There has been a lot of buzz about CBD in the UK recently and its potential to help with a lot of medical conditions. Later last year, the NHS finally started to prescribe it for a very small amount of certain conditions, but it also led to a boom in the market of CBD products available on the high street. But what is the difference between the CBD prescribed by the NHS and CBD oil that you can buy as a supplement? Today we are looking at what conditions it’s prescribed for and how the medication might differ to CBD supplements.

What is medicinal CBD used for?

So in the last couple of months the NHS have started to allow the prescription of “medical cannabis” the term used for any cannabis-based medicine, to relieve symptoms of a select few medical conditions. Currently, there are only a couple of conditions that the NHS will prescribe medical cannabis, these include a specific type of epilepsy in adults and children, multiple sclerosis (MS) and also for the relief of side-effects in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Since the rise of CBD products available in the UK has grown exponentially recently, these are not the same as medicines prescribed under the NHS, so let’s go into some detail about these medicines.

CBD for Epilepsy

For patients suffering from rare types of epilepsy, mostly Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, a CBD based medicine that is currently going through UK licensing processes is Epidiolex. This particular medicine is similar to some CBD oil supplements out there as it is in a liquid form, and doesn’t contain any THC. From the limited amount of research online, it seems the NHS will only be prescribing or suggesting this form of treatment should other treatment methods fail. Their recommended starting dosage would also be 2.5mg, increasing slowly.

CBD for Chemotherapy Side-Effects

Cancer patients in the US have long been prescribed cannabis-based medicines for relief from some of the side effects of chemotherapy. For nausea and vomiting, a medication occasionally being prescribed now in the UK, is Nabilone. This is actually a synthetic cannabinoid developed to act in the same way as THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. Again, this is only prescribed by a specialist and tends to be a ‘last resort’ treatment, despite being a fully licensed medication – meaning it has passed strict safety tests and it has been proven to give medical benefits to those symptoms.

CBD for Multiple Sclerosis

The predominant difference in medicinal cannabis products being prescribed over the NHS and the CBD oil supplements widely available on the market, is the ability for the NHS to prescribe medicines containing THC. THC is currently illegal in the UK as it is the cause of the ‘high’ in cannabis, but to some medical conditions it can have a positive effect on the symptoms. Any CBD oils currently on the market can only legally contain very trace amounts of the chemical, but in Nabiximol, a medication also known as Sativex, the ratio of THC to CBD allows for the benefits of the THC to have an effect while the CBD counteracts the psychoactive side-effect of the chemical. This is currently being prescribed to multiple sclerosis patients, but again it is only recommended once other treatment options have been exhausted. It seems the reason behind this is that it’s not cost-effective, essentially it’s too expensive at this time to prescribe.

When it was announced in the media that the NHS were going to start prescribing CBD or medicinal cannabis oil as a medication, it excited a lot of people who have been following research, seen testimonials of people taking it overseas where it is legal, or those who have been prescribed the medicine overseas but couldn’t bring it back into the UK with them. In reality, it may potentially take a few years for the NHS to become comfortable prescribing CBD or cannabis medications, even if it is tried, tested and licensed, meaning there is proven medical benefits. The main reason for this reluctance is speculated to be due to the cost of the medication, but it may also be due to the stigma attached to cannabis-derived medications and supplements.

Dosage of CBD on the NHS

Another note to mention would be the dosing and the quality of the CBD they prescribe. As mentioned above, some of the medication prescribed have around 2.5mg of CBD per dose, either in liquid spray or capsule form. With these forms of delivery, particularly capsules, they have a poor bioavailability – meaning you absorb very little of the prime ingredients. With some CBD supplements available without prescription, these may have a higher bioavailability because they fundamentally have a better delivery system, liposomal for example. With a good delivery system in your CBD, this can increase the amount you absorb into your bloodstream, and increase the benefit of the CBD. Some supplements also have a higher quantity of CBD in them per dose.

So if you were hoping to get CBD on the NHS prescription or you had to exhaust all other forms of treatment or medication first, it’s worth enquiring with your GP whether a CBD oil that is not available on the NHS would help to relieve your symptoms.