The difference between CBD oil and Medical Cannabis

By Published On: September 26th, 2023Categories: Cannabis, Health

CBD products are springing up everywhere with over-the-counter products becoming the norm, from oils, gummies, sprays, teas and beyond.

Whilst the idea of CBD is becoming mainstream, it is important that the public remain educated on the differences between these ‘wellness’ CBD products and medical cannabis products which require a specialist to assess whether a prescription is appropriate. In this blog we look at the differences to help you stay educated.

Cannabis has been used for centuries both recreationally and medicinally. It is a complex plant which naturally contains hundreds of chemicals mostly known as cannabinoids which interact with cannabinoid receptors in the body causing a variety of effects.

The two most studied chemicals within the cannabis plant are THC and CBD.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the ‘high’ feeling people experience when using cannabis recreationally. THC impacts the perception of paid, mood, appetite and sleep.

THC is illegal in the UK unless prescribed by a GMC-registered doctor after other alternative and more conventional treatments have been tried first.

THC is found in medical cannabis products due to the research across the world into its therapeutic benefits for those who suffer with chronic pain, seizures and spasticity to name just a few.

Cannabidiol (CBD) has minimal psychoactive effects with some studies showing that CBD oil can have anti-inflammatory properties.

CBD products vary in their quality and are sometimes just isolated forms rather than whole plant extracts.

The demand for CBD wellness products has accelerated at such a fast pace it has meant that many products have been produced to a very low quality and standard resulting in some products becoming illegal on the UK market.

Because of the acceleration of this new industry, regulations are having to quickly adapt to keep consumers out there safe.

Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis describes medical products derived from the cannabis plant or synthetic versions of compounds found within the plant. Healthcare professionals classify these products as cannabis-based medicinal products, or CBMPs.

There are currently only three CBMPs that are licensed for medical use in the UK – Sativex, Nabilone, and Epidyolex due to their therapeutic effects on issues such reducing seizure frequency and severity and easing chronic pain.

You can find further information on Sativex here.


Wellness CBD products are produced for the commercial retail sector and can contain minor cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids.

CBD products cannot contain more than trace amounts of THC. If the CBD products contain high levels of THC, they are classed as illegal in the UK.

CBD wellness products are classified as novel foods and are not required to be produced to Good Manufacturing Practice standards and are rarely subjected to clinical testing and trials to look at their efficacy which is why they cannot be promoted as having health benefits. Not that this stops CBD sellers promoting their products with a plethora of medicinal benefits like curing insomnia and helping with anxiety and depression.

But there are regulatory bodies who are looking to stop this.

Novel Foods Regulation in the UK

The Novel Foods Regulation looks at consumable products like CBD products to ensure they have passed an independent safety assessment. This will look to help and improve product quality and consistency across CBD products in the UK.

You can find a list of products approved by the Novel Foods Regulation here.

For example, British Cannabis™, registered as CBD Health Foods Ltd now has 1,472 of its products successfully making it onto the list as ‘credible’ products and are now moving onto the next stage for full authorisation.

British Cannabis™ products make up 12.4% all CBD food supplements legal to sell in the UK.

Products that did not make it through this stage are now classed as illegal in the UK and must be taken off the market.

It must be said that whilst the products published are attached to credible applications, the Food Standard Agency has stated that this does not mean it has deemed these products as safe until full authorisation has been completed.

The list is split into two-tiers, those products which have already been validated and those awaiting evidence.

Looking for medical cannabis?

For those trying to decide whether medical cannabis or CBD could be the right treatment for them, it is important to note that wellness CBD products are not recommended to take alongside a treatment program for any condition.

If you are considering wellness CBD products of any kind, including over-the-counter CBD, it is important you discuss this with your doctor or specialist first.

For those that want to speak directly with a specialist or doctor about medically prescribed cannabis, you can use our website to find your closest clinic.

Our directory is constantly growing as we add more of the UK’s specialists to our register, so please keep coming back!

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