleep, immune-system responses, and pain. Some studies suggest CBD may help the body to use its own endocannabinoids more effectively, thus helping to regulate functions such as sleep, immune-system responses, and pain.

Today, demand for CBD supplements has surpassed demand for ­vitamin C supplements. The CMC’s figures are all the more remarkable given no health claims can legally be made for CBD. According to UK law, only products that have gone through clinical trials can claim medical benefits, and with the exception of tests in people with rare forms of epilepsy, reliable studies comparing CBD with placebos in human subjects are rare.

Much existing research was done with cells in the lab or in lab animals, which is woefully inadequate – currently there is a vast discrepancy between the exploding CBD market and the scientific evidence to back it up. Until the products are subjected to clinical trials and the results published in reliable medical journals such as The Lancet or the British Medical Journal, British customers are basing their decisions on media hype, flashy yet obscure marketing and word-of-mouth recommendations by friends and family.

This is something the CMC hopes to change. And if you are still nursing misconceptions that those interested in cannabis products are secret stoners or deluded hippies, think again: this is an industry peopled with big-hitter venture capitalists and heavyweight political strategists. The CMC’s strategic counsel and director is Steve Moore, former chief executive of David Cameron’s Big Society Network, who has lately been putting his 25 years of political experience into working alongside Charlotte Caldwell, the Northern Irish mother whose son, Billy, has epilepsy, to reform government policy around access to medicinal cannabis, containing the psychotropic compound THC.

Meanwhile, Blair Gibbs, a vocal supporter of Canada’s legalisation policy and author of the CMC’s June 2019 CBD Policy Report, has just been drafted in to No 10 as an adviser to Boris Johnson.

The plants from which CBD is derived don’t smell particularly potent; they’re gangly creatures that look like a cross between a nettle and a fern. They look innocuous, but they are hard to find, One journalist was given a tour by Dr Nick Horniman, a UK expert on medicinal cannabis and part of the ­Sativa Group.

The plot has been approved by the Home Office for research purposes, one of 18 in the UK, and propagated with a low-THC strain of cannabis. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the mind-altering and illegal substance found in the cannabis plant, but nobody at Sativa Group is interested in that particular compound; they’re interested in CBD, or cannabidiol, one of the legal, non-psychoactive chemicals also found in the hemp plant.

At Sativa Group HQ in Somerset, the hack is whizzed between laboratories and hemp fields and board rooms in a series of gleaming cars by Chris Jones, the MD of Sativa Wellness Centres, who made his name and fortune in the mobile phone sector.

Adding to the thrill of the financial ride is the fact that the UK doesn’t ­really have sufficient legislation in place to regulate this rapidly evolving CBD market. The CMC was established to help regulate big players in the industry and improve consumer confidence with a kite-mark seal of approval, but also to aggressively lobby the Government departments that are currently working on new guidelines.

For now, there are two unbreakable rules for CBD manufacturers and sellers: don’t make any medical/healthcare claims, and make sure that products do not contain more than 0.1 per cent THC, the psychoactive controlled substance also found in cannabis.

Among medics and other proponents of cannabis medicine, there’s a wry acknowledgement that progress around CBD has only seen this rapid acceleration since the money men saw the numbers. But most of them welcome the increase in interest and ­understanding.

Dr Dani Gordon worked in the ­medicinal cannabis sector in Canada for years, and has since relocated to the UK, where she is working on her forthcoming Orion title The CBD Bible: Cannabis and the Wellness Revolution That Will Change Your Life. “The WHO report on CBD deemed it safe,” she says, “and concluded that no public health problems have been associated with the use of pure CBD, including ­addiction and impairment or any other ill effects.” But, she notes, there are a still a lot of myths about CBD being perpetuated, such as the idea that products made from it can make you feel high or cause intoxication.

“CBD prescribed in very high doses [one test applied 600mg of CBD for anxiety] has been proven to effectively reduce seizures in certain types of epilepsy,” Gordon says. “At lower doses, in CBD wellness products you can purchase off the shelf in the UK, CBD can be an effective, safe self-care tool, to ­reduce stress-related symptoms and health issues such as anxiety and burnout syndrome.”

But even if consumers are clued-up enough to know about CBD and its purported benefits, how do we know which products actually work?

Being unable to make medical claims for a product is frustrating for manufacturers and distributors, and the obscurity of packaging and information also makes CBD products confusing for consumers. This risk is compounded by the proliferation of profiteering businesses that have spotted an opportunity and rapidly developed gimmicky products with CBD on the label.

At PhytoVista Laboratories, one of the UK’s most reputable labs for testing cannabis oils and hemp products, certificates are issued after blind testings of CBD products, from classic CBD oils by high street brands to gimmicky newbies, like a CBD-infused mojito canned drink. And the results are often shocking, with around one in 20 products turning up worrying results.

“One product that was meant to contain CBD contained no CBD at all,” says a spokesperson. “But we’re not just testing for CBD content, we’re also testing for amounts of THC that exceed the 0.1mg legal limit, and for solvents, myco­toxins and heavy metals.” In June ­PhytoVista released results of more than 30 CBD products sold on the high street. Sixteen contained less CBD than advertised – including the product containing 0 per cent CBD, which, incidentally, bears a £90 pricetag – and eight of these contained less than half what they claimed on the bottle.

It’s for this reason that dedicated CBD boutiques are springing up across the country, bucking the trend for bricks and mortar retail units to shutter and shift to e-commerce.

Goodbody is Sativa Group’s retail arm, with three new stores in Cirencester, Bath and Bristol, and plans to open some 40 franchises in the next two years – it is also doing a pop-up in Verbier, offering anti-inflammatory balms, CBD coffee and skincare balms to wealthy and wearied skiers.

In Northern Ireland, The CBD Farmacy has a Belfast store staffed by an experienced homeopath and the vibe of a spa crossed with a health food store, with treatment rooms in the back for CBD deep-tissue massages. London’s first dedicated CBD store was LDN CBD, a Camden pop-up whose young founders, Joe Oliver and Aaron Horn, identified consumers’ need for a portfolio of personally ­vetted products.

Last month saw the arrival of ­The Drug Store in Marylebone, a sleek, sparse edit of CBD products arranged in displays pertaining to the five “pillars” of CBD usage: sleep, sexual health, anxiety, skincare and sports (many pro sportspeople have replaced ibuprofen gel with CBD gels and sprays as a more natural inflammatory agent for muscular recovery). Johan Obel, the Danish director who studied finance before moving into the medicinal cannabis ­industry, says that it’s been a challenge to design a store around products that can’t really claim to do anything.

“We can’t use any medical terminology whatsoever,” says Obel, as he strolls from display to stylish display, past ­dramatic framed artwork in the store, which resembles a weed-dedicated version of slick beauty emporium Space NK. “If people come in asking for advice on a specific issue, we have to tell them to do their own research.”

And people are doing their own digging. “Sometimes we’ll have customers coming in asking about sleep issues, and we’ll talk them through the options and ring up some CBD drops at the till, which is when they’ll quietly ask for a bottle of £52 Foria ‘Awaken’ CBD lubricant too,” he says, with a smile. “This seems to be the one product they all know the name of – it’s one of our bestsellers.”

The players in this new industry are farmers, marketers, accountants, ­policy strategists, beauticians, cancer survivors and medics.

They consume higher doses of CBD than those regularly found in creams, gummies or other mid-market products. Most consume 10mg-30mg per day, and they take it under their tongue or in suppository form, the most reliable means.

They’re fastidious about the brand of CBD they choose, because they know how poor some products can be. They don’t mess around with CBD-infused coffee; they have a regular coffee, and then take the amount of CBD they want alongside it: their way to mitigate caffeine-­induced jitters and anxiety.

They tend to favour broad-spectrum CBD oil (where only the THC has been removed) rather than the more heavily processed isolate (a more pure form minus other terpenes and botanicals found in hemp), believing that the less-processed, the better. There is a contrary school of thought whihc says isolates are better because you know exactly what is in them.

If anyone is going to need CBD oil over the next few years, it’s the people researching, manufacturing, marketing and making money from it.

The Rules Of Buying

CBD Dr Julie Moltke, founder of CBD information site getthedose.com, explains how to make sense of the bottle

 “Before you buy a CBD product, go on the website or read the bottle and investigate how it’s produced. It doesn’t need to be fully organic, but they should be clear about where the ingredients come from and if it’s sustainable and pesticide-free.”

 “On dosage, some products list the amounts in mg, such as 35mg, which is the amount I take every evening to help me sleep. Other CBD oil products specify the concentration as percentages instead, for example the bottle contains a carrier oil (olive, MCT or hemp) with a 5 or 10 per cent concentration of CBD. Personally I prefer mg, and on a bottle stating percentages, they should still inform you the mg in a typical pipette serve.”

 “If one product doesn’t work for you, try another before giving up. Because research is still in its infancy, there’s a bit of trial and error. For example, I used to take a CBD isolate but now prefer a broad-spectrum oil. Some people find that topical creams work for them, while others prefer drops taken sublingually.”

CBD: How To Take It?

Sublingual

Placing a few drops of CBD oil under your tongue for 20 seconds, before swallowing, is widely recognised as one of the fastest and most effective ways to get CBD into your bloodstream.

Oral

Capsules, edibles, drinks and foodstuffs are perhaps the most hassle-free ways to consume CBD, but the amount absorbed will depend on the digestive system of the individual.

Topical

Gels, lotions, balms, oils are particularly favoured by those suffering from arthritis or muscular pain, to target the specific area.

Inhalation

CBD e-liquids for vaping are popular, and disposable CBD inhalation pens are also entering the market.

Suppositories

Consumption in suppository form has the highest CBD absorption rate and is effective for men suffering from prostate issues and women experiencing menstrual cramps, endometriosis, and other reproductive system issues.

‘CBD allowed me to train harder’

Peter Maguire, 25, a runner from Belfast, found CBD helped him recover from plantar fasciitis

“I’m a keen runner but I started to develop serious foot pain due to plantar fasciitis. Any time I’d run 4-5km during my lunch break, I’d be limping and unable to walk any distance for days afterwards. One day, after completing a 10K running event, the pain was so excruciating I thought I’d broken a bone in my foot, so I went to A&E. Doctors diagnosed plantar fasciitis. I was prescribed ibuprofen and offered shoe support insoles from a chiropodist, but the pain continued.

“I’m a fan of mixed martial arts and became aware that many of them were using CBD for exercise recovery. Leah McCourt, a pro-MMA fighter from Northern Ireland, recommended The CBD Farmacy. I hobbled to the store and bought its Voda 3 per cent 10ml oil. I took it that evening and the next morning and by that second night my foot was pain-free. It seemed too good to be true, so I wanted to check it wasn’t a coincidence. I went for a 5K run and instead of the usual pain starting, my foot felt fine. I went for another run the next morning. It was the first time I’d been able to train back-to-back in over a year.

“One surprise side effect was that my sleep improved too. I now sleep right through the night. CBD has allowed me to train longer and harder. Today I completed the 10K run that landed me in hospital last year and my foot feels great. It’s given me the confidence to sign up for a half marathon.”

‘He’s laughing again’

Bev Harrow, from Fife, has been treating her son, Geordie, 15, who suffers from CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome)

“My son Geordie has CRPS, cyclical vomiting syndrome, Raynaud’s, hypermobility in his major joints and hypomobility of his spine. He has life-threatening allergies and has food intolerances.

“Two years ago, he was on a combination of 14 prescription medications, his mood was low, his brain foggy and he had developed OCD tendencies. He never slept right through the night, as he needed pain relief top-ups, despite wearing lidocaine patches. We were living day by day and Geordie wasn’t even able to practice his beloved archery – he just wasn’t strong enough.

“Between January and March 2017, prolonged illness had completely incapacitated him. Geordie had vomited almost every day from January to March and we were all despairing because his quality of life was so poor. He had lost so much weight and his body was wracked with agonising neurological pain, which we couldn’t even treat with the horrible cocktail of naproxen, gabapentin and amitriptyline he had been taking since he was five years old because he simply couldn’t keep anything in his stomach. This is when I began giving him two drops of CBD Brothers (The Original Alternative) Red Oil under his tongue every night.

“Two years on, I cannot begin to describe how amazed and delighted I am with the changes in my boy. He is no longer taking any prescription meds except an antihistamine, and has replaced all pain meds with CBD Purple Oil and capsules, plus CBD balm. His school attendance has doubled, he’s grown eight inches, gained weight, and began his archery training again. More importantly, he’s laughing and joking again, a complete transformation in mood and spirit.

“He says: ‘It’s like the brightness button on my life has been dialled to the max and the woolliness in my head has been blown away.’ Geordie will never be pain or symptom-free but he now has a quality of life we could only have dreamt of before we discovered CBD.”

CBD brands to try

Recommended by Johan Sobel of The Drug Store, Joe Oliver of CBD:LDN and Dr Natalie Geary of CBD Porter

The Original Alternative

This Guernsey outfit, with a retail store in St Sampson, was a CBD pioneer. Its range of CBD oils is to be taken sublingually (under the tongue). The pricey Guernsey Gold Edition oil (£102) is the champagne of CBD oils.

theoriginalalternativeofficial.com

LDN CBD

Friends Joe Oliver and Aaron Hornstock stock carefully vetted brands as well as their own range of CBD oils.

Their 5 per cent CBD Oil with MCT carrier (£50) is made with top-notch ingredients and the price makes it a good bet for CBD newbies.

ldncbd.co.uk

Graces London

With lip balms and roll-on moisturiser oils, the emphasis here is on topical CBD application, but every ingredient is carefully sourced and every product hand-made by Londoners Shiona and Jason.

CBD skin products are 10-a-penny at the moment, but this simple, effective line is a breath of fresh air.

graceslondon.com

Endoca

Endoca has a rock-solid reputation among CBD devotees for its clear, concise brand messaging and impeccable eco credentials.

As well as CBD oils, skincare and capsules, this fully organic range deserves plaudits for un-squeamishly leading the way in marketing CBD suppositories (£48) that deliver 50mg of CBD, which some men and women suffering from reproductive system ailments have reportedly found effective.

endoca.com

Goodbody

Goodbody is the retail division of Sativa Group, which also owns PhytoVista labs, so all products are rigorously blind-tested on the site. The 5 per cent CBD Cacao Gel Tabs (£39.99) are a convenient way to consume CBD sublingually.

goodbody wellness.co.uk

Hemple

Australian-born Hemple has pioneered a fast-acting water-soluble full spectrum

Sigma CBD Oil (£79) that has become a cult favourite – and not just because the Kardashian family are fans. Dr Natalie Geary, the founder of the sleek CBDPorter.co.uk e-commerce site, pops a few drops in her morning smoothie.

cbdporter.co.uk

Kiki Health

Online wellness retailer Kiki Health set a new, high standard for its own-brand high-grade CBD oil, and stuck to its guns in terms of quality and price even when cheaper (and inferior) oils flooded the market.

Its 5 per cent CBD Oil (£40) makes an affordable, effective option for the CBD first-timer, while the 10 per cent oil at £70 is more of an investment.

kiki-health.com

Health check

CBD may interact with prescription medicine, so check with your consultant, GP or pharmacist before taking it. There’s a specific enzyme system in your liver that metabolises medications. Not every prescription medicine uses that system – around 65-70 per cent do – but CBD inhibits it, meaning you could end up with too much or too little medication in your body.

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