The Wild New World of CBD Is Here

For the past several years, the wellness world has been in a tizzy. The culprit? A non-psychoactive cannabis plant compound known simply as CBD, seemingly appearing in every corner store overnight. The only thing more astounding than the volume of CBD products out there today is the range of items available. It feels like there’s a CBD-infused version of just about everything. 

Featuring items both logical and laughable, the array of CBD products you can now find on shelves runs the gamut from topicals and sweets to vape pens and candles. With the product crush officially on, having a firm understanding of exactly what CBD is can be the difference between finding reliable, quality products and spending a fortune on modern-day snake oil.  

In many ways, the main issue with CBD boils down to a lack of regulation. While Governor Newsom recently signed several laws aimed at providing more oversight of CBD products, the fact of the matter is that there are really two versions of CBD products: the kind you’ll find at a licensed dispensary or delivery service and the type you can grab in the impulse aisle at most grocery stores.

Sure, it’s not impossible that the CBD products made available outside of dispensaries are valid and worthwhile. Nonetheless, it’s frightening to realize that there are actually very few standards in place with regard to what it takes to slap the letters “CBD” on a package and legally turn a profit. By contrast, the CBD products you’ll find at a dispensary are thoroughly tested, and, of course, they are also subject to the same high tax rates as other cannabis products. This price difference can turn customers off from going for the dispensary-sold stuff.

As the founder and CEO of the San Rafael–based cannabis edibles brand OARA, Charlotte Troy believes her industry missed the boat by allowing CBD to hit the market without first making sure people understood the difference in quality.

“We really screwed up by not educating consumers properly,” Troy says. “Most consumers have no idea that there’s a difference between the CBD that they’re buying at a gas station or CVS and the CBD that they’re getting from a licensed cannabis dispensary.” Beyond testing to ensure no harmful substances are detected, the benefit of buying regulated CBD comes from knowing precisely how much of the compound you’ll actually be consuming. 

Though it’s true that CBD itself does not provide users with the psychoactive properties we commonly associate with the experience of being “high” — that’s an honor reserved exclusively for another mainstay cannabinoid, THC — it is recognized as a valuable calming agent, among other benefits. But what we’re starting to learn is that CBD may only be able to reach its true potential when it’s allowed to work in tandem with THC. 

For some, the idea of ingesting even one iota of THC is frightening, thus the appeal of CBD as a “trip-free” alternative. In isolation, however, CBD is limited in what it can achieve. When consumed as part of what’s known as a full-spectrum extraction (meaning a mix of cannabinoids and terpenes derived from a specific strain of cannabis flower), CBD works almost like a booster by amplifying whatever characteristics inherent to the plant we recognize as being beneficial for sleep, anxiety and so forth. 

OARA’s CBD Rich Lavender + Sea Salt Probiotic Dark Chocolate (photo courtesy of MGH/OARA)

In industry parlance, this concept is known as the “entourage effect,” and it’s something Troy’s OARA seeks to offer to its customers in the form of products made with specific ratios of CBD and THC. Just because some THC may be required to get the full job done, that doesn’t mean those leery of a psychedelic journey need to take a dose beyond their comfort level. Instead, options like OARA’s CBD Rich Smooth Dark Chocolate, which features 8 mg of CBD and less than 2 mg of THC in each serving, allow consumers to find the balance that works best for them while ensuring they get all the benefits the cannabis plant has to offer.

“Our CBD-rich product has always had a small amount of THC in it,” Troy explains, “because the THC helps to amplify the anti-inflammatory benefit of the CBD.”

When it comes to the appetites of Marin’s most avid CBD consumers, Monica Gray says the demand has yet to die down. As the COO of Nice Guys Delivery service, Gray left a successful career in the New York fashion world to join her husband in launching a licensed cannabis delivery service in Marin County. 

Naturally, Nice Guys offers a selection of CBD products as part of its menu. According to Gray, it’s the CBD gummies that sell the best. But as for ensuring that each of her customers has an accurate appreciation for what CBD can — and cannot — do for them, Gray concedes that there’s still more work to be done.

“People are buying CBD because they have these preconceived notions about how it’s going to help them,” Gray says. “But we’re trying to educate our customers that CBD doesn’t necessarily work like that.”

Nurit Raphael, founder of top-rated local boutique cannabis concierge ONA, agrees. At the same time, she also foresees CBD as being on course to eventually become “like an Advil or a vitamin” for consumers.

Established with a mission to deliver the highest quality strains, edibles and cannabis products, ONA strives to pave the way for a new culture of responsible cannabis use. As part of that effort, Raphael stresses the same concerns as Gray and Troy regarding the importance of empowering consumers to shop smart.

“We are already seeing people putting CBD in their medicine cabinet, on their nightstands before bed, and in their purses for on-the-go relief,” Raphael says. “However, where your CBD comes from is super important. Has it been tested? Furthermore, consumers need to be educated on the entourage effect, where multiple compounds synergistically work together rather than alone.”

Valid points all, but unfortunately, until state and federal regulators take a proper interest in the matter, the onus will be on consumers and the brands they trust to spread the gospel truth about CBD. Thus, for the time being, those interested in learning more are encouraged to stay up-to-date on the latest research. It’s also probably best to stick with the stuff from licensed cannabis retailers, at least for the foreseeable future. It may be more costly, but at least it will always be the real thing.