CAN 64 MILLION AMERICANS BE WRONG?
That’s how many tried out a cannabidiol (CBD) product in 24 months ending in January, estimates Consumer Reports. Many of the 4,000 polled claimed dramatic anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
Whatever the poll results, there is really only one medically proven use for CBD, a compound in cannabis plants that does not get you high. It has been shown in several clinical trials to ease the symptoms of two rare forms of epilepsy, leading to the production of Epidiolex, the first and only FDA-approved medication to use CBD. And that’s it.
In spite of the lack of rigorous scientific research, CBD enthusiasts and experts point out that the drug has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It’s also hard to argue with someone who will testify that a CBD product has genuinely changed their life or that of a close family member or pet. And there is preliminary evidence suggesting that CBD has enormous potential as a medicine.
Limited studies point to a wide variety of uses, especially when combined with varying levels of THC, CBD’s more psycho-active sister. In the most comprehensive report on cannabis research in the United States, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2017 said that there is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that cannabis — though it did not specify the levels of CBD, THC, or other compounds found in the plant — can treat chronic pain, chemotherapy induced nausea, and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Whatever the scientific evidence, the popularity of CBD-based products from tinctures to creams, candies to bath bombs, has exploded in the United States and in Florida since the state legalized cannabis for medical use in 2016. The herbal supplement has been used to treat pain, psychological conditions, and symptoms of major illnesses such as cancer and epilepsy, as well as help wean people off opioids.
After the U.S. passed the 2018 Farm Bill allowing states to cultivate hemp, a low-THC cannabis plant from which CBD is derived, Florida followed suit this year. Now the Florida Department of Agriculture hopes to turn the state into leading a hemp producer, using it to produce CBD and potentially a wide variety of other products such as clothing and paper. The legislation also opened up scientific research on industrial hemp.
As a whole, Florida’s medical marijuana industry is projected to have a $1.6 billion economic impact and create more jobs than manufacturing by 2020, the Ag Department says, as well as become the biggest medical marijuana market in the nation by 2021.
“The passage of the Farm Bill brings the opportunity to grow industrial hemp, which has billions in potential economic opportunity for the Florida agriculture community as an alternative crop of the future,” the Ag website reads.
With CBD’s popularity is coming dozens of new boutique stores that sell premium CBD. Here’s a look at what CBD is exactly, the ways in which it is produced and used, where to get it, and how Florida is expected to regulate its production and sales.
CBD: What it is?
CBD is one of the two most well-known compounds found in Cannabis Sativa L. plants. Unlike its psycho-active sister THC, CBD does not produce a euphoric effect or buzz. In other words, it does not get you high. That’s one of its major selling points.
CBD and THC are often blended together in varying levels to produce better medicinal effects. The blends range from CBD products with .3 percent THC or less — sold over the counter — to those higher than .3 and up to 90 percent or more THC, which requires a doctor’s permission. It’s important to note that those products with .3 percent or less won’t get you high, even if you were to take huge doses. But if you have to take a drug test for employment or other purposes, which test for THC, the safest route is to use only products with zero THC.
How CBD is used
The World Health Organization lists many other conditions besides epilepsy for which CBD “may have therapeutic benefits.” That includes helping relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s, pain, psychosis, anxiety, depression, cancer, nausea, inflammatory diseases, arthritis, infection, Crohn’s disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetic complications.
But gold-standard research in the form of double-blind, placebo controlled, peer-reviewed studies followed by clinical trials is lacking when it comes to claims of CBD’s efficacy in these areas. Research has been stymied by the U.S. government, which still considers nearly all cannabis products illegal and claims that they are as dangerous and addictive as heroin. Last year, the federal government legalized only hemp (.3 percent THC or less) to grow and study.
How much of CBD’s widespread popularity could be contributed to the placebo effect is unknown.
One CBD user, Washington Post contributor Steven Petrow, recounted adding a CBD tincture to his regular meds to help relieve his “lifelong struggle against depression.” He used a hemp-derived CBD with less than .3 percent THC.
“Since I’ve been using CBD, my mood has been significantly elevated and stable, although I understand my experience proves nothing,” he wrote. “The placebo effect can be strong, especially for health symptoms modulated by the brain.”
Possible adverse side-effects are also unknown, although so far are reportedly mild to nonexistent. No person is known to have ever overdosed or died from ingesting CBD or any cannabis product.
Studies led to Epidiolex being the first and still only FDA-approved drug using CBD, which the FDA describes as “an oral solution for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, in patients two years of age and older.”
Where to get it
CBD that is .3 percent or less THC can be bought everywhere from gas stations and head shops to high-end boutiques. When it comes to shopping for CBD, business owners say that you get what you pay for.
They suggest looking for products that claim they are third-party tested. And information on the label or company website should allow you to track exactly where the CBD came from.
I bought one of the little bottles of premium, high quality tincture oil, which cost $90 at Your CBD Store in Cape Coral, which has a health and wellness vibe to it. The store associate suggested I could test it out to possibly even replace the psychiatric medication Quetiapine, which was prescribed as a sleep aid as well as to treat a diagnosis of bipolar type 2 depression.
The recommended dosage to start, a half a dropper full twice a day, would last about a month. It was a mid-range price. Products at Your CBD Store ranged in price from around $40 to upwards of $250, depending on how much CBD they have in them.
After a few days its effectiveness is uncertain, but the store associate said for some people you need to stick with it for a week or more to see result. It didn’t work as a sleep aid nearly as effectively as the Quetiapine, but it was also much milder and I felt good the next day, for what it’s worth.
When it comes to CBD’s proven efficacy, time will tell.
A bulletin board in the store is filled with dozens of wallet-sized instaprint photos with smiling customers holding their CBD products.
The tincture has a pleasant, natural flavor like how a bag of good weed smells, but milder — and if you don’t know what that smells like, well, you’re just not living. There are many other flavor options such as strawberry and cinnamon.
The rules for producing CBD from industrial hemp and selling it right now in Florida as an over-the-counter supplement, such as those at Your CBD Store are in the process of being written, so buyer beware: businesses may source them from anywhere they want at this time. However, this store and others contacted for this article were all up front about exactly what you get and where it comes from.
Unlike over-the-counter medication, CBD-based products that you get at a licensed dispensary are currently regulated by the Florida Department of Health. Those may also be blended with any THC content, so some of them could give you a buzz.
Cannabis and CBD experts recommend choosing your product carefully, one that is third party-tested from a reputable source.
“Where you get your CBD is vitally important,” said Dr. Martha S. Rosenthal, a professor of physiology and neuroscience and director of the Cannabis Research, Education, and Workforce Initiative at Florida Gulf Coast University.
She runs a professional certificate program that delves into the history, physiology, laws, cultural evolution and other aspects of cannabis. She is skeptical of some uses.
“I just saw they’re putting (CBD) in to athletic wear — that’s funny,” she said, but adds that “CBD, the molecule, has amazing therapeutic potential.”
Rules and regulations
The reason for the difference in regulation between over-the-counter premium CBD and ones you need a medical card for is confusing. It all depends on what type of plant the CBD is derived from.
Marijuana and hemp both come from the same family of cannabis sativa plants but their chemical makeup and the way they are grown and regulated, is different.
The main difference is that hemp plants are bred to contain low levels of THC, the compound that gets you high; officially, .3 percent or less.
Marijuana plants are bred to contain higher levels of THC, .3 percent to 30 percent or more.
CBD can be extracted from both types of plants.
Besides medicine, hemp is also said to have thousands of applications, such as to produce clothing, paper and building materials.
The Department of Health regulates marijuana and medical marijuana businesses while the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulates industrial hemp, or will in the coming months. The Agriculture Department is in the final process of defining regulations for growing and processing industrial hemp plants.
In addition, at least for the time being, the Health Department and Agriculture Department regulate two entirely different business models, one for growing marijuana and the other for industrial hemp.
Companies such as Surterra Wellness and Fluent Cannabis Care produce and sell marijuana, which falls under the Health Department’s office and has a “vertically integrated” business model. That is, each licensed business must control the entire process of growing and producing medical marijuana, as well as selling it at dispensaries — “from seed to sale.” That makes for a high bar for entry into this side of the cannabis business.
Oddly, those businesses are only allowed to grow marijuana, not hemp. But Kim Hawkes, who is associate director for government and public relations with Surterra Wellness, said that once the guidelines on hemp are clarified, the company hopes to be able to utilize both plants.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulates the industrial hemp industry in Florida. Unlike marijuana, it will have a “horizontally integrated” business model. That is, one company doesn’t have to do it all. There will be separate licenses for farmers, processors, retailors, and other parts of the industry, or any combination thereof. Therefore, it will be a much lower bar for entry into this market.
“We’re not restricting the number of licenses, we’re not telling you where or how you can grow,” said Holly Bell, Florida’s director of cannabis, appointed by the agricultural commissioner early this year to usher in the hemp industry. “That’s a farmer’s choice. I think the biggest relief for the public is when they understood it would be accessible to so many and easy entry. You can come in in one place, you can come in in two, you can really do it all, that’s really your business choice.”
No medical card needed: stores selling CBD products:
Marie Heiland is a 64-year-old Naples entrepreneur who formerly owned a health and wellness based olive oil company. Last year, she founded Naples CBD Oil Company. Her products don’t require a doctor’s recommendation. She points out that it is important for consumers to educate themselves on what types of CBD to purchase and regulate the dosage they are taking.
“In Florida we have an older population so they have some typical issues, pain being a major one, sleep being the other major one,” she said. “So that’s probably our biggest focus. We do work with a lot of people who have diseases. But especially in Naples our clientele is older typically. They want relief and CBD actually works, no question. But the tricky part is getting a legitimate product and getting the dosing correct.”
She sells a wide variety of high-quality tinctures, oils, creams, candies and other CBD products. Many are “full-spectrum” products, meaning that they include some THC (no more than .3 percent), as well as CBD, and other compounds that are believed to be more effective together than pure CBD alone.
Kennedy Johnson is a 39-year-old North Palm Beach resident who opened Palm Beach CBD Boutique on Sept. 9.
“We test all of our products,” she said. “We really want organic all-natural products that don’t carry all of the synthetic ingredients. So I’d say it’s more like ‘craft’ hemp that we’re carrying.”
She’s looking forward to the new regulations.
“I think it’s going to be helpful to Florida and I think there’s going to be more quality control and there might be exciting new products,” she said.
Her favorite products include tincture oil and capsules to help with sleep, which she has found don’t leave you groggy in the morning like Ambien and other pharmaceuticals. She also uses a CBD cream for a knee injury.
Her products include capsules, oils, creams, bath products, CBD coffee, tea, gummies, pre-rolled hemp sticks, all-natural vapes, and pet products.
She added about the new regulations being worked out by the Agriculture Department, “maybe it’ll mean we get better prices on stuff because it will be here locally.”
Jim Harrington is a 50-year-old North Port resident who owns and operates two Your CBD Store affiliate locations, one in Port Charlotte and another in Arcadia. He hopes to open a third location next month. Formerly a pharmaceutical and hospital rep, Mr. Harrington opened his first Your CBD Store in December 2018, inspired by his own experience with CBD.
“I have three bad discs in my back and had three procedures,” he said. “My wife finally convinced me to start taking CBD about three years ago and it changed my life so much.”
When the Farm Bill passed, Mr. Harrington said, “I jumped in with both feet.”
One thing that makes his store unique is that he only carries CBD “isolate” products, that is they have zero percent THC, Mr. Harrington said, even though he could legally sell products with up to .3 percent THC per the Farm Bill.
“There’s not a drop of THC in any of my stores,” he said. “I just choose not to cross that line.”
That would ensure that if someone used his products, THC would not show up in a drug test.
He sources his CBD products from Evergreen, Colorado.
Seed & Bean Market is a cannabis café and lifestyle shop in the Fort Myers River District owned by Cole Peacock, who says he is looking at opening multiple locations across the state.
His products include cannabis-flavored beers on tap.
“It smells like a bag of weed but there’s no THC in there,” he said.
The café offers a “4:20” happy hour with CBD Mocktails with names like Everglades Lemonade, Ginger Gator and Orange Blossom.
He also carries a line of high-quality CBD products. Mr. Cole uses some of the CBD doggy treats at home.
“I can tell you we use it on our dogs, especially our hound dog, who has separation anxiety and is really afraid of thunder,” he said. “It works. It may not work for everyone but it works for me.”
Seed & Bean regularly hosts education nights in which one of its employees explains the product to customers.
Mr. Peacock is vice chair of the Hemp Advisory Council under the Department of Agriculture, one of 13 members appointed by Commissioner Nikki Fried. Mr. Peacock was formerly a corporate lobbyist and later worked as a chief executive for Chico’s before moving in to the cannabis industry.
He consulted the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Myers Police, City Council, and county staff before opening Seed & Been earlier this year to ensure they approved of his business model. Much of the approval is about presentation. There are no garish flashing neon marijuana buds; in other words, it looks like a destination that’s more about wellness rather than an old-fashioned head shop or a strip-mall vape store. But it still nods to cannabis culture, both what that gets you high and what does not.
Mr. Peacock comes from a fifth generation Florida agricultural family that has produced cotton, corn, and now mostly peanuts in the Panhandle. He sees industrial hemp as a product that a wide range of farmers could use to diversify their crops.
“I think anyone who has been successful in the agricultural industry is going to look at hemp,” he said.
Ward 4 Fort Myers city council member and former police officer Kevin Anderson visited the Seed & Been recently. Mr. Anderson first remembered Mr. Peacock as a middle school student, back when he used to warn kids to stay away from drugs like marijuana.
What does he think of the sea change in cannabis culture and public opinion going on in Florida and in the U.S.?
“It’s something that’s coming,” he said. “It’s here. It’s not going away anytime soon.”
Mr. Anderson pointed out that in his career he watched the U.S. “create a billion dollar industry to fight the war on drugs” with its need for prisons, prosecutors, and other staff.
“We’ve spent a lot of money over the years and we don’t seem to be better off for this,” he said.
Now, a billion-dollar plus cannabis industry is being created.
He doesn’t sound completely sold on the benefits of CBD and other cannabis products as medicine, but he’s also keeping an open mind.
“If there is a valid use or benefit, especially if you look at (some types of) chronic pain — it’s kind of hard not to support it,” he said.
Serenity CBD Superstore in Key West and Marathon sells flower, oil, candy and creams with CBD, said owner Roger Haines.
“Hemp smokes are also a great seller and our CBD infused Cuban and Colombian coffee,” he wrote in an email.
While the rules and regulations for CBD are being developed, Mr. Haines said he is “ready for some changes” but believes the state and its rules will be friendly to businesses such as his that rely on word of mouth.
“We believe in educating our customers and sharing testimonials from others who have similar ailments and have benefitted from our product,” he said.
“… I do take CBD and I personally smoke the flower and get the rest of my daily through our Serenity Beans that we have the founder of Jelly Belly reproduce.”
Local stores selling CBD/THC products: medical card required
José Javier Hidalgo is chief executive officer of Fluent Cannabis Care, a company licensed in Florida to grow cannabis marijuana plants, process them, create their products, and sell them at Fluent stores throughout the state. Right now his company and others regulated under the Department of Health are not authorized to grow hemp.
Mr. Hidalgo was on hand in early September to visit the company’s dispensary in Fort Myers, as well as its newest 15th dispensary opening up in Cape Coral. On the east coast, within Florida Weekly’s distribution area, Fluent also operates a dispensary in Lake Worth.
All the CBD products here require an official Florida medical marijuana card and are typically blended with some percentage of THC, from a tiny .8 percent and up with some north of 90 percent THC. The blend of CBD, THC, and other compounds is said to create in some cases an “entourage effect,” with the ingredients working more effectively together than alone.
Mr. Hidalgo said he was in a near fatal bicycle accident in 2011 and uses a CBD cream for pain as well as arthritis in his hand. He takes CBD capsules morning and night. He also occasionally vapes.
While it takes a doctor’s recommendation to buy products at Fluent and Surterra dispensaries now, Mr. Hidalgo said he believes the day is coming when recreational marijuana will be legal in Florida. Many of their patients, he said, based on experiences in other states, will forego a doctor’s visit and use the recreational products to self-medicate.
Surterra Wellness is also a company licensed to produce marijuana products from seed to sale in Florida. One of its newest dispensaries opened recently in Key West.
Like Fluent, Surterra sells its own flagship brand with exact ratios of CBD and THC including a line called Calm, which has a small ration of THC compared to CBD (it does not get you high) and includes softgels, transdermal patches, vaporizers, tincture oils, oral concentrates and sprays.
“I can tell you the experience that our patients have had with CBD in Florida and it has been incredibly positive,” said Kim Hawkes, associate director for government and public relations. “CBD is a very powerful natural anti-inflammatory and about 80 percent of pain is induced by inflammation. To have a natural means to alleviate that inflammation is really great for many individuals.”
Companies like Surterra and Fluent could ultimately be places that caters to both recreation users and as a resource for those who will likely continue to need or want the years of training and knowledge a physician brings in recommending a combination of CBD and THC. Ms. Hawkes said that Surterra is interested in utilizing hemp as well if that’s possible after the regulations are finalized.
Industrial hemp will boom
Capitol Alliance Group is a lobbying firm based in Tallahassee that represents a wide variety of interests, including Tesla, SpaceX, Quicken Loans and local governments, wrote Taylor Patrick Biehl, the firm’s legislative programs director.
The firm founded the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida as well as the Florida Hemp Association.
Mr. Biehl wrote in an email that the firm expects CBD sales to continue to skyrocket:
“CBD sales in the U.S. alone are projected to reach $22 billion by 2022. So, it’s no surprise that Florida’s creation of a state hemp plan, coupled with its already ag-friendly climate and soil, will contribute greatly to Florida’s economy by creating an entirely nascent and regulated industry.
“Florida’s farmers have seen tremendous hardships over the last decade, from citrus canker and greening to the Panhandle’s timber devastation.
“Crop diversification by way of hemp will undoubtedly reinvigorate Florida’s ag driven economy.”
Hemp research is beginning
Florida Hemp legislation authorized the University of Florida and Florida A&M to develop public private partnerships to research hemp seed genetics for Florida’s environment, explained Jeffrey Sharkey, CEO and president of Capitol Alliance Group.
A top hemp cultivator, Sunshine Hemp Inc., partnered with FAMU to develop an industrial hemp pilot research project. The cultivation and testing facility in Punta Gorda aims to identify strains that will thrive in Florida and be usable for both small- and large-scale farmers.
“The research project will identify which hemp genetics and growing methods are suitable for Florida regions and climates,” he wrote, “and to ensure that plants grown from these genetics do not present a risk to Florida’s other agricultural crops. These research projects, like Sunshine Hemp, will be able to certify hemp seeds for farmers interested in growing next season.”
Hemp: Fresh from Florida
Holly Bell is a true believer when it comes to the potential for hemp in Florida and has called CBD “the new ibuprofen.”
She was appointed the director of cannabis by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and started in February after holding a similar position in Tennessee. She previously worked as an entrepreneur and in the banking and financial services industry in Nashville. Ms. Bell grew up on a farm in Indiana and graduated with a bachelor’s in agricultural economics from Purdue University.
For her first order of business in Florida, Ms. Bell and her office worked to pass a state Hemp Bill that went into effect in July. They are also working with the Department of Health to produce rules on cannabis edibles, as well as finalizing rules for the Florida industrial hemp industry.
“It will assist businesses and be a catalyst for the industry, once we get the rules done, because there will be a certainty there in how we do it,” she said. “I believe the rules will be a huge boost for the industry.”
Ms. Bell and her team consulted other states that grow hemp as an agricultural commodity, asking how they implemented rules and what they might change in hindsight.
“One of the more consistent messages I got, and I saw this in Tennessee, is there’s a lot of focus on farmers to grow it. But if we don’t have an economy in place for that farmer to sell his crop then we’ve really not done the farmer a justice. So making sure you’re attracting and promoting economic development at the various levels of industry is very important and it needs to be done at the same time you’re starting to grow because the growth cycle is only four months.”
She sees Florida as a leader in the U.S. hemp industry.
“I see a lot of interest from the United States in people who want to come here and make hemp a great industry here,” she said. “Because of our climate, also it is something that can be done year round.”
The state also poses challenges, including an abundance of wet weather and insects that can spread disease.
Personally, Ms. Bell uses CBD products to control her blood pressure. She takes a 500 mg tincture every day, a half a dropper full each morning.
“I find it to help me in a way I couldn’t get pharmaceuticals to help me,” she said. “And it helped with my blood pressure. We had tried diet. We had tried exercise. We had tried a prescription. And genetically in my family it happens.”
Ms. Bell sees CBD extraction and exporting hemp to other states as just a few of many applications and “one more diversification tool for a farmer.”
“We’ve just started to scratch the surface of what we can do with this plant,” she said. ¦