One can’t swing a hackneyed cliché without hitting a CBD product, a CBD startup or a CBD evangelist. If you’re somehow unaware of the CBD gold rush, fret not. It’s only one of the fastest-growing product segments in the United States right now.
According to the Brightfield Group, a CBD- and cannabis-focused market research firm, the domestic hemp-derived CBD market is likely to top $22 billion by 2022. But in a crowded marketplace, it’s hard to know exactly which CBD products you can trust. We sat down with a bona fide CBD expert to learn some useful tips and tricks when shopping for that CBD product for your ailing body, relative or pet.
Anna Symonds is director of education at East Fork Cultivars, a cannabis farm in southern Oregon that specializes in growing and processing high-quality, organic cannabis into CBD-rich products. As director of education, Symonds runs East Fork’s CBD Certified program, a free educational initiative that has taught thousands of cannabis professionals, consumers and the canna-curious alike about the science behind cannabidiols, or CBD. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
L.A. WEEKLY: First things first: What is CBD?
ANNA SYMONDS: CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in abundance in certain varieties of the cannabis plant. Most people know of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main compound in cannabis responsible for its associated highs. CBD is a non-intoxicating compound often associated with the wellness aspects of cannabis, which is why we’re seeing more and more research into potential applications of CBD to a wide range of ailments. Like THC, CBD can interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system — an important part of regulating numerous body functions.
How did you get interested in CBD, anyway?
By accident! I’d been working for a startup, looking for my next opportunity. I did small-business consulting for a cannabis grower transitioning from the medical cannabis market to the adult-use (recreational) market. The experience taught me a lot about the cannabis industry: cultivation, compliance, land use, insurance, OSHA and much more.
Personally, I’ve been a cannabis consumer for about 25 years. And I’ve also been an athlete during that time, a rugby player. My cannabis usage got more targeted and specific, which led to an interest in CBD. As I connected with the cannabis scene in Oregon, I met Mason [Walker, CEO of East Fork Cultivars]. I was impressed by East Fork’s values and mission around CBD, and by their focus on ethical sustainable production. They were looking to develop an educational program and they gave me the opportunity to lead that initiative.
What’s the biggest misconception about CBD?
CBD has broad therapeutic applications for many different conditions and ailments, what is called polypharmacological. So it has many potential uses. But that doesn’t mean that there’s one “best” way to use it that it will work the same way for every condition. It’s also important to remember even as more research happens, there’s a lot we still have left to learn.
How do you counsel prospective CBD consumers?
First, I don’t give medical advice, because I’m not a doctor. But we can share good, rigorous science that is in the public domain. We can point to certain studies, and share experiences we’ve had as well. I can say, "Here’s what the research shows so far, and here’s what I might do if I were dealing with that situation."
Also, it really depends on the condition. Some conditions have seen more research, more clinical trials, like pediatric-onset epilepsy, for example. Because of CBD’s connection to cannabis, research has been and remains much more difficult to do than it should be. And the medical establishment remains conservative, particularly on extrapolating findings.
We can also talk to prospective CBD users about dosing and titration, and trying different formulations and ratios, just like we do with traditional pharmaceuticals. The golden rule is, “Start low and go slow.” Find your own personal optimal dose. The right amount will vary by individual and desired affects. Relieving anxiety is different from relieving neuropathic pain, for instance.
And we also see people in good health who are looking at CBD as a wellness supplement, what Dr. Adie Wilson-Poe sometimes calls almost a “supervitamin.”
What are the biggest mistakes new CBD consumers make?
The truth is, there are lots of inferior products on the market. I understand that some consumers are price-sensitive, but buying random CBD products on the internet is not the best way. For example, many products available online are made from CBD isolates, not from the whole plant, and there’s evidence that our bodies use these types of products differently. There are also rampant issues with incorrect potency labeling and no required purity testing.
According to a recent study published in the University of Pennsylvania’s medical journal, more than two-thirds of CBD products tested had incorrect potency information, and over 20 percent had detectable THC. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it should certainly be disclosed. Companies should share accurate, verifiable information about their product sourcing and formulation. At East Fork Cultivars, we have a USDA-certified organic craft hemp farm in addition to our cannabis farm, and we make our results available on our website.
Also, don’t choose a product by the packaging or the label, or strictly by cost. We see companies that have a lot of money and can get their brands out there. But that doesn’t mean their products are sourced ethically, processed well or tested sufficiently.
But consumers in prohibition states can only legally buy hemp-derived CBD, right?
Online, yes. But there is a difference between industrial hemp and craft hemp. True industrial hemp is very fibrous and contains low levels of CBD and other beneficial compounds, while craft hemp is very resinous and flower-forward, with much higher levels of all of the beneficial components.
Also, cannabis and hemp are what are called bio-accumulators, which means they pull toxins from the soil they’re grown in. That’s good for the land but not for the consumer putting that plant into their body. Because more raw material is needed with industrial hemp, it comes with an increased risk of contaminants passing through. Much of the world’s industrial hemp is grown in China without environmental laws, and lots of CBD products online are made from these kinds of inferior source materials.
Consumers in legal, post-prohibition states — should they be looking at CBD-only products, or at CBD-THC blended products?
Good question. It depends on your comfort level with THC. When I lead education sessions, I discuss our bodies’ endocannabinoid receptors. CBD will interact with certain pathways only when THC is present, in what is known as the entourage or ensemble effect.
CBD also can offset some of the unwanted effects of THC, like anxiety. A 1:1 CBD-THC ratio can often be good for people dealing with chronic pain, if they’re comfortable with THC. Benefits exist with THC but for some people, it doesn’t do well with their systems. So always listen to your body and no need to push it.
What tips do you have for how to read a label?
1. Product formulation: This really matters. You get more "bang for your buck" with a full-spectrum, whole plant–derived CBD than from isolate. There’s evidence that the body will use CBD more effectively with a full-spectrum product. A study out of Israel found that much less CBD was needed, in this case for treating pain and inflammation, when full-spectrum products were used.
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2. Ingredients and test results: The product maker should disclose all ingredients and should provide potency and purity test results from accredited third-party labs. Just like with vitamins or other health supplements, I would encourage consumers to avoid artificial colorings, added sugars, added preservatives, etc.
3. Sourcing: Look for American-grown craft hemp. Organic or veganic are best. Especially now that hemp is legal (again!) to grow in the United States, look for products from hemp grown in Oregon, Washington or Colorado, to name a few. If the label doesn’t say where the hemp was grown, it’s probably from Canadian or Chinese industrial hemp.
Lastly, is it ethically sourced? Look into the company’s business practices. Not all producers are equal, in their product’s quality, nor in their business and labor practices, environmental impacts or social-justice commitments.
Vote with your dollar. Make your CBD purchases socially restorative and environmentally regenerative!