When Morgan Horton wakes up at 6 a.m. each morning, the same routine almost always follows: She splashes water across her face, wiping the sleep out of her blue eyes. She brushes her teeth. Then she takes two tablets of cannabidiol, or CBD — an ingredient in cannabis derived from hemp plants — and follows up with another half-syringe of the product, which is legal, tilting her head back and squeezing it onto the space just beneath her tongue.
The over-the-counter medicine has helped Horton, who has been recovering from a cocaine addiction for 15 years; in particular, it alleviates the symptoms of her post-traumatic stress and postpartum depression.
It’s also helped her husband, who has been recovering from a methamphetamine addiction for 21 years and whose daily CBD usage follows a routine similar to hers.
It’s helped her 62-year-old dad, whose early onset Alzheimer’s disease requires his daughter’s day-to-day assistance. (They live down the road from one another in Baton Rouge.)
Horton says it’s been a help physically and mentally for her 80-year-old grandmother Betty, who lives with her and suffers from a debilitating case of Alzheimer’s disease.
“My grandmother, she called me by my name this morning, and I’ll be honest with you, I cried,” says Horton, who has been giving her grandmother CBD oil for a year and a half. “I’ve been living in her house since I was 16 — I’m 33 — and she has not been able to call me by name.”
Horton says her grandmother has experienced a steady improvement during the time she has been taking CBD oil. Like many others across the nation who have embraced the CBD trend running through health-conscious circles in recent years, Horton credits the non-intoxicating cannabis compound for the success.
In June, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law House Bill 491, which allows the sale of hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the compound in a cannabis plant that induces a euphoric feeling or “high.” State lawmakers’ approval of the legislation mirrored the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act, which provided federal guidelines for hemp to be legally grown and used to make byproducts, like CBD oil. The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) was tasked with regulating the industry — a first, given how loosely defined some CBD products on the market have been.
That’s partly where today’s problems within the industry lie, advocates say. For users who swear by the compound’s positive effects and Louisiana-based CBD retailers, the rollout of the new law has come with a series of hair-splitting snags. Edible and drinkable versions of CBD, as well as vape cartridges, all of which were popular among users, were immediately deemed illegal under the law. Adding to that, strict regulations were enacted for CBD retailers: ham-handed labeling requirements, a restriction that requires customers be at least 18 years old to purchase the product and a costly, muddled permitting process. The list goes on.
“This all came out from the ATC in the form of an emergency declaration in June,” says Tim Hitt, a CBD retailer and the president of the Louisiana Cannabis Retailers Association, referring to a June 27 emergency declaration the ATC issued. “I mean, is (CBD oil) like heroin? What’s the danger?”
The order called for background checks on CBD manufacturers and wholesalers to ensure they’re a person of „good character and reputation,” random testing to ensure products fall within the THC limit, training courses for health store employees, in-store inspections and other stipulations.
“So what emergency was it that this all had to come into play?” Hitt asks. “What public health risk was there with CBD to start with? It’s restrictive, and I think it’s by design.”
The ATC did not return multiple requests from Gambit for comment.
The evidence-driven proof for whether and how CBD works remains sparse, in large part because federal laws make it difficult to study the effects of the marijuana plant. Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I narcotic, alongside ecstasy, peyote, heroin and LSD.
What we do know is that last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug derived from CBD to treat rare, yet severe, forms of childhood epilepsy. Small-scale studies, which sometimes lack reliability when applied statistically to a large population, also have shown that CBD may decrease levels of anxiety, as noted in a 2015 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Perhaps most important, the FDA has yet to recognize CBD as an ingredient, despite urgings by leaders such as Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. In September, he called for the FDA to provide a clear path for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products. The federal agency has yet to change its position.
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On Nov. 25, the FDA issued warnings to 15 companies across the country for selling CBD products in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. In a news release about the warnings, the FDA said it “cannot conclude that CBD is generally recognized as safe among qualified experts for its use in human or animal food.” The release also said the FDA was exploring ways to allow CBD products to be marketed legally once they are deemed to be safe. It promised an update “in the coming weeks.”
For CBD wholesalers and retailers in Louisiana, their success depends on that approval. In particular, it hinges on the section of Louisiana House Bill 491 that states cannabidiol products must be registered with the state and may not bear the term “dietary supplement” on the label or be marketed as such.
That’s a catch-22 for those in the state’s CBD industry, Hitt says.
“Everything in a health food store, whether it’s vitamin C or vitamin D or cough syrup, has the words ‘dietary supplement’ on it, because that’s the way the FDA has labeled those products,” Hitt continues. “So, by the state saying that it’s going to remove 85 to 90% of the CBD choices off the shelf [in January 2020, due to the products not meeting requirements laid out in Louisiana law], it’s going to be a big hit to consumers, patients and especially retailers.”
That particular stipulation in the law effectively nixes some of the leading CBD manufacturers across the country — and by association some of the country’s top CBD laboratories and researchers as well — from entering Louisiana’s seemingly primed market, advocates argue.
Some businesses already are feeling the effects. A rejection letter from the state to a leading Denver-based CBD manufacturer was provided to Gambit through a third-party. In the letter, the state official tasked with regulatory enforcement denies the company’s permit application on the grounds that the company’s website at the time displayed medical claims unconfirmed by the FDA and didn’t meet labeling requirements outlined in HB 491.
“The oil products are referenced as ‘herbal supplements’; this term is not acceptable,” wrote Brian Warren, the sanitarian program administrator for the Louisiana Department of Health, referring to the part of the law that bars “dietary supplement” labeling. “Valid alternatives include hemp supplement, hemp CBD supplement and hemp-derived CBD supplement.”
It’s an issue that’s caught the attention of some state lawmakers and likely will gain significant attention in the legislative session next year, one state lawmaker says.
“That would be one of the bills I’m considering, to remove the requirement,” says state Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero. Connick was the author of House Bill 138, which removed hemp from the definition of marijuana under Louisiana law, effectively legalizing hemp statewide and laying the framework for HB 491. “I’ve talked to the [Louisiana] Board of Pharmacy, and they’re saying that the FDA is looking into these products to get the proper designation on the labels.”
But, Connick says, he can’t predict whether the FDA will act soon.
“If it’s helping people, absolutely, let’s get it out there and put it on the market,” he says. “And if there’s a labeling issue, we need to fix it. That’s part of the legislation. It’s a process. We don’t want to put stuff out there with no science behind it, just so some people can make money, and [the product is] doing no good. We’re going to get it fixed, but like I said, it takes time and if I’m buying CBD oil, I want to buy from a pharmacist who’s trained and not a clerk at a convenience store.”
Until then, the success of the state’s industry will have to wait, advocates say.
“If they rule in our favor — and I never thought I would say this — the FDA is probably going to be the saving grace in all this,” Hitt says. “If they rule that this is a recognized dietary ingredient and dietary supplement, then that section of HB 491 Louisiana is null and void.”
Horton claims that using CBD products routinely has changed her quality of life.
It’s done wonders for her anxiety and improved her attention span, she says. Where she once would sequester herself alone in a room to calm down, now she can slow down and breathe on her own. And for the first time in her life, she says, her thoughts are uninterrupted by an attention deficit.
Her father, the early onset Alzheimer’s patient who declined to give his first name, offers a similar testament. Where he once was quick to get angry, now he feels calm.
Still, it’s in Horton’s grandmother Betty that Horton notices the most significant difference. Not only did she remember Horton’s name for the first time in years, CBD oil has helped heal some physical ailments. Horton shows a photo of a recent injury to her grandmother’s hand, the aged thin skin on top bruised and purple as a ripe grape. The injury occurred on a Friday afternoon. By the following Monday, the bruise had healed to a fading yellow.
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Horton credits Betty’s CBD usage for the improvement.
At the same time, CBD almost derailed Horton’s relationship with her mother. Before legislation was passed earlier this year legalizing CBD, Horton’s mother, who doesn’t believe in the compound’s supposed benefits, twice attempted to call Elderly Protective Services and the Department of Children & Family Services on the family for using CBD in the home, Horton says. Even so, Horton has continued to buy CBD oil for her father, which, she says, has made a big difference in their relationship.
Horton’s predicament makes a strong point: CBD users still cope with the social stigma of using the compound, a stigma that appears to have influenced the attitudes of some state legislators.
“Marijuana and CBD have been given so many titles, so many bad flags and everything,” Horton says. “But they don’t understand that if people who [need it use it], it can help.”
Hitt offers a more pointed take toward Louisiana and its handling of CBD oil.
“I call us the ‘Reefer Madness,’ Jim Crow state,” he says. “It’s the truth. We just can’t seem to get out of the 1960s, and what they’re doing, they’re trying to really regulate CBD like it’s a drug.”
Hitt pauses and continues: “It’s not.”
— Gambit is hosting the Cannabis + Hemp Forum from 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at The Advocate building, 840 St. Charles Ave. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at www.bestofneworleans.com/hemp.