Several high-profile court cases have raised the profile of cannabis oil over recent months and its potential benefits for people with a range of disabilities, as well as chronic pain management.

We look at the growth in popularity of over-the-counter cannabis – or CBD oil and whether it has a role to play in our medicine cabinet.

By Alison Dando

Last summer, Charlotte Caldwell hit the headlines when her 13-year-old son Billy’s cannabis oil was seized at Heathrow airport. Billy has a severe form of epilepsy and Charlotte was using the then banned substance to help improve his quality of life. Billy was eventually granted a short licence for the medicinal oil and his story placed the health benefits of cannabis firmly in the spotlight.

In November 2018, medicinal cannabis was legalised so that specialist doctors could prescribe the substance. The medical form of cannabis oil is currently only issued within a hospital setting and for individual cases where licenced treatments have proved unsuccessful or for severe forms of certain medical conditions.

However, while access to the medicinal form of cannabis oil is significantly restricted, more and more people are opting to use the over-thecounter form to help alleviate a range of health conditions. And, according to the Cannabis Trades Association UK, the number of CBD oil consumers rose from 125,000 in 2017 to 250,000 in 2018.

What is the difference between medicinal and over-the-counter CBD oil?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is an extract of 104 chemical compounds found in the cannabis or marijuana plant that does not provide the ‘high’ of the cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. CBD oil is made by extracting CBD from the hemp plant, then diluting it with a carrier oil.

Unlike medicinal cannabis oil, which often contains high levels of THC, CBD contains less than 0.2% of the psychoactive substance. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies CBD derived from hemp as a dietary supplement, as long as it has less than 0.2% THC and is legal to possess, buy and sell in the UK. CBD oil with higher amounts of THC is a restricted substance and only available on prescription.

Benefits of CBD

Although more research is still needed, advocates of CBD oil believe it has many potential health benefits, not least in helping to alleviate chronic pain conditions.

Over-the-counter CBD oil has become increasingly popular amongst people looking for products to help with joint pain. With its ability to reduce inflammation, CBD oil may also be effective in helping to reduce pain associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia. It also has relaxation benefits, potentially aiding restful sleep, reducing anxiety and supporting our ability to process and cope with chronic pain. There is also a clinical train of thought that believes CBD could be effective in treating symptoms relating to epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease and could reduce the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, although research into the ‘neuroprotective’ properties of CBD oil is ongoing.

Potential side effects

CBD oil is usually taken orally, held under the tongue for a few seconds before swallowing. With the low level of THC in over-the-counter products, the negative effects of CBD oil are minimal but as with all medicines and health remedies, there is the potential for side effects. The first consideration is whether CBD oil could interact with any of your other prescription medications so always discuss with your GP before trying CBD. Over-the-counter CBD oil is generally well tolerated, with diarrhoea and a decrease in appetite the most common side-effects reported. In some cases, it can also elevate liver enzymes.

Where to get CBD oil

CBD oil with a THC level higher than 0.2% must be medically prescribed and can only be authorised by a specialist doctor and not by a general practitioner (GP).

CBD oil authorised by the FDA – ie: oil with less than 0.2% THC – can be bought over the counter. Always buy your CBD oil from a reputable supplier so you can be assured of the quality. High street pharmacy and health food chains such as Boots and Holland & Barrett as well as CBD specialists, such as CBD Scotland, now stock CBD oil as a dietary supplement which you can buy without a prescription. The typical percentage of pure CBD in an over-the-counter product is around 5%, which is considered beneficial as a general health supplement. Always discuss the percentage of CBD oil you need with your GP first if you are considering a higher dose.

CBD Oil Scotland are specialists, supplying only natural CBD products.


Holland & Barrett

For more information on CBD oil, visit:

The website explains more about the uses as well as who is most likely to be given a prescription for medical cannabis.

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