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Q&A with EthicaCBD Scientific Advisor, Professor David Heal

Estimated reading time: 13 min

EthicaCBD want to be a company you know you can trust. The scientists at DevelRx (experts in drug development who support the Pharmaceutical and Biotech industry in the development of new drugs to treat psychiatric, neurological and metabolic disorders) have put together answers to your commonly asked CBD FAQs so you don’t just have to trust our answers.

With over 30 years experience, 12 successful drug registrations and over 100 companies supported, DevelRx are experts in their fields. Read their scientifically verified FAQ answers below.


What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of more than 100 naturally occurring, active components (cannabinoids) found in Cannabis species, cannabis sativa L. It was first isolated in the 1940s. CBD is a major cannabinoid, which accounts for up to 40% of the cannabis plant’s extract and is formed from a cannabidiolic acid precursor. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the major psychotropic (mind altering) cannabinoid present in cannabis.

Cannabinoids such as CBD and THC from cannabis plants (phytocannabinoids) can interact with the human endocannabinoid system. After its ingestion or smoking, THC produces its pharmacological effects by stimulating certain proteins (cannabinoid receptors) in the endocannabinoid system of the human body. CBD does not activate these cannabinoid receptors and is not psychotropic: it does not affect the nervous system to produce intoxication, or alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behaviour. In other words, it does not get you “high”.

The human body also synthesizes various cannabinoid molecules which act as chemical signals in the endocannabinoid system. This biological system is composed of endogenous lipid-based nerve signalling molecules that bind to cannabinoid receptors, and receptor proteins, which are expressed throughout the vertebrate central nervous system (including the brain) and peripheral nervous system.

What is the difference between cannabis and hemp plants?

Cannabis and hemp are the part of the same species of plant. The Misuse of Drugs Act makes no distinction between hemp and cannabis plants. The difference is that hemp plants contain less than 0.2% THC as defined by UK and European law. Cannabis plants contain more than this level. THC concentrations in various strains of cannabis plants can vary quite considerably.

CBD products such as oils are made by extracting the CBD from hemp plants and adding it to a suitable carrier oil including hemp seed, apricot or coconut oil. Cannabinoids such as CBD and THC are found in the highest concentrations in the flowers, leaves and stalks of hemp and cannabis plants. CBD processed from farming grade hemp plants can only be processed from the seeds, stalk and fibre. The flowers and leaves of hemp must be destroyed by law.

Is CBD good for you?

CBD has been clinically tested and approved as a medicine for treating two rare, severe types of epilepsy of epilepsy called Dravet’s syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in patients from 2 years of age. It is also approved in children and adults as an add-on treatment for seizures in tuberous sclerosis. These forms of epilepsy often do not respond to typical medications.

CBD has also been tested in clinical trials for other health disorders (see below).

How long does it take for CBD to work?

This will depend on the dose, formulation of the CBD product and why you are taking it.

How much CBD is absorbed through skin?

CBD can be absorbed through the skin. The amount absorbed depends very much on the formulation of the particular product which contains CBD. CBD may be included in products for topical application in oils, creams, sprays, gels or skin patches.

Find out more about CBD Skincare.

How often can you use CBD?

When you start taking a CBD product, you should start with a small dosage before gradually increasing it. This will give you time to see how you react to the CBD before consuming the full daily amount. It is very important to adhere to the recommended intake on the product label because CBD products are sold in different strengths.

Discover how to take CBD.

Can you become immune to CBD benefits?

Published scientific and clinical studies indicate that tolerance to the pharmacological effects of CBD does not occur.

Safety & Legality

Yes. CBD is a legal substance in the UK. Companies selling CBD products as novel foods or food supplements in the UK must have submitted a Novel Food Application to the UK Food Standards Authority (FSA) by March 2021.

Selling CBD products that were processed outside of the UK is legal in the UK, providing they contain no controlled substances such as THC and are derived from hemp plants. THC is illegal in the UK. The maximum legal limit for THC in the UK is 1 milligram (1 thousandth of a gram) per container of CBD product, regardless of how much CBD product is within. Cannabinol (CBN) is a minor psychotropic cannabinoid present in hemp and cannabis plants, which is also illegal in the UK.

Is CBD safe?

When CBD is consumed according to the recommended daily intake on the product labels, there is extensive clinical and scientific evidence to show that it is safe.

Although CBD is not considered suitable in food products or oils for children under 18 years old, its safety has been extensively studied in this population when it was in development as a medicine to treat epilepsy. In these clinical studies, CBD was safe at doses many times higher than the recommended daily dose of CBD in food products or supplements. Therefore, there is a good margin of safety for the use of CBD as a health supplement in oils, food products, or skin creams where the daily dosage is much lower.

See also: Side Effects of CBD

Does CBD get you “high”?

CBD is not a psychotropic substance, meaning it does not have mind-altering properties (effects on perception, mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behaviour) and will not get you “high”.

UK regulations state that a maximum of 1 mg THC content per container is permitted for CBD food products and so companies manufacturing CBD products must have THC levels matching or below this concentration for the products to be legally available in the UK.

Is CBD addictive?

Laboratory and clinical studies have shown that CBD does not have addictive properties. These investigations have been conducted using CBD doses that are many times higher than the recommended daily dose of CBD in food products.

What drugs should not be taken with CBD?

CBD is mostly broken down in the liver by specific enzymes called CYP3A4 and CYP2C19. In clinical studies, the only relevant effect of CBD on the liver enzymes that metabolise (breakdown) drugs was on CYP2C19. Significant CYP2C19 inhibition was only observed in subjects receiving 1500 mg/day of CBD (20 mg/kg/day). The potential interaction of CBD with other drugs that are broken down by CYP2C19 when CBD is taken in food products at 1/20th of this clinical dose (as recommended on your CBD product labels) is unlikely to be a safety concern.

To summarise, if CBD is taken according to the recommended daily intake on the product labels, it should not interfere with the effectiveness of any other type of medication that you are taking. Laboratory or clinical studies have shown that, at the maximum advised daily intake level for the EthicaCBD products, CBD does not increase or decrease other medication exposure. Anyone who is currently taking prescribed medication and who is considering taking any CBD supplement should consult their doctor before use.

Find out more about CBD and medication.

Does CBD interact to alter the effects of cannabis?

A common misconception is CBD can reduce the psychotropic effects and adverse events produced by THC (the major active component in cannabis). Laboratory or clinical studies have shown that taking CBD together with THC does not increase or decrease the psychotropic effects of THC. CBD does not reduce the impairment of cognition, motor function or driving performance produced by THC.

What happens if I take CBD and drink alcohol?

CBD ingested according to the recommended daily intake on the CBD product labels poses no significant safety risk to humans when taken in combination with alcohol.

Laboratory and clinical studies have shown that CBD does not increase or decrease blood alcohol levels and do not alter the psychotropic (mood altering) effects of alcohol. It is important to note that CBD does not reduce the impairment of cognition, motor function or driving performance produced by alcohol consumption.

Discover more about CBD and Alcohol.

Can you drive while taking CBD?

Yes, you can drive when taking CBD according to the recommended daily intake on the product labels. Laboratory studies in human subjects have demonstrated that CBD does not impair driving performance.

Does taking CBD show up in a drug test?

CBD is legal to use in the UK. If you consume CBD as a novel food or food supplement according to the recommended daily intake on the product label, it should not show up on a drug test.

Commercial CBD health food products in the UK should contain negligible levels of the psychotropic cannabinoid, THC. The very low levels of THC in CBD food products fall below the cut-off point for testing positive for cannabis use in a drug test.

What is the Entourage Effect for CBD?

The “Entourage Effect” refers to the interaction of CBD with terpenes (aromatic compounds present in cannabis plants). Terpenes give cannabis its characteristic odour. Terpenes may be present at low levels in some CBD products as residues from the production process of the substance from plants. Alternatively, various terpenes may be added back into the CBD products by the manufacturer to give the product a pleasant odour and taste.

Some research studies have shown that terpenes interact with CBD to enhance its effect compared with taking CBD alone. However, not all studies support this hypothesis. More research is needed on this topic.

Does food or drink influence the absorption of CBD?

CBD is not all that well absorbed through the gut when taken by people in the fasted state, but its absorption is increased when it is taken with a meal, especially if it is a high fat meal.

Clinical trials found that CBD co-administered with alcohol did not influence alcohol-induced deficits or alter alcohol’s distribution and breakdown in the body. Another study found a small increase of CBD exposure combined with alcohol drinking when taken by fasted subjects. This increase was less than the enhanced body levels of CBD when it is taken with a high fat meal and these small effects are not relevant to its safety. It is safe to drink alcohol if CBD is taken according to the recommended daily intake on the CBD product labels.

Can it be used when pregnant / breastfeeding?

The UK Food Standards Authority (FSA) advises against the use of CBD by pregnant or breastfeeding women due to current lack of testing for any harmful effects in these populations.

Find out more about CBD and pregnancy / breastfeeding.

Suitability for children

The UK Food Standards Authority (FSA) advises against the use of CBD by children under 18 years old.

How are CBD products tested and how are laboratory reports interpreted?

The products are tested in accredited, independent, analytical laboratories using specialized and sensitive equipment. These laboratories produce detailed reports listing the concentrations and purity of CBD present in the product as well as other cannabinoids that may be present at very low levels such as THC or cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidivarin (CBDV) and cannabinol (CBN). These CBD products are also analysed for the presence of terpenes (aromatic compounds present in high levels in cannabis plants), heavy metals, pesticide residues, solvent residues, dioxins and microbial / fungal contaminants.

The laboratory reports confirm that CBD is present in the products at a minimum set level for each batch tested. The reports are also compared with UK/European standards to ensure that that any contaminants that may be present are well below the limits for safe consumption.

Discover more about EthicaCBD product lab testing.

How pure are EthicaCBD products?

All Ethica’s CBD products undergo testing for their purity to the highest UK / European standards and include a full analysis for any contaminating cannabinoids, pesticides, heavy metals, fungicides, mycotoxins and solvents.

Ethica Pure Swiss CBD oils (Night, Day, Defence, Calm and Body) are made from a highly purified Swiss CBD isolate which has a greater than 99% CBD content, with only a low level (0.17%) of another cannabinoid, cannabidivarin (CBDV). CBDV does not have psychotropic, or “mood altering” properties. At greater than 99% purity, the Pure Swiss CBD isolate is directly comparable in CBD content with pharmaceutical grade CBD used in various clinical trials. The final CBD concentration in each of the five Pure Swiss CBD oils is 10% with 0.6 – 0.8% added terpenes (natural aromatic compounds from plants) in organic coconut oil.

Ethica WholePlant CBD oil (spray or dropper form) is made using a CBD distillate from whole hemp plants. This distillate is more than 96% pure CBD, with some low levels of other cannabinoids from the hemp plants. The final CBD concentration in the WholePlant Broad Spectrum CBD Oil is 5%, together with added naturally derived terpenes, 0.17% cannabigerol (CBG), 0.02% CBDV, 0.003% THC and 0.001% cannabinol (CBN). The total content of the psychotropic cannabinoids, THC and CBN, is only 0.02 mg per bottle of CBD WholePlant oil. To put this into context, this is only one fiftieth of the legally permitted level of these cannabinoids.

What is CBD good for? – Evidence for treating health conditions

CBD oil for epilepsy

CBD has been clinically proven to reduce seizure frequency in three rare and severe types of epilepsy in patients aged 2 years and above. These are Dravet’s syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and tuberous sclerosis. Treatment of these forms of seizures needs much higher daily doses of CBD than those recommended in CBD food products or CBD oils. The efficacy of CBD to treat other forms of epilepsy has not been proven.

Seizures occur when nerves in the brain signal repetitively and uncontrollably. Epilepsy drugs prevent seizures either by reducing this repetitive nerve signalling at the point where the seizure starts, or by preventing the spread of the seizure to other areas of the brain. These are powerful events and as a proven epilepsy drug, CBD controls the excitability of the brain when it is neurologically dysfunctional during seizures.

CBD and effects on mood, attention, learning, memory, movement and cognition

The psychotropic (mood altering) effects of THC results from it locking into specific proteins (CB-1 receptors) in the brain. This action produces its intoxicating, emotional, perceptual and hedonic effects (the “high”) and its adverse impact on attention, learning, memory, motor (movement) and cognitive performance. In contrast, CBD has no effect on these CB-1 receptors and does not produce the mood altering effects of THC that are the cause of its abuse and misuse. This is also why ingestion of CBD does not have a negative effect on attention, learning, memory, motor or cognitive performance.

Numerous clinical studies have investigated the potential of CBD for abuse and also its effects on attention, learning, memory and motor performance. In one study, there were no psychological and neurological adverse effects of CBD at single doses of up to 4,500 mg (60 mg/kg) and multiple daily doses up to 750 mg (10 mg/kg). These doses are 10x to 60x higher than the recommended maximum daily intake of CBD as a novel food or food supplement.

Similarly, several studies in cannabis-using humans have demonstrated that CBD does not produce perceptual, emotional or sensory effects in humans and does not impair attention, learning, memory or motor function.

CBD for psychiatric and neurological disorders

There is good evidence from controlled clinical trials to show that CBD has an effect to reduce stress and anxiety.

Brain imaging has shown that CBD decreased anxiety in patients with generalized social anxiety disorder. In a study in patients with Parkinson’s disease, acute administration of CBD reduced anxiety and stress-induced tremors caused by a simulated public speaking task, which many people find to be an extremely stressful task. In another clinical study, short-term administration of CBD reduced the drug craving and anxiety in drug-abstinent, heroin-dependent subjects.

It is important to note that most of these studies used CBD at doses far in excess of those permitted as a daily intake in foods. However, one study in patients with anxiety or sleep problems used a low dose of 25 mg/day (about one third of the CDB dose that is recommended from food or CBD oils). A though a minority of subjects did experience a worsening of their symptoms, the majority of subjects (80%) had a reduction of their anxiety and more than 55% of people reported improved sleep.

CBD for inflammation

CBD can reduce inflammation when taken orally or applied topically to the skin. This effect of CBD has been demonstrated in placebo-controlled clinical trials in human volunteers.

The possible benefits of CBD in osteoarthritis have also been demonstrated in a veterinary study in dogs. Daily treatment with CBD improved the dogs’ mobility and reduced their level of pain.

Since osteoarthritis occurs in humans and dogs, this is an important finding and suggests that more studies in humans with this painful condition are warranted.

Preliminary findings in a clinical trial have shown that CBD may reduce inflammation in the gut. Further studies are needed to determine whether CBD may be of value for treatment of disorders associated with increased gut permeability, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

CBD for pain relief

Some types of pain may be helped by taking CBD. For example, neuropathic pain, which can occur after suffering from shingles (post-herpetic neuralgia), or it may be caused by nerve trauma or by a trapped nerve. This type of pain is frequently unresponsive to conventional painkillers.

Lower-back pain is a different type of painful condition, which is often successfully treated with conventional painkillers such as aspirin, paracetamol and codeine. When CBD was given to patients in combination with these painkillers it did not increase their pain relief over taking the conventional painkillers alone.

CBD has shown therapeutic potential in reducing neuropathic pain and inflammatory pain (see question on inflammation above), but it is not a conventional painkiller.

Read more about CBD and pain.

Can CBD help to lower high blood pressure?

There are contradictory reports of the effect of CBD on heart function in human studies. Some studies show no effect of CBD on the heart, while another recent study showed that 600 mg CBD reduced resting blood pressure and stress increased blood pressure, at the same time as increasing heart rate (also see question on tachycardia below).

More clinical investigations are needed to determine whether CBD may be beneficial for treating high blood pressure conditions.

Can CBD increase feelings of wellbeing?

People with epilepsy that is resistant to medical treatment have a very poor quality of life. Such patients who took CBD for a year in a clinical study found an improvement in their quality of life, which was not related to any changes in the frequency or severity of their seizures. This suggests that CBD has a beneficial effect on the wellbeing of these epilepsy patients that is not directly related to its ability to prevent their seizures.

Read more about CBD and anxiety.

Side-effects of CBD

Can CBD cause anxiety?

One study in patients with anxiety or sleep problems used a low dose of 25 mg/day CBD (the daily CBD intake recommended in food or supplements is 70 mg/day). Although almost 80% of subjects had reduced anxiety and more than 55% had better sleep, a minority of subjects did report a worsening of their symptoms. It is advisable to start taking low doses of CBD and increasing them gradually if no untoward effects on anxious feelings or sleep are experienced.

Read more about CBD and anxiety.

Can CBD help you sleep or cause drowsiness?

In two clinical studies of healthy subjects, somnolence (sleepiness) was only seen starting at CBD doses at least 20x higher than the maximum 1 mg/kg/day CBD intake recommended from food products or CBD oils.

It is not likely that taking CBD at the recommended dosage on the product label will cause any feelings of sleepiness.

Read more about CBD and drowsiness.

Can CBD cause tachycardia (increased heart rate)?

In 3 studies in healthy humans, there were no clinically significant findings on electrocardiogram (ECG) after 1500-6000 mg single CBD-OS doses or 750 and 1500 mg multiple doses, or of 750-4500 mg single doses on telemetered cardiac and pulse oximetry.

Another clinical trial in healthy men gave them 600 mg of CBD (about 8 mg/kg bodyweight) or placebo in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind manner. Measurements were made of resting heart function and after different types of stress caused by mental, exercise or cold stress. The single dose of CBD reduced resting blood pressure and the blood pressure increases caused by stress and it slightly increased heart rate.

Further research is needed to establish whether CBD has a role in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders

Can CBD cause diarrhoea?

In two clinical studies of healthy adults, mild to moderate gastrointestinal effects occurred only when ingested at a 10x higher dose of CBD than recommended the 1 mg/kg/day CBD intake from food supplements or CBD oils.

Can CBD cause skin allergies?

In healthy adults, single CBD 80 mg/kg doses did not give any skin or subcutaneous tissue disorders or allergic reactions.

Mild skin rashes were found in about one third of people taking multiple doses of CBD, but this was only at high doses 20x greater than the recommended CBD intake from food products or CBD oils. All rashes healed up within 6-12 days.

It is unlikely that ingested CBD will cause skin rashes if you stick to the dose recommended on the product labels.

Article written by Professor David Heal

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