A Kinder Cure
Shining a light on hemp- and CBD-based medicine in Maine
I am literally and figuratively awash in hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products as I write this. I’ve been drinking coffee infused with CBD from the Higher Grounds coffee shop in Portland, after showering with Forever Clean CBD soap and rubbing Rooted Heart Warming Joint + Muscle Salve on my aching wrists. Last night, I fell into a deep sleep after placing several drops of Mindful Earth Full Spectrum Hemp Oil under my tongue (and dreamt of a castle engulfed by vigorous green vines, à la Sleeping Beauty). And because, dear reader, I will leave no stone unturned in my cannabis explorations on your behalf, I just enjoyed a few CBD-infused sour gummies, made by Maine’s own artisanal hemp bakery, Pot & Pan Kitchen.
Right now my body’s cannabinoid receptors are flooded like the trail around the Back Cove after a heavy rain in spring. Though you might think I’m higher than Wavy Gravy at a ‘70s Grateful Dead show, I’m just feeling a peaceful, focused vibe and—according to a growing body of provider and user information—naturally addressing any issues with anxiety, inflammation, insomnia, chronic pain, skin disorders, and mental health I might have. Despite the fact that CBD and marijuana-based products hail from the same mother plant, Cannabis sativa L., CBD-infused products are not intoxicating; they are the sober little sister to their groovier, psychoactive sibling, marijuana. And because CBD products are entirely legal for sale, they are showing up along every highway and byway in our state.
The difference between hemp and marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are broad classifications of the Cannabis genus, which has three primary varieties: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Cannabidiol—otherwise known as CBD—is derived from hemp. The word “hemp” itself is a term used to classify varieties of cannabis that contain 0.3% or less of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In contrast, marijuana contains more than 0.3% THC and is cultivated (often indoors) for its resinous flowers and buds. People will talk about the ratio of THC and CBD in a plant, but the stark legalities rely on the 0.3% benchmark. So do the effects: 0.3% or less of THC will not get you high.
Once upon a time, hemp was a staple farm crop in Maine, grown for industrial use in making textiles, paper, rope, sailcloth, building materials, food, and livestock silage. In fact, there is evidence that hemp was grown over 10,000 years ago, at the dawn of agricultural-based societies, and may be the first crop ever cultivated by humankind. It is one of the world’s strongest natural fibers (it has been heralded as being stronger than steel), grows quickly (it can be harvested within six months of planting), is compostable and sustainable (it can help restore polluted soil), and has an almost unending range of medical, packaging, construction, and household uses. Hemp just might be the miracle we need to save us from our own recklessness. And our ancestors knew it.
A brief history of hemp
CBD is extracted from the resin that “sweats” off the hemp flower of the female plant. It is, in healer circles, widely regarded as feminine-based medicine, in tune with nature and our planet, or as we like to call her, Mother Earth. And like most feminine things in a patriarchal society, the hemp plant has been put through its paces over the last century. However, there was a time when she was given proper respect. Hemp used to be such an essential part of the North American economy that in the 1700s, farmers were legally required to grow it as a staple crop. In fact, our whole system of government owes a debt to hemp: Thomas Jefferson penned a draft of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.
Two hundred years later, in 1937, hemp was outlawed as part of a sweeping narcotics bill. If hemp can’t intoxicate us, why the grief, you might ask? Well, hemp was used to create low-cost, high-quality paper, and to a guy like William Randolph Hearst, who owned timber lots and printed his papers on tree pulp, it was a threat. He used his bully pulpit to blame marijuana for the ills of society, and hemp got lumped into a secretly drafted bill that, when ratified, outlawed all cannabis products. The Du Pont family, who made the chemicals that drenched Hearst’s tree pulp, as well as Andrew Mellon, who served as treasury secretary and helped found the Gulf Oil company, weren’t too fired up about hemp’s natural chemical agents and organic fuel possibilities, either. Sustainable, biodegradable, and good for you? Corporations can’t make a profit on that!
Thus the giants of industry won the day—and later, so did the conservative politicians. 1970’s Controlled Substances Act classified cannabis as a Schedule I drug, leading to strict regulations on and punishment for the cultivation and sale of industrial hemp, as well as marijuana. This meant that even a little reefer could land you in jail—and a legion of people are still sitting in cells today due to minor infractions of the federal law, even as states like ours embrace legalization. Since 2011, largely thanks to the efforts of dedicated growers and caregivers, and led by state lawmaker and legalization pioneer Diane Russell, Maine has joined the small but growing collective of states where marijuana is legal to grow and sell for medicinal use. (Medicinal marijuana was technically legal in Maine beginning in 1999, but there were no provisions for its distribution.) Starting in 2020—possibly by this summer—it will also be available for adult recreational use and legislated, taxed, and regulated as such.
Last year, Governor Janet Mills signed a bill into law allowing the sale of hemp/CBD-infused food, food additives, and food products (including herbal salves, tinctures, and other oils). However, under this same law, sellers cannot claim that these products will diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, condition, or injury. So while I can tell you what health properties these products might have, the proof is going to be in your own pudding, much like it is with all natural supplements and herbal remedies. (It’s difficult to conduct double-blind placebo-controlled lab testing in nature.) But just because something isn’t synthesized in a lab doesn’t mean it won’t work, and as long as it isn’t adulterated or tampered with, hemp/CBD products are being used safely by an increasing number of Mainers (and their dogs) with noticeable effects.
“I had a woman come up to me a few months ago,” says Russell, who is also the editor-in-chief of a new magazine dedicated to cannabis in Maine, the Maine Cannabis Chronicle. “She thanked me for helping save her life through legalization. Two years ago she was bedridden due to chronic pain and as of a year ago started regular use of CBD remedies. They helped her pain so much that she’s out and about, walking around, today. I think there’s a lot of hype right now, and it’s easy to become dubious of all the health claims, but more people than not are telling me that CBD remedies really work for them. I think you need to pay attention to the source—you know, know your farmer and your supplier—so you get the real deal. But in Maine, we are lucky; there are many great local people growing their own hemp and extracting the oil themselves so they can maintain the purity and quality. We have great products to choose from that seem to be really helping people.”
How CBD works
CBD works on our central and peripheral nervous systems by locking into myriad cannabinoid receptors, which collectively are also known as the endocannabinoid system. Our bodies make natural cannabinoids (fat-based neurotransmitters) that regulate our biochemistry and homeostasis; these cannabinoids also have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health, cognitive function, sleep, appetite, pain sensation, mood, and inflammation.
In addition to cannabinoids, hemp contains terpenes: the natural compounds responsible for the flavors, smells, and colors found in every plant on earth. The terpenes in the cannabis plant will take on the nature of the soil in which the plant is growing, as well as that of the surrounding plants. Different terpenes have a different sensory impact on our endocannabinoid system. For instance, a hemp crop grown near a pine forest will contain pine terpenes that are elevating and clarifying (one of the reasons why forest bathing among the pines is so invigorating).
Only one plant—the cannabis plant—contains over 85 phytocannabinoids that are touted to have a significant therapeutic effect on the cannabinoid receptors. Like all herbal remedies, the questions of how much, how often, and what level of saturation produces that therapeutic effect have highly individualized answers. But aside from a few varieties of salvia plants that contain trace amounts of cannabinoids, cannabis is the only plant to contain them in such a panoply. Because of the existence of cannabinoid receptors in the human body, researchers postulate that humans and cannabis species have evolved together for millennia, changing for mutual benefit, and that our ancestors turned to cannabis for relief as a regular part of their natural pharmacy. Proponents of medicinal marijuana and regular users of CBD-infused products are adamant that cannabis use is far safer and less toxic than pharmaceutical drugs because it is natural, plant based, and relatively easy to access, like other ancient medical systems such as traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. In other words, cannabis is human-based medicine, and it can serve as a complement or alternative to Western industrialized medicine—especially for folks with chronic persistent inflammatory conditions, like pain, that don’t respond to regular treatment.
How to use CBD
So how should a curious but cautious person approach the plethora of CBD products out there right now? Claire Stretch, co-owner of All Kind, licensed hemp farmer, edible manufacturer, and human advocate, puts it this way: “When you are comparing CBD-infused products, think of the difference between eating a salad and taking a vitamin pill. The closer to the plant, the better. You want quality ingredients, sourced from reputable growers and sustained in a carrier oil that is bioavailable.”
Because cannabinoids are lipid-based (they need fat to be absorbed), the quality of oil in which the molecule is suspended matters when it comes to the absorption of CBD. Scientifically speaking, a person’s cell receptors won’t be able to receive the CBD molecule’s “message” if the carrier agent is not biologically compatible—instead, the person will just excrete the CBD. Stretch explains that “most of the bigger CBD companies will use the cheapest carrier oil, which means that you are eating or applying the molecule, but the cell never gets the message. It’s a waste of money. A couple of the best carrier oils for CBD are jojoba and MCT coconut oil for edibles. You can also use honey.” All Kind makes a delicious CBD honey, as well as a host of other yummy CBD products.
“My husband and I come from the food scene in Portland, and here we can grow, make, and sell value-added edible hemp, unlike in other states,” she continues. “I think Maine has the best hemp program in the United States because we are the only state that allows hemp farmers to produce food products, and the state goes to bat for us.” Stretch and her husband currently grow a couple acres of hemp—in addition to beehives and other food—to source for their products. “It’s pretty neat to be able to combine our hemp growing with our food knowledge and manufacture this business right here in Maine. I feel lucky to live here.”
Others agree and advise, when possible, to look for a full-spectrum product, meaning one in which the natural terpenes and cannabinoids have stayed largely intact during processing. Other tips are to use the product as directed, regularly, and for two weeks before passing judgment on its efficacy (think of CBD’s impact as a feather, not a hammer). And, as mentioned before, know the source and buy from a trusted purveyor (see sidebar). These products might be a little pricier than a grocery store’s offerings, but you get what you pay for. To read more about the benefits of hemp, and the legalization time table of other cannabis products, check out Maine Cannabis Chronicle’s website at https://mainecannabischronicle.com.
Right now, the CBD craze is trending into hysteria territory, and like anything that is overhyped (remember the goji berry?) there’s a lot of room for charlatans and chicanery. You can’t throw a stone in Maine without hitting a gas station or pet store hawking the CBD miracle. But not all CBD products are the same, and dilution and adulteration are becoming big concerns for responsible purveyors. Luckily, our state has several standout companies that make a spectrum of responsibly grown, sourced, and extracted CBD-infused products and edibles. Here are a few I recommend:
Rooted Heart Remedies
Pot & Pan Kitchen
Genevieve Morgan is a Maine-based writer and editor and host of the Spectrum Cable TV show, “The Writer’s Zone." She is also an author, most recently of The Kinfolk (Islandport Press/2016), book three of The Five Stones Trilogy.