First in a new chain of cannabis oil stores opens doors in Belfast
The first in a retail chain of stores dedicated to selling cannabis oil in Northern Ireland will open its doors in Belfast city centre today.
CBD Farmacy in Rosemary Street will be the first of 15 stores to operate across Ireland.
Parent owner the Plant Farmacy has invested £750,000 and hopes to create 65 jobs within 18 months.
Cannabis contains different chemical compounds, or cannabinoids, the most well-known being CBD and THC.
THC causes the psychoactive "high" of the drug and remains illegal, while products containing CBD can be sold as long as they contain little or no THC.
Many users believe CBD oil has medicinal properties like reducing inflammation, pain or anxiety, but this has not been conclusively proven by scientists.
Last November the Government also relaxed rules to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis products.
This followed a number of high profile cases, such as that of Co Tyrone boy Billy Caldwell, whose epilepsy appeared to be improved by cannabis oil.
CBD Farmacy produces its own products at a facility in Belfast, currently making around 300 bottles an hour.
Its managing director Brian Geraghty stressed there is demand from local consumers for CBD products.
"I think it was only a matter of time before cannabis-based products hit Northern Ireland," he said. The market is estimated to grow by 700% by 2020 so it's exciting times."
Mr Geraghty added: "CBD is at an early stage in its life cycle, the scientific research is under way but the public want to use it."
The business will also be running treatment rooms which offer CBD oil massages.
He said the products have already proved popular with athletes, such as Belfast Mixed Martial Arts fighter Leah McCourt
Others, however, have dismissed it as a health fad and one expert even warned it was a "big risk" to use CBD bought from the high street to treat medical conditions.
Dr Tom Freeman of the University of Bath's Addiction and Mental Health Group said last month there was an "information vacuum" over CBD oil. "The profession of medicine is based on clinical trials and scientific evidence and we don't have that for these others," he said.
"CBDs can be effective as a medicine, but these other products haven't been tested and so it is not a suitable medicine and it is a big risk that people are using these."
Mr Geraghty said CBD Farmacy was not promoting the products as medicine, and advised anyone with health problems to consult their doctor first.