I’d been staring at the different CBD products at the counter in Healthy Life Market for a couple of minutes when Alisha, a sales associate, came over to ask if I needed any help.
“I don’t know,” I said. “What’s the difference between all of this?”
There were a lot of different packages to choose from. The main difference between them seemed to be cost.
Over the last couple of years, CBD — or cannabidiol — has cropped up everywhere. It’s taken off, not just here in West Virginia, but all over the country. You can buy CBD products at specialty shops, coffee houses, health food stores and even gas stations.
CBD can be smoked, vaped, sipped, chewed and swallowed or rubbed onto some part of your body. They put it in candies, cookies and coffee. You can get it flavored and scented.
The natural flavor, by the way, has been described as “weedy.”
What is this stuff, anyway?
CBD is a substance derived from certain strains of the cannabis plant — generally industrial hemp, which contains very little of the psychoactive chemical THC. This means it’s probably not going to get you high.
It’s not supposed to get you high, anyway. Nobody I know says they buy CBD to get high.
But depending on who you ask, CBD can do just about everything else.
If it’s magic, it’s very confusing magic.
Some people say CBD helps with pain and can somehow be used to get people off strong painkillers, including opioids. Others tout CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, which can help with things like arthritis.
They say it can help you relax, deal with stress or just sleep better.
CBD may also help improve focus, which would let you get more done and be more productive — or it may help you lose weight. CBD may help suppress your appetite. Or is that gain weight? Maybe it increases hunger, which might be good if you’re taking chemotherapy, which can often bottom out your desire for food.
And of course, there are plenty of people who say CBD does absolutely nothing. It’s just a funky tasting (and expensive) sugar pill. If you get any benefit from it at all, it’s only because you believe you get some benefit.
The doubters appear to have the advantage. There’s not a lot of confirmed data. So far, the best Food and Drug Administration can come up with is to say it’s probably not harmful.
Yet, people keep talking about all the good it does, how it helps them — and it’s not just a few people.
I’ve even tried the stuff a little. Back when my blood pressure was first diagnosed as being through the roof, I thought the solution to all my problems was to just relax — never mind the extra weight or the marathon viewings of “The Office.”
CBD sounded like something new, and maybe a better option than 10 milligrams of Losartan taken every morning.
I’d gone into a new CBD shop, feeling weirded out and slightly dirty to even be there. The place didn’t look seedy. It was as well-kept as a jewelry store, but I wasn’t sure how legal this all was. I wondered what would happen if someone recognized me skulking around the store.
What would they think?
The anxiety over my blood pressure was making me crazy. Who cared?
But I brought a friend along for moral support. At the counter, I remember asking a lot of nervous but pointless questions, and then spending about 20 bucks on some CBD gummy bears.
In the parking lot, my friend laughed at me and said, “You were acting like a first-time pot buyer.”
I shrugged. I’d never bought marijuana, not even once.
I’m not going to lie and say I was never around illegal drugs or that I never inhaled. I knew a couple of people in college who supposedly sold small amounts of marijuana, but I never gave them any of my money.
There was never much money to give in the first place, and I was too busy spending whatever I had on beer, pizza and cigarettes — occasionally, books, if there was anything left over.
I don’t remember much about those gummies other than they tasted like dirty green apples. There might have been 10 in the package. I don’t think I got past the second bear before I decided medicine, at least, didn’t taste so bad.
Two gummy bears didn’t do much for blood pressure, as far as I could tell, so I went along with what my doctor suggested. I went on medication and stayed on the medication, even adding new medication, which was still cheaper than the CBD candies, before I decided it was time to drop the weight and move around a little more.
I don’t know if it would have helped any to keep taking the CBD gummies or not, but I didn’t think much about it until the number of places selling CBD went from a few to a bunch.
Putting CBD to the test
So, for the month of August, I’ll be trying to find out. I’ve made myself into a lab rat. I’m trying different CBD products, talking to people about it and seeing if there’s anything to any of what people say about it.
To make some sort of first step, I started at Healthy Life Market, because it was along my usual path. It’s where I go to buy Kicking Horse Coffee, Virginia Diner Peanuts (the best) and, occasionally, vitamins.
During the year I’d spent as a vegan, they were the only reliable source for multi-vitamins containing no animal products. They also sold vegan-friendly frozen foods and had a nice selection of craft beer.
I was pretty clueless about the CBD products the store sold, and Alisha tried to explain.
There were different blends, different strains and strengths of CBD which I could take. Some of them were geared more toward specific issues like pain, inflammation or stress.
In principle, that all sounded good to me.
I have a tendency to overdo it sometimes. I will follow up a CrossFit workout or a long-distance run with a couple of hours of pushing a lawn mower or hacking away at bushes in my yard until I’m ready to fall down.
And I can get stressed. I will overcommit at work and chase my tail trying to do more than is probably reasonable. At home, I will worry myself to death over things entirely beyond my control or the control of anyone outside of prominent televangelists.
I can get bummed out sometimes. It’s not depression, but I can take a bad day pretty hard.
“How does this work?” I asked Alisha. “Do I just take one pill and things get better, or do I have to take them for a while?”
I’d talked to a barista a few weeks ago who’d sworn by CBD to treat her anxiety. She said she took it every day. But was that entirely necessary if you only had occasional aches and pains — or if you only felt a little out of sorts every now and again?
She wasn’t entirely sure but volunteered that she’d had some neck trouble.
“I take these,” Alisha told me, and pointed to a display of yellow packages. “I take the yellow pills and then the pain in my neck goes away.”
I didn’t have any really severe pain, just some occasional soreness in my legs or hips brought on by overuse after decades of dis-use.
There were yellow, green and brown labeled packages. Yellow was for pain. Green was for stress. Brown was for inflammation.
Technically, I thought, I got all three occasionally.
“Better just give me one of each,” I said. “We’ll see what happens.”