“To be honest, I'm not really sure if my story will fit in your column. I mean, it's not really about cannabis,” says Lauren Christy as we sit down at a table in her Westside apartment.
It's a fair point. Christy makes salves and oils that carry the active ingredient cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinol found in cannabis and hemp that has become the poster child for the medical cannabis community. Her startup company is called Savvy Fair, and although the main ingredient is found in cannabis, the topical pain relief products that she creates are completely legal to own and use anywhere in the US since the DEA okayed certain delivery forms of hemp in 2001. Birdseed, clothing, cosmetics, topically applied beauty products, paper and rope were all deemed legal for the simple reason that they can't deliver THC into the body. In other words: It's safe for children to use CBD extracts as well as anyone out there who likes the health benefits, but gets squirrelly at the thought of altering their consciousness with THC. (They exist!)
So, if CBD extract is legal to own and use for everybody (not just medical cannabis patients), then why should we even bring it up in the cannabis column?
Because the federal ban on growing cannabis applies to high-CBD/low-THC plants as well as the standard medicinal plants we know and love. Even after the Agricultural Act of 2014 made a distinction between “industrial hemp” and “marijuana”—any plant with below 0.3 percent THC is “industrial hemp”—the cultivation of these plants can still only be done in states where industrial hemp farming is legal, and then only on a provisional basis.
Which is why Christy has to get most of her CBD from outside sources. She has a personal production license, but she would never be able to produce enough to make a self-sustaining business from it. There's also the issue of separating the THC from the CBD during the extraction process, a time-consuming and seemingly-
Bottom line: Until restrictions on growing hemp are loosened, she's just going to have to go to outside sources to fulfill her customers' demand of this completely legal substance.
“And I guess that's why my products are always going to be linked to cannabis,” she says.
Christy's just handed me a sample each of the two products she currently offers on her website: Joint ReLeaf, a CBD-infused oil blend made with hypoallergenic organic grapeseed oil and clove bud extract—which she tells me is good for getting at achy joints—and Calm Balm, a CBD-infused salve made with unfiltered coconut oil, organic beeswax and sandalwood extract—which she says is good for muscle pain.
I have to admit, I'm a little skeptical when it comes to topical medicines that aren't specifically for skin problems. Only recently did I find out that topical counterirritants (like Bengay or Icy Hot) only “work” because the sensations they induce distract you from the original pain. Topical analgesics, however, are different. They just need to be absorbed enough to reach the nerve endings beneath the skin, where they block the transmission of pain signals from reaching your brain.
Christy says it's important to recognize the distinction between this kind of pain relief and “curing” an illness. “I don't want to give anybody the wrong idea. This won't cure anything,” she laughs, “But if you just rub a little on, the pain will either go away completely or at least ease up a little.” To demonstrate, she puts a dab on her finger—about the size of a dime—and rubs it onto the back of her neck. Christy suffers from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine's bone channel which squeezes and pinches the nerves, causing serious pain. When she became a medical cannabis patient in 2010, she quickly realized that the pain-relieving aspects of smoking cannabis weren't quite doing the job. It was then that she found out about the analgesic properties of CBD and began making her own extract. She hasn't looked back (as evidenced by her turning down my offer to smoke a joint).
After a few years of tinkering, she's finally made something she's happy with, and has decided to put it out there for the public (orders can be made on savvyfair.com). I try both products out in the parking lot of Christy's apartment complex before heading home. I rub a small amount of the Calm Balm ($18.99, 15mg) onto my neck, which has been tense all morning and was starting to give me a serious headache, and rolled some of the Joint ReLeaf ($12.99, 10ml) oil onto the back of my right hand, which has stopped being friends with me ever since I started writing for money. (Both items can be bought as a set, which is on sale for $14.49 if you get it before Dec. 15!)
Due to the fact that I am a contrarian, I have to snicker. There's no way such a small amount will do anything. I put on some New Pornographers and roll out into traffic. Halfway through “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” I realize that pounding on the steering wheel doesn't hurt my hand as usual. And hey, my neck seems to be easing up. What the ...?
You'd think I'd stop being amazed by now. No such luck. Every day it's: “Wow, wow, wow.”