EducationWhat is CBD oil?

What is CBD oil?

14 min read

Lydia Kariuki

What is CBD oil?
Cannabidiol oil, also known as CBD oil, refers to a type of bioactive oil that’s made by mixing CBD (which is extracted from the hemp or cannabis plant) with a carrier oil such as coconut or hemp seed oil. This oil can be ingested orally, applied topically, or vaporised.


CBD oil has gained massive popularity in the last couple of years, and it's no surprise that this product has created a billion-dollar industry globally. At the same time, the market has witnessed new trends, such as a shift from pure CBD to full-spectrum CBD products. The market for CBD oil has also faced increasing competition as entrepreneurs have flocked to the market to get a share of what looks like a lucrative pie. This has paved the way for product innovation coupled with a reduction in prices, both of which are of benefit to patients. 

This article discusses in great detail what CBD oil is, how it works, what it does, and its long list of potential health and wellness applications. We will also see if we can bust some popular CBD myths, and bring clarity to the CBD discussion. 

What is CBD?

CBD, the short form of cannabidiol, is one of the many (hundreds of) bioactive molecules that are present in hemp and cannabis plants. It belongs to a category of compounds known as phytocannabinoids. CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the most popular and most studied phytocannabinoids. Unlike THC, CBD is not intoxicating. As such, CBD oil is also not intoxicating.

Is CBD psychoactive?

The psychoactivity of CBD is a subject of heated controversy, and most sources claim that CBD lacks psychoactive effects. Let’s first define psychoactive.

Psychoactive refers to the ability of a bioactive molecule to alter the brain’s activity in terms of perception, cognition, mood, and behaviour.

Let's get back to CBD.

Does CBD alter one’s mood, cognitive abilities, perception, or behaviour? 

Possibly. Recent research has shown that CBD may be able to uplift one’s mood and also relieve anxiety. This means that CBD has some psychoactive properties. However, they are mild and CBD will not cause intoxication or euphoria as THC does. CBD oil is therefore psychoactive but non-intoxicating.

Will CBD oil get me high?

No, CBD oil as mentioned above is non-intoxicating. This means that it cannot alter one’s awareness or orientation in terms of person, place, or time. CBD oil can be safely given to children and pets without having to worry about intoxication.

Note that CBD does not produce the “high” that is usually associated with consuming cannabis.

Where does CBD oil come from?

CBD oil is made from CBD extract and a carrier oil such as medium chain triglyceride (MCT), hemp seed, avocado, olive, or coconut oil. The CBD is extracted from hemp or cannabis plants.

Hemp refers to cannabis sativa that has very low levels of the intoxicating cannabinoid THC. For hemp to be legal in the UK, it must contain no more than 0.2% THC. The EU adjusted their THC requirements for hemp from 0.2% to 0.3% THC. Legal CBD oil in the UK must be derived from hemp and should therefore contain 0.2% THC or less.

CBD is extracted from the leaves, flowers, and stems of the hemp plant using a variety of methods, such as CO2 extraction or ethanol extraction. During the extraction process, the CBD is separated from the other plant compounds and then diluted with the carrier oil.

Is CBD oil legal in the UK?

Yes, CBD oil made from hemp that is EU-approved and contains less than 0.2% THC is legal in the UK. CBD oil that is derived from cannabis (with high THC levels) remains illegal. But while CBD oil is legal, making definitive medical claims about CBD is prohibited.

Is CBD a medicine?

CBD oil is not considered a medicine in the UK because it has not been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as a medicine. CBD oil is considered a food supplement and falls under the jurisdiction of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The FSA has set guidelines for the sale of CBD as food supplements. One of the requirements is that the CBD oil does not contain more than 1 mg of THC per container. The CBD oil must also be made from EU-approved strains of hemp.

CBD as a novel food in the UK

In 2021, the UK classified CBD as a "novel food”. This means that all CBD extracts used as ingredients in food or drink products must undergo a safety assessment and receive authorization from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) prior to being introduced to the market. The process of getting novel food authorization has however been painfully slow. Currently, there are about 12,000 products awaiting validation. It may not be until the summer of 2024 before CBD products are fully authorised as novel foods, according to recent news. The FSA has taken deliberate steps to prioritise public health and safety even as they seek to regulate the CBD market.

CBD market in the UK

The actual size of the CBD market in the UK is difficult to determine, since the industry is not well-regulated. However, a report that was commissioned in 2021 by the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry revealed that it could be worth close to £690 million. This makes the UK the second-largest market for CBD globally, after the US.

In spite of its rapid growth, the UK CBD market faces numerous challenges, such as an uncertain regulatory landscape and concerns about product quality and safety. The FSA has from time to time issued warnings to CBD companies that have made unsubstantiated health claims on CBD or introduced contaminated CBD products to the market. These issues, if not addressed, could impact the growth and stability of the CBD market in the UK in the coming years.

How does CBD work?

The exact mechanisms of CBD are still being investigated. So far, studies have shown that CBD, like other cannabinoids, interacts with a unique system in the body known as the endocannabinoid system through CB1 and CB2 receptors. While CBD may modulate the ECS through CB2 receptors, it lacks a strong affinity for either of the two receptors.

Other studies have found that CBD exerts some of its actions independent of the endocannabinoid system. An example is the serotonergic system, which regulates serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, memory, and learning.

It has also been shown to reduce the breakdown of our own endocannabinoids, potentially increasing the period of effective interaction.

Benefits of CBD oil

CBD is not approved as a medicine in the UK. However, preliminary evidence has shown that CBD supports the endocannabinoid system (ECS) which modulates key functions in the body. Consumers who have taken CBD have reported the following benefits:

  • Relaxation
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Less fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Improved skin

Researchers are looking into the therapeutic potential of CBD. Preliminary research has shown potential promise in the management of the following conditions:

While the therapeutic potential of CBD is still being investigated, there is growing evidence to suggest that CBD oil may have therapeutic potential for a range of health conditions. However, it is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the effects of CBD on the body and to identify any potential risks or side effects.

How to administer CBD oil

CBD oil in its pure form is usually an amber-coloured viscous liquid. When choosing the most appropriate method of consuming CBD oil, have these seven considerations in mind:

  • Ease of application or administration
  • Dosage required
  • Desired effect
  • How soon it starts to act
  • How long do the effects last
  • Side effects
  • Cost

With this in mind, there are 5 different ways of administering CBD oil. Most CBD providers will offer CBD oil in all these forms, though the preparations may be different. The method of administration determines how fast and how much CBD is absorbed into your system.

CBD tinctures

CBD tinctures are one of the most common ways of administering CBD oil. Administering CBD drops is very simple. Simply squeeze out one or two drops of the tincture using the dropper to the sublingual region (under the tongue) and hold it there for about half a minute before you swallow. This area is well supplied with blood capillaries that ensure that the CBD is absorbed within a few minutes. This route also ensures that less CBD is lost through the first pass effect.

Tinctures can also be mixed in foods and beverages. As much as this helps to mask the taste of CBD, the absorption is slower and up to 50% of the CBD is lost during the process of metabolism.

CBD topicals

CBD-infused topicals may be effective in treating skin inflammation, muscle soreness, and joint pain. The skin is the largest organ in the body and is well-endowed with cannabinoid receptors. When CBD oil is applied to the skin, it gets absorbed into the bloodstream directly without having to undergo metabolism. This may lead to the effects being felt sooner.

CBD soft-gels

Soft-gels and capsules are a convenient way to take CBD oil. The oil is encased in a digestible capsule that is broken down by gastric acid in the stomach to release CBD. The onset of action may be slower, but the effects usually last longer. Soft gels are designed to offer maximum bioavailability. They are ideal when one requires exact dosages and a discrete method of consuming CBD.

CBD Edibles 

CBD manufacturers have been very creative in coming up with enticing CBD edibles in the form of gummies and other treats. Edibles come in a ridiculous range of options, they are portable, discrete, and are infused with enticing flavours and sometimes even extra nutrients. Edibles will take a longer time to exert their effects (30-90 minutes) but the effects will last for over four hours.

CBD Vapes 

CBD oil can be inhaled using vape pens. Inhaled CBD is directly absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream. The onset of action is almost immediate, but the effect does not last for as long as when the CBD is in edible form. Unlike smoking, vaping does not include combustion and is therefore less harmful to the lungs. 

Will CBD oil show up on a drug test?

No, pure CBD oil is unlikely to show up in a standard drug test as such tests screen for THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid. However, should the CBD oil contain even small amounts of THC, the test might detect it. Therefore, it is always important to scrutinise the certificate of analysis (COA) to ensure that the CBD oil contains zero THC, especially if you will be taking a drug test in the near future.

CBD oil side effects

CBD oil may cause some side effects, especially when consumed in high amounts or for first time patients. Some of the side effects that have been reported in studies include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • GI disturbance

Should you experience any side effects from CBD oil, you should stop taking it and consult your healthcare provider immediately.

Is CBD oil safe?

In 2018, the World Health Organization published a report on CBD that indicated that CBD is safe for human consumption. The report went on to state that when side effects are observed, they are usually due to the interaction of CBD with other compounds and not CBD itself. Studies have also demonstrated the safety of CBD oil, even when it is consumed in high doses of up to 1,500 per day.

What is the standard dose for CBD oil?

The right amount of CBD oil to consume will vary based on the reason you are consuming it and how your body metabolises the CBD. A person consuming CBD oil to potentially manage pain may require higher amounts than one who is seeking relaxation. At the same time, one’s unique physiology including their total body fat percentage and metabolism rate will determine how much CBD oil one should take.

Generally, a dosage of 10 mg to 40 mg of CBD twice daily is recommended as a maintenance dose for relaxation and promoting health and wellness. For managing seizures, a dose of 2.5mg/kg twice daily is recommended as a starting dose. This translates to about 350mg of CBD per day.

Before you make any decisions regarding the medicinal administration of CBD, it is highly recommended to first consult with a doctor who is qualified and registered to prescribe medicinal cannabis.

CBD oil: full spectrum versus broad spectrum

Full spectrum CBD oil contains additional cannabinoids, including THC and terpenes. Broad spectrum CBD oil contains additional cannabinoids and terpenes but contains zero THC. It is believed that terpenes enhance the positive effects of the CBD through what is referred to as the entourage effect.

Where to buy CBD oil in the UK

There are numerous online vendors selling CBD in the UK. A word of caution: not all CBD products in the UK market are reputable. It is therefore important to purchase CBD oil from vendors that subject their products to independent third-party testing to guarantee their safety and quality. It is also advised that you consult with a healthcare professional before using CBD oil, especially if you are taking any medication or have an underlying medical condition.


CBD oil contains cannabidiol that has been dissolved in a carrier oil such as hemp seed, olive, coconut, or MCT carrier oil. It is non-intoxicating and well tolerated by most patients. It is impossible to overdose on CBD as studies have shown that even very high doses of CBD have a wide safety margin. However, it is not advisable to exceed the recommended dosage for CBD oil.

Legal CBD oil in the UK should be made from hemp that is certified by the EU and does not contain more than 0.2% THC. Currently, CBD is not approved as medicine in the UK, but it is considered as a food supplement or novel food. Most consumers turn to CBD for relaxation and to get relief from the symptoms of anxiety, the reduction of seizures and pain, and to help with sleep issues.

CBD oil FAQs

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the numerous (113 plus) phytocannabinoids that are present in hemp. Studies have shown that CBD has potential therapeutic properties and may promote health and wellbeing.

How does CBD work?

CBD, like other phytocannabinoids, predominantly works through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body, and CBD supports this incredible system. CBD also works through other pathways that are not related to the ECS, such as the serotonergic pathways.

How is CBD oil made?

CBD is first extracted from hemp using different methods; solvent-based and solventless. Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction is a preferred commercial method of extracting CBD because it is efficient, scalable, and leaves no impurities in the final product. The CBD is then mixed in a carrier oil.

What is the difference between hemp and cannabis?

Both hemp and cannabis originate from the cannabis sativa L species. However, they differ in the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that they contain. While hemp contains trace amounts of THC (less than 0.2%), cannabis may contain high amounts of THC.

THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid and intoxication.

Will CBD oil make me high?

CBD oil is non-psychoactive and will not make you high.

What are terpenes?

These are aromatic compounds that are found in both hemp and cannabis. They are responsible for the different aromas in hemp. They also have been shown to have potential therapeutic properties that can be harnessed.

What is the entourage effect?

The entourage effect is a theory that states when cannabinoids (such as CBD) work in concert with terpenes to produce a healing effect, this effect may be enhanced and sustained.

Is CBD oil safe?

CBD oil is safe for both human and animal consumption, even when it is consumed in high doses.

Does CBD oil have any side effects?

CBD oil may produce mild side effects in some patients. This may include drowsiness, stomach upsets, irritability, and low blood pressure. This is most likely to occur when CBD is taken in high doses. Should you experience any adverse effects after starting on CBD, you should stop immediately and consult your healthcare provider.

Releaf understands that medical cannabis can be life-changing for many people. That's why we offer tailored monthly packages based on your cannabis prescription, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Lydia Kariuki, a medical nurse and journalist with a diploma in clinical research, specialises in translating complex cannabis research into accessible content, fostering public understanding and awareness.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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How long does it take to feel the effects of THC oil?

The time it takes for you to feel the effects of THC depends on the methods of administration as well as your own physiology. Fortunately, there are fast and slow-acting options, as well as ways to take low or high doses in order to facilitate control over the way your body reacts to your medicine.

Editorial Team