CBD Comes to Alameda

Fred Gardner    An expo of CBD-infused product purveyors took part in a one-day expo Aug. 24 at the Alameda Natural Grocery. These products that use the non-psychoactive component of hemp have been proliferating nationwide.

A dispensary has yet to open in the Island City, but commerce in cannabis products was in full swing Saturday, Aug. 24, when Alameda Natural Grocery hosted an event promoting supplements containing CBD (cannabidiol). This non-psychoactive component of cannabis has some proven health benefits. Representatives of 16 manufacturers answered questions and offered samples of salves, tinctures, edibles and drinks — all are available at the Alameda Marketplace at Park Street and Buena Vista Avenue.

The banner proclaiming the event — “Hemp Hemp Hooray” — signaled CBD’s out-of-the-closet legality. Although cannabis remains illegal under federal law, Congress in 2018 defined “hemp” to mean cannabis plants or products containing less than 0.3 percent of THC (the plant’s psychoactive component).

CBD first came to widespread public attention in 2013 when Dr. Sanjay Gupta documented its dramatic anti-seizure effects on CNN with footage of 2-year-old Charlotte Figi and interviews with her parents. 

Figi’s mother formed a support group for families of epileptic children, many of whom couldn’t get medical marijuana in their home states and moved to Colorado. The cultivators who provided Figi’s CBD-rich tincture, the Stanley brothers, expanded operations to meet swelling demand, not just as a treatment for seizure disorders, but from people who found that CBD had anti-inflammatory and other beneficial effects. 

The Stanleys (seven brothers, whose names all start with J) have built a leading brand with help from the state of Colorado, which legalized cultivation of hemp in 2014, well ahead of the federal government. At the Alameda Natural Grocery event the “Charlotte’s Web” line included two products for dogs and three flavors of CBD-infused gummy bears. Thus the medical marijuana movement begat the over-the-counter hemp CBD boom.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has granted approval to a 99 percent CBD cannabis extract called Epidiolex to treat two rare forms of epilepsy. Supplement manufacturers can run afoul of the FDA if they claim their products provide medical benefits. The vendors at the grocery were careful not to make any such explicit claims, but the distinction between “anti-depressant” and “improves mood” is just a matter of semantics. 

For example, the Stanley Brothers’ brochure states that some of the most common uses for Charlotte’s Web include:

  • Support relief from everyday stresses
  • Help in achieving a sense of calm and focus
  • Support recovery from exercise-induced inflammation
  • Help support healthy sleep cycles, and more.

Each of these virtues includes an asterisk that links to a footnote in tiny type and very faint ink: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

Alameda Natural Grocery’s marketing director Tully Velte estimates that “around 100 people actively engaged with a vendor or two” during the three-hour event. Most were regular Saturday afternoon shoppers, he said. 

Given that CBD has beome a household word, I wondered why the organizers gave hemp top billing on their banner. 

“We decided that emphasizing the hemp portion was our broadest and safest messaging angle,” said Velte. “This in part because CBD is relatively new to the mainstream public and is often closely tied to the idea of cannabis and marijuana.”

Velte explained that although the products are completely safe and legal to sell, “there are people who are surprised that they are available outside of a dispensary.” Using the word “hemp” helps distinguish between the two totally different products in a simple way.

“Also, we know of several stores and producers who have had some of their online accounts frozen or banned for promoting CBD,” said Velte. “We didn’t promote as heavily as we could have based on this as well. The idea of the event was to educate people on what exactly CBD is, and that it is hemp-derived was a less-intimidating, less-stigmatized entry point.” 

The idea for the mini-expo at the Alameda Marketplace came from the supplements department manager who has been ordering CBD-infused products since 2017. The venue was a large alcove previously dedicated to kitchenware that is being renovated. Plans are for neighboring businesses to expand into that space.