Chances are, you’ve probably heard of CBD before. It’s one of the biggest buzzwords in food and drink right now and is predicted to be the next big thing. More and more chefs and cooks are using CBD in their recipes, and the CBD market is growing at an extraordinary rate. But what actually is this mystery ingredient, and why is it so popular?
What is CBD?
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its sibling tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, it’s not psychoactive and won’t get you high (if you want a laugh, check out this video of Gordon Ramsay, Gino D'Acampo and Fred Sirieix trying THC drops in their tea). CBD is legal and can be sold in the UK.
Rise of CBD in the UK
According to surveys conducted in 2019, approximately 4-6 million people in the UK have tried CBD. The market is growing rapidly and is expected to reach nearly £1 billion by 2025. Interest in CBD products has exploded, and they’re not just found in independent shops but also in popular chains such as Holland & Barrett.
Interest in CBD has been so explosive, in fact, that Hatter’s became Holland & Barret’s fastest-selling tea last month, selling more than 25,000 boxes in the first month! Silent Pool, the gin brand, have experienced similarly eruptive sales - after putting their Colorado High gin online in July, they sold 800 bottles in two days, despite the drink costing a hefty £50.
What’s all the fuss, you ask? In short, CBD is thought to make you more relaxed and calm, and it’s not difficult to find people who hail it as miraculous. They’ll likely tell you that it’s helped to relieve their anxiety or pain, with some claiming it’s also helped with acne, schizophrenia and even cancer. Due to its claimed benefits, CBD has become a popular alternative for those seeking treatment for pain or anxiety.
More generally, others have turned to CBD in pursuit of an overall sense of wellness as part of a holistic health approach.
CBD in food and drink
CBD is most commonly found in oils, but is also found as a supplement, vape, gel for skin and more recently in food and drink.
Because of its distinct, naturally bitter taste, CBD works well as an ingredient in sweet foods. That’s why you’re likely to find it in gummy sweets, cake, chocolate and croissants. It’s also commonly found in coffee as the strong flavour of the coffee beans masks it. But don’t underestimate businesses’ ability to sneak it into everything; you can also get CBD-infused hummus and water!
A number of CBD cafes have also popped up around the UK. Now closed, what was the UK’s first CBD-infused restaurant in Brighton - The Canna Kitchen - had a menu of food full of the chemical and also offered CBD-infused mocktails. And, in 2019, Farmacy in London launched a CBD afternoon tea.
Does CBD actually work?
As it currently stands, there is no conclusive evidence that the CBD products you find on the high street have any real benefits. This is because many of the products contain so little CBD compared to the much larger quantities administered in clinical medicine trials, argues Harry Sumnall, professor in substance use at Liverpool John Moores University.
Because the CBD market isn’t regulated at the moment, manufacturers of CBD products often aren’t putting what’s considered a functional amount of the chemical in the product - i.e. they can get away with putting one or two drops in a chocolate bar or slice of cake and charge a lot for it without proving that there’s any real benefit. These food products may contain around 5-10mg of CBD, whereas clinical trials administer doses of between 100-15,000mg with medical supervision.
Philip McQuire, professor of psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London, warns of the long-term danger of high street CBD products. Being optimistic and enthusiastic about the future of CBD after the success of his trials, McQuire worries that people will lose interest in CBD and it’ll become one of those trends we laugh at because people aren’t experiencing any effects from the products they’re consuming. With the correct dosage, McQuire has found that CBD has beneficial impacts on the immune system, metabolism and liver, in addition to its benefits for mental health.
The Food Standards Agency (FDA) has recently also gotten involved in the CBD market. Currently, food manufacturers don’t have to prove that their products are safe. The FDA has warned that CBD products could be removed from shelves next year, however, if manufacturers fail to provide consumers with more safety information.
In short, there's inconclusive studies about the chemical in food but CBD is overall hailed as miraculous by users
So far, studies aren’t clear as to whether eating or drinking small amounts of CBD has any effect. Current results from medical trials of CBD with a much higher dosage, however, seem extremely promising, and CBD-enthusiasts praise the fact that it has many benefits with none of the side effects of cannabis or traditional medicines.