Is CBD Oil Just One Big Marketing Gimmick? (Don’t @ Me)


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If 2017 was the year of avocado toast, 2018 was surely the year of CBD. From CBD oil coffee, negronis and blood orange gummies to bath bombs and face masks, suddenly, cannabidiol seemed like it was everywhere.

Indeed, founder of the natural food retail site Thrive Market Nick Green revealed that it’s the fastest growing category on his site: “We launched a CBD product in early 2018 and it was the fastest growing brand on the site last year, and now their products are the top 10 products on the site in terms of dollar sales,” Green told me in a phone conversation. “CBD has been the fastest and steepest inflection point of any trend we’ve seen since we started the company in 2014.”

Cool, so I’m not imagining things. As a food editor, I’m naturally obliged to sample and analyze the array of products that came across my desk—and poll all of my desk-mates, too. Sometimes, people swear they felt sleepier or clumsier or more alert, but the general verdict has been: Nada. Nothing. And thus began my creeping suspicion that CBD is just a placebo. 

Recently, a variety pack of CBD capsules came across my desk, some promising better sleep, others muscle recovery and still others menstrual relief. Although each contained a proprietary mixture of sleep or muscle recovery-promoting ingredients, the brand got me thinking: Is CBD just a modern-day snake oil? A brilliant marking gimmick because there’s no hard science to prove what it really does, and therefore it can promise to do, well, almost everything?

Green has an illuminating perspective on the matter: “Because of cannabinoid’s association with THC, there has been a taboo around research in the space and publishing studies that show the health benefits,” he said. “I think as marijuana has been de-stigmatized, there’s been more investigation into cannabinoids.”

According to a comprehensive report on CBD-related studies published by the World Health Organization in June of 2018, CBD has been shown to enhance activity at our 5-HT1a receptors, a serotonin receptor that several antidepressant medications also activate to achieve their results. While cannabis specialist Dr. Jordan Tishler points out that CBD must be taken in high doses (800 to 1,200 milligrams—compared to the 10mg found in many CBD products) to achieve these results, I’m intrigued, and excited to see how research unfolds in the next few years. 

Hilary McCain, founder and CEO of Sweet Reason, a CBD oil-infused sparkling water, suggests that not all CBD is created equal: “Some people use full spectrum CBD, which is CBD plus other cannabinoids that are found in the hemp plant,” she explained. “We use 100 percent pure CBD isolate, the cannabinoid with the most amount of research behind it. It’s like extracting vitamin C from an orange.” Plus, our bodies have a hard time digesting fats—so her company wraps the CBD oil in a thin water-soluble solution to make it more bio-available.

Curious to try a purer form of CBD, I sampled Sweet Reason eagerly—and was not disappointed. Within minutes, my mind felt like it…unclenched. Much like anxiety can be a physical sensation, this was the opposite of that. It worked for me, but was I now a CBD isolate convert? Not so sure, but definitely a Sweet Reason convert.

This past December, the 2018 Farm Bill recognized CBD as an ingredient and put it under the purview of the FDA, meaning it’ll be much more regulated this year. That’s a great thing for consumers looking for consistency in a product.

In Green’s words, “We expect CBD to be the fastest growing trend in 2019, again. Nothing like this has ever happened.” And I’m excited to go along with the relaxed/energized/focused ride. 

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