Leeds’s ‘first’ CBD oil cafe opens on industrial estate

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You may already have heard of something called CBD oil. In recent years, it has been gaining in popularity. And notoriety. Not least because it is derived from the cannabis family of plants.

Recent high profile cases have only helped bolster its reputation, albeit by proxy. In November last year, following a series of high profile cases, Home Secretary Sajid Javid ordered the rescheduling of ‘cannabis oil’ under the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Act, to allow it to be prescribed by medical professionals.

But here’s the rub: cannabis oil and CBD oil are not the same. The former, contains a compound known as cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) - are you keeping up? - which is the psychoactive chemical found in ‘weed’, commonly associated with ‘getting high’. It is classed as a medicine and must be prescribed by a medical professional. CBD oil on the other hand does contain CBD but it only has trace elements of THC (the bit that gets you high). For years, it has been sold as a ‘food supplement’. Of late, though, it has gained traction, in part because of its association with medical cannabis.

If you managed to understand all that, you’ve done well, because the picture is far from clear. But that is something two Leeds entrepreneurs want to change. Philip Shaw and David Cummings have opened what they claim is Leeds’s first CBD oil cafe. Hemp Harvester Cafe is in the most unlikely of places, too, part way down an industrial estate off Wyther Lane in Kirkstall.

From the outside it looks like any other cafe, a gleaming white flower amid the bramble of the red brick functional industrial units housing mechanics, drain cleaners and furniture restorers. There’s a scatter of tables outside, flower pots and a billboard advertising ‘fish n chips’. But stencilled above the door is the slogan ‘you choose it, we infuse it’, a nifty rhyming couplet which sums up their raison d’etre.

Owner Philip, a former electrician, explains: “We are the first CBD cafe in Leeds, we are here to help everyone who wants to learn about CBD. Everything on our menu can be infused with CBD, which is why we have the slogan, ‘You choose it, we infuse it.’”

However, the pair are clear that this is not a cannabis cafe, not somewhere to come and get ‘high’.

David, a former builder and partner in the business, says: “We don’t want to attract the wrong people, we don’t want people looking for a high, because they won’t get that here. CBD is strictly a food supplement with a wide range of health benefits.”

And so to those…

Anecdotal evidence abounds. David cites his own example: two compressed vertebrae following an accident two years ago, which left him in severe pain. He sought help through the usual channels and was prescribed pain relief drugs by his GP but adds they had a detrimental effect on his mental health, including mood swings. “Since I’ve been taking CBD oil, I’ve had none of that,” he says.

There’s more. Lianne Cooper, 30, from Horsforth, who works at the cafe and whose daughter, Faith, eight, suffers from a rare condition known as dopa responsive dystonia, which causes muscle contractions, claims CBD oil supplements help ease her condition. Of course, all of this is hearsay.

Although the jury is still out, there is mounting evidence that CBD oil can and does have a number of beneficial qualities, in terms of reducing stress, pain relief and even helping people sleep better.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, an arm’s length body reporting to the Department of Health which is charged with regulating medicines, told the YEP that CBD oil was not considered a psychoactive substance and was therefore not controlled, so long as it was sold only as a food supplement.

Precisely where that leaves CBD oil is unclear. It falls outside the ‘medicinal cannabis’ label, because it contains only trace elements of THC, generally less than 0.2 per cent.

So, for the time being, in spite of its growing popularity, CBD oil as a food supplement will have to be for ‘the believers’. But they are growing too. The vanguard of CBD cafes has already arrived in the UK, with outlets in Brighton, Oxford and now Leeds. Indications are that CBD will be big business in just a few years.

A Forbes report in 2016 estimated the global CBD market was worth around $200m but suggested it could blossom to a staggering $2.1bn by 2020.

CBD products were recently added to the EU’s Novel Food Catalogue, which means they must be authorised before being placed on the market. Herein lies another confusing aspect associated with CBD oil, because some ‘hemp oils’, which contain little or no CBD, are exempt from this categorisation, meaning they can be sold openly. If you’re new to the market, the picture can be far from clear.

A Food Standards Agency (FSA) spokesperson said: “New foods have to be authorised before they can be sold unless there is evidence they have a history of consumption before May 1997. Food businesses have not shown evidence of this for CBD products and CBD is therefore now considered a novel food in the European Union. The FSA is committed to finding a proportionate way forward by working with local authorities, businesses and consumers and to clarify how this applies to individual products.”

For Philip and David, however, the road ahead is clear. When I meet them, both are keen to stress the provenance of their products.

“All of our products are lab-tested, we know precisely what is in them. We’re not medical professionals, so we can’t advise people in that respect and we are quite clear on that. We are selling this solely as a food supplement. There are a lot of grey lines at the moment. Partly, that’s why we decided to open up here. We’re on an industrial estate, so we sell normal food, it’s just that if you want it infusing with CBD, we can do that.”

That extends to everything on the menu by the way, from coffees, teas and smoothies to full English breakfasts and even cheesecakes.

The only thing is… the taste. CBD oil has a distinctive, earthy, bitter flavour. You can taste it in the coffee and while not unpleasant, it’s still there. However, chef Chris Cummings (brother to David), who began his career at Shibden Mill Inn, is enthusiastic about being the city’s first CBD chef.

He says: “The taste of raw CBD is quite earthy, if you don’t like it, that’s where I come in. I’m working on all kinds of recipes, jams, drinks, chocolates and sauces. We’ve even got a full English and we can infuse the whole thing.”

In addition to its menu, Hemp Harvester Cafe also sells CBD oil in capsules and drop form.

Philip adds: “At the moment, because the law has not caught up, there’s a lot of confusion over labelling and so on, so it’s easy to be confused. What we are hoping is that people will be able to come to us, that we can be a point of contact, advising on which products are the genuine article in terms of CBD oil.”

Hemp Harvester Cafe is launching today at the industrial estate in Kirkstall, with a selection of free samples.

Find it on Wyther Drive.