A beginners guide to CBD oil: Everything you need to know (including what is ‘ethical hemp’)

CBD oil is everywhere (except being cultivated in our fields, but more on that here). It’s in our food and in our beauty products. It claims to cure everything from anxiety to eczema. But, how do you know what you’re buying? Are the claims too good to be true? And what’s the difference between CBD and Hemp?

We’ve partnered with organic co-operative Hempen to bring you this guide to CBD.

So, what is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid extracted from the hemp plant. 

There are more than 100 known cannabinoids in hemp plants and they each have different effects on humans. 

THC is possibly the most famous cannabinoid. That’s the main psychoactive compound in cannabis – the part that gets you ‘high’.

Most CBD products only have trace amounts of THC in them. The Home Office says Cannabis oil can contain a maximum THC content of 0.2%, so they won’t get you high.

So, what do cannabinoids do? Read on…

Hempen | Hemp Field
Hemp Field

Is CBD good for your health?

Cannabis has been prohibited around the globe for about 100 years, so there’s a huge gap in research and development of the hemp plant.

We’ll need to wait a few more years for the long-term clinical studies to be made. As such, no company is allowed to make medical claims. 

However, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest there are health benefits. 

CBD is reported to have an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and relaxing effect on the nerves and muscles, which can relieve physical stress in the body without imparting a psychoactive effect on the mind. 

In 2018 Home Secretary Sajid Javid, granted a licence for cannabis oil to be administered to a 12 year old boy suffering from epilepsy in Northern Ireland, and now medicinal cannabis oil can now legally be prescribed in the UK.

The pressure from cancer groups to research this drug is huge. 

Advocates claim it helps them with issues ranging from anxiety, acne, schizophrenia, menstrual pain, and insomnia. 

It’s reported by some to ease anxiety and others to sharpen the mind and help them focus on complex work problems. 


Does CBD help with epilepsy?

Can CBD help with anxiety? AKA relax your mind

Does CBD help you to focus? AKA sharpen your mind

Can CBD help with hangovers?

Can CBD help with menstrual pain?

Does CBD help with insomnia?

Can CBD help with alleviating cancer symptoms?

Can CBD help with acne?

In an interview with The Guardian, professor of psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London, Philip McGuire, who has been looking into cannabidiol for about 17 years says this disparity between relaxing and sharpening the mind is not so much a contradiction, more an indication that we don’t know yet what CBD is capable of and how best to use it. 

What we do know is that cannabinoids in the hemp plant interact with the endocannabinoid system in our bodies.

Endo-what?  The endocannabinoid system explained

Humans have an Endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our bodies. It was only discovered around the 1990s – thanks to research into cannabis. 

Essentially, The ECS helps our bodies to keep everything in balance.

“One of the interesting things about the endocannabinoid system in the body is that it’s not just in the brain but also all over the body,” says professor McGuire. “And cannabidiol also appears to have beneficial effects on metabolism, on the immune system and liver function – in addition to its mental health effects.”

Cannabinoid receptors are believed to be among the most plentiful in our central nervous system – this part of the body plays a role in most functions of our mind and body – which is one of the reasons people get excited about CBD.

Human bodies also produce some cannabinoids. In breast milk, for example, they’re transferred from mother to baby and that helps with brain development.

Much like people may become vitamin D deficient in the winter, one theory is that humans are cannabinoid-depleted because we have less hemp in our diets.

CBD products and their benefits

Hempen | Organic CBD Oil
Refined CBD Oil

Refined CBD Oil 

£18.99, 250mg

Full-spectrum CBD oil works with the endocannabinoid system, which works to balance your body. Studies have shown CBD can alleviate symptoms of inflammation, pain and anxiety amongst others. Its many effects are still being researched alongside lesser known cannabinoids like CBDa, CBC and CBG, that work together with CBD for optimum effect in full-spectrum CBD oil.

As it is illegal to cultivate CBD from hemp plants in the UK, the CBD in Hempen’s Refined CBD Oil is imported from an organic farm in Switzerland and blended with hemp seed oil from the UK, which offers additional benefits from omega fatty acids, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Flavour: fiery and fruity

Dosage: 200 drops, with roughly 1.25mg CBD per drop (note: the higher the percentage, the higher the dosage per drop).

How to take: Drop directly under the tongue or on top of a biscuit if you prefer.

It’s fat soluble, so add some milk if you’re dropping it into tea. 

Organic Raw CBD oil

£29.99, 400mg

Blended with a RAW CBD extract, this full-spectrum oil from Hempen is closest to the natural plant profile and contains both CBD and CBDa, which is potentially more impactful than CBD. Lots of research on CBDa is currently being undertaken as a treatment for conditions including pain, nausea and inflammation.

As it is illegal to cultivate CBD from hemp plants in the UK, the CBD is imported from an organic farm in Austria and blended with hemp seed oil from the UK.

Why raw? When extracting CBD, heat is often used and that means the CBD loses the “a”. 

What’s the dosage? Approx 2mg of CBD per drop (and 200 drops per bottle)

Flavour: fiery and earthy

How to take: Drop directly under the tongue or on top of a biscuit if you don’t like the taste.

It’s fat soluble, so add some milk if you’re dropping it into tea. 

In Hempen raw products the extract is preserved in its raw/pure form, meaning that at least 8-10 detectable cannabinoids are working together in the product – and possibly more.

CBD Massage Oil

£40, 400mg

Blended with essential oils this fragrant massage oil has been created to warm tired, aching muscles and sore joints.

CBD is an antispasmodic, so it can help to release cramps (including period cramps), tension in the muscles and headaches. 

Working alongside the CBD in this massage oil are ginger (to warm and soothe muscles), rosemary (for its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties) and black pepper (to help reduce muscle soreness).

Hemp seed oil is also deeply moisturising and non-comedogenic, so it doesn’t block the pores.

Hempen | Theo in Hemp Field
Farmer in Hemp field

What dose of CBD should I take?

Medication for the pharmaceutical treatment of epilepsy can be as high as 2,500mg. Products you buy online and on the high street can be as little as 5mg. 

Hempen recommends trying small amounts and building up to 20mg a day – if you need to, you may not need that much. 

Unregulated CBD can contain way lower or higher doses than the label states. There’s a huge variety between products, so it’s important to trust who you’re buying CBD from.  

How do you know who to buy CBD from?

This is a hard question to answer definitively, because marketing (and greenwashing) is so clever these days. But, take a look to see what information is available on a company’s website. Ideally, you’re looking for organic certified products, from ethical companies who support their farmers.

If you have questions, send an email or try to set up a call with someone from the company to find out more. Or, see if they’re selling in any shops or markets near you so you can speak to them in person.

Of course, buying local to support the UK hemp industry is also a good option.

Full-spectrum CBD:  “whole plant extract” vs “single compound extracts”

The cheapest CBD is the ‘single compound extract’ isolate – a white powder that is chemically separated from the plants and remixed into products. 

Hempen believes that full-spectrum/whole plant CBD products – ones that contain CBD extract plus a mix of the other naturally occurring cannabinoids – are the most effective.

They believe if you isolate the CBD, you don’t get the benefit of the other compounds that all work together. If you’re only taking one part of the plant you’re missing everything else that has been grown to help the plant thrive. It makes sense when you think about it, especially if you trust that nature normally has the answer.

Hempen | Hemp Plant
The Hemp plant

Why is THC considered to be bad for you?

THC is psychotic that can make people anxious and impair their cognition. 

But, it’s not necessarily all bad for everyone. Some research suggests CBD can have more of an effect if it is taken with other cannabinoids including some THC.

Under current regulations, hemp farmers are forced to grow species that have low THC levels, and some believe this is weakening the plant. By forcing farmers to grow these plants we could be losing other benefits.

Research is ongoing. 

Legislation and regulation around CBD: 

CBD has grown into a huge market. In 2019 the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis estimated the UK market to be worth £300m and expect it to grow to £1 bn by 2025.

In 2019 CBD was classified as novel food in the UK. As it hasn’t been consumed regularly by humans for a long time, legally it should go through a process of testing before being widely available on the food market. Until recently, this hasn’t been enforced. 

Now, the Foods Standards Agency has said businesses have until March 2021 to register the products they wish to apply for novel food status.

Some big businesses have lobbied for this law to be introduced as the application costs hundreds of thousands of pounds and smaller companies can’t afford to go through this process. In fact, some estimate less than 100 brands will make valid submissions.

Thus begins the fight for the heart of the cannabis industry…

About the author

Lizzie Rivera

Lizzie Rivera

Lizzie Rivera is the founder and chief purpose officer at Live Frankly. She has been writing for mainstream publications for 10 years, specialising in sustainability and ethics since 2014.


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