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CBD is everywhere, but is it safe?

By Helena Oliviero and Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS) • May 12, 2019 at 2:00 PM

ATLANTA, Ga. — On any given morning, a steady stream of customers flows into Rev Coffee in Smyrna, mixing cups of espresso with white chocolate, frappe with coconut and drip coffee with hazelnut syrup.

But lately, there’s a new ingredient patrons can choose.

Listed on the menu between “Strawberry Fields,” a strawberry vanilla drink, and “Lawn Boy,” a honey matcha latte, is the hip coffee shop’s latest concoction: the “Legalize It.” The latte contains cannabidiol, derived from hemp, a cousin of the resurgent marijuana plant.

As edgy as the new offering might sound to some of Rev’s customers, the coffee shop is hardly alone in its creative use of CBD, as the compound is popularly known.

CBD is suddenly everywhere in Georgia — from sparkling water and kombucha to ice cream and coffee. Signs proclaim “CBD sold here” at head shops and strip mall nutrition stores, drawing interest from health enthusiasts, would-be potheads and those looking to treat a wide variety of maladies.

As recreational marijuana use becomes more mainstream, at least according to polls, so do cannabis-infused products.

But while pot remains illegal in most states, CBD, for the most part, is legal.

That’s because CBD has only trace amounts of THC, the compound that gives marijuana users their high. CBD can have no more than 0.3 percent THC, and medical marijuana oil may contain up to 5 percent.

The wide embrace of CBD, however, is not universal. Some legal questions remain on issues such as how hemp-based CBD products are advertised and whether CBD can be mixed in with food and drinks and then shipped between states. The medical community also is reticent.

At Rev Coffee, Dani Hermoza scans the expansive drink menu and spots the new addition on a chalkboard festooned with pink flowers. She opts for a 20-ounce CBD decaf latte for $8.25, which includes a $4 up-charge for CBD.

The barista’s dropper precisely measures 10 milligrams of a dark green oil, in this case flavorless but sometimes described as having an earthy or grassy taste. The CBD gets vigorously mixed with a shot of espresso, which is poured into a tall paper cup with steamed milk and milk foam.

Hermoza, 27, says she sometimes wrestles with anxiety, but thinks the “Legalize It” might help with that.

“I am working without worrying,” she says about 90 minutes after sipping the drink.

CBD aficionados see CBD as a natural alternative to prescription medications. Lately, it’s been touted as a magic bullet that eases not just anxiety, but also pain, insomnia, seizures and struggles with addiction and eating disorders.

“We are very much self-centering creatures, and we always want to believe that there are these solutions for everything,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal government research organization in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Some of its medicinal claims are legitimate, she said. Some are hype.

Research indicates that CBD may help reduce seizures, anxiety and some types of pain, Volkow said. CBD appears to be safe to use, but high doses of it could be harmful to the liver, she said. The biggest danger from CBD is that patients will use it instead of other treatments that are proven to be beneficial.

Dr. Vinita Singh, who treats chronic pain patients at the Emory Pain Center, often fields questions about CBD from people interested in trying it. She calls CBD, “a big gray” area.

“We don’t have much data on how well it works, at what dose, how frequently to use it, and about the long-term side effects,” she said.

Singh urged caution for patients intent on trying CBD, saying she can’t recommend it until it is more regulated.

The U.S. The Food and Drug Administration has approved one CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, for patients with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which both cause severe seizures.

Only drugs that have been approved by the FDA can be advertised as effective in treating or preventing medical conditions. Many CBD producers try to get around that by using vague language about promoting general health and wellness.

The bottom line: It will require a lot more research to truly understand the therapeutic potential of CBD, Volkow said.

That hasn’t thwarted the explosive popularity of CBD.

Golda Kombucha’s West End tap room serves a CBD grapefruit and rosemary fermented tea drink. Cirrus, a new sparkling water company based in Atlanta, will release a CBD-infused beverage this month.

The restaurant Bocado recently unveiled a CBD cocktail menu — including a CBD pisco sour and an aperitif with amaro, vermouth and orange-flavored CBD oil.

Higher Standards, a new high-end retailer at Ponce City Market, sells a wide variety of all things CBD: tinctures, oils, creams, bath bombs, gummies.

Other businesses are using CBD as an enhancement.

Lark & Sparrow nail salon offers CBD pedicures. Instead of a glass of wine, it begins with a CBD-infused gummy candy and includes a massage with a CBD oil blend.

Last December, Congress primed the market for rapid growth when it legalized hemp farming and sales as part of the farm bill. The bill removed hemp’s designation as a controlled substance and reclassified it as an agricultural product. Before that, CBD was legal under some state laws, but not federal law.

In addition, shipping CBD to Georgia was a violation of federal interstate commerce laws, said Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver. But it was already widely available in Georgia and across the nation; the feds just didn’t take action against violators.

States will still decide their own rules on hemp. To allow hemp farming, they need to pass local laws, as the Georgia General Assembly did last month. Gov. Brian Kemp has until May 12 to decide whether to sign House Bill 213, which would allow in-state production of the CBD oil that retailers currently import from other states.

Kemp already signed a separate bill that allows medical marijuana, the more potent offspring, to be grown in Georgia and sold to the state’s 9,500 registered patients. The medical marijuana measure restricts production to six companies on a total of nine acres; the hemp farming bill doesn’t limit growers and acreage.

Meanwhile, the FDA is playing catch up. The agency recently warned that is still illegal to add CBD or THC to food and transport it over state lines. The FDA will hold its first public hearing in Maryland on May 31 to figure out how to regulate the use of CBD in products, including foods and beverages.

The agency also sent warning letters to three companies that market CBD products, saying the companies are making false claims about treating diseases, such as stating the products stop cancer cells or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s.

A 2017 study published in JAMA medical journal evaluated dozens of CBD products online and found that nearly 70 percent were not labeled correctly. They had either higher or lower concentrations of CBD than indicated on the label.

Even with the regulatory concerns, the industry is projected to keep growing. In 2019, CBD retail sales in the United States will reach an estimated $1 billion, according to Hemp Industry Daily.

Farmers are excited about the possibility of growing the hemp crop, but it’s unclear how profitable it will be, said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.

Whether hemp succeeds in Georgia will depend on agricultural conditions, regulations and prices.

“We’re receiving more calls about this issue in the first quarter of 2019 than any I’ve dealt with,” Black said. “There are a large number of people that are exploring the opportunities.

“Forty-one other states have already approved hemp farming, including Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. But, while others might have been first to the market, Georgia could easily catch up if hemp crops prosper in the state’s warm climate, he said.

“If there’s a demand for the product, Georgia farmers are going to be equipped to provide the supply,” Black said.

Heather Novotny, who occasionally uses CBD, recently woke up at 4:15 a.m., her mind racing, thinking about work meetings and projects. By 3 p.m., the 34-year-old Atlanta resident was enjoying a CBD pedicure at Lark & Sparrow nail salon.

There, she started the treatment by eating a sweet red CBD gummy, then closed her eyes and leaned back into a gray leather recliner. A hot towel wrap, nail clipping, foot soak and CBD massage later, she stepped out of the chair with toe nails painted a pale blue color called “daydreamer.”

Novotny and others in the salon are excited about the CBD offerings, eager to try CBD-infused dining and cocktails.

“I come here to decompress and get away from it all,” said Novotny.

By the end of her pedicure, she said, her mind and body were at ease.

“I feel much better now,” she said. “I really truly do.”

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CBD retail sales in the United States are expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. Here’s a look at sales were in the past and what’s predicted, according to the Hemp Business Journal and the Hemp Industry Daily, online publications that track the hemp industry.

2017

— $190 million

2018

— $390 million

2019

— $1 billion, projected

2021

— $3 billion, projected

2023

— Up to $7.5 billion, projected

WHAT’S CBD?

It’s cannabidiol, derived from hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant. CBD has only trace amounts of THC, the compound that gives marijuana users their high.

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©2019 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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