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.”
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.
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