Arkansas voters will decide to legalize medical marijuana November 8th. But medicinal hemp is already available for purchase over-the-counter.
Hemp, like marijuana, contains non-psychoactive cannabidiol, an ingredient in supplements and creams boasting this active ingredient are best sellers at Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville, says wellness manager, Carrie Hilderbrandt.
“We carry a wide variety of soft gels, liquids, oral applicators, lozenges and topical balms.”
This member-owned cooperative, the only store like it in Arkansas, sells two brands of hemp-based cannabidiol products, one organic and the other conventionally grown, ranging in price from $20 to $70.
“The sticker price is high,” she says, “because we have to import it.”
That’s because hemp, a variety of cannabis sativa, historically grown in America for rope and cloth, was outlawed in the 1930s by the federal government, along with another cannabis, marijuana.
While it’s against the law for store clerks to recommend or cite health effects of dietary supplements, Hilderbrandt says her customers claim hemp nutraceuticals quell various complaints.
“Inflammation, anxiety, PTSD, just general pain,” she says. “They do get relief from the products, which we offer in different milligrams, but I cannot talk about dosing.”
The The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration continues to classify hemp seed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — the same category that contains heroin, psilocybin and mescaline.
Consumers won’t find cannabidiol hemp products at the national chain, Whole Foods, in Arkansas, or the local Walgreens.
But two years ago, experimental cultivation of hemp was permitted under the U.S. Farm Bill. Today, fourteen states are growing test plots.
But until industrial hemp is legalized, manufacturers must import it to fulfill consumer demand for hemp-based protein powders, soaps, clothing and industrial lubricants, valued last year at $570 million dollars.
Hemp Industries Association Executive Director, Eric Steenstra says interest in cannabidiol dietary supplements is also cultivating interest.
“There’s an incredible amount of research,” he says, “over 300 studies on cannabidiol and other cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp. Even the federal government has a patent on CBD [cannabidiol], as a neuroprotectant.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two marijuana-derived cannabidiol oral medications. The administration, however, has yet to conduct large clinical trials due to the federal status of cannabis, and the federal National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says cannabis has not been deemed safe or effective.
In 2014, the administration did issue warnings to sellers of hemp cannabidiol to stop making medical claims. Cannabidiol is an “unapproved new drug.”
The chief difference between hemp and marijuana, at least in terms of human cultivation and consumption, is the latter contains more than 100 cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a psychoactive drug. Medical marijuana has been approved for legal cultivation and sale, so far, in 25 states. A half dozen more states, including Arkansas, vote on the matter this election cycle.
Pioneering research scientist, Ethan Russo, M.D., says cannabidiol helps to regulate a variety of disease states, acting as a buffer. Russo is medical director of Phytecs, a biotechnology firm researching compounds that interact with the human endocannabinoid system.
“If we isolated the cannabidiol from either [hemp or marijuana],” Russo says, “it’s going to be identical, and the reaction in the body is going to be the same. However, we can’t ignore the factor of quality.”
Russo is referring to the hazards associated with international hemp commerce. Cheap cannabidiol can be sourced from industrial slash or hemp fiber debris — which, unless organically grown, can be contaminated with pesticides.
“Producing high quality extracts from both hemp and marijuana flowering tops is best,” he says, “with an appropriate source that is genetically endowed to produce a lot of cannabidiol.”
But even sourcing clean, U.S.-grown medical marijuana remains a challenge says Ethan Russo.
“There is no legal method for certifying organic culture for cannabis by the USDA at this time,” he says. “I would advise caveat emptor, given there is a lot of misrepresentation in cannabidiol commerce.”
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