CBD: Miracle cure or overhyped fad?
CBD. You see it advertised in smoke shops, gas stations, health food stores, and online, too. Big stars are promoting its healing properties. Recently, former New England Patriots star Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski formed a partnership with the company CBDMEDIC to create a line of topical pain relief treatments that include the hemp-derived compound.
A Gallup poll released in August reports that 14% of Americans today use it; the younger you are, the more likely you are to have tried it. Americans say they are using it to relieve pain (40%) and keep anxiety at bay (20%). If it’s such a miracle cure, should parents consider using it on their child or teen? There simply is not enough research to answer that question, experts say, challenging parents to make decisions on their own.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of some 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants and accounts for up to 40% of the plant’s extract. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the other cannabinoids found in marijuana; the part of the hemp plant that creates a “high.”
Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill in December 2018, which made CBD legal to use if products do not include more than .03% of the psychoactive ingredient THC. CBD is a close cousin of THC only in that it comes from the same hemp plant.
Because CBD is not FDA-approved or inspected for quality control, doctors can’t prescribe it, suggest dosing, or point patients to ways it should be used to treat the ailments it’s purported to help — ranging from anxiety to ADHD to chronic pain.
Instead, customers rely on CBD proprietors to suggest
dosing, methods of ingestion (tincture, oil, cream, edible, or vaping), and preferred brands. There have been no studies that indicate any harm the substance may cause over the long-term in adults or children. In June 2018, the FDA approved the first CBD drug, marketed under the brand name of Epidiolex, an oral solution approved to treat two rare and severe seizure disorders.
Dr. Stuart Glassman, a rehabilitation medicine physician at Granite Physiatry in Concord, and a former member of the state’s Therapeutic Cannabis Advisory Council, said that the American Medical Association and the New Hampshire Medical Society at this time do not recommend usage of CBD for anything except in the form of Epidiolex.
“Studies have come out that demonstrate that the amount of CBD in over-the-counter products varies from taking way more than you should be taking to taking in almost nothing,” he said. “What’s available everywhere else (outside of Epidiolex) has no requirements for what has to be in there.”
Miracle cure or placebo?
While some parents worry about their teens vaping CBD and potentially getting exposed to THC or other substances, other parents are scrambling for access to it in the hopes that CBD can work alongside pharmaceutical drugs when it comes to helping their children stave off pain or keep anxiety symptoms at bay.
Melissa LeBlanc of Dover sought CBD oil to help her eight-year-old daughter, Laynie, who suffers from anxiety and Tourette Syndrome. Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder known most for its repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations called “tics.”
Laynie developed tics more than a year and a half ago, after a series of sinus infections. LeBlanc noticed that her daughter was still clearing her nose. The snorting sound she was making was soon followed by finger sniffing. As these behaviors, or “tics,” persisted, LeBlanc said it was obvious they were a result of something more than just a sinus infection.
A neurologist in Massachusetts diagnosed Laynie with Tourette’s and prescribed Guanfacine, a medication meant to control tics. While the drug had initially helped some, Laynie still had some noticeable tics.
LeBlanc had heard that CBD could possibly help and wanted to talk to Laynie’s doctor about it, but because it’s not approved by the FDA, she had to speak in “code” regarding the right brand, dosage, and type of CBD that would be most effective for Laynie.
“When I met with her, she said she was not allowed to recommend it and couldn’t give any information on it. She also said that it has not been tested for Tourette’s, only for epileptics,” LeBlanc said. “We tried it, and literally instantly — zero tics,” LeBlanc said.
At one point, LeBlanc had hoped CBD would help enough so that Laynie could wean off Guanfacine. But a couple of months later, the tics returned. LeBlanc upped her daughter’s CBD dosage from one drop in the morning and evening to two drops each time. One day, when Laynie missed a dose of both the CBD and the Guanfacine, her tics were the worst they had ever been, LeBlanc said.
“CBD is just another tool in our toolbox in addition to medicine, therapy, and physical activity — which are all important,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc uses CBD herself to calm her own anxiety and quell some tics she experiences herself. The drug doesn’t cause a “high,” nor does it make her drowsy.
“It’s a good option for people. It’s a good option for me. I am trying to take it more consistently to see a pattern,” she said. “I took it this morning and I took it last night and I didn’t tic.”
How CBD is regulated in New Hampshire
Stores can legally sell CBD in New Hampshire, with some caveats, according to officials at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
In June 2019, the department issued the following statement, “As part of its authority under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulated cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds such as CBD. CBD is not currently an approved food additive under FDA regulations. As the State of New Hampshire’s Food Protection Program has adopted the FDA Food Code into the administrative rules that regulate food establishments in New Hampshire, CBD is not a permitted additive in the state. This guidance has also been issued to self-inspecting municipalities that follow these regulations.”
Therefore, you may see some CBD products in some stores and cities and not in others. There are 15 cities and towns in New Hampshire that conduct their own inspections, according to Colleen Smith, administrator with the Food Protection Section of the Bureau of Public Health Protection.
“We work closely with them and their rules are similar to ours, or they may be more restrictive,” Smith said. “If a facility is only selling pre-packaged food and it doesn’t require refrigeration, it’s not licensed or inspected by us — although some self-inspecting towns might choose to license these stores.”
The state is not policing food establishments, rather it is responding to consumer complaints and focusing on education, Smith said.
Patricia Tilley, deputy director of the Division of Public Health Services at DHHS, said that the state is providing education to food service establishments and commercial entities, with guidance that has been given to them by the FDA. And while DHHS provides oversight for the state’s medical marijuana program, including what ailments should be covered under a medical marijuana card and how its Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) should be regulated, CBD hasn’t even made the agenda of the state’s Therapeutic Cannabis Medical Oversight Board.
“They haven’t taken up CBD as an issue yet. We are continuing to work with the FDA trying to follow their guidance,” Tilley said.
There is also no restriction to selling CBD to minors under 18 or 21. The only enforceable law is related to how CBD is ingested, said Captain Todd Pinkham of the Rochester Police Department.
“A vape or something like that is already illegal to minors and if you are under 18 you can’t possess it. If kids are using those items to smoke CBD or ingest it, that may be illegal,” Pinkham said.
Tilley said she is especially concerned about the risks of teens vaping CBD. Four years ago, statistics showed an uptick in vaping among teens in New Hampshire, and in 2017, a New Hampshire Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that close to 30% of high school seniors admitted to vaping. Furthermore, that same survey showed that New Hampshire youth do not perceive much risk in using cannabis, which might hint that teens perceive CBD to be even less of a risk, she said.
A “touchdown” for CBD?
When a three-time New England Patriots Super Bowl champ endorses a product, New Hampshire teens are bound to pay attention. On Aug. 27, 2019, Rob Gronkowski announced he had “become an advocate for CBD and an investor in Abacus Health Products.”
Abacus is the maker of CBDMEDIC, which produces topical medications that combine over-the-counter active ingredients with CBD-rich hemp oil and other moisturizers. As part of the agreement, Gronkowski will partner with Abacus to expand CBDMEDIC’s product line, according to a press release from the company.
Its products include relief medications for muscle and joint pain, back and neck pain, and arthritis-related pain. Some of its products claim to help reduce acne, a problem often associated with teens.
Even though its products are not meant to be smoked or ingested to cure anxiety or stress, CBDMEDIC has vaulted CBD firmly into the forefront of popular culture. Its message: “Gronkowski’s passion for living life to the fullest while maintaining a healthy, natural, and pain-free lifestyle aligns perfectly with the mission of both Abacus and CBDMEDIC…”
Rochester Police Captain Pinkham notes that unlike other CBD available on the market, Gronk’s product has undergone extensive testing and comes from a reputable source. Teens may think that because the football star is promoting the product that CBDMEDIC produces, that CBD in all forms is safe to use.
“…But the message in general that it’s relaying is that CBD could be safe. Some of the other retailers don’t have his money, this amount of research, or as much money to lose as he does,” Pinkham said.
And until legislators make decisions about how to regulate CBD, consumers will continue to hang in limbo when it comes to making the best decisions for themselves or their families.
While retailers capitalize on the promise of CBD, LeBlanc and her daughter Laynie hope that medical research — rather than marketing — can help provide better answers.
“It will take time to get guidance around dosing, and in that timeframe, we will have to figure it out on our own — which is frustrating,” she said.
Where you’ll find CBD
From your local gas station to health food stores to specialty shops, there are a wide variety of places you can find products containing CBD in New Hampshire. If you don’t want to leave home, you can buy it on Amazon or find wholesalers and retailers who sell CBD online only.
Business is growing
Joshua Gragg, co-owner of the CBD American Shaman franchises in Londonderry, Manchester, and Nashua, started using CBD three years ago to help alleviate chronic pain, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and depression. He had tried different brands at various vape and smoke shops and said it never worked the way it should. He found CBD American Shaman by doing his own research.
“No other company has the technology that we have, which is vital to us in our continued success in the business,” Gragg said.
CBD American Shaman is the largest national franchise that sells CBD with 300 locations across the United States. Gragg helped his friends open stores in Salem and Concord.
Customers who visit CBD American Shaman are invited to sit down and talk to educated staff about CBD, how it works, what it does in the body and what it can do for the body, Gragg said. His stores offer CBD in the form of edibles, topicals, vape products, capsules, and oils. The stores also sell gummies, cookies, and candy that contain CBD. Although there is no age requirement, Gragg said he does not sell products to minors under 18.
“They are not legally adults yet and I don’t want people accusing me of selling kids drugs — thinking CBD is going to get kids high,” he said.
Clearly Better Days, based in Loudon, not only sells CBD products, it makes most of them. Clearly Better Days buys its hemp out of Colorado and formulates CBD products locally. Although Carrie James, chief formulator, said the company would love to partner with certified organic farmers in New Hampshire, it’s not legal to grow hemp in the Granite State. Because hemp growing is legal in Colorado, Clearly Better Days can get a more consistent product.
“We make sure our oil gets tested regularly. Once the company gets the oil (from Colorado), we test every batch and third-party test. Heavy metals, pesticides – we make sure none of that stuff is in there. We know the level of cannabinoids that are in there,” James said. “We want to put out what we say we are putting out.”
Soon, Clearly Better Days wants to put QR codes on the bottles of its CBD oils so that when someone buys a bottle, they can scan the code and receive third-party test results directly from the label.
While Clearly Better Days representatives will talk to parents about the benefits of giving CBD to children and teens, James urges parents to talk to their doctors about it.
Clearly Better Days only sells its CBD products at craft fairs and through its website. The wholesaler primarily sells its products in New Hampshire and exhibited last year at the Made In New Hampshire “Try it and Buy It” Expo.
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks has worked as a journalist and in marketing roles throughout the Granite State. She now regularly writes for New England-based higher education, business, and technology organizations. Mom to preschooler Everett, she has enjoyed calling the Seacoast her home for more than 25 years.