October 21, 2014 – I’m going to start this post with a confession. I, like many Americans, do not know very much about cannabis. I went to college, where I had friends in fraternities, and I’ve seen more of the movie Pinneapple Express than I care to admit. But when it comes to marijuana I know very little.
So when I was sent to cover the International Cannabis Association’s new marijuana certification program and accompanying conference, I was really not sure what to expect.
There were quite a few takeaways (more stories to come) but the first thing that jumped out at me is this: a large portion of the medical research going on is focused on the cannabinoids in Marijuana. There are 80+ of these cannabinoids in the cannabis plant and researchers think many of them may help medically with different things.
Here’s the catch – and it’s an important one – these cannabinoids are totally separate from the THC that gets you high.
If you’ve seen the Sanjay Gupta documentary “Weed” on CNN then you’re probably familiar with one of these – cannabidiol, or CBD. It’s being looked into as a treatment for epilepsy and seizures. Many people believe it may also help with pain management.
Not surprisingly, lawmakers looking at medical marijuana are also looking at cannabinoids. You’ll probably hear a lot about “high CBD, low THC” strains of marijuana when talking about medical pot – people looking to maximize medical benefits while minimizing the high. “We feel in the industry that the whole plant, really a whole plant extract, is the way to go [in medical marijuana treatments] because it has all the cannabinoids in it and we don’t really understand how they all work together,” said Bob Calkin, CEO of the Cannabis Career Institute. But Calkin also runs Green Cures (GRCU) – which makes CBD-infused, THC-free, legal products. That’s the other catch. Cannabinoids are present in all forms of cannabis – including hemp, which notoriously does not get you high. While it’s mostly illegal to grow hemp in the US, it’s legal to sell products containing things like hemp oil and extracts.
That means that there are a handful of companies manufacturing products out of these cannabinoids already – marketing them in the US as food or nutritional supplements because nothing has gone through FDA-sanctioned testing and approval.
These products are often expensive – companies making tinctures, capsules or creams infused with CBD-rich hemp must import the plant from outside the U.S. It’s a process that is, not surprisingly, strictly regulated (translation: costly). But the market for these types of legal alternatives to marijuana may be growing.
HempMeds – which makes CBD infused products – says they sell about $1 million in products each month. HempMeds’ parent company, Medical Marijuana Inc. (MJNA), says that through all of its divisions, it’s sold some $60 million worth of CBD-only, THC-free products so far this year.
And that’s just one company. There are many more, including Calkin’s Green Cures.
As part of my marijuana conference inspired education, I tried some of these CBD-only products. While I’m not sure I’d shell out the very high prices for some of them, I have to say I’m more impressed than I thought. As a runner who suffers pretty bad knee pain, super concentrated CBD oil from CannaVest took the edge off and is way more convenient than an ice pack. The less concentrated versions functioned more like a really expensive Icy Hot.
I also sampled the CBD nutritional supplements from HempMeds. I first tried them as a post-Sunday-football-watching hangover cure (someone at the conference had suggested I try this) to no avail. But as far as pain, I found them to be far more effective then, say, fish oil or Glucosamine supplements.
Bottom line – projections show the marijuana industry – for both recreation and medical purposes will grow incredibly large, considering marijuana is still federally illegal. Medical Marijuana Inc., whose portfolio includes both THC-free and THC-rich medical marijuana products, projects the THC-rich marijuana industry to grow to $34 billion. They predict the market for CBD-only products, let’s call them “diet pot,” will grow to some $17 billion.