What we know about CBD oil and how it can be legally used in Indiana
CBD oil, a cannabis-derived product often praised for its medicinal qualities, still confuses a lot of people.
For instance, is CBD oil legal in Indiana? It is — at least in normal doses.
Will CBD oil, also known as cannabidiol oil, show up on a drug test? Probably not.
Can it be used on pets? Some pet owners say it can relieve pain in their dogs and cats, but there isn’t much medical research to confirm that.
Here’s what we know about CBD oil.
What is CBD oil?
Hemp and marijuana are a different variety of the cannabis sativa plant.
CBD or cannabidiol, is one of many compounds — called cannabinoids — found in cannabis sativa, and it is extracted from the hemp variety, which has no or only trace amounts of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that produces the mind-altering “high” associated with marijuana. Hemp also has a higher cannabidiol content than marijuana.
While CBD does not have psychoactive characteristics, it is believed to produce other changes in the body which could have medical benefits.
Is CBD oil legal in Indiana?
Yes, it has been legal since March 2018, when Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a measure legalizing low-THC cannabidiol oil in Indiana. The new Indiana law allows anyone to buy, sell and possess CBD oil, as long as it meets certain labeling requirements and contains no more than 0.3 percent THC, the substance that produces a “high.”
The law requires manufacturers to have each batch of product tested in order to ensure it has less than 0.3 percent THC. However, the law says nothing about the legality of making CBD oil in Indiana.
Also, Indiana has a zero tolerance law for THC and metabolites, the byproducts from the drug breaking down. So, you could get in trouble here for having even a trace amount of THC in your system, which could be possible if you use large amounts of CBD oil.
Medical marijuana and Indiana: What we know about effort to legalize weed
Does CBD oil show up in drug tests?
According to potguide.com, drug tests were designed to detect THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana. They weren’t designed to detect cannabidiol, or CBD.
So, the short answer is probably not.
Because CBD oil does contain trace amounts of THC, consuming extremely large amounts of CBD oil (in the neighborhood of from 1,000 to 2,000 mg/day) could possibly trigger a false positive result of small amounts of THC in the body, potguide.com says.
Where can you buy CBD oil in Indiana?
CBD oil can now purchased in most vaping shops, at some beauty salons, and at health-related businesses. It also can be purchased online at various CBD oil or pharmaceutical websites.
When purchasing CBD oil, whether in person or online, there are several factors you might consider. First, make sure that it falls at or below the 0.03 percent THC threshold to make sure it’s legal to use in Indiana. Second, try to learn whether it was organically grown and grown in the United States. That could lessen the chance of toxic contamination of the hemp from herbicides, pesticides or heavy metals in the soil.
Is CBD oil safe to use?
Cannabidiol can come in the form of an ointment, a liquid or pill form and is popular as a cosmetic (including mascara). It has reportedly also been used for relaxation by patients with anxiety disorders and for pain management and other uses. Others use CBD oil to reduce inflammation or regulate their metabolism.
However, medical research into the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, such as CBD oil, is limited and often inconclusive. Federal regulators have warned cannabis companies to stop marketing their cannabis and hemp oil products as treatments for skin conditions, panic attacks, arthritis, cancer and Ebola.
Before buying CBD oil, it would be advisable to contact your physician. Your doctor should know you are using it and may be able to provide advice or supporting materials.
What cannabis product did the FDA approve?
On June 25, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever drug containing cannabis for use in the U.S.
Epidiolex was approved to treat two rare forms of epilepsy in patients older than 2. It can be used to treat Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, conditions for which effective medicines have been difficult to find to control seizures. Epidiolex may someday be approved for “off-label uses” to treat other conditions.
The drug has known side effects, including lethargy, diarrhea and elevated liver enzymes, so patients who are taking it need to be carefully monitored by their physician.
What is the CBD oil dosage for dogs?
There is no known safe dosage for CBD oil for dogs, but there have been anecdotal accounts from pet owners about the positive benefits of CBD oil for dogs, especially in relieving neuropathic pain and in helping control seizures.
However, there is no definitive scientific data on how it affects your canine partner, according to the American Kennel Club.
Scientists do know that CBD oil interacts with receptors for cannabinoids present throughout the bodies of mammals, especially in the brain, influencing mood, thinking, pain and other functions. Such receptors are also common in the immune system, and research suggests CBD oil may spur the body to use more of its own cannabinoids.
The AKC Canine Health Foundation also is sponsoring a study, through Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to evaluate the use of CBD oil in treatment-resistant dogs with epilepsy.
What is the best way to take CBD oil?
Doctors cannot prescribe CBD oil because there is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) or universal dose for patients. They can only recommend it to their patients.
Variables such as weight, diet, metabolism, and genetics all play a role, making the correct amount of CBD oil a personal choice for each patient, according to CBDOilRevieworg.
CBD oil can be ingested in many forms, including in a liquid drop, in CBD-infused chewing gum, in powder form, in edible foods such as brownies, in e-liquids used in vaping, in skin patches, and in lotions, shampoos, soaps and bath bombs.
Is CBD oil popular in Indiana?
Indiana is one of three states (Vermont and Oklahoma were the others) which had the most consistent interest in CBD oil, according to a new survey of online search data and industry leader opinions compiled by Remedy Review. Their article said Indiana “has seen remarkable popularity in CBD products,” since the state legalized them in March.
Call IndyStar digital producer Dwight Adams at 317-444-6532. Follow him on Twitter: @hdwightadams. IndyStar reporters Shari Rudavsky, Kaitlin Lange and Kellie Hwang contributed to this story.
Is CBD legal? Here’s what you need to know, according to science
I’ve come upon it in pharmacy chain stores and gas stations. My dog kennel sells CBD (cannabidiol) gummies for pets, and multiple massage spas in the D.C.-metro area offer “CBD-infused relaxation” through lotions, oils and sprays. There are at least four cafes within a 15-minute walk of the White House that sell CBD coffee.
Yet here’s a strange fact about the overnight ubiquity of these products: Selling them is illegal. That’s true even though the 2018 Farm Bill removed legal restrictions on CBD if it’s derived from hemp plants.
What’s equally strange: Buying CBD products is legal…at least sometimes.
This paradox is one of many in America’s long history of both utilizing and criminalizing cannabis. As marijuana, cannabis has been a tool for relaxation, as well as an element of mass incarceration — but also for medical benefits, like to fight the side effects of cancer chemotherapy.
That tension is something two professors and their students are trying to better understand at the University of Connecticut, which launched the nation’s only college course on growing weed earlier this year.
While “there are all sorts of classes to train lawyers to understand cannabis law and programs for medical practitioners to learn how to dispense medical marijuana,” said Gerry Berkowitz, a 20-year professor of plant science who co-runs UConn’s new course, this is the first in decades to focus on questions like: How exactly does this stuff grow and how can we use it?
They’re among many in the U.S. who are peering through the fog of the clinical claims, legal quagmires and social stigma around weed.
Cannabis, which has been cultivated by humans for at least 12,000 years, is “one of the oldest plants on record as having been used for human benefit,” said Shelley Durocher, a UConn research grower who manages the hemp greenhouse for the class. It’s a fascinating plant that occupies a unique space in the natural world, Durocher said, one that has helped shape the modern existence of Western countries like the U.S.
As hemp, its fiber made the sails that carried European colonists across much of the known world. It was so fundamental to America’s foundations that its image was printed on money. George Washington was notoriously bad at growing hemp, though.
“Began to separate the Male from the Female hemp…rather too late,” Washington penned in his diary in August 1765. (We’ll get to why that’s a problem later.)
A cheat guide to CBD
If you’re looking for the abridged version of this story so you can pass your “pot” quiz, here are the main takeaways.
- The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production and sale of hemp and its extracts. Hemp, by federal law, cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Anything with more THC is classified as marijuana, is considered a schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration and is federally illegal.
- A hemp crop can accidentally start growing marijuna packed with THC because of pollination and sexual reproduction. (Cannabis plants are typically either male or female). Unexpected pollination can easily happen in outdoor fields, given cannabis plants grow abundantly in the wild and their pollen can travel for miles. If your CBD comes from a marijuana plant, it’s illegal. If your CBD contains too much THC (more than 0.3 percent), it’s illegal.
- The extraction process for CBD and THC is essentially the same. As a consequence, CBD can be contaminated with THC, chemical solvents or pesticides if the extraction is done improperly.
- The only approved health use of CBD is the seizure drug Epidiolex, despite having many other suspected benefits. The FDA prohibits the sale of CBD in any unapproved health products, dietary supplements or food — which literally means everything except for this epilepsy drug.
- If CBD comes from a hemp plant with less than 0.3 percent THC, you can buy it under federal law — but some states still have legal restrictions on the possession of CBD.
Cannabis’ reputation has shifted significantly since then, from vital resource to societal ill to maybe something in between.
Berkowitz and professor Matthew DeBacco launched the class at UConn — called “Horticulture of Cannabis: from Seed to Harvest” — to fill a desperate need in the ever-budding cannabis industry, with U.S. sales expected to reach $80 billion by 2030. Three years ago, another of Berkowitz’s undergrad classes took a field trip to one of Connecticut’s medical marijuana producers.
“The owner said his head grower learned their trade by growing pot in their basement,” Berkowitz said. In pointing this out, he was not trying to throw shade on these employees, but rather emphasizing that many of the growing practices in the marijuana industry aren’t typically standardized nor backed by research.
Which brings us back to those CBD lotions and lattes — and how they can be both legal and illegal.
Due to the way cannabis plants naturally grow and breed, many CBD products in stores contain the same drug that makes marijuana federally illicit — THC or tetrahydrocannabinol.
And even if you make sure that your CBD is pure, some federal agencies and state laws still forbid it — even in places where medical or recreational weed is legal.
So before you add CBD to your routine, it might help us all to head back to school for a few science lessons that explain how cannabis is grown, how the compound is collected, and the ways it might benefit and harm your health.
What is cannabis?
Cannabis has many names, strains and varieties, including hemp and marijuana. But these days, they’re all considered one species: Cannabis sativa.
“Marijuana” is any cannabis plant with abundant amounts — technically, more than 0.3 percent — of the mind-altering drug THC. Though 11 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuna, this version of cannabis remains federally illegal and classified as a schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Hemp,” by contrast, cannot legally contain more than 0.3 percent THC. There are almost no restrictions on the hundreds of other compounds made by the plant, such as terpenes (which are responsible for weed’s “distinctive” aroma).
One noteworthy contradiction in weed law: Marijuana can also produce CBD. If your purified CBD comes from hemp plants, it is federally legal, but if it comes from a marijuana plant, it is illegal. That’s because marijuna plants themselves are prohibited by the DEA.
CBD versus THC
The most obvious hurdles to making pure and legal CBD arise from being unable to tell marijuana and hemp plants apart.
Just try it for yourself:
Hemp versus marijuana. Good luck spotting a difference. Image by Devin Pinckard
“So how do we make a distinction when … basically looking at the plant structure, you really can’t tell the difference?” DeBacco, one of the cannabis course professors, asked us on the campus quad after class (located in the university’s largest lecture hall, due to its popularity).
His answer: “You’ve got to go beyond what they look like to the chemical profiles.”
Both THC and CBD are members of a chemical family called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are plants oils, and cannabis comes packed with more than 100 versions of them.
Scientists suspect cannabinoids protect the plant from UV rays, much like sunscreen does for human skin. They think that because up to a quarter of a cannabis plant’s weight can come from just cannabinoids — and cannabinoid levels change with light exposure. “At the top of the plant, you’ll get more cannabinoids, compared to flowers that are at the lower end of the plant,” graduate student Peter Apicella said.
Cannabis makes most of its cannabinoids in its flowers, which are more commonly called “buds.”
“If they don’t get pollinated, the buds will essentially just keep growing and keep producing cannabinoids,” Apicella said.
This is true of both CBD and THC. The only chemical difference between them comes down to a couple of chemical bonds.
CBD and THC are like the “fraternal twins” of plant chemistry. They are basically identical, aside from a couple bond. Image by Adam Sarraf
All cannabinoids start out as a bit of sugar, which hitchhikes around the plants’ enzymes, changing its identity, bit by bit, with each ride. In some cases, this wandering sugar reaches a crossroads, where it can either can bum a ride from one of two enzymes: THC-a synthase or CBD-a synthase. One route leads to becoming THC, the other to becoming CBD.
But in hemp, THC synthase is genetically dormant, Apicella said. As a result, some hemp plants can make loads of CBD because there is no internal competition for making THC.
“With other highly valuable crops — like saffron or vanilla — you get a small percentage of the plant that’s actually usable yield,” Apicella explained. But with hemp, “it’s a huge amount.” Some strains have are upwards of 12 to 15 percent CBD by weight.
How a hemp crop can sometimes become marijuana
Thanks to the “miracle” of reproduction, a hemp crop can start off making only CBD and then unwittingly turn into a THC-laden field of marijuana.
Let’s just say that again because it is a bit mind-blowing. A hemp crop — that is federally legal and only makes CBD — can become marijunana. Studies have found that if two certifiable hemp plants hook up, most of their offspring will be able to make THC. In fact, some of these seedlings will ONLY make THC.
The wild card for hemp growers is pollination. Most flowering plants boast both male and female parts. They’re hermaphrodites that can mate with themselves. But a cannabis plant is an exception, in that it is almost always either female OR male. And when the plants reproduce sexually, their traits mix and once dormant genes — like those behind THC production — can suddenly be replaced with active versions.
Any biological organism is going to fluctuate — a variable that farmers and growers are always really concerned about, Apicella said.
So to prevent sexual reproduction, UConn’s greenhouse smashes the (cannabis) patriarchy. You don’t want a male in your greenhouse, Apicella said: “If there’s a male, your whole crops can be destroyed.”
So UConn’s greenhouses only grows female hemp plants — all of them are clones. There’s even a small pistil — called a preflower — on young plants that allows horticulturists to identify females without a genetic test.
To grow an all-female group, “you snip a part of a plant off, and you put it in soil with a little rooting hormone and that cutting is actually genetically identical to that first mother plant that you took from,” Apicella explained, raising his arms and pointing to a long row of hemp plants. “So these are all genetically identical to one of the mother plants we have in here.”
Keeping a greenhouse all-female is easy, but it’s a different story growing hemp outdoors.
Cannabis is abundant in the wild — meaning an outdoor hemp field is one gust of pollen away from accidentally breeding marijuana.
The other way that THC can sneak into your CBD bottle
To collect CBD or THC from hemp, farmers harvest the plants and send them to an extractor, who collects the drugs and preps them for sale. The issue is that extracting CBD or THC is essentially the same process. If your supplier does it incorrectly, your CBD bottle might carry an illegal dose of THC.
“It happens all the time,” said Rino Ferrarese, COO of the medical marijuana extractor CT Pharma, who is frustrated by low-quality and tainted products flooding the CBD market. Under Connecticut law, Ferrarese’s company must ensure their products match the labels on their bottles — which they accomplish through pharmaceutical-grade extraction.
Ferrarese said many states across the country do not hold their CBD suppliers to the same standards and federal enforcement is lacking.
Cannabinoids are extracted as oils or resins, which can be gooey. Image by CT Pharma
“What a lot of consumers don’t realize is that the FDA, who’s charged with protecting our safety with respect to food and medicine in the U.S., are not on top of policing those CBD products that you see in the gas station or at the grocery store,” Ferrarese said. “A lot of these products are also not under the purview of departments of public health either.”
As a lark, he and others at the company keep tabs on the sloppy and sometimes illicit products flooding the CBD market. Ferrarese said the results vary widely, and rarely do these products ever meet the claims on their labels.
The math that’s fueling the CBD green rush
A little math can explain why farmers and suppliers are excited about CBD.
To make CBD, farmers can grow up to 4,000 hemp plants in an acre. A single hemp plant can make about a half kilogram of plant material for CBD extraction.
A half kilogram of this cannabis material can yield about 75 grams of CBD, according to Rino Ferrarese, COO of the medical marijuana extractor CT Pharma. That much CBD can make about 350 bottles of lotion, he said, which each typically hold about 200 milligrams of the compound.
That means a single acre of hemp can make about 1.4 million bottles of CBD lotion. If you sell each of those bottles for $30, that’s…a boatload of greenbacks.
“Whenever we see CBD at a gas station or in a retail location, we purchase it and we send it to our independent third-party laboratory,” Ferrarese said. “Sometimes it even contains THC in the bottle when it’s not supposed to. It’s really a crap shoot.”
Extractors can prevent THC from entering a CBD supply. To sap CBD or THC from plant material, all extractions use a chemical solvent. That sounds nefarious, but a solvent is any substance that can dissolve another. Water, for instance, is one of nature’s best solvents — but it wouldn’t be effective for something like this.
“In Connecticut, we’re limited to using only [liquid] carbon dioxide as a solvent for extraction or ethanol as a solvent, Ferrarese said. “In other states, such as Colorado and California, they’re allowed to use solvents like butane.”
Liquid carbon dioxide and ethanol come with distinct advantages. Carbon dioxide is very efficient at stripping cannabinoids from plants, but it must be kept at cold temperatures — -70 degrees Fahrenheit — to stay liquid.
Ethanol extraction, meanwhile, can be conducted at warmer temperatures in a process similar to making liquor, said Kimberly Provera, the operations manager at CT Pharma.
“There is a process called fractional distillation, where you can actually isolate different cannabinoids,” Provera said. “Each cannabinoid will separate based on a specific temperature…so you can isolate just CBD and THC.”
Once the gooey cannabinoids are separated, they add a little heat. The carbon dioxide and ethanol will eventually evaporate, leaving behind pure CBD or THC — but only if the extraction is done properly.
If your supplier makes a mistake, it might taint your CBD with THC — a consequence that can be problematic if your job randomly drug tests. Poor extractions can also leave behind the chemical solvents, which is hazardous in the case of butane, or even pesticides.
“There is a certain consumer expectation that we have here in America when we interact with our products, and cannabis should be no different,” Ferrarese said. “Cannabis, as a consumer packaged good, should have to meet those same standards for purity, identity and composition.”
Before you buy CBD, ask the store how its extracts were made and if they’re validated by a third-party tester.
Why you shouldn’t assume CBD is a cure-all
Raise your hand if you’ve heard someone state a version of the following:
“THC is psychoactive or mind-altering, hence it can make you high and why it is illegal. CBD, meanwhile, isn’t psychoactive.”
That’s not entirely accurate. CBD won’t intoxicate you, but from a neuroscience perspective, CBD is absolutely psychoactive, psychotropic or whatever adjective you want to use to say that it affects the mind and behavior. CBD just affects you differently than THC.
This lack of understanding has led to a lot of misconceptions about CBD, said Joseph Cheer, a neurobiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who specializes in cannabinoids.
The first thing you need to know is that our bodies make their own natural versions of these compounds called endocannabinoids.
Akin to dopamine and serotonin, endocannabinoids can operate like neurotransmitters — the chemical messengers that activate or switch off our nerves. That, in turn, sparks or dampens the electric pulses that create our thoughts, behaviors and movements.
Why hemp seeds and their oils are typically legal
Cannabis pollination causes a plant’s flowers — its buds — to set seed and stop making cannabinoids. Hemp seeds and their oils have essentially zero cannabinoids and are only considered illegal if THC residue lands on them.
Cannabis pollination can also stunt the growth of female plants, which is problematic if you’re cultivating the plant for fibers. George Washington made the mistake of allowing his hemp crop to undergo pollination, and it ruined his harvest.
Our nerves receive those chemical messages through neurotransmitter receptors — think of them like radio antennas. Cannabinoids have two known receptors called CB1 and CB2.
This is where the mental effects of THC and CBD differ. THC makes us high because it has a strong affinity for the CB1 receptor, but CBD is the opposite. CBD does not typically interact with the CB1 receptor…at least not directly. Research shows CBD can elevate the body’s self-made endocannabinoids, and scientists are also hunting for a “hidden” brain receptor for the cannabis extract.
The other evidence that CBD is psychoactive? It can battle seizures.
The FDA has only approved one drug made from CBD: an epilepsy medication named Epidiolex. No one knows for sure how it works, but Cheer and other researchers suspect that Epidiolex tweaks how much calcium can get inside of our nerves.
Without going too far into the particulars, our nerve cells use calcium to carry those electrical pulses throughout the body. If a nerve cell has too much calcium, it will fire electric pulses at too fast a rate, which can cause a state of distress called excitotoxicity.
CBD appears to maintain a healthy balance of calcium in nerve cells, which wards off the electrical overloads and damage that happen during seizures.
Cheer said there is also strong support that CBD reduces anxiety and stymies addiction to opioids and marijuana. It may also offer sleep benefits to patients with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
But FDA approval for these treatments, other medicines like lotions and foods may take years, and “the pace of discovery has already been significantly hindered by the scheduling of the plant,” Cheer said.
Most CBD products are illegal — but only if someone is checking
So if you buy CBD…and it came from a hemp plant…and it’s pure…then you’re in the clear…right? Not quite.
Yes, purchasing CBD is federally legal as long as it doesn’t contain more than 0.3 percent THC, but some state laws have put restrictions on buyers. For example, Virginians can only buy and possess CBD if they have a prescription.
It gets more complicated for sellers.
The FDA has prohibited the sale of CBD in any unapproved health products, dietary supplements or food — which literally means everything except for the drug Epidiolex.
The FDA can officially go after any companies selling or marketing items that make health claims about CBD, especially if those products involve interstate trade of the cannabis extract.
But the agency has limited staff for enforcement. As of this writing, the FDA has only issued warning letters to violators, though it has hinted at pursuing broader enforcement with federal and state partners if the CBD craze continues. Local law enforcement in states like Iowa, Ohio and Texas have also raided hemp and CBD stores this year.
These federal provisions, as written, also have a blindspot whereby a store can sell as much CBD as it wants, as long it doesn’t make any health claims about its products, put it in food nor add it to dietary supplements.
Connecticut’s road to a hemp industry
As PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien has detailed in past reports, marijuana research has been stymied by the plant’s designation as a federally illegal drug. And until recently, the same restrictions have applied to hemp and CBD.
The 2014 Farm Bill was the first piece of national legislation to permit hemp research, both for health and agriculture pilot programs. Last year’s updated law further loosened restrictions and expanded the grants available for such studies.
Connecticut is looking to capitalize. Legislation to start the state’s industrial hemp program was passed rapidly by state officials this spring.
“It solves a lot of issues for us in the state of Connecticut by creating an industry that can be quite lucrative,” said state senator Christine Cohen, who chairs the environmental committee that reviewed the bills. “The Connecticut Farm Bureau has been predicting $37,000 to $150,000 per acre and in gross value.”
Cohen said this green rush could help dairy farmers in Connecticut and across the nation. Nearly 3,000 U.S. dairy farms folded in 2018 alone.
A spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Administration told the PBS NewsHour that their agency would have a limited role with these infractions. Since the Farm Bill said CBD with less than 0.3 percent THC was no longer a banned substance, it’s no longer under DEA’s purview, a spokesperson said in an email.
“It is now regulated by the FDA, so we refer you to them for this request,” the DEA spokesperson wrote. Another factor: “DEA does not pursue individual users – we focus on larger-scale operations and drug trafficking organizations,” the spokesperson added.
All of this is important for CBD sellers and consumers because the FDA has a mandate to verify the safest dosage for the chemicals that we consume or apply to our bodies — whether they be applied to drugs, food and dietary supplements — under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The rapid legalization of hemp and CBD has put the FDA in a tough position. Under its mandate, the agency must validate the safety of foods, drugs and dietary supplements. But CBD products are already flooding American stores.
Cheer and the FDA caution “against all of the off-the-shelf CBD products” because the cannabis extract — like any compound you put in your body — can come with adverse side effects.
Human studies have shown that taking CBD can cause liver problems, diarrhea, vomiting and fatigue. Rodent research also suggests CBD can cause harm to male and female reproductive organs.
When it comes to CBD in the U.S., “whatever I tell you today may change significantly a week from today,” Cheer said.
Left: Even if your CBD is pure, some federal agencies and state laws still forbid it — even in places where medical or recreational cannabis is legal. The PBS NewsHour visited the nation’s only college course for growing weed — at the University of Connecticut — to explore the science and legality behind growing hemp to make CBD. Video by Nsikan Akpan and Jamie Leventhal. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty Images)
Hemp is ‘the next big thing’ in pain management as growth and research expand in Kentucky
To some it seems taboo. But a nationally renowned pain doctor says a four-letter word can ease aches and anxiety without the risk of addiction: H-E-M-P.
“It’s gonna be the next big thing,” said Dr. James Patrick Murphy, a former president of the Greater Louisville Medical Society who treats patients in Kentucky and Indiana.
Hemp won’t alleviate acute pain, Murphy said, but it can lessen more moderate pain — allowing some patients to reduce or stop taking addictive pain pills that fuel the heroin and opioid epidemic.
With Louisville losing an average of one person a day to drug overdoses, doctors and patients are scrambling to find safer ways to treat pain.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved hemp products for use as medicine, and clinical trials on cannabinoids or CBD oil — extracted from the hemp flower — are pending. But Murphy and other doctors see the oil as a promising option, and many people who are trying it for themselves say it works.
“People are coming in using this stuff,” Murphy said. “We have to learn about it.”
CBD oil has been credited with significantly reducing the severity of violent and potentially deadly epileptic seizures — especially in children. And hemp seeds are considered a “superfood,” rich in omegas and protein.
Yet the hemp plant is often confused and dismissed as a forbidden relative of marijuana.
“Cheers” actor Woody Harrelson grabbed national attention in June 1996 by planting four hemp seeds in Eastern Kentucky on a Lee County farm. His arrest was a stunt to highlight the difference between pot and hemp.
Both are the same plant species, Cannabis sativa. And they have the same pointy leafs and pungent scent. But hemp has a breadth of uses and a negligible amount of the mind-altering ingredient THC.
“Cars can run on hemp oil,” the actor wrote in a letter published in Courier Journal after his arrest. “Environmentally friendly detergents, plastics, paints, varnishes, cosmetics and textiles are already being made from it” in Europe.
Still, U.S. lawmakers would take nearly two decades longer to embrace it.
A federal law many dub the “2014 Farm Bill” cleared a path for its comeback.
Brian Furnish, an eighth-generation tobacco farmer, was among the first in decades to legally plant hemp seeds in Kentucky soil. He grows and promotes hemp as an executive with Ananda Hemp, one of the commonwealth’s largest growers.
Furnish is not only a grower, he’s a consumer. He says a few drops of CBD oil ease his neck and back pain due to old football injuries and heavy lifting of feed sacks and other strenuous chores.
Now, he doesn’t work the farm without it.
‘I feel great’
Murphy is among the doctors who first learned about the potential benefits of hemp from their patients.
Curious, he did some research, reading about CBD oil and even testing it on himself for four days. Although he didn’t need it for pain, he verified it didn’t give him a buzz or any negative side effects.
He decided to recommend it to 200 patients.
About 90 percent of the 175 who tried CBD oil spray or pills reported benefits, such as fewer migraines and tension headaches and more tolerable leg and back pain and arthritis, he said. Others had more restful sleep and less anxiety.
But it’s not for everyone.
Murphy doesn’t recommend it to patients who are taking blood thinners or who have heart conditions.
And a small number of his patients opted to stop taking hemp after becoming dizzy. Others didn’t notice any relief from migraines or enough relief from severe pain.
Those who opted not to try hemp included an elderly patient whose husband wouldn’t let her try anything related to marijuana.
Dr. Bruce Nicholson, a Pennsylvania pain expert, also recommends hemp to many of his patients.
Dozens have reduced or stopped taking opioids, he said. Patients reported less trembling from neuropathy and relief from achy muscles. The doctor personally uses hemp several times a week, rubbing a cream on his achy joints.
“In the medical profession, we knew nothing about it,” said Nicholson, who began reading up on it about three years ago.
Nicholson estimates that as many as 80 percent of his patients suffering from chronic pain also face anxiety or depression. He said hemp can help that too.
“Now I recommend it every day to my patients,” he said.
Lisa Whitaker, 50, one of Murphy’s patients on disability for migraines and herniated discs, said CBD oil didn’t ease her severe headaches but did help her back pain.
It took four to six weeks before she noticed significant relief.
“This has been a lifesaver,” Whitaker said.
Southern Indiana resident Valerie Reed, 36, said she began a daily regimen of the oil about a year ago after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She didn’t want to take the narcotic her doctor prescribed because of a host of potentially “scary” side effects.
Within months, she said: “The tremors, shaking, that’s gone.”
Severe headaches on her right side also eased and she could bear hip pain from walking.
Reed said she told her neurologist and her general practitioner she was using the hemp product daily. “Both were OK with it.”
“As long as I take it, I feel great,” she said.
Riley Cote, a Canadian native known as a bruiser on the ice during his tenure with the National Hockey League, said hemp eases his arthritis and inflammation and helps him relax and fall into a deeper sleep. He has become a hemp activist, starting the Hemp Heals Foundation and encouraging former Philadelphia Flyer teammates and other athletes to use the oil instead of opioids, sleeping pills and muscle relaxers.
Cote came to Kentucky recently to tour Ananda Hemp’s farm in Harrison County, northeast of Lexington. The company imported hemp seeds from Australia and has expanded its crops to cover 500 acres in Kentucky with plans to keep growing.
“It’s just gonna get bigger and better,” the retired hockey star said of the hemp industry. “We’ve barely scratched the surface.”
Where’s the proof?
It’s easy to find someone who claims using hemp oil with CBD helped them feel better or sleep better.
But doctors, scientists and others — including the FDA — are eager for clinical proof.
Some promising research came out in May.
An article published in the May 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, reported the results of an extensive clinical trial led by Dr. Orrin Devinsky and colleagues. It found that CBD hemp oil lessened the frequency of violent and dangerous seizures in children and young adults with Dravet syndrome, a complex childhood epilepsy disorder with a high rate of death.
Barry Lambert, an investor in Ananda Hemp’s parent company, Ecofibre, who grew up on a dairy farm in the Australia Bush, wrote a testimonial on how CBD oil saved his granddaughter’s life from debilitating seizures that “tore away at her brain and body every 15 seconds.”
Research on other potential health benefits is underway across the nation.
Kentucky is leading the way with 17 studies at seven universities: the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky, Sullivan University, Western Kentucky, Murray State, Morehead and Kentucky State, said Brent Burchett, head of the state Department of Agriculture’s division of value-added plant production.
University of Louisville’s research includes evaluating hemp as a fuel source.
The University of Kentucky is examining the best growing conditions of hemp and plans to study the oil in mice for two years. If they find negative side effects, it could lead the FDA to pull projects from shelves, said Joe Chappell, a professor of drug design and discovery.
If they don’t find problems, he said it could help clear the way for its mainstream use.
“There’s a lot of anecdotal information, of course. There can be some relief from pain and inflammation,” he said.
Chappell hopes to lead testing to answer these questions: “Who is it safe for? For what duration? At what doses?”
It’s too soon to know the full scope of how much money the leafy crop can bring farmers, processors and businesses — or how many ways it can benefit pain sufferers.
‘Questions and curiosity’
Consider it the new era of hemp.
Furnish describes his farming family as “very old style, conservative people” initially leery of hemp.
But after deciphering fact from fiction surrounding the controversial crop, he has taken a leadership role in the hemp movement.
“Hemp will keep another eight generations of farmers working the land,” he said.
Individual states can now pass laws allowing industrial hemp to be grown under a pilot program. The state was among the first to give the go-ahead in 2014, but farmers and processors must gain approval from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Seventy-four of the state’s 120 counties are growing and/or processing the diverse plant, according to the agriculture department’s most current figures. That includes Jefferson County, which has 10 growers or processors.
Hemp has been used in more than 25,000 products, from foods, supplements, textiles, paper to building materials, bath products and cosmetics, according to a March report by the Congressional Research Service. It’s even a fiberglass alternative for cars and planes.
Hemp sales in the United States are at nearly $600 million annually, according to the report.
“I don’t know of another crop that has that many uses — well more than corn, soy or cotton,” said Duane Sinning, manager of Colorado’s industrial hemp program.
“The interest is higher” today in growing hemp and using its products, he said. “I think it’ll continue to grow.”
Many predict the variety of hemp products and use across the state and nation will continue to increase if studies back up the many anecdotal claims of health benefits.
That could push Congress to ease or remove federal restrictions.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said he’s working with lawmakers to remove hemp from the list of controlled substances.
“We owe it to farmers to explore all aspects of industrial hemp,” he said, “just like soybeans in the 1960s when they were an experimental crop.”
Wellness experts at Rainbow Blossom Kentuckiana markets are doing their part to promote hemp products. They co-hosted “hemp week” in June, fielding questions from customers.
Summer Auerbach, the natural food stores’ second-generation owner, said “people are coming in with a lot of questions and curiosity” about hemp.
She’s a customer herself, rubbing a hemp salve on her shoulders, neck and jaw before bed. She said the CBD oil in the balm lessens tightness and aches from temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, and she awakens with fewer headaches.
“It’s exciting to see so much of the innovation of hemp in Kentucky,” she said. “We’re not even close to seeing what it can do.”