Browse the menu of charcoal, liquid gold and blue matcha lattes at London’s Farm Girl cafés and you’ll spot a new addition. The soul-soothing ‘Happy Hot Choc’contains cacao, date syrup, mint, matcha and hazelnut milk, as well as a few drops of CBD oil, the hero ingredient and the reason it promises to make you feel – if not happy – calmer and less stressed.
What is CBD?
Typically available as an oil, CBD is a cannabidiol – a chemical compound derived from the leaves of the cannabis plant – and has been found to relieve pain, insomnia, stress, depression and anxiety. Because it’s made from hemp, a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis, it won’t make you high.
Is CBD legal?
CBD has been legal in the UK for some time, but over the past year sales of the oil have doubled, thanks in part to the influence of celebrity fans. Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow take it to cope with stress and Alessandra Ambrosio takes it for anxiety.
How is CBD used?
Its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties are making it a popular skincare ingredient too – Olivia Wilde and Mandy Moore both use CBD oil topically, while brands including Origins, Ohana, MGC Derma and Aurelia all feature it in their skincare. CBD balms and bath bombs are also used as pain relief for aching muscles. (Note: Hemp seed oil is also a popular ingredient in beauty products and has many benefits but does not contain CBD.)
Coca Cola, Pepsi and Diageo have been investigating the commercial potential of CBD too. Rebekah Hall, founder and CEO of plant-based drinks company Botanic Lab is well ahead of the curve – she’s spent the past 18 months developing the UK’s first CBD-infused soft drink.
“There is arguably no more culturally significant functional plant of the last 500 years than cannabis,” she says. “We have a history of bringing unique botanical ingredients to the market in premium drinks and I felt this was the right time for Botanic Lab to step up and play a part in shaping this part of the market.”
The resulting hibiscus and sour cherry tea is fruity, but not too sweet (there’s no added sugar or artificial sweeteners), contains a generous 2mg of CBD and could easily be mistaken for a pinot noir when decanted into a wine glass.
But can a plant-based soft drink really replace a glass of wine as a stress-reliever at the end of a busy week? Will we sip on CBD tea when we can’t sleep, just as we drink coffee to wake ourselves up, or take it daily with our vitamins to ward off depression?
It’s always difficult to gauge the effect of a product like this, but I was keen to put CBD to the test. As a journalist with constant deadlines and some experience of anxiety, a degree of stress is normal for me. After two happy hot chocolates at Farm Girl though, I found myself more calm, focused and productive than I have been in some time.
I wondered if I’d been duped by the placebo effect until last week, when I had a bottle of Botanic Lab’s CBD drink before heading to the airport. Despite heavy traffic en route and long security queues making us late, I felt remarkably chilled-out compared with my friends, who were anxious we’d miss our flight (in retrospect, I’m glad they rushed me – we were the last to board).
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Does CBD really have calming effects?
“There’s no question that it works”, says Dr Danielle Gordon, a specialist in cannabis medicine who prescribes CBD and other cannabidiols to patients with conditions including chronic migraines and epilepsy, but at these doses you can’t expect miracles. “It’s kind of like the turmeric lattes you can get at Starbucks,” she explains. “They’re not going to treat your inflammatory arthritis or stop your brain ageing, but it’s certainly not a bad thing and it’s bringing awareness to CBD as a health ingredient.”
In her clinic, Danielle might start a patient on a dose as low as 5mg and increase it gradually. “Everyone has a different threshold, so it really is an art and science,” she says. “What I use CBD for most often is anxiety,” she says. “It binds to the serotonin receptors in the brain and in the body, so it’s a natural anxiety relieving medication with virtually no side effects.”
According to Botanic Lab, the 2mg in its CBD tea is “an amount ideal for general health maintenance.” You can also take it as a pure oil, which is widely available, though I personally don’t think it tastes very nice.
The Marshmallowist’s cannabis marshmallows are much more my speed – each grapefruit and pink peppercorn-flavoured sweet contains three drops of high-strength CBD – and vegan restaurant By Chloe is serving a range of CBD-infused desserts for a limited time.
For regular use, find a format you can stick to, whether it’s CBD gummy bears or Rawligion’s cannabis milk. Goop even features a CBD Julep cocktail recipe – a daily habit we could definitely get on board with. “One thing that I always struggle with is incorporating supplements into my routine – I regularly forget,” Rebekah says. “That’s why I really like being able to get my CBD in a drink now.”
I tried a CBD bath bomb and have never felt happier