Gummies, lotions and even lip balms infused with CBD have started showing up on the shelves of vape shops, specialty stores and even gas stations on the South Shore. Now, the state is trying to step in with guidelines, throwing the once-open market into flux.
On Route 139 in Hanover, a store named Boston Hempire sells bath bombs, body cream and Epsom salt. In a Quincy industrial park, Ermont, Inc. sells massage oil and Your CBD Store, a new spot on Braintree’s Washington Street offers lotions and concentrates that go under-the-tongue. Every store is different, as is their clientele, but their products have one thing in common: they contain CBD, a product that the state says they shouldn’t sell in most cases.
Confused? So is everyone else.
CBD, the common name for cannabidiol, is a chemical component derived from hemp and is one of the more than 100 compounds found in marijuana. The compound is different from tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is what produces the euphoric “high” for marijuana users. CBD, widely seen as safe, is legal in all 50 states, but recent policy guidance from Massachusetts has thrown the industry into flux and left many users, and sellers, in a state of confusion.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Over the last decade, the market for CBD has grown exponentially and is expected to become a $20 billion industry by 2024, according to Colorado-based BDS Analytics. CBD-infused products – which many claim are viable options to treat pain, symptoms of anxiety and other issues – are widely available across the state and South Shore, in boutique-like stores, medical marijuana shops and even at gas stations
The products have been on shelves in Massachusetts for months with little input from the state, but this summer the departments of the agricultural resources and public health announced that most CBD products are not approved for sale. The new guidelines encompass any food or beverage product containing CBD, as well as any CBD products that make medical or therapeutic claims.
For the thousands of users who claim the products have reduced pain or helped with anxiety since they hit the market, including former New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski, the guidelines complicate things.
“What we’re looking at now is many people who are going and purchasing CBD and being happy with the results and suddenly the state is saying that none of those are technically legal to be sold,” Jim Borghesani, a marijuana communications specialist, said.
Enforcement of the state’s new policy was delegated to select state departments, law enforcement officials and local boards of health. The boards of health appear to be doing the majority of the on-the-ground policing and are taking up the food end of the guidance, each at different paces.
But stakeholders say enforcement has been fractured and the guidance unclear, and some business owners say the information never got to them at all.
Tarek Nasra, owner of a store in Scituate that sells some CBD products, said he missed the guidance. He started selling CBD products this summer because he said they weren’t very accessible in the area, and thought they would be helpful for people to manage pain.
Nasra, said he doesn’t necessarily disagree with the state’s attempts to regulate CBD, but that it shouldn’t be banned outright. Nasra said he thinks any new laws should focus on regulating the quality of products sold and helping consumers make smart purchasing decisions.
“There are so many (CBD) companies out there, and you don’t really know where the products come from,” Nasra said. “And you don’t really know whether to trust them or not.”
CBD is extracted from hemp plants using alcohol or carbon dioxide in factories, and added to oils, mixed into creams and lotions and sold in candies and liquid drops. The compound is defined by the U.S. government as containing less than 0.3 percent THC, and is also sold in concentrated forms, such as tinctures.
An August Gallup Poll showed that about 14 percent of Americans reported using CBD products, most of whom said they use them to manage pain. The visibility of CBD has grown thanks to the prevalence of stores sell it and the backing of high-profile celebrities like Gronkowski.
In an August press conference announcing a partnership with Rhode Island and Canada based-Abacus Health Products, he said that their product, CBDMEDIC, has helped him recover after nine seasons of taking a beating in the NFL.
“I was blown away how well it worked and I immediately made CBDMedic part of my recovery,” Gronkowsi said. “Now for the first-time in over a decade I am pain free, and that is a big deal.”
Lyn Hart, the owner of the new Braintree shop Your CBD Store, said she was drawn to CBD because it helped her son with back pain and anxiety, and helped her with joint pain and migraines, without having to take a prescription drug.
“Just to be able to give somebody a healthy alternative is amazing,” Hart said. “To me it’s so rewarding to see the people that have come in and coming back and saying, ‘Oh my gosh. My life is completely changed.’ It’s just so rewarding.”
Grinspoon, the physician at Mass. General, said has suggested CBD for patients to help with pain, insomnia or anxiety, especially as an intermediate step before prescribing medical cannabis. He called the state’s guidance “boneheaded.”
“The contradictions and the irony are infinite. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “Why would they clamp down on CBD, which is so safe when cannabis, which you could argue is less safe … is legal?”
Grinspoon said CBD does have potential to be beneficial for a variety of ailments, but that there needs to be more research to backup what users are seeing anecdotally. He also echoed Nasra’s sentiment that not all CBD products are what they claim to be in the buyer-beware market
“The problem with CBD is that the enthusiasm outpaced hardcore scientific evidence,” he said. “It’s been under the prohibition of cannabis for the last 40 years, where they’ve really stymied any research into the benefits … we’re lagging behind with the scientific studies.”
Another group that has been thrown for a loop by the new guidance is hemp farmers, who worry that they will only be able to make pennies on the dollar for this year’s crop. Much of the hemp they grow was intended to make CBD, which is much more lucrative than other types of industrial hemp production.
“It’s really throwing everything into turmoil. We have farmers who are just getting into the most labor intensive part of the season with harvest and processing and testing,” Marty Dagoberto, policy director for the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, said. “They don’t know what the market is going to look like because of this policy statement. So it’s really quite inconsiderate to do it to farmers mid-season.”
Dagoberto said that the more than 100 hemp farmers in the state stand to make hundreds of dollars less per pound if they can’t sell their hemp for CBD production, which he said nets $500 to $1,100 per pound versus $17 to $50 for other uses.
The state said that the timeliness of the guidance, in part, was to bring Massachusetts in line with a U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy that says compounds used in drugs can’t be added to food. CBD is an ingredient in Epidiolex, a seizure medication, that has been approved by the federal government.
The FDA says that it is studying the general effects of CBD, including the possibility that long-term use could cause liver injury. The FDA warns that it doesn’t regulate CBD products, and that people should first consult with a doctor about any medical issues they may have.
Borghesani, who campaigned for the legalization of marijuana in 2016, said that it’s difficult to blame the state for trying to follow FDA guidelines, but that Massachusetts already flouted federal law by legalizing marijuana. He added that he thinks the federal government should have a more comprehensive approach to dealing with CBD, especially considering laws vary from state to state.
“Technically (in Massachusetts) there is no criminal statute that the police or a prosecutor could charge somebody who’s violating the CBD sales rule,” Borghesani said. “What we really need is a sort of coordinated approach at the federal level that will recognize what’s already occurring in pretty much every state, which is sales of consumable CBD products.”
State Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) is one person trying to clear up the CBD confusion in Massachusetts. In June he filed a bill that would declare CBD products “are not considered controlled substances or adulterants” and that food products containing CBD “are to be considered foods, not controlled substances or adulterated products.” His proposal would allow hemp-derived CBD products to be made and sold in Massachusetts.
Cusack did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
Material from the Associated Press and State House News Service was used in this report. Reach Joe Difazio at firstname.lastname@example.org.