What’s Driving Hemp CBD Growth?

Aug 29, 2017
  • The history of hemp in the United States stretches back to the founding of the nation itself. But these days, it’s not hemp’s past that’s generating buzz so much as it’s the multipurpose plant’s present and possibly profitable future. For according to Vote Hemp and Hemp Business Journal data, retail sales of hemp products hit an estimated $688 million in 2016, with hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products accounting for approximately $130 million of that total, or 19%—up from 11% the previous year.

    Some hemp CBD products have become increasingly popular as supplements and are “growing faster than almost every other category in the supplement space,” says Sarah Syed, director of marketing, CV Sciences Inc. (San Diego, CA). “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a supplement trend truly demonstrate demand in such an immense fashion.”

    Not Pot!
    Hemp CBD’s rise is no mean feat considering that FDA’s definition of a dietary supplement ingredient does not, strictly speaking, include hemp CBD. Why? According to the agency, two authorizations for investigational new drugs (INDs) containing CBD were made public on dates that FDA claims precede—and thus preclude—the marketing of hemp CBD in supplements or foods.

    But hemp CBD is still finding its way to consumers, who see it not as pot’s more respectable cousin, but as a wellness ingredient with potential in its own right. For while it’s true that both cannabis and hemp contain CBD, hemp has much higher levels of CBD than of tetrahydrcannabinol (THC); in cannabis, meanwhile, the reverse is true. Because it’s the psychotropic THC and not CBD that’s responsible for cannabis’s high, there’s little risk of such impairment from hemp; moreover, hemp CBD may even be linked to positive effects ranging from nausea and anxiety reduction to anti-inflammation and even tumor-fighting properties.

    As Colleen Keahey, executive director, Hemp Industries Association (HIA; Washington, DC), points out, “Hemp offers a unique ratio of cannabinoids that are non-euphoric, but that can still be beneficial in supporting the body’s natural processes.”

    What’s more, adds Syed, we humans are “hardwired with a master control system” whose very name—the endocannabinoid system (ECS)—underscores the natural relationship between these compounds and the human body. Hemp CBD, she says, “may help balance and maintain endocannabinoid tone, acting like a master adaptogenic tonic,” and even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) believes that modulating ECS activity “may have therapeutic potential in almost all conditions affecting humans,” Syed adds. As such, hemp products containing naturally occurring CBD “show tremendous promise for maintaining human health.”

    Yet headwinds remain, not the least of which is what Keahey calls “a legacy of cannabis mischaracterization and prohibition.” That legacy has hampered the medical community’s understanding—and perhaps even fostered its neglect—of our human endocannabinoid system, she suggests. Fortunately, “This is changing as more research becomes known and scientific pioneers prove how cannabis and science impact human health.”

    Syed is also optimistic about hemp CBD’s future. “There are no barriers to acceptance, as the idea of hemp-derived CBD is finally ripe,” she says. “Consumers are embracing it and are demanding to know more about its mechanism of action.” As far as she and other advocates are concerned, it’s about time. “Hemp prohibition is ending after 75 years,” Syed says, “as is the old propaganda to keep hemp back. Resistance to hemp-derived CBD products is futile, in our opinion.”

    The following slides detail some of what hemp CBD has going in its favor—and some of the challenges it still has to overcome.


    Photo © Shutterstock.com/Rudmer Zwerver

  • Promise Keeper
    What’s one reason that hemp CBD’s star is shining? It “truly delivers on its promise,” says Sarah Syed, director of marketing, CV Sciences Inc. (San Diego, CA). “We like to say that hemp is comparable to decaffeinated coffee—in other words, imagine the benefits of cannabis without the side effects!” The rising levels of quality and consistency in products on the market also bolster consumers’ confidence in what they buy. CV Sciences “has sold more than 250,000 bottles last year alone” of its PlusCBD Oil, Syed points out. “Our customers can rely on products that are safe and consistently effective every time.”

    Photo © iStockphoto.com/AlenaPaulus

  • Research in Real Time
    Every day, Syed says, “New studies are being published extolling the benefits of phytocannabinoids, including CBD.” One that she finds particularly interesting appeared recently in Frontiers in Neurology(1) and suggests that depression could be a microglial disease. This caught her interest because microglia is the main form of active immune defense in the central nervous system, and “CBD directly decreases microglial activation and attenuates stress-induced neuroinflammatory states,” she explains. “If microglial cells are the link between inflammation and psychiatric disorder, and if CBD directly decreases microglial activation, then hemp-derived CBD products may truly help our collective mental health.”

    1. Lisboa SF et al., “Microglial cells as a link between cannabinoids and the immune hypothesis of psychiatric disorders,” Frontiers in Neurology. Published online January 28, 2016.

    Photo © iStockphoto.com/kirstypargeter

  • Taking It to the Courts
    If you’re looking for a hemp CBD headwind, would a legal battle with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) do? Alas, that’s just what the Hemp Industries Association (HIA; Washington, DC) has on its hands. The trade group filed a petition with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco earlier this year seeking to block a DEA rule that would—unlawfully, the HIA says—designate hemp-derived non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD as “marihuana extract” and add all cannabinoids to its list of Schedule I substances.

    “When the DEA published this rule,” says Colleen Keahey, HIA’s executive director, “it burdened the industry in a huge way, calling into question legal products all over the country. It’s challenges like these that keep mainstream brands from adopting cannabidiol into their product lines.”

    Photo © iStockphoto.com/Kuzma

  • Escape Velocity
    Even hemp CBD’s most bullish supporters would be hard-pressed, at this point, to call it “mainstream.” Indeed, notes Keahey, “Cannabidiol is still largely misunderstood, and I don’t think mainstream consumers have been exposed to the best information” about it. Major brands, she adds, may also be hesitant to hop on the trend—seeing it as just that: a trend.

    “However, there are some really great companies that are doing good work to ensure that consumer awareness and safety are top priorities,” she notes. They’re also delivering hemp CBD in handy applications, too—“everything from e-liquid for vaping and mints to oral tinctures and skin salves. The growth trend is happening everywhere.”

    Photo © iStockphoto.com/jurgakarosaite