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As the conversation around CBD (cannibidiol) has become more mainstream over the last year, more and more New Yorkers have become intrigued by its potential benefits. I’ve heard the same questions pop up again and again around the subject: what exactly does it do? Where do I get it? How much do I take? Is it going to get me stoned? And is it really legal?
There is now a robust online market for CBD products—and when you’re dealing with a trusted, vetted brand such as Lord Jones or Bluebird, that is certainly one of the easiest ways to procure it. But there are also a lot of sketchy companies hocking inferior or fake products, and an enormous amount of contradictory literature online about how to get it. Below, you’ll find some guidance in navigating the CBD world in NYC.
When it comes to serious ailments, you are still best served by talking to a doctor or medical professional. This is also true if you are taking any medications and want to experiment with some CBD (for example, if you are on blood pressure medication, you should be careful using CBD, which many take on its own as an alternative to traditional blood pressure medication — taking both will make you lightheaded). For otherwise healthy people trying to deal with everyday aches and stresses, with chronic migraines and joint pain and insomnia, you can test the waters on your own, or find someone knowledgable who can guide you through the process — thankfully, there are now resources for that in NYC.
“Up until maybe 18 months ago, you couldn’t find CBD in New York to save your life,” noted Josh Kirby, co-founder of California-based sublingual CBD company Kin Slips. “I grew up in New York, so I’m very familiar with how behind the state is drug policy-wise.”
There’s no shortage of businesses selling CBD products around NYC in 2018, whether they are bodegas, vape shops, beauty specialists or herbalists. There’s Remedies Herb Shop in Carroll Gardens and MedMen in Midtown and the newly-opened BreadxButta in Crown Heights, but the closest thing to a CBD district in the city can be found in the East Village, where every block seemingly has a store that has integrated the product into their business, such as Cloud99 Vapes, CAP Beauty, and Flower Power Herbs & Roots. And the epicenter of that is The Alchemist’s Kitchen, an upscale herbal and botanical dispensary and ap%!hecary located on East 1st Street.
Alchemist’s Kitchen has been ahead of the curve on all things CBD, making it the ultimate destination for New Yorkers trying to parse the difference between full spectrum and isolate.
“It’s really an amazing time because it’s such a movement,” said CEO Lou Sagar. “The fact that [NYC] hasn’t had all the liberation that California has had works to our interests too—let’s be really medicinal, let’s not fool each other.”
“Some people want to get their Reiki on, some people want to drink their Reishi,” Sagar added. “It’s all part of the same community, so The Alchemist’s Kitchen is just trying to be a place where you can have the dialogue. Where people can come in who have menstrual cramps or thyroid conditions and ask, is there something I can do? We’re trying to use herbalists to say yeah, there is something to this, why don’t you try this, put it in your tea? And that’s working well.”
Alchemist’s Kitchen has its own CBD brand (Plant Alchemy), carries a few other brands, and puts on multiple educational events a month. CBD products only take up around 10% of their shelf space, but nevertheless, it’s their fastest moving product. Though it costs a little more buying from them than going straight to the source online (they mark up Lord Jones products, for example, which you can buy easily online for less), their biggest selling point is the team of chatty herbalists on hand to talk you through all your questions—making it basically the botanical equivalent of Apple’s Genius Bar.
“We see a lot of Baby Boomers coming in, people who may have been familiar with cannabis from another era, so to speak, but they’re interested in the medicinal properties of it and how it can help their aging parents as well,” said Emily Berg, an Herbal Program Manager with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things CBD. “They’re intrigued. Maybe they’ve heard about it through word of mouth. A lot of people come in not knowing anything and sort of need the walk through, but it’s definitely becoming more mainstream and popular. We see it now with coffee or in edibles, or as part of different yoga classes and experiences.”
“The more I learn about it, the more I feel like everyone can benefit from it,” she added. “So if you’re in a lot of pain, and you need immediate relief, it’ll help you achieve that. If you’re about to have a panic attack, it’ll help relax you in the moment. If you need to sleep, it’s not actually a sedative, but what it does helps your brain recognize that it can go from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic, like fight or flight to rest and digest mode. So it’s often helping your body to sort of get through any adrenaline that’s rushing in the system, and realize how tired it might be, or help you to relax in that sense.”
Even vape shops see it as their responsibility to educate the public about CBD use and dispel certain rumors. At Cloud99 Vapes on 2nd Avenue, it’s a similar story: “We definitely try to have every staff member very knowledgeable of [CBD],” said James Dinh. “We want to give people the opportunity to get over the fear of it. CBD is one of those things where people think, ‘Oh it’s still THC,’ and all that. But if they are able to get it from a store like this, they feel more comfortable with it. They say, ‘Oh, this is a legitimate thing. I’m not getting it from some guy on the street.'”
“CBD, I personally believe, can replace almost any store drug,” Dinh added. “It can 100% replace Advil, ibuprofen, and all those things, because it just makes your body work better.”
CBD can also be found in your ice cream, cocktails, brownies and craft beers. NYC restaurants and eateries, including By CHLOE and Van Leeuwen, offered special CBD-infused food concoctions for 4/20 this year; The James NoMad Hotel launched a CBD-infused room service menu this summer; and coffee shops throughout the city such as Swallow, Caffeine Underground, Oliver Coffee and Flower Power Coffee House have been publicizing their own caffeine/CBD concoctions for months. And out-of-state company Monk started shipping their CBD drinking botanicals to NYC this month.
“It’s the wild west right now,” said Sagar. “There’s a novelty to having CBD in your latte. And it’s popular. But is that really the medicinal story? No. The medicinal story is how do you take it to make you less dependent on opiates? How do I do that to give me more self control over my mood? That’s plant based, so there are a lot of companies that are becoming CBD companies.”
While most places are just dipping a toe in the CBD-infused water with pop-ups and special events, Tribeca’s Bubby’s is all-in on CBD. Owner Ron Silver launched a line of CBD-infused items (sugar and syrups), called Azuca, which he’s selling at the restaurant, where you can also get it in coffee, tea and lemonade.
“For the last four years I’ve been working on the legal cannabis markets, and just sort of seeing people experimenting in New York City and in Brooklyn with serving CBD coffees and stuff like that,” Silver said. “I was encouraged to look into it and figure it out. It felt risky. I really had to convince not only my partners, but I had to convince my staff as well that it was fine. On every level, we have the intention of helping people to understand how they can use cannabis in a sane way and that it’s not just some sort of stoner thing.”
One of the biggest questions facing this burgeoning industry in New York remains the legal hurdles. Saying that there is a really convoluted framework for the industry is an understatement; it’s more like a lot of nerve synapses with no central brain.
If the CBD is derived from marijuana, it is not legal in New York, except for people with medical marijuana prescriptions. If it is derived from hemp, as the vast majority of products you’d find around the city are, it is legal on a state-level. Even so, it’s technically illegal on a federal level, as it hasn’t been approved by the DEA or FDA.
The Farm Bill, which President Obama signed in 2014, protects hemp when it’s grown under the state-regulated law. New York is in a particularly good spot for this, as Governor Cuomo has embraced that and adopted measures to encourage more industrial hemp production in the state.
“Right now, the prevailing sentiment is that as long as you can have a pure enough version of CBD, and it comes from cannabis that was grown specifically as hemp or grown out of the country and extracted and then imported into America, then it’s pretty much legal,” said Kirby. “It’s not expressly allowed. There’s no law on the books saying, ‘All CBD products are allowed and here’s how we regulate them.'”
DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno told WebMD that online sales of CBD products are illegal in the entire country because they are classified as a Schedule 1 drug. “The DEA can and does investigate large-scale trafficking of Schedule I substances,” she said, and there have certainly been cases that bear this out: twenty-three stores in Tennessee were raided for selling CBD products as part of a sting known as “Operation Candy Crush” (charges against 19 employees were eventually dropped).
But Carreno added that CBD isn’t a priority right now—the DEA has limited resources and prefers to focus on the opioid crisis, methamphetamines and cocaine. As Kirby put it, “Because there’s not a strict ruling on the legality of the CBD on the federal level, everyone is kind of operating in this gray area. It’s not a very risky gray area right now, but it is still a gray area.” Barring Jeff Sessions personally instructing DEA agents to bust up herbal shops, the NYC establishments should all be fine.
Aside from the legality question, the next thing users want to know is how much to take at a time. The problem is that there has been so little peer-reviewed published research done on CBD, it’s hard to point to any specific numbers to guide users. Many suggestions we’ve found online recommend anywhere from 10mg to 1500 mg. “That’s a big problem!” said Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center who has been closely studying CBD for the last five years. “Outside of epilepsy, we have precious little scientific data on that.”
Most experts I spoke with recommend a trial-and-error process of calibrating your own needs, starting with a tiny amount then building up from there. “It’s important to understand that CBD is biphasic in its nature, so in small doses it’s gonna make you feel more alert and activated, and then in larger doses, it’s going to have more of a calming, sedating effect,” said Berg. “With that being said, a large dose may not be suitable for every application of CBD, and that’s why we kind of suggest microdosing. We also suggest that because your absorption rate depends on your metabolic rate. So with larger people it might be the case that they would need more to assimilate.”
CBD is usually taken via a tincture (most recommend starting around 10 mg), ingesting it in food or capsule form (which takes longer to be absorbed, since it goes through your digestive track; gummies usually start at 10 to 25 mg), or topical oils/creams (which we’ve found highly effective when applied to areas where you have pain or inflammation; each pump of the Lord Jones lotion contains 2mg, and only two pumps are typically needed. It works immediately.).
CBD affects everyone differently, so adjust your expectations before you try: “The reality is that it’s a very subtle effect anyway, it’s just more of like a body sensation than a psychological sensation,” added Berg. “So I think people are sort of expecting to feel maybe a wave of relaxation, which can be the case, but in order to manage expectations, I try to tell people it’s subtle, and you know it depends on the dose. If you’re not feeling it, you can always dose up.”
Everyone involved in the CBD industry now only sees it expanding ever further as the way people use it continues to evolve. “There are tons of dispensaries in Las Vegas, and no one’s gambling or drinking as much,” noted Sagar. “They’re trying to figure it out. How are we gonna get some money outta them? That’s why a lot of people think the spirit companies will buy the cannabis companies.”
Once marijuana is fully legalized here, Sagar sees a future in which you can go to a dispensary in New York City and curate your experience based on your specific needs. If you’re someone who’s really anxious, you can get a strain to treat your anxiety, without fear of a cannabis-induced panic attack. And once people can understand the nuances between different strains and how they’re used, there will be more responsible use as well.
“We have conversations every day with huge corporations, like Walmart and Target and Sephora, and everyone is interested in getting into this business. And everyone has to figure out where there tolerance for risk is,” said Cindy Capobianco, co-founder of Lord Jones. “It’s bringing back ancient plant-based medicine which has been used for thousands of years, and our overarching goal is to de-stigmatize and normalize this plant. I think everyone who is in this business feels the way we do, that we’re part of a movement that is not a moment in time. This is not a trend.”