You can find it in coffee, beer and even in gummy bears – cannabis oil is cropping up all over Manchester’s high street.
CBD – a legal hemp extract – is making its way from the shelves of vape and health food shops to the menus of bars and restaurants in and around the city. There’s even a dedicated CBD cafe in Chorlton .
It won’t get you high, but advocates claim it has therapeutic properties that can help with a host of health conditions ranging from anxiety to arthritis.
But while it’s been proven to help with some forms of epilepsy, the science lags behind its marketing for other ailments – and concerns have been raised that ‘charlatans’ could cash in on the trend in an unregulated market.
Ancoats health food restaurant Kettlebell Kitchen has just started stocking CBD oil, available to add to any of its hot drinks for an extra £1 – although staff are careful not to make any claims about its supposed health benefits.
“It’s best in the milk-based coffees,” said operations manager Chris Walsh.
“It’s got a quite distinctive, earthy taste so the milk balances it out a bit more. I wouldn’t recommend it with an Americano but it’s not unpleasant with milk.”
Chris said they started stocking it to appeal to their health-conscious customer base.
“It’s something on the rise and we wanted to get ahead of the curve,” he said.
CBD – shorthand for cannabidiol – is extracted from hemp, a variety of the cannabis sativa plant with negligible levels (less than 0.3% by dry weight) of THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana that produces its mind-altering high.
Companies can legally sell it as a food supplement the UK as long as no medical claims are made about it.
“If someone asks about it we’re not allowed to say anything specific except that we’ve decided to offer it as an addition to our coffee offering and that it contains no psychoactive ingredients,” said Chris.
“There’s enough information out there for people to make their own conclusions.”
Ste Bailey, from Bury, runs wholesaler CBD Coffee Co, importing CBD-infused coffee beans from Colorado in the USA, where the product is big business, and selling them to coffee shops and restaurants.
“From a green bean, they throw it in a roaster and as it comes out it is still quite porous and so what we do then is infuse it into the bean,” he said.
“It’s got a little bit of a marijuana smell in bean form but when we grind it, the fresh coffee smell takes over. A lot of companies are using very cheap beans, so it kind of counteracts the CBD as it’s very high in caffeine.
“What we’ve found was one that’s not too darkly roasted, a nice, chocolatey, everyday coffee that’s not too high in caffeine so it doesn’t give you the jitters.”
An average cup of coffee made with his beans contains between 6 and 8mg of CBD, and a QR code on each packet is linked to lab tests Ste has had carried out on the product.
“Ours is Colorado organic, fully certified before it’s infused into our bean and then we test it again. When it comes over here we test it on arrival,” he said.
“What I’m trying to do is be transparent as I can and say what we’re doing. You can test, you can check, to give people peace of mind that they’re getting what they’re paying for.”
Ste is also cautious of preaching any universal health benefits – although he says CBD has personally helped him to manage the pain of his arthritis.
“I’m an ex-snowboarder and my knees, hips and hands are destroyed from it,” he said.
“I’m 45 now and I was taking a lot of painkillers to get up and walk in the mornings. I’ve got rid of them now. For me, it was a progression to find something to get me away from pharmaceuticals.
“I was piggybacking paracetamol and ibuprofen every two hours to get through the day and that’s ridiculous. I’ve always known about marijuana and how it works because it goes hand-in-hand with snowboarding and I found CBD about eight to 10 years ago as a tincture.
“[The pain] is manageable now. I know I’ll never get rid of it and I’m not saying this plant is going to give me the knees of a 15-year-old again.”
He says he has noticed other positive effects, too.
“It kind of focuses me. I feel very calm and I fly through emails now – I don’t know why,” he said.
“That’s my own experience. How it affects anybody else is like anything. Ibuprofen works for some people, for some it doesn’t.
“It’s like every other drug that’s out there. It’s not the heal the world plant, it really, really isn’t. It’s not the plant that will cure the world. But it’s a natural product, grown naturally. At the end of the day it’s a plant.”
A Manchester-based company is also making CBD beer. Green Times Brewing launched its High Flyer Session IPA, made with cannabis oil, last year and it’s stocked at bars including The Whiskey Jar and El Capo in the Northern Quarter, priced between £3 to £5.50 a bottle.
“[Cannabis] is from the same family as hops so they share the same flavour profile,” said director Carl Boon, from Cheadle.
“It’s the perfect mix. We’re looking at some really large international distributors and we have an exciting collaboration coming up with one of the best breweries in the world.
“This is going to be mainstream in the next couple of months. We’re already in discussions with supermarkets and some really large chains, not just in Manchester. It’s going to be everywhere.”
Carl launched the beer as a sideline to his CBD Ultra company, which supplies CBD in everything from capsules and oils to balms, teas and gummy bears to companies including Chorlton cafe CBD Manchester.
“I’ve always been interested in natural remedies and organic, plant-based solutions,” he said.
“I started playing around with extracting oil from hemp to help family members. I was buying that in a kilo at a time to make balms and tinctures and I realised there was an opportunity to help more people.”
Carl then started importing the raw oil from Colorado as the business expanded. Like Ste, he says he’s committed to traceability and transparency in a market that is still largely unregulated.
“There were a lot of cowboys out there making medical claims and having products that weren’t what they said it was,” said Carl, who is a member of the Cannabis Trades Organisation.
“We’ve proposed self-regulation in the industry before the government mandates it. Every product, we’re saying, needs to be registered and needs to have third party lab testing. Because we’re responsible and compliant, we get a lot of referrals [through the CTA].”
The lack of regulation and wildly varying strengths of CBD products available on the high street is a concern to Vincent Walker Bond, a researcher of the cultural transformation of cannabis and associated products at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“In these days of capitalism that’s one of my worries,” he said.
“People with genuine illnesses are going into shops buying a product, where, does it have a significant amount in where it’s going to make a change to help?
“That’s one of my worries that we do have charlatans.”
Nevertheless he sees no harm in people trying the product, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded is safe and not associated with abuse or public health risks in a report last year.
“How I look at this is: say I went to the doctor with a disease. They’ll give me some options and say ‘this may work, this may have a side effect’ with conventional big pharmaceutical medicines. It’s the same with CBD or cannabis-derived products,” he said.
“The worst side effect they’ll have is they’ve spent £30 on a bottle of oil and it hasn’t helped. If you’ve got something that’s helping 20 per cent of people that need it and it’s not giving side effects to the rest of them, that can only be a good thing.”
CBD has been demonstrated as an effective epilepsy treatment in several clinical trials, according to the WHO, and Epidiolex, a medicine containing the compound, is currently going through the licensing process.
Last November, Home Secretary Sajid Javid allowed specialist doctors to legally prescribe medicinal cannabis following a series of high-profile cases involving children being denied access to cannabis oil to control seizures.
Cannabis-based medicine Sativex, which also contains both CBD and THC, has been licensed to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis since 2010.
Scientists are also exploring CBD’s potential as a treatment for cancer; neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s; mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and psychosis; inflammatory conditions such as IBS, Chrohn’s and arthritis – but there is only ‘limited clinical evidence’ from human trials so far, according to the WHO.
The WHO also cautions against the ‘unverified’ CBD products flooding the market and ‘fraudulent’ medical claims made by some manufacturers in the US.
“There are numerous CBD products including purported medicinal products, such as pills and capsules for various diseases/symptoms, and also lotions, oils, foods, drinks, shampoos, cosmetics, etc. that are being manufactured and distributed without regulatory oversight and often with unverified contents,” it said.
Vincent is optimistic about the genuine article’s potential, however.
“More and more research is being done now, in the States, Israel, Australia and across Europe,” he said.
“Because it’s becoming more accepted it’s easier to get a licence to do research for the pharmaceutical companies. There’s more and more research coming out and I think it’s showing positive news it does help some people.”