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However, Bonn-Miller told Live Science that he thinks cannabis research is on the upswing. “If we flash forward five years I think you’ll see more studies,” he said. Those studies could reveal more conditions that CBD may be helpful for and may also reveal that some of the reasons why people say they use CBD oil are not supported by the science but are instead a placebo effect. “And that’s why we need to do the studies,” he said.

The physiological effects of cannabinoids can vary widely from person to person, and also depend on how they’re consumed. That lack of predictability is one of the reasons why cannabis oil is a challenging candidate for developing into a medicine, Ward told Live Science.

A wealth of marketing material, blogs and anecdotes claim that CBD oils can cure whatever ails you, even cancer. But the limited research doesn’t suggest that cannabis oil should take the place of conventional medication, except for in two very rare forms of epilepsy (and even then, it’s recommended only as a last-resort treatment). And, experts caution that because CBD oil and other cannabis-based products are not regulated or tested for safety by the government or any third-party agency, it’s difficult for consumers to know exactly what they’re getting.

Why medical experts are hesitant about CBD

“Two people may eat a brownie [made with cannabis oil] and one may absorb massive amounts of cannabinoids and the other may not,” Ward said. “How long it takes to work and how long it stays in the system differs greatly.”

It’s a little more uniform when the product is absorbed by smoking or vaping the oil, Ward said. But, “there are obvious concerns about smoking something.” A 2007 review published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that smoking marijuana resulted in similar declines in respiratory system health as smoking tobacco. A similar review published in 2014 in The American Journal of Cardiology found that marijuana smoke inhalation can increase the chances of heart attack or stroke. Neither review analyzed the effects of vaping cannabis oil alone, so it’s unclear if it has the same health risks as smoking other marijuana products.

The popularity of medical marijuana is soaring, and among the numerous products consumers are seeking are CBD, or cannabis oils.

Cannabis treatment in people with certain forms of epilepsy has been more promising. The only FDA-approved cannabis-based drug is Epidiolex, a CBD oral solution for treating two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. A recent clinical trial found that Epidiolex reduced convulsive seizures by 50% in children with Dravet syndrome, a type of epilepsy, MedPage Today reported.

Cannabis oil can only be sold legally in Britain if it contains less than 0.05% THC. But the nation’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, announced recently that even pure CBD could not be sold as a medicine without first going through the usual clinical testing and safety checks required for all new medicines. This month, the US Food and Drug Administration will consider the approval of Epidiolex, a CBD-based medicine from GW Pharmaceuticals, which has completed such clinical trials. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will rule on the drug early next year. If the EMA approves Epidiolex, it could be available to prescribe to named patients in Britain next year, Brexit notwithstanding.

Other forms of cannabis are solid and are usually sold either as resin or dried plant material. In commercially-produced medical cannabis oils, the concentrations of CBD and THC tend to be well-controlled, which makes it easy to calculate doses.

Cannabis oils are extracts from cannabis plants. Unprocessed, they contain the same 100 or so active ingredients as the plants, but the balance of compounds depends on the specific plants the oil comes from. The two main active substances in cannabis plants are cannabidiol, or CBD, and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Oil extracted from hemp plants can contain a lot of CBD, while oil from skunk plants will contain far more THC. THC produces the high that recreational cannabis users seek, while oils for medical use contain mostly CBD.

Is cannabis oil illegal?

CBD is an anticonvulsant, and some other compounds in the plant, including THC and cannabidivarin, may be too. There is good evidence from clinical trials in the US and Europe that pharmaceutical preparations of CBD can treat two severe forms of childhood epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Both forms of epilepsy often fail to improve with existing epilepsy drugs. CBD is generally considered safe, but some trials have reported side effects including dry mouth, lightheadedness and altered liver enzyme activity.

Four drugs based on cannabis compounds are already on the market in Europe. Among them are Nabilone, a synthetic compound that mimics THC, is prescribed for nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and Sativex, an oil that contains equal parts THC and CBD, is used to treat muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis. Both contain too much THC to administer to children. “The only medicines that are approved in the UK would get children stoned,” said David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London.

Europe is a patchwork of cannabis legislation. In the Netherlands, doctors can prescribe cannabis and cannabis preparations for symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, long-term pain and the tics associated with Tourette’s syndrome. Other European nations are following suit. In the US, at least 29 states allow medical uses of cannabis, and earlier this year, California became the eighth state to permit recreational use of the drug, too.