The sign in front of his business is subtle, yet Todd Muck said it can scare people off who are wary of the three-letter abbreviation and its association to the newest extension of the cannabis industry: CBD.
Muck is the CEO of Cannabis Bioscience Development in Franktown, a small, second-floor office selling products containing various combinations of cannabinoids purported to have medicinal properties. Cannabinoids are one class of chemical compounds in cells that alter neurotransmitter release in the brain.
Cannabidiol, known better by its abbreviated name CBD — not to be confused with the name of Muck’s storefront — is the most present of the 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Combined with different concentrations of cannabinoids, the oil can be an ingredient for lotion, tincture, body wash, bath bombs, candy, dog treats and numerous other products — all with the claim it can help stop muscle and joint pain, promote muscle relaxation and relieve anxiety, among other things.
Muck, a Nebraska transplant, has bull-riding friends who swear by the oil’s ability to relax years-old pains. Muck has arthritis, which he said has improved since applying a CBD salve to his hands daily.
Skeptics often point to the possibility of a placebo effect. Muck will then talk about his 14-year-old border collie, which after a regular dosage of CBD, Muck said, “acts like a puppy again.”
“All he knows,” Muck said, “is it’s a treat that makes him feel better.”
CBD is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, the FDA has taken notice of its surge in popularity and its alleged health benefits. Now through July 16, the FDA is requesting comment through a public docket to answer questions people have so far. On May 31 the FDA held a hearing to discuss the product.
Most of Muck’s customers are specifically looking for an alternative to marijuana. Though Muck’s products contain, by law, less than 0.3% THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, the relation and confusion between CBD and THC is enough to keep skittish potential consumers at bay.
Many of Muck’s customers, he said, come to him having been burned before by some products, while others have worked. This dilemma is commonplace for CBD retailers.
Muck can only provide anecdotal evidence on whether his products work. He said he provides test results from each of his products from a third party, which he believes adds credibility.
But that’s not the case for every vendor. From consumers’ perspective, there’s no telling what is legitimate.
The FDA says that should it decide to regulate the product, it will likely be easier to differentiate between real and scam products, and the medicinal value of each product.
As an unregulated industry, there is no formal testing required or benchmark to determine one CBD product from another. Some shop owners will have their products tested by a third party, but scientific proof of the product’s contents is not required.
Given that CBD science is limited, those who sell it must be careful not to allude to it having proven health benefits.
“That’s the one thing we’re careful of, is we’re not telling people ‘this is going to work for you,’” said Rick Morgan, president and manager of Total Beverage, a liquor store in Thornton and Westminster that recently began selling CBD products. “For the most part, our staff just says: ‘This is what we carry. We don’t know anything about what it can and can’t do. There aren’t studies. If you need more information, the internet is your best spot.’ We’re not pushing people on it. We’re more just trying to answer questions.”
‘One more thing’
Retail stores specializing in CBD products, like Muck’s, are popping up in greater numbers since the start of the year. Colorado has been a leader in the CBD industry for a few years, but it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that CBD became more easily transported throughout the United States.
In June 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, a prescription CBD solution used for the treatment of seizures.
In December, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, legalizing the extraction of CBD oil from hemp products federally. King Soopers recently announced it would be carrying CBD products in some of its stores.
According to Statista, a consumer data website, the CBD industry generated $512.7 million in nationwide revenue last year. It is projected to generate $813.2 million in 2019 and $1.8 billion by 2022.
Morgan said he had considered putting the product on his company’s shelves for at least two years before deciding to give CBD its own shelf, in place of where the sake and vermouth used to be.
“We kind of like to be the person pushing the line,” Morgan said. “It kind of seems like right after we got into that I’ve heard of more and more places that are carrying it.”
There are a myriad of ways to get CBD, including a number of add-ons some stores provide in their products. You can choose to have a spritz of CBD with your latte or mixed into a superfood smoothie. On certain shelves you can buy CBD popcorn, chewing gum, vape oil and CBD-infused water.
Total Beverage introduced CBD products to its line in February. On half of one wall of an aisle, CBD products, ranging from tincture to salves, line the shelves. So far, the products are selling well, according to Morgan. And, if it continues, he foresees making even more room for the product.
“Most people seem to like it so far. They’re already here buying other stuff so it’s one more thing we can offer them,” Morgan said. “It’s still a really small piece of our business, but it’s definitely growing.”
Does it work?
CBD is legal to sell in all but five states in the nation if it contains less than 0.3% THC. There are different spectrums of CBD found in a product that is used for different purposes.
Emory Wilder, a medical doctor and a faculty member with Metropolitan State University of Denver, is scheduled to teach a course on medical cannabis at the school this fall and has taught two similar classes at Red Rocks Community College in the past. He said CBD can be an effective treatment for a variety of ailments.
Wilder said a high dose of CBD can counteract feelings of being “too high” off THC and is often administered for people who ingest too much THC through overconsumption of marijuana edibles.
“It’s not necessarily that more is better. There’s a balance about it,” Wilder said about CBD. “If you use it at low doses, the body tends to make more receptors for it so it has more of an effect, and you can do that in an ongoing basis. If you do that at a high dose you develop a tolerance … you want to try and hit that sweet spot somewhere in between.”
Muck answers questions from his most skeptical customers with stories of friends whose vision had improved or had pain controlled using CBD. Prepared with test results of his product’s contents, Muck is confident it works. Morgan is too, though he doesn’t use it himself. His wife does, and it’s enough to make a believer out of him.
Taylor Hecker, executive assistant for Nature’s Best CBD in Littleton, said the product speaks for itself.
“I’m blessed to be in this industry. It’s an awesome plant,” Hecker said. “I’ve had customers come to me crying because they’re in so much pain. Then they call us a week later crying because they feel better.”
Too often, Muck said, people will come back reporting mixed results from trying CBD. A lot of people can get duped into buying coconut oil or vegetable oil instead from other stores, he said.
“There need to be a lot more studies done,” he said. “But the studies so far have shown overwhelmingly positive effects.”
Julie Nen, who visited Nature’s Best June 24, peppered the sales representative with questions. She had back pain and mixed experiences with using CBD in the past. Yet, here she was again, testing out the powers of the oil. Following one lengthy explanation after another, Nen, palms on the edge of the glass, sighed and said, “Maybe I should just smoke some weed.”
The tincture edible forms of CBD are advertised to not cause any side effects either, other than some nausea if overconsumed, by just about every CBD retailer.
The FDA has said it needs to look at the side effects of the chemical, using Epidiolex as a yardstick for which to measure the chemical’s potential for regulation. One of those side effects the FDA is exploring is whether CBD can have a potentially harmful effect on the liver.
Muck tends to use the future tense to describe the CBD industry’s promise. It’s going to be big; It’s going to be popular. That’s all contingent, of course, on a widely hoped-for step for the industry: being regulated by the FDA.
Wilder agrees there’s a “growing momentum.”
“The issue that raises in turn is the capitalization of cannabis … putting cannabis into a capitalist marketplace so that the processes of industrialization are applied to it, with both the positive and negative effects,” Wilder said.
For now, CBD store owners rely on consumer feedback. Many stores provide no way of knowing how much CBD — if any — a consumer is buying. Salespeople can’t legally make claims about the medicinal properties of the product, but that doesn’t keep some from telling inspirational stories of friends who replaced all their pain medication with CBD products.
“The stigma has been put in on an emotional level over the decades — the ‘devil drug’ and all these visceral things. And the fact that it hasn’t been legalized nationally yet lingers over it — that it’s associated with stoners and hippies and all this,” Wilder said. “It’s hard to change basic world views. It takes time.”