Everything Coloradans Never Knew They Needed To Understand About Hemp

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Hempology

Ask the guy sitting next to you at the bar if he prefers the high he gets from Northern Lights or Sour Diesel, and he’ll likely answer you as easily as if you’d asked whether he likes IPAs or Pilsners better.

That’s how it is here in the promised land of weed. We know our cannabis—or, at least, we know (and love) the dreamy euphoria that comes from our friend marijuana, a version of cannabis replete with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Perhaps not surprisingly, we’ve been much less chummy with marijuana’s straitlaced cousin, industrial hemp.

Photo by Jimena Peck

That relationship is changing, though, because when Amendment 64 passed in 2012, some Coloradans saw an opportunity to revive a crop the U.S. government had essentially declared illegal more than seven decades earlier. Hemp, after all, is a wildly versatile plant, and the low-THC, protein-rich, fibrous, carbon-eating annual can be an attractive and sometimes lucrative raw material for making everything from culinary oils to bioplastics. Indeed, in other countries, hemp has long been raised as an agricultural commodity, not unlike corn.

In the States, hemp has only recently regained popularity (especially after federal legislation allowed for widespread legal cultivation in 2018), primarily for its roster of cannabinoids, active compounds with potential health benefits. The most celebrated of hemp’s chemicals is cannabidiol—a compound purported to cure nearly anything that ails you—which you’ve almost certainly come to know as CBD.

kan • uh • bid • aye • all — The correct pronunciation of cannabidiol, often referred to as CBD

Coloradans have been at the forefront of the hemp-derived CBD craze because proponents rightly believed Amendment 64 would pave a path to legal cultivation. As such, for roughly five years now, local farmers have been planting hemp, prompting an entire sector to sprout in support of what experts say could be a $2.6 billion industry in this country by 2022. There are at least three asterisks* attached to that economic forecast, though. With federal and state laws regarding hemp and its derivatives still in flux and a dearth of regulatory policies from safety agencies, our unlikely but budding devotion to the teetotaling version of the plant could still encounter some rough patches.

Photo by Jimena Peck
  • The 2018 federal farm bill legalized the regulated production of hemp and removed hemp and hemp-derived products from Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act. But according to a rule issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration two years earlier, cannabidiol is a federally illegal Schedule I substance. At the center of the conflict is this: Hemp extracts that deliver nonintoxicating CBD to the consumer often contain small amounts of THC, which has long offended the feds’ delicate sensibilities.
  • According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), hemp-derived CBD may not be used as a dietary supplement or in food because CBD has already been approved by the agency as a drug. (Epidiolex, a medication for seizure disorders, uses purified CBD and was approved in 2018.) At the center of the conflict is this: U.S. companies have been putting CBD into everything from coffee to “relaxation” gummies since well before the FDA categorized it as a pharmaceutical. That leaves CBD purveyors wondering when the feds may initiate enforcement, potentially disrupting the industry. The FDA has said it is “currently evaluating the regulatory frameworks that apply to certain cannabis-derived products that are intended for non-drug uses.”
  • Because CBD and THC are federally illegal (above the 0.3 percent threshold for THC), medical research into the possible benefits of cannabis’ components is sorely lacking. At the center of the conflict is this: CBD proponents say the chemical has medicinal upsides, but there is little scientific evidence to back such claims. Meanwhile, the FDA has been sending strongly worded cease-and-desist letters to hemp extract companies that make unsubstantiated health assertions about CBD.

Editor’s Note: After the completion of this story, the DEA issued an announcement saying that hemp—including hemp plants and cannabidiol preparations—at or below the 0.3 percent THC threshold is not a controlled substance. A follow-up call to the DEA confirmed that cannabidiol combined with more than 0.3 percent THC is still considered a controlled substance.


Piloting Progress

Colorado ushers in the country’s next era of hemp.

If you haven’t noticed, Coloradans don’t much care what the folks in Washington, D.C., have to say about…well…most things. So, much as it did with marijuana, the Centennial State has been making its own rules when it comes to hemp, which has positioned our rectangular plot of fertile ground at the vanguard of the trend.

Five years ago, no one in Colorado was (legally) sowing hemp seeds. But during the 2019 growing season, roughly 2,600 farmers registered more than 80,000 acres and 12 million square feet of greenhouse space with the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) to propagate hemp. Those numbers make Colorado one of the nation’s leading producers of low-THC cannabis, the majority of which is raised for CBD. Our lead over the CBD-producing competition—aka, other U.S. states—is no accident. The CDA has been focused on propping up the local hemp sector from one end of the supply chain to the other since it implemented one of the country’s first hemp pilot programs in 2014. Today, the CDA continues that support in a variety of ways. But the ag folks aren’t the only state officials who have hemp’s back. After all, if you’re gonna flout federal rules (or try to guide the feds toward better ones), it seems only prudent to get everyone involved.

0.3% — The maximum percentage of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, on a dry weight basis, that a cannabis plant can have and still be considered hemp.

Food Fight

In 2017, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued its Industrial Hemp Policy, declaring that all parts of the industrial hemp plant (CBD in particular) are allowed as food ingredients in the Centennial State and essentially thumbing its nose at FDA policies stating otherwise. “We decided to lead the nation in taking a stance,” says Jeff Lawrence, director of the CDPHE’s Environmental Health & Sustainability division. “People were already putting it in food. The cow was out of the barn. We needed to regulate it.”

Action Plan

Spearheaded by the CDA—but supported by the CDPHE, the Department of Revenue, the Department of Regulatory Agencies, the Department of Public Safety, and many other organizations and industry gurus—the Colorado Hemp Advancement & Management Plan (CHAMP) aims to serve two purposes. The first is to meet requirements set out in the 2018 farm bill—including defining the state’s processes for licensing, testing, and background checks—and to deliver the information to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That should be complete this fall. The plan’s second intention is to nourish the entire hemp industry ecosystem—from researching seed genetics to helping retailers with banking and insurance—in Colorado.  “We need to examine the supply chain and build the industry holistically,” says Hollis Glenn, division director for the CDA, adding that CHAMP’s second phase will likely be complete come spring 2020. “We want other states and the federal government to look to us as the model.”

Hempster In Chief

Governor Jared Polis has been an ardent supporter, even flying the hemp flag—literally—when he was a congressman. “I requested that an American flag made in Colorado from hemp fly over the U.S. Capitol on July 4, 2013,” Polis says. “Today, I print my business cards on hemp paper.” Those efforts may seem like gimmicks, but the governor is also giving his imprimatur to the CHAMP initiative to ensure the state capitalizes on the economic opportunity. “Look, whatever happens federally, Colorado is supporting hemp,” he says. “Industrial hemp is here to stay.”

Growing Strong

Illustration by Sean Parsons

Between 2017 and 2018, the U.S. hemp crop exploded, increasing from 25,713 acres to 78,176 acres (including indoor cultivation). The top three states for production by acreage in 2018: Montana, Colorado, and Oregon.


Beneficial Traits

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In the same way farmers breed corn to be sweeter, plant breeders can coax the cannabis plant away from THC-laden marijuana into low-THC hemp. But it’s as much an art as it is a science, especially because research into hemp genetics stalled when the plant was basically banned in the 1930s. “It’s not like you can walk into True Value and buy CBD hemp seeds,” says Margaret MacKenzie of Collbran’s Salt Creek Hemp. That means farmers are on their own when it comes to learning how to select for traits that will deliver the desired end product, which, in Colorado, is fiber and grain about 30 percent of the time and CBD approximately 70 percent of the time.

Hemp For Fiber & Grain

Illustration by Marta Zafra

For Americans who’ve grown up believing cotton is the fabric of our lives, pivoting to hemp might elicit some not unreasonable head-scratching. But there are definitely upsides—and, of course, several downsides—to bringing hemp back into vogue in the United States.

First, the pros: Hemp grows, well, like a weed, which is to say relatively easily. Compared to cotton, it takes up less land and yields more fiber, requires less water, and is a known “bioaccumulator,” meaning it absorbs toxic nastiness like heavy metals from the soil and leaves it healthier. Further, hemp is a carbon dioxide consumer, making it an attractive weapon in the fight against global warming. As a fabric, it’s highly durable and anti-microbial. Hemp isn’t just fashionable, though; it’s also edible. As a food source (see: shelled hemp seeds for snacking, hempseed oil for salad dressing), it’s nutritious and tastes a bit like sunflower seeds.

But when the U.S. government declared cannabis flora non grata, the infrastructure supporting a crop that had been cultivated for more than a century in this country rusted away. More than eight decades later, re-pioneering a hemp industry makes for a catchy sound bite, but there are significant hurdles to leap over—particularly for fiber—before hemp T-shirts with Made In The USA labels become de rigueur. In what is a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, farmers need to begin raising hemp for fiber, but they won’t if there’s no one to buy it. And no one is going to buy it until there are facilities to process it. But few folks are going to invest in building multimillion-dollar processing facilities if there’s not enough hemp being cultivated to support them.

  1. The cannabis plant’s seeds contain no cannabinoids but are rich in protein and fatty acids.
  2. In fields of hemp grown for fiber and grain, seeds are sown very close together—roughly 80 to 150 plants per square meter—which results in a tall, bamboolike crop.
  3. Growing from a seed—rather than a clone, or plant clipping—produces heartier plants, and because other countries have been cultivating hemp for fiber and grain for decades (or centuries), there are reliable seeds for purchase if you want to grow hemp for those purposes. The CDA has certified several varieties of hemp seed for fiber and/or grain—many from foreign countries—including product from Fort Collins–based New West Genetics.
  4. When farmers grow hemp for fiber and grain, male and female plants are grown together because having a high yield of female flowers—where cannabinoids flourish—is unnecessary.
  5. Approximately 15 percent of the hemp plant is made up of long fibers, which come from the outer part of the stalk and are used for textiles.
  6. The “hurd,” which comes from the woody inner part of the stalk, can be used to make bioplastics, “hempcrete” (a building material), and composites that can be used in a variety of industries.

30% — The approximate failure rate of hemp samples sent to the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) lab for THC testing. Any concentration higher than 0.3 percent constitutes “hot hemp,” or marijuana, and must be destroyed.

Hemp For CBD

You’ll find it in coffee and chocolate and beer. It’s in lotion and salves and bath bombs. You can chew it in a gummy or smoke it. Yes, CBD is everywhere these days…but where in the hell did it come from, and why is it suddenly available at random places like DSW?

In the early 1940s, an American chemist isolated cannabidiol, but research into its medicinal properties has been inconsistent due to federal drug laws. Then three things happened: First, states began legalizing medical marijuana in the late 1990s, a move that allowed patients to experiment with cannabis with different ratios of THC to CBD. Second, a group of parents with children suffering from debilitating forms of epilepsy found varying levels of relief for their kids using high-CBD, low-THC medical marijuana—and got CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta to tell the whole world about it in mid-2013. Finally, several laws—Amendment 64 in Colorado and the 2014 and 2018 federal farm bills—gave farmers the green light to plant hemp, a less legally fraught way to deliver CBD to the masses.

Still, there are myriad issues. Not only are plant genetics a problem for farmers, but the industry is also full of pretenders, so it’s difficult for consumers to know what they’re getting. “There are so many CBD products, but 80 out of 100 don’t have the said amounts of CBD in them,” says Dani Fontaine Billings, co-founder of Colorado Hemp Project, a hemp farm and consulting agency, and co-owner of Longmont’s Nature’s Root, a line of hemp and CBD body products. “It will get better with government regulation,” which she says should stabilize an industry suffering from a sort of Wild West syndrome.

Illustration by Marta Zafra
  1. Hemp grown for CBD looks exactly like marijuana grown for THC. The plants are typically shorter and bushier than those cultivated for fiber and grain.
  2. Female plants are coveted for CBD because their flowers produce higher quantities of cannabinoids. As plants reach sexual maturity, cultivators must rid their fields of rogue males, which can pollinate the females, triggering seed production and a reduction in cannabinoid concentration. As such, researchers have been pursuing better and better ways to “feminize” seed so that a farmer can be sure to only sow female plants.
  3. The CDA has not certified seed for low-THC, high-CBD plants. Because reliable seed for CBD is difficult to find, a lot of hemp for CBD is grown using clones—plants grown from clippings that create genetically identical plants—known to deliver satisfactory concentrations of cannabidiol.
  4. Hemp for CBD is often hand-planted and hand-harvested—especially on small family farms—making it a very labor-intensive crop.
  5. As the plant matures, the level of CBD increases—but so does the concentration of THC. Hitting the sweet spot of high CBD and a THC content below 0.3 percent is something of a guessing game that gets easier only with experience and quality testing.

Where It All Begins

Colorado farmers are driving the new hemp economy—but it’s still a risky business.

Laden with rocks and claylike in its consistency, the soil on this two-acre plot of land near Fort Collins doesn’t look particularly fertile to the untrained eye. Zane Kunau knows its richness, though. For the past several years, 35-year-old Zane and his wife, 37-year-old Kristen, have been digging in this dirt. Today, a Saturday in mid-June, they’re at it again, planting their fifth crop of hemp. As Kristen liberates another 12-inch-tall clone from its temporary plastic pot and plops it into a pre-dug hole in the ground, she smiles and then coos at the tiny sproutling. “Grow strong, little plant,” she says. “Thrive.”

Zia, Zane, Kristen, and
Winter Kunau, photographed in their CBD hemp field near Fort Collins. Photo by Jimena Peck.

The charming incantation has been working well for the Kunaus. Freida Farms, the name of their company, has so far succeeded in what might be generously called the unpredictable business of industrial hemp. Kristen says they owe their relative prosperity growing hemp for CBD to Zane’s self-taught “mad scientist” skills with the plants and suffering through the early years. “The state hands you your registration to grow,” she says, “and kinda just says, ‘Good luck!’ Farmers are essentially on their own.”

Raising crops is a precarious endeavor no matter the chosen commodity; however, favorable outcomes become exponentially more uncertain when there’s no sage advice to follow. Brent Young is a regional extension specialist in agriculture and business management with Colorado State University, and it’s his job to help farmers and ranchers manage risk. “We don’t know a lot about how to produce hemp, especially for CBD,” Young says, explaining CSU has had to be mindful of federal policies on the legality of CBD because it receives federal grants. “Because of that, there’s not yet a lot of research at the university level, and anyone in the private sector who has been successful—maybe through trial and error—doesn’t want to share their knowledge. They want the competitive edge.”

It’s hard to blame them. These are the gold rush days of cannabidiol. Ballpark estimates from the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) suggest some hemp farmers are raking in $20,000 to $80,000 in gross revenue for one acre of CBD-rich biomass. Compare that to $571 in gross revenue for one acre of corn, and it’s easy to see why growers see hemp as a miracle crop. Because so-called price discovery—or the act of determining the proper price of a commodity based on supply and demand in a marketplace—has yet to happen for hemp grown for CBD, there is no way to know what a pound of product should garner. “It’s just so new,” Young says. “There is a business advantage in ignorance.”

Photo by Jimena Peck

That almost certainly will slip away as the hemp industry matures. But it’s a dilemma people like the Kunaus will worry about another day. Now, there are more pressing problems, like the fact that banks won’t work with them because CBD is still a Schedule I substance.

The Kunaus, though, are ahead of many wannabe hempsters, who have only decided to play Old MacDonald since the 2018 farm bill passed. Between 2018 and 2019, hemp growers registered with the CDA increased from 835 to more than 2,600, which means there were a lot of hemp rookies tending farmland this past growing season. “There’s going to be a massive amount of loss reported this year,” Salt Creek Hemp’s Margaret MacKenzie says. “A lot of people buying $9 seeds that have no paperwork from some untrustworthy guy from Boulder. A lot of people planting 20 acres when they should’ve started with one. A lot of hot hemp. A lot of male plants spreading pollen everywhere.”

One other thing the Kunaus have learned through experience is to have a contract with a buyer—preferably a licensed, bonded commodity handler—before they tuck their greenhouse-grown clones into northern Colorado soil. Recently, their harvests have been going to companies that use Freida Farms’ hemp in CBD cigarettes. It’s been going well enough that hemp farming and consulting is now Zane’s full-time gig; Kristen maintains a side hustle or two but manages to spend much of her time with the couple’s two young daughters. “We always daydreamed about having a small farm,” Kristen says. “We don’t have big ag backgrounds or big investors. We’re a family farm, and we’re just trying to be honest and authentic and deliver high-quality hemp, even when it’s not so easy to do.”

$20–$40:The approximate market price Colorado farmers are currently seeing for a pound of CBD-rich biomass.

25,000: Ways in which hemp can be used, according to advocates, who point to applications in textiles, food, beauty products, bioplastics, and construction materials, among many other things.

Trickiness Of The Trade

Three more pain points for hemp farmers, explained.

Photo by Jimena Peck

Crop Insurance: Farmers of corn or wheat can buy policies from the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation that help them recoup losses due to, say, drought. Hemp farmers can’t—yet. Although the 2018 farm bill has provisions for creating federal crop insurance for hemp, insurance is based on actuary tables, and actuary tables are based on data. Years of data. “Developing those tables for a new crop is going to take time,” CSU’s Brent Young says. “It’s going to take the USDA a minimum of four years to get those numbers.”

Testing: Although hemp farmers sometimes quibble with aspects of the CDA’s testing processes for THC, most growers just want to be compliant. Frustration with testing at private labs—which growers often pay for to determine when THC concentrations might dictate harvest time; to ensure safe quantities of heavy metals and solvents; and to have proof of CBD levels—is a different story. “Testing facilities aren’t all the same,” says Freida Farms’ Kristen Kunau, “and the results are not reliable.”

Shipping: This past January, a truckload of hemp was stopped by Idaho State Police. Although the driver provided the bill of lading, which declared 6,700 pounds of hemp, officers arrested him on marijuana trafficking charges. The incident laid bare the realities of transporting a legal plant product that’s visibly indistinct from its illegal cousin, especially when laws regarding hemp still vary from state to state. (Hemp is illegal in Idaho.) In May, the USDA issued a memo saying states cannot impede the transport of legal hemp.


Seeking Good Science

Studies into CBD haven’t kept up with sales, but Colorado researchers are trying to change that. —Joe Lindsey

It all seems a little suspicious. A white van with no rear windows pulls up outside a house; there’s a lot of coming and going; maybe there’s a hint of cannabis in the air. But this isn’t some shady drug deal. It’s science—specifically, an observational study called PRISM, started by University of Colorado Boulder clinical and cognitive psychologist Cinnamon Bidwell in August 2018. The van is a mobile research lab devised by Bidwell and her colleagues at CU’s CHANGE Lab as a clever—and compliant—workaround on federal research restrictions, which essentially rule out investigating commercially available cannabis in humans in a laboratory setting.

Colorado was the eighth state to legalize medical marijuana, in 2000, and the first to implement legal recreational cannabis, in 2014. Those moves, along with the 2014 federal farm bill that permitted pilot programs for hemp cultivation, have allowed Centennial Staters to be on the leading edge of a green rush touting not only the ability to get high legally, but also—and maybe more importantly—the potential health benefits of using non-intoxicating cannabis compounds, specifically CBD. This is where PRISM (Pain Research: Innovative Strategies with Marijuana) and Bidwell’s tricked out CannaVan come in. Although claims abound that CBD can treat everything from chronic pain to Crohn’s disease to anxiety, federal drug laws have stymied researchers’ abilities to definitively prove those assertions.

Illustration by Marta Zafra

“There’s a huge public health need for data in this space,” says Bidwell, pointing to a retail market for CBD (estimated at $367 million nationwide last year) that’s expanding far more quickly than the research needed to support or debunk the health claims manufacturers are making. Because the federal government still classifies THC and CBD as Schedule I substances (above the 0.3 percent THC threshold), to study cannabis compounds in human subjects in a lab, researchers must wade through red tape to access cannabis from the only federally approved source, the University of Mississippi. Cannabis from Ole Miss, however, contains lower concentrations of compounds like CBD than products on the consumer market. As a consequence, studies don’t reflect what people are actually using—and what the results might be.

CU’s solution: Let participants in research studies supply their own cannabis products, and then bring the lab equipment to them. For the PRISM chronic back pain study, researchers drive to participants’ homes for prearranged appointments. Subjects undergo initial blood draws in the van and answer questions about their medical conditions. Then they consume whatever cannabis product they choose—dosing themselves with CBD and/or THC (Bidwell is studying both compounds)—in their homes before returning to the van for a second round of blood draws and simple tests to monitor possible side effects. Although researchers can’t control dosage or how participants take the substances, they do track the brands of the products, the listed cannabinoids and their concentrations, and, in the case of CBD, whether it’s derived from marijuana or hemp. Bidwell’s team not only gets qualitative survey data from participants, but it also measures cannabinoid levels in the subjects’ bloodstreams, which lets her control her data to account for variations in concentration as well as the type of compound and delivery method. “We’re the only people who have found a way to assess these high-potency forms [of cannabis products],” Bidwell says.

The PRISM study is ongoing; so far, Bidwell’s team has worked with roughly 85 participants and hopes to include 290 total by the time the study closes in 2022. Bidwell’s aim, of course, isn’t just to glean evidence about cannabis’ effect on chronic pain. She’s also seeking information about what types of compounds, and in what doses, might work best and if there are side effects. Although there are limitations to her research, she’s optimistic it will provide insight and potentially buttress reports like a 2017 National Academy of Sciences study that found evidence cannabinoids are effective for chronic pain. She’s adamant that no matter what her work reveals, more study is required. But until researchers can work on legal market products, she says, CannaVan or no CannaVan, getting answers will be next to impossible. 

CU Boulder isn’t the only Colorado institution studying CBD. Colorado State University’s vet school is looking into CBD’s effect on seizures in dogs. Preliminary results showed a lower frequency of seizures in 89 percent of subjects. Children’s Hospital Colorado and CU Denver are researching the effect of cannabinoids on children suffering from symptoms
related to brain tumors.

If you’re interested in participating in any of Bidwell’s studies, visit colorado.edu/center/cuchange to take the eligibility survey or call 303-492-0288 to learn more.


CBD Basics

Never tried hemp-derived cannabidiol before? No sweat. Here’s your primer.

Lesson 1: There are several ways to administer CBD.

Swallowed: Whether it’s a tincture, an edible, a capsule, an oil (sometimes used in food), or a powder (for smoothies!), swallowing your CBD is the slowest method of absorption because it must pass through your digestive tract before hitting your bloodstream. However, swallowed doses of CBD also typically last the longest.

Sublingual/Buccal: Oils and tinctures can also be taken by keeping them in your mouth—either under your tongue or against your cheek—for a minute or two, allowing some of the cannabidiol to absorb through tissue membranes directly into the bloodstream.

Inhaled: By using a vape pen or by smoking CBD cigarettes, you inhale the cannabinoid directly into your lungs; from there, it moves quickly into the bloodstream. This is the fastest delivery mechanism, but the effectiveness is short-lived.

Topical: Creams, lotions, salves—you name it—all deliver CBD to target areas, like muscles, inflammatory cells, and pain receptors. Topical CBD doesn’t typically enter your bloodstream unless a penetrating agent is added.

Lesson 2: There are various extraction methods that deliver different forms of CBD.

Photo courtesy of rgbstudio/Alamy Stock Photo

Full Spectrum: Using a solvent-based extraction method, extractors pull the full array of cannabinoids—including CBD and THC—“terpenes” (aromatic oils), and other plant components from the hemp flower into an extract, often called crude oil. Users may benefit from the so-called “entourage effect”: Research has shown that CBD may be more effective when combined with the full spectrum of cannabis’ compounds.

Broad Spectrum Distillate: Extractors further refine the crude oil, targeting THC for removal. While they can limit THC in the end product, trace amounts of that compound as well as others will remain. Distillate is, however, a very pure form of cannabidiol.

Isolate: The purest form of CBD; all remaining compounds are removed from the distillate, yielding a single-compound powder.

Lesson 3:There’s not a lot of helpful medical research when it comes to several aspects of CBD use.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Dosages: There is no agreed-upon dose for CBD. Finding the right dose is based on what a person is taking it for, how much a person weighs, and how an individual’s metabolism might function. Fortunately, a huge upside to CBD is its safety; there have been no reports of lethal overdose, and unpleasant side effects (see below) and major complications are very rare. That said: Follow the instructions on a product’s packaging and then feel free to adjust as needed.

Indications: There is evidence—some backed by research, some anecdotal—that CBD may have a therapeutic benefit for pain, epilepsy, anxiety disorders, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, insomnia, nausea, Huntington’s disease, bipolar mania, and a slew of other conditions. There is only one FDA-approved drug that uses CBD: an antiseizure medication called Epidiolex, approved in 2018.

Side Effects: Although users typically tolerate CBD quite well, side effects can include nausea, fatigue, irritability, dry mouth, drowsiness, changes in appetite, and diarrhea. It’s also a good idea to ask your physician if CBD might interact with other medications you’re taking.

Consumer Alert

In this brave new hemptastic world, mislabeling is rampant. If you’re shopping for hemp-derived CBD products, make sure you don’t fall prey to merchandise marketed as “hempseed oil” or “hemp oil” that pops up when you search for goods containing CBD. (Hempseed oil comes from the hemp seed and has no CBD; it’s often used in cooking and beauty products.) This is a serious problem when shopping on Amazon, which prohibits the sale of CBD and THC yet delivers 5,000 results when one searches for “CBD oil.”


Consumer Reporting

The lowdown on CBD safety.

The regulatory infrastructure for the national hemp industry is sorely lacking, which means CBD users need to do their due diligence, even if they live in the Centennial State. We asked Thuy Vu, director of operations and regulatory affairs for Evergreen-based hemp company Hammer Enterprises and former foodborne illness, outbreak, and marijuana investigator for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, what steps Coloradans should take to make sure they’re purchasing quality products.

Photo by Rachael Sabell

5280: We know the FDA and USDA are playing catch-up with the newly legal hemp sector—what should consumers do to protect themselves in the meantime?
Thuy Vu: We all need to pay attention to sourcing and start reading labels. Consumers seeking quality hemp and hemp-derived products can make informed decisions by comparing the label on the product with the certificate of analysis.

What’s a certificate of analysis?
The COA is a document issued by a testing facility that confirms whether an ingredient or product meets the product specifications, which is a set of criteria that establishes whether the sample conforms to predetermined safety, regulatory, or quality control standards. For example, the COA can confirm the expected CBD potency on the label as well as verifying that the product isn’t tainted with pathogens, mycotoxins, or unapproved pesticides.

Where would someone get one of these COAs?
While COAs are not readily available to the public, companies that stand behind their products will proudly provide the COA when asked. We should question any company that refuses to provide a current COA for a specific batch or lot number. It’s really about transparency.

OK, let’s say I’ve got the COA in hand—what am I looking for?
Consumers should always compare the name of the manufacturer (or re-packer, re-processor, and/or distributor), the lot number or batch number, the manufacture date, and the expiration date listed on the COA with the label of the product they want to purchase. It should all match. If it doesn’t, I would request the correct COA or refuse to purchase the product altogether. I would also research the testing facility that performed the analysis. One barometer of a quality lab is that it has obtained what’s called an ISO 17025 accreditation for the specific test methods listed on the COA. If a consumer wants more information, she can always call the testing facility and have someone explain the results.

Photo by Rachael Sabell

Do we really need to do all this work? I mean, it’s just CBD, right?
As a former regulator, my bottom line is that any product made for human consumption should be safe, and there should be evidence to support that. Hemp is not a federally approved food ingredient, so we have to protect ourselves until it is. Furthermore, consumers need to understand the difference between full spectrum and broad spectrum and isolate because they contain different levels of THC. THC potency may not always be reported on the label; that can be a big deal if you’re, say, up for a job and there’s a required drug test. Also, the FDA has tested a host of CBD products and found that many of them do not contain the amount claimed on the label. You could be paying a lot of money for nothing.

Is there a simple overarching guideline for consumers?
I would highly recommend purchasing from a manufacturer that operates in a state that has an industrial hemp program with active participation from state regulatory agencies, like Colorado, which has the most progressive industrial hemp regulatory program in the nation.

May 31, 2019: Date that the FDA held its first public hearings on the safety and efficacy of hemp-derived cannabidiol products.

49: Warning letters sent by the FDA to U.S. firms that marketed CBD as curative or as a treatment for diseases from 2015 through press time in 2019.

Editor’s Note: In mid-September, the USDA completed a draft of proposed rules for growing hemp and sent it to the White House Office of Management and Budget for approval. These new regulations should clarify changes that were included in the 2018 federal farm bill.


Shopping Cart

Why you should feel fortunate to be able to fill your buggy with CBD at Lucky’s Market.

Illustration by Marta Zafra

Although CVS, Kroger, Rite Aid, and Walgreens say they will soon be dipping their toes into the shallow end of the CBD pool by selling topical applications of the cannabinoid, few mainstream supermarkets are stocking their shelves with cannabis products, and even fewer are offering a full lineup that includes tinctures, gummies, vape pens, and capsules. In Colorado, that leaves consumers to wander the metaphorical, questionably stocked aisles of the internet or get CBD at a dispensary, where the accompanying THC content might be higher than desired. Happily, Boulder-born Lucky’s Market, which has five locations along the Front Range, dived into the CBD deep end in October 2017, making the specialty grocer an early adopter. Captained by senior director of apothecary Sindy Wise, Lucky’s Market’s program focuses on full-spectrum hemp extracts and trains its staff to answer customer questions with as much detail as the law allows. Wise also vets the products that end up in the CBD sections of its stores. “We require a certificate of analysis from every supplier,” Wise says.

“We make sure that what it says on the bottle is what’s actually in there. Furthermore, we’ve learned through experience which companies are in this for the right reasons.” Currently, Lucky’s works with about 12 hemp extract suppliers, all of which Wise feels good about; however, the trained herbalist wasn’t afraid to tell us about her four favorite products.

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