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    A few months ago, I was perusing the supplement aisle at Rainbow Blossom for an alternative remedy for cramps when a staffer asked, “Have you tried CBD oil?” She took me to a small glass case of tincture bottles, gummies, jars of jam — all containing cannabidiol, or CBD, one of at least 100 phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. The store had several brands, including some extracted from Kentucky-grown hemp. At the checkout, a freezer contained CBD push pops. CBD soft serve was available at the store’s LIFEbar cafe.

    I got a bottle of the oil and took a little every day for several weeks, noticing subtle changes in my mood — more relaxed but without an afternoon energy slump, stress kind of fading into the background. Then I started to notice how prevalent CBD has become in town. Smoke shops advertise it. Signs outside gas stations say, “We sell CBD.” Just about every natural-foods grocery keeps it in the supplement aisle. Stacey Freibert, who owns the Seeds and Greens cafe and market in New Albany, wears a “Hemp hemp hooray” T-shirt to work every day. I texted a group of friends and asked whether anyone had tried the stuff. An immediate response: “I’m obsessed.” Others followed: “My boyfriend uses it for anxiety.” “My mom takes it for hip pain.” “It’s helped my mom’s bloating and GI issues.” “My dad uses it for back pain.” One friend added that her boss, a hair salon owner, is going to start selling CBD, which can cost about $100 for a few ounces.

    CBD Hemp Oil opened in Lyndon late last year, and owner David Barhorst has a store in Florence, Kentucky, one in Sarasota, Florida, and another opening soon in Charlotte, North Carolina. I catch him on the phone while he’s in Florida for a CBD conference. (He had just picked up from the airport, of all people, my yoga instructor. I wondered: Small-town Louisville coincidence or is CBD just that darn popular?) The main CBD uses Barhorst has seen are to treat depression/anxiety, pain/inflammation, epilepsy and sleep problems. A 72-year-old customer of his claims she’s able to ride a horse for the first time in 20 years. A 46-year-old hemp farmer he knows told him, “I don’t really notice anything, but my wife says I’m a heck of a lot easier to get along with.”

    Jesse Miller, a natural-foods broker covering the Midwest, sells a line of CBD oils from the Las Vegas-based CV Sciences to places like Rainbow Blossom. He has worked in the natural-foods business since the early ’90s and has seen fads come and go. “It’s becoming the fastest-growing category our industry’s ever seen,” he says. (At the Lexington Road Rainbow Blossom, Marc Fulkerson, who has worked at the store for 19 years, says, “Eight to 10 percent of this store’s sales are in this (CBD) case.”) Miller has a whole slide show on CBD that goes back to 2,800 B.C., when Chinese medicine first recorded the use of cannabis. Cannabis sativa is the botanical term for the plant that includes hemp and marijuana. The two are like cousins, though hemp, by legal definition, contains .3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). “It’s like comparing the alcohol content in kombucha to tequila,” Miller says.

    CBD-extract producer Bluegrass Hemp Oil, in Lexington, got its start when the owner’s son started suffering seizures at age three and was later diagnosed with epilepsy. The family tried CBD after years of tests and medications with strong side effects still didn’t eradicate the seizures. The boy is now seizure-, pharmaceutical- and side-effect-free.

    Neurology researchers at U of L have been studying CBD, but much of the research into how it affects medical conditions is lacking. Evidence is mostly anecdotal. In June, the FDA approved the first CBD-based pharmaceutical, for epilepsy. The main ingredient: cannabidiol. (Costs are estimated to be somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 a month.)

    “Part of the problem is that there’s this therapeutic indication expansion — it’s good for everything,” says Myron Hardesty, an herbalist and physician assistant who since 1999 has operated Weeds of Eden on New Lagrange Road.

    The more you research CBD, the more you realize how dogmatic people in the industry are. They argue about different extraction methods, hemp oil vs. CBD oil, dosage, how to ingest it (liquid? capsule? vape pen?). And cannabis isn’t even the only CBD source. A company in Oregon sells chocolate containing CBD extracted from tree bark. Confusion also surrounds the legalities of CBD. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed people to grow and sell hemp and hemp products for the first time in 70 years, under agricultural and research pilot programs. While this became federal law, the DEA has since issued mixed messages about CBD, as hemp had been lumped in with marijuana as a narcotic. Jonathan Miller, a Lexington-based hemp attorney, says no one has been arrested for hemp possession, and if they were it would be a violation of federal law. (The first hemp law, enacted in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, required farmers to grow the crop.) Sen. Mitch McConnell has specifically included extracts in the Hemp Farm Act section of the 2018 Farm Bill, which Miller expects will pass by the end of September. “You just never know what local law enforcement will do,” Miller says. “Many people don’t know the difference between hemp and marijuana.”

    Hardesty says he’s waiting for the CBD craze to pass. “As an herbalist, I’m like, ‘I got 300 herbs, some of which are better than this one, and this one’s gonna get all the credit,’” he says. He describes himself as a “medical pragmatist.” The base of his practice is in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic plant medicines. Treat the person, not the disease, he says. As a physician assistant, he can prescribe drugs like Lexapro for depression and order lab tests and ultrasounds. He tries to see the positive in CBD, too, saying it could be “the gateway drug for perhaps introducing people to…‘Oh, my gosh, there’s all these other herbs that we could be using.’

    “The reason these herbs aren’t part of the pharmacopeia anymore isn’t because they don’t work,” he says. “It’s the fact that you can’t patent them.”

    Jeff Amrein, who operates the hemp extract company Extract Wellness here in Louisville, mentions that aspirin comes from the bark of a willow tree, penicillin from mold. “The two best medicines are hidden in nature,” he says. Hardesty doesn’t sell CBD or any form of cannabis to his patients — not yet, at least — but he’s been trying different brands himself to see what effects he notices. “I can say that CBD is going to be great for someone with social anxiety, the person that’s just so anxious and nervous all the time,” he says.

    I explain to him how, after I took CBD one day and tried to clean my house, I couldn’t reach my usual compulsive state to knock out the vacuuming and scrubbing. But sometimes that’s desirable, he says — within each patient, CBD may be better for certain instances. The whole reason I started using it was for cramps, I tell him. “Oh, I’ve got cramp bark for that,” he says.

    This originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Craze Bordering Delirium." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover photo: Pexels.com

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