Why is CBD on everyone’s lips?

CBD is one of the biggest buzzwords in food and drink. It’s been hailed the next big thing, with more and more chefs and producers using CBD in their recipes. So what is it? And why is it so trendy?
In The Food Programme, Charlotte Smith talks to the owner and chef at the UK’s first cannabis-infused restaurant, meets other experts in the field – and even samples CBD herself – to try and find out what all the fuss is about.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, is a chemical extracted from the cannabis plant. Unlike its sibling tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it’s non-psychoactive and won’t get you high.

Why would you take it and what does it do to you?

CBD is thought to impart a feeling of relaxation and calm, with many arguing that it helps to relieve pain and inflammation and reduce anxiety. So far the studies aren’t clear as to whether eating small amounts has any effect or not but, despite this, it’s now a popular alternative for those seeking a remedy for anxiety or pain who don’t want to take a mind-altering drug.

Many people who take CBD believe it can help with a general sense of wellness as part of a holistic approach to looking after the body and mind.

What does it look like and how would you take it?

You can buy CBD in an oil in most health food shops. Minor Figures, who make canned coffee and oat milk, and are now producing CBD infused coconut oil. Their strategy is to sell it to cafes to display on their counter, so customers can pick up a bottle when they’re grabbing a coffee. Lexie Forrester, who does marketing for the company, describes it as “a rescue remedy following the over-consumption of coffee.” She claims if you’re feeling jittery after too many ground beans, a couple of drops under the tongue can calm you down.

The UK’s first cannabis-infused restaurant in Brighton, The Canna Kitchen, has an extensive menu of food incorporating the chemical, and even does a range of cannabis infused mocktails. Head chef Charlotte Kjaer says their ethos is all about healing whole foods, a plant-based diet and putting hemp in the spotlight it deserves. Customers can choose whether to have CBD suspended in hemp oil added to their dish or not, normally in the form of dressings, pesto or sides like tahini. This supposedly stops it losing its beneficial properties during the cooking process.

What does it taste like?

CBD has a distinct, earthy flavour so the oil can really change the flavour profile of food. For this reason it benefits from being paired with sweet foods, which counteract the natural bitterness. It’s no surprise that CBD gummy bears are so popular! You can also find CBD in coffee, cake, and chocolates in cafes and shops all over the country. One vendor even offers a CBD croissant.

What’s happened to make CBD popular now?

According to the Cannabis Trades Association UK, the number of people buying CBD in Britain doubled between 2017 and 2018 to 250,000. Why has it become so trendy all of a sudden?

Harry Sumnall is professor in substance use at Liverpool John Moores University and he’s been studying the rise of CBD in the UK. He believes one reason CBD is increasing in popularity is a growing public awareness of the potential medical benefits. The media attention around the cases of a two young boys with intractable epilepsy who are seemingly gaining benefits from CBD has played its part.

But it’s the United States that’s really leading the charge in this area. California was the first state to legalise cannabis for medicinal use in 1996 under the Compassionate Use Act, and this kick-started a wave of legalisation across many other states. The drug is mostly being sold for people to smoke, but edible cannabis has become more and more popular – giving birth to a new, exploding food industry.

Is the future of CBD in drinks?

If we’re looking to America to predict the way the market goes here, then the future is in drinks. In the United States, money from multinational companies is pouring into cannabis infused alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Even well known, worldwide brands like Coca Cola and Pepsi are considering moving into cannabis and investing billions of dollars into the development of CBD products.

Is CBD here to stay?

At the moment CBD isn’t regulated, so you aren’t necessarily getting what is considered a functional amount of CBD in your product. Manufacturers can put a couple of drops in a bar of chocolate and charge ten pounds for it, without proving there is any benefit or effect at all. Also, the safety of CBD is currently being reviewed by the Food Standards Agency. At the moment manufacturers do not have to prove that the CBD their product contains is safe. If this changes, as it may soon do, it will pose a large challenge to producers and retailers of CBD products.

However, CBD doesn’t appear to be ‘just a phase’ and however its regulation evolves it looks set to stay on our shelves. The market is growing at an extraordinary rate, with some estimates putting the potential CBD market at around two billion Euros a year. So although you might not see cannabis-infused products on every street corner just yet, you may not find that you have to look too far for too much longer.

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