Chris Dworkin was getting ready to give a public speech a couple of years ago when his nerves started to fray, so he took the advice of a friend and gave CBD oil a try.
His anxiety washed away. His speech went off without a hitch. Then he gave it to his German shepherd to help her recover from a knee surgery.
„If there’s one thing I’m not a big fan of, it is any kind of spotlight,” Dworkin said. „Spotlight is not a good thing. But the product has actually helped me continue to deal with it the last few years, so I’m keeping it up.”
Dworkin has started Kigh, a Howell-based company that manufacturers oils, capsules and salves with cannabidiol, a compound extracted from hemp that it touts as a natural cure for anxiety and inflammation.
Perfectly legal, CBD has emerged as a popular item at New Jersey’s natural food stores. While Gov. Phil Murphy’s bid to legalize recreational marijuana has stalled in the Legislature, CBD offers high-strung New Jerseyans a remedy to deal with, say, crowded beaches and NJ Transit delays — while, advocates say, getting pain relief to boot.
But Kigh is wading into a new industry that, for now, is a free for all. Local doctors are trying to get up to speed on the product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only recently began looking at regulating CBD companies. And even industry advocates are urging consumers to beware.
„It’s legal, but it’s a very gray area right now,” said Paul Josephson, an attorney with Duane Morris in Cherry Hill who represents the New Jersey Cannabis Association. „CBD has gotten into this area that is very much like dietary supplements, where people are making crazy claims. There’s no verification of what you are taking.”
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Dworkin, 45, is sold on the product.
After what he saw as the positive impact CBD had on his stage fright, Dworkin began to research CBD. He flew to Colorado and California to figure out how it was made and what effect it would have on his body.
He decided the future for CBD was bright. He started Kigh a year ago, inspired by the name of his dog, Kaia, who made a quick recovery. He enlisted his family and friends to help. And he partnered with a farm in Kentucky that supplies the CBD.
The result: Kigh now makes and distributes its CBD-infused products in Howell, selling both online and at a handful of pharmacies and pet supply stores in New York and New Jersey. The price ranges from a topical salve for $32 to super strength CBD oil for $120.
„It’s still a home-based business,” Dworkin said. „But it is quickly growing out of the home. We’ve probably got another three, four months at most” before it needs to expand.
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CBD in New Jersey is hitting the market as the Murphy administration tries to expand access to marijuana, creating at least some confusion. CBD products are made from the cannabis plant, but they contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient that creates a high.
Its market got a jolt last year when President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which made hemp — and hemp-derived CBD — legal.
It launched a green rush. The CBD industry is expected to grow to $22 billion a year by 2022, one study by the Brightfield Group, a research organization, predicted. By comparison, Johnson & Johnson’s consumer products division, which includes Tylenol and Motrin, had $13.9 billion in sales last year.
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New Jersey retailers are scrambling to keep up with the demand. Natures Nutrition in Brick stocks its counter and coolers with CBD-infused oils, salves, iced tea, water, soda, gummies and cookies.
Owner Peter Marino said he used CBD on his 12-year-old dog, Teddy, a Bijon-poodle mix who suddenly started climbing stairs again like he was a puppy. Now, CBD products are giving a jolt to his business, which he said has been hit hard by Amazon and other online sites.
Other stores have seen similar demand.
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“It’s really exceeded our expectations,” said Ruth Kiser, owner of Paws Pet Boutique in Asbury Park, who also gave CBD to her German Shepherd, Lexi, to help her zen through a recent thunderstorm and thinks it soothed her frayed nerves
The American Kennel Club said it only has anecdotal evidence that helps dogs with a variety of ailments, from epilepsy to anxiety, but it didn’t have conclusive proof.
When it comes to people, scientists have similar questions. Can CBD ease their anxiety and knee pain? Can it bring relief to people who suffer from epilepsy and migraines? Or will it become another old wives’ tale, like carrots being sold to people with poor eyesight? After all, carrots never hurt anyone, but they didn’t eliminate the need for eye doctors either.
There isn’t yet clinical evidence to support the industry’s claims, but health care providers aren’t immediately discarding it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year approved Epidiolex, a drug made by GW Research based in Carlsbad, California.
The drug includes CBD to treat Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, childhood conditions whose symptoms include frequent seizures.
The drug comes with side-effects, including sleepiness, sedation and lethargy.
A study by the World Health Organization said there is evidence CBD might be useful to treat other conditions like anxiety and inflammation. And it found no evidence that using it would create public health problems.
“They ask about it constantly,” Dr. Marc Feingold, a primary care doctor in Manalapan, said of his patients’ interest in CBD. His response: “I haven’t heard anything. Good luck and let me know what it does. That’s what I usually say.”
And the FDA in Washington, D.C., had its first hearing last week to look at how to regulate the industry so that it can ensure the product is safe and effective to use, and the claims the companies make are true.
The agency has sent warning letters to companies both in New Jersey and nationwide in recent years for making unsubstantiated claims about the product. And in some cases, the FDA has found the products don’t contain the level of CBD that they claim.
For now, consumers are left to make their own judgment. And it can be confusing. Amazon sells products made with hemp oil that are cheaper, but they don’t include CBD.
Hemp seed oil and CBD oil come from the same plant, but they have different compounds, and, experts said, different benefits.
It means consumers should look carefully at the ingredients and the claims marketers are making.
“CBD by itself is beneficial,” said Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, a trade group. “It’s good for your health. It’s good for your well-being. It has its benefits. But it doesn’t cure everything.”
Dworken at Kigh isn’t turning back.
Operating a cannabis company isn’t easy, even without the uncertain regulatory climate. Kigh, for example, has been left in the lurch by banks that suddenly are unwilling to process its credit card sales.
And it can’t buy ads on Google and Facebook, forcing Dworken and his family and friends to fan out at community events, explaining the nuts and bolts of the new business.
But its customer base is growing; the company’s Instagram account recently surpassed 10,000 followers.
„We could have grown to three, four times our size over the last six months, nine months if we chose to,” Dworken said. “We still want to do this right. We need to do this right. We’re putting our names and our faces out there in front of people every day. I want to know what’s going into every single bottle. That’s why we still do this the way we’re doing this.”
Coming soon: What is CBD and why is it in my coffee? Reporters from the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey look at CBD’s impact on food.
Michael L. Diamond is an award-winning reporter who has written about the New Jersey economy for 20 years. He can be reached at 732-743-4038; firstname.lastname@example.org; or @mdiamondapp.