- What is CBD?
- What is the difference between CBD and THC?
- Is CBD legal in the UK?
- How does CBD affect the body?
- Medical use of CBD
- Access to medical prescriptions for CBD
- Can you use CBD for ADHD?
- CBD in clinical trials
- CBD for kids: is it safe?
From vape cartridges to capsules, oils to gummies and lip balms to chocolate – there is a multitude of ways to ingest CBD. It's legal, available on the high street and its medicinal properties are anecdotally touted across the UK. 🍫
Many parents are using CBD to treat their children’s illnesses – including Epilepsy, ADHD, Autism and Anxiety – but what does the science say? And is CBD really safe for kids? Let’s take a look at the conversation so far via this GoStudent guide – CBD: What parents need to know. 👇
What is CBD?
CBD – or cannabidiol – is the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis. It is derived directly from the hemp plant, a cousin of marijuana, or manufactured in a laboratory. CBD is just one of the hundreds of components found in marijuana. 🌿
Today, consumers in the UK can visit a growing number of high street health shops – including Boots, Superdrug and Holland & Barratt – and buy an array of CBD products off the shelf. The ingredient comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be found in capsules and oils to gummies, chocolate and skincare.
What is the difference between CBD and THC?
Chemically speaking, CBD and THC have the same formula – 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms. The difference between the two lies in the way their atoms are arranged. That gives CBD and THC different chemical properties which in turn means that they affect your body differently. ⚛️
CBD has little, if any, intoxicating properties whereas THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – is the chemical that causes the ‘high’ that goes along with marijuana consumption. CBD-dominant strains have little or no THC, so people using them report no psychoactive effects.
Is CBD legal in the UK?
While Cannabis is still classified as a class B drug in the UK, meaning that it is illegal to possess or supply it, CBD is legal as long as it contains less than 0.2 per cent THC – a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Furthermore, CBD must have been derived from a UK-approved industrial hemp strain.
However, amid these tight restrictions, you may be surprised to learn that the UK is the world's largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis for medicinal and scientific use. 🧪
In 2016 the UN's International Narcotics Control Board revealed that we produced 95 tonnes of the stuff accounting for 44.9 per cent of the global total. Furthermore, some 2.1 tonnes were exported from the UK, making it responsible for 67.7 per cent of the world total. In 2019 our production more than tripled to 320 tonnes.
In 2020, Savills estimated that the UK CBD market was worth £300m and is expected to more than triple in the next five years – taking it to a potential £1bn market by 2025. 💰
The rescheduling of cannabis in 2018
This rescheduling act in 2018 allowed for the medical use of cannabis in the UK. This change was largely influenced by the high-profile cases of two children with rare forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy. The parents of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley found that a medical-cannabis preparation was the medicine that effectively managed their children’s conditions. 🧑⚖️
How does CBD affect the body?
Cannabinoids like CBD lock on to molecules on the surface of cells called cannabinoid receptors. Much like plants, our body produces cannabinoid chemicals – called endocannabinoids – which also attach to these receptors. These receptors are involved in many processes throughout the body, from appetite to the sensation of pain. 🧬
Through many detailed experiments, scientists have discovered that both natural and synthetic cannabinoids have a wide range of effects on cells, which is why it is often touted as a treatment for complaints as far-reaching as chronic pain, cancer, migraines, anxiety and ADHD.
Medical use of CBD
‘Medical cannabis is a broad term for any sort of cannabis-based medicine used to relieve symptoms. Some cannabis-based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. 🧑⚕️
NHS guidelines suggest that these are only likely to benefit a very small number of patients suffering from the following conditions and would only be considered when other treatments were not suitable or had not helped.
Epidyolex is prescribed for children and adults with epilepsy. It is a highly purified liquid containing CBD. It can also be prescribed for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome – two rare forms of epilepsy.
Nabilone is prescribed for chemotherapy patients suffering from nausea and vomiting. It is taken as a capsule and has been developed to act in a similar way to THC. You may have heard it described as a ‘manmade form of cannabis’.
Nabiximols or Sativex is prescribed for Multiple Sclerosis. It is a cannabis-based medicine that is sprayed into the mouth.
Access to medical prescriptions for CBD
In 2020 campaigners urged the UK government to improve access to medical cannabis prescriptions, as restrictive guidance from regulators meant that no new NHS prescriptions had been written for the last two years. Thousands have been forced to take out expensive private prescriptions instead, creating a two-tier system of access. 💊
A study by former government adviser Prof David Nutt and other researchers found that although cannabis-based products for medicinal use are now legal in the UK, it remains “challenging” for patients to gain access: “Only very few NHS prescriptions have been written to date…the UK lags behind so many other countries which also have legalised medical cannabis.”
Can you use CBD for ADHD?
In 2019, a research study survey in England and Wales found that 1.4 million people self-reported they were using ‘street’ cannabis to treat chronic health conditions.
However, questions remain about the efficacy of cannabinoids to treat certain conditions associated with neurodiversity – like the use of CBD oil for special needs, the use of hemp oil for sensory processing disorder and the use of hemp oil to treat ADHD for example. 🧠
Anecdotally, we understand that a huge number of parents use commercially manufactured CBD to treat some conditions in children, such as anxiety and hyperactivity. Up to 40 per cent of caregivers may also use it to try to reduce certain symptoms of children on the autism spectrum.
CBD in clinical trials
Although the compound has no mind-altering properties and has been declared “generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.” by the World Health Organisation, there are not enough longitudinal studies to guarantee the safety of CBD products, especially for children.
While there’s promising research about CBD, especially for seizure control, much is still not known about it. Effectiveness studies are ongoing, some of which are summarised below. 🧑🔬
There is no concrete evidence that CBD products have any effect on children’s ADHD. However, anecdotal evidence from parents of kids with ADHD suggests that CBD can ease some symptoms like fidgeting, low frustration tolerance, talking or making excessive noise.
Several studies are investigating what effect CBD may have on kids on the autism spectrum. Dr. Gal Meiri, M.D., clinical director of the National Autism Research Center of Israel, looked at 188 children from the ages of five to 18.
The evidence showed there was an improvement in some behaviours – restlessness, rage, seizures – after one month of use and even more after six. More than 80 per cent of the parents reported significant or moderate improvement in their kids. Some of the parents reported benefits not just with seizures but also behaviours, like self-harm.
Studies of CBD interacting with kids with anxiety issues are also in their preclinical stages. The evidence, which is just beginning to emerge, shows that CBD may have a place in the treatment of kids with obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, or social anxiety.
In 2015 a group of researchers led by Esther Blessing PhD, of New York University, investigated the potential of CBD for treating anxiety. In a review of 49 studies, they found that overall, current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders with a need for further study of chronic and therapeutic effects in relevant clinical populations.
CBD for kids: is it safe?
What is cannabis for kids? Is this really something parents should be considering?
Ultimately, this is a decision that only you as a parent can make for your child. It is important that you do your own thorough research and consult trusted medical professionals along the way. 🧑⚕️
For reference, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children issued information regarding their stance on cannabinoid oil stating:
“As clinicians, we value the open and honest discussion with parents and carers about the use of cannabinoid oils […] Despite the extreme importance of families informing staff of administration of cannabinoid oil, we are currently in the difficult position of not being able to support administration.”
CBD: what parents need to know
- Anecdotally, many parents tout the benefits of CBD but clinical studies are still in their infancy.
- It’s impossible to overdose on CBD but determining how much to give your child is tricky without recommended clinical doses.
- Effects can vary a lot based on the delivery system – vaping versus taking it orally have different rates of delivery.
- Synthetic stands of CBD can contain other components which may be harmful.
- CBD may interact with other medications a child is taking, that are also metabolised in the liver.
This article is intended as a comment on the latest research in the UK and is not medical advice. Please always consult your doctor before making any decisions about trying new products for your child's health. 🙋