Cannabidiol is being touted as a magical elixir, a cure-all
now available in bath bombs, dog treats and even pharmaceuticals. But maybe
it’s just a fix for our anxious times.  By Alex Williams    Oct. 27, 2018

Photo Illustration by Eric Helgas for The New
York Times
It’s hard to say the precise moment when CBD, the voguish
cannabis derivative, went from being a fidget spinner alternative for stoners
to a mainstream panacea.
Maybe it was in January, when Mandy Moore, hours before the
Golden Globes, told Coveteur that she was experimenting with CBD oil
to relieve the pain from wearing high heels. “It could be a really exciting
evening,” she said. “I could be floating this year.”
Maybe it was in July, when Willie Nelson introduced a line
of CBD-infused coffee beans called Willie’s Remedy. “It’s two of my favorites, together in the
perfect combination,” he said in a statement.
Or maybe it was earlier this month, when Dr. Sanjay Gupta
gave a qualified endorsement of CBD on “The Dr. Oz
Show.”
“I think there is a legitimate medicine here,” he said. “We’re
talking about something that could really help people.”
So the question now becomes: Is this the dawning of a new
miracle elixir, or does all the hype mean we have already reached Peak CBD?
Either way, it would be hard to script a more of-the-moment
salve for a nation on edge. With its proponents claiming that CBD treats
ailments as diverse as inflammation, pain, acne, anxiety, insomnia, depression,
post-traumatic stress and even cancer, it’s easy to wonder if this all natural,
non-psychotropic and widely available cousin of marijuana represents a cure for
the 21st century itself.
The ice caps are melting, the Dow teeters, and a divided
country seems headed for divorce court. Is it any wonder, then, that everyone
seems to be reaching for the tincture?
“Right now, CBD is the chemical equivalent to Bitcoin in
2016,” said Jason DeLand, a New York advertising executive and a board member
of Dosist, a cannabis
company in Santa Monica, Calif., that makes disposable vape pens with CBD.
“It’s hot, everywhere and yet almost nobody understands it.”
With CBD popping up in nearly everything — bath bombs, ice
cream, dog treats — it is hard to overstate the speed at which CBD has moved
from the Burning Man margins to the cultural center.
A year ago, it was easy to be blissfully unaware of CBD.
Now, to measure the hype, it’s as if everyone suddenly discovered yoga. Or
penicillin. Or maybe oxygen.
Even so, you ask, what is CBD? Plenty of people
still have no idea. CBD is short for cannabidiol, an abundant chemical in the
cannabis plant. Unlike its more famous cannabinoid cousin, THC
(tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not make you stoned.
Which is not to say that you feel utterly normal when you
take it.
Users speak of a “body” high, as opposed to a mind-altering
one. “Physically, it’s like taking a warm bath, melting the tension away,” said
Gabe Kennedy, 27, a founder of Plant People, a start-up in New York that sells CBD
capsules and oils. “It is balancing; a leveling, smoothing sensation in the
body mostly, and an evenness of attention in the mind.”
Comparing it to the feeling after an intense meditation or
yoga session, Mr. Kennedy added that the CBD glow has “synergistic downstream effects”
in terms of social connections. “Around others, I find myself more present and
attentive, more creative and open.”
Such quasi-religious talk is common among CBD’s disciples.
“I’m a 30 y.o. male who has not experienced a single anxiety
free day in my adult life,” wrote one user on a CBD forum on Reddit earlier this month. “About 3 weeks
ago I started taking CBD-oil 10 percent and I can’t even describe how amazing I
feel. For the first time in 15+ years I feel happy and look forward to living a
long life.”
Such testimonials make CBD seem like a perfect cure for our
times. Every cultural era, after all, has its defining psychological malady.
This also means that every era has its signature drug.
The jittery postwar era, with its backyard bomb shelters and
suburban fears about keeping up with the Joneses, gave rise to a boom in
sedatives, as seen in the era’s pop songs (“Mother’s Little Helper,” by the Rolling Stones) and
best sellers (“Valley of the Dolls,” by Jacqueline Susann).
 Mmoon Mother Hemp Ccompany
The defining sociological condition today, especially among
millennials, is arguably anxiety:
anxiety about our political dysfunction, anxiety about terrorism, anxiety about
climate change, anxiety about student loan debt, even anxiety about artificial
intelligence taking away 
all the good jobs.
The anxiety feels even more acute since the wired generation
feels continuously bombarded by new reasons to freak out, thanks to their smart
devices.
“You are inundated with terrible news, and you have no
choice to opt in or out,” said Verena von Pfetten, 35, the former digital
director for Lucky magazine who is a founder of Gossamer, a high-style
magazine targeted to cannabis-loving tastemakers. “You open your computer,
check your phone, there are news alerts.”
What a convenient time for Mother Nature to bestow a
perma-chillax cure that seems to tie together so many cultural threads at once:
our obsession with self-care and wellness, the mainstreaming of alternative
therapies and the relentless march of legalized marijuana.
“That seems like a gift in these times,” Ms. von Pfetten
said.
CBD A Better You: Why Is CBD Everywhere? 1
Photo Illustration by Eric Helgas for The New York Times
‘The New Avocado Toast’
The tsunami of CBD-infused products has hit so suddenly, and
with such force, that marketers have strained to find a fitting analogy. Chris
Burggraeve, a former Coca-Cola and Ab InBev executive, called it the “new avocado toast,” in an interview with Business
Insider.
Then again, avocado toast seems so five years ago.
Fad chasers looking for the next-next big thing may want to
check out the CBD-infused ricotta-and-honey toast at Chillhouse, the
Instagram-ready coffee shop, nail salon and massage studio on the Lower East
Side of Manhattan. And then retreat to Inscape
NYC
, a meditation and relaxation studio in Chelsea, to unwind with a
stress-busting CBD
Saturday
 session.
It would be false to suggest CBD is nothing more than an
obsession for reiki-adjacent bicoastal millennials. According to the AARP website, CBD has become a popular treatment for pain
and arthritis among baby boomers, some of whom may have been out of the
cannabis game since they rolled their last doobie at a Foghat concert
in 1975.
Even so, CBD seems to have found its natural target audience
among the vegan-curious creative professionals who cluster in trendy hotels
like the James New York-Nomad hotel, which offers a room-service CBD tasting menu featuring CBD-infused
meatballs and sriracha-mayo House Tots. Or the Standard hotel outposts in Miami
and New York, which sell $50 blood orange-flavored gumdrops by the upscale CBD
brand Lord Jones in
its minibars.

 

CBD A Better You: Why Is CBD Everywhere? 2
Blood orange and CBD-infused gumdrops by an upscale brand called Lord Jones, which is sold at trendy hotels.
Blood orange and CBD-infused gumdrops by an upscale brand
called Lord Jones, which is sold at trendy hotels.
Such sumptuously packaged, premium-priced CBD products
appeal to trend-conscious consumers in part because they promise a degree of
indulgence — without the indulgence.
Despite its cannabis origins, CBD is not marketed as a
recreational drug, but almost as its opposite: as a corrective to the ill
effects of alcohol and even marijuana itself, which makes it catnip for
hard-charging professionals who need to be fresh for a 7 a.m. breakfast
meeting.
A detox drink under development called Sober
Up
, for example, will contain CBD and is supposed to support liver health
and help prevent hangovers.
Fewer hangovers is also the sales pitch at Adriaen Block, a
bar in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens that whips up CBD-infused negronis
and old-fashioned cocktails. “You can maintain a conversation and know what you
are saying,” said Zsolt Csonka, who owns the bar and mixes drinks there. “After
two or three drinks, you’ll be able to go to the gym the next day.
When added to dishes like sesame shrimp toast at PopCultivate, a series
of cannabis-centric pop-up dinners in Los Angeles, CBD (which is flavorless)
can function as a social lubricant, just like a wine pairing, but without,
according to proponents, the hangover.
“You become more engaged with your neighbors, talk more
freely, and meet more people you dine with,” said Chris Yang, the molecular
biologist turned chef behind the series.

But nowhere does the fervor for CBD seem greater than in health and beauty, where cannabidiol is often packaged with buzzy terms like “single origin,” “small batch” and “plant based.”

CBD A Better You: Why Is CBD Everywhere? 3
Among beauty products alone, CBD has already achieved
cliché status
, popping up in blemish creamssleeping masksshampoos,
hair conditioners, eye
serums
, anti-acne lotions, mascaras, massage oils, soaps, lip balms, bath
bombs, anti-wrinkle serums, muscle rubs and a Sephora aisle’s worth of
moisturizers, face lotions and body creams. Even the bedroom is not safe from
the CBD invasion, to judge by the spate of CBD sexual lubricants on shelves.
This earthy, artisanal aura plays well with devotees of,
say, Goop, who are already conditioned, after years of aromatherapy,
cryotherapy and homeopathy, to accept a natural wellness mantra over anything
on offer by Big Pharma and the medical industrial complex.
As an alternative health regimen, CBD holds particular
appeal to women, said Gretchen Lidicker, the health editor of Mindbodygreen, a
wellness website based in New York, and the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets.” Noting the preponderance
of female-run CBD businesses, Ms. Lidicker, 26, said that it is “no surprise
that women are leading the CBD movement.”
“Women have long felt ignored and dehumanized by the medical
and health care industries,” she said. “They experience longer wait times for
treatment. Their pain and suffering are more likely to be dismissed as anxiety
or hysteria. And the male body has typically been the model for medical
research.”
Such concerns seem to have helped fuel the CBD movement. In
an era marked by a loss of faith traditional institutions (governments, banks,
hospitals), CBD has flourished, perhaps because it seems new, mysterious and
untainted by the mainstream.
It may or may not be a coincidence that one of the
best-known CBD retailers in New York, the Alchemist’s
Kitchen
in the East Village, serves up cannabidiol tinctures and gel caps,
alongside workshops on astrocartography, lucid dreaming and full-moon ancestral
healing.
And devotees swear it works. “It really helps with pain,
inflammation and the general anxiety that grips me 24 hour a day,” said Anna
Duckworth, 34, the editor of Miss Grass, a website based in Venice, Calif., that W
magazine called the “Goop
of cannabis.”
“There are millions and millions of people who are just fed
up and don’t want to take these drugs that make them feel bad,” she said, “and
want to go a more nontoxic, natural route.”
Snake Oil or Wonder Drug?
There’s one problem with that approach. When people turn to
CBD-infused coconut lattes to cure acne and erectile dysfunction, it is not
easy to separate hype from science.
Skeptics who assume CBD is just 21st-century snake oil,
however, may be surprised to learn that the substance is being studied as a
potential treatment for maladies as diverse as schizophrenia, insomnia and
cancer.
“CBD is the most promising drug that has come out for
neuropsychiatric diseases in the last 50 years,” said Dr. Esther
Blessing
, an assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine,
who is coordinating a study of CBD as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use
disorder
. “The reason it is so promising is that it has a unique
combination of safety and effectiveness across of very broad range of
conditions.”
And the research has led to medical treatments. In June, the
Food and Drug Administration approved a cannabidiol-based drug called Epidiolex as a treatment for severe forms of epilepsy,
representing the first government-sanctioned medical use for CBD.
Preliminary research also indicates that CBD may be
effective as an antipsychotic in reducing the symptoms of
schizophrenia
, with fewer side effects compared with current antipsychotic
drugs, Dr. Blessing said.
CBD has also shown promise to reduce
cravings among people addicted to opioids
, according to a study published
in Neurotherapeutics in 2015. It may fight cancer, too. The authors of a review published
in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2012 wrote: “evidence is
emerging to suggest that CBD is a potent inhibitor of both cancer growth and
spread.”
That’s not to say that a CBD-laced gummy or two should be
considered medicine.
“Most of the products where people are putting CBD in coffee
or food, there’s no solid evidence that they contain enough CBD to do
anything,” Dr. Blessing said. “A CBD coffee may only have five milligrams in
it. In order to treat anxiety, we know you need around 300 milligrams.”
Don’t go chugging a shot of CBD oil just yet, though. Dr.
Blessing said that much of the research is in its infancy, and the purity and
dosage of some CBD consumer products may not reliable. And, she noted, CBD can
have negative interactions with many medications, so potential users should
talk to their doctors before taking it.”
There are legal hazards as well. As with all cannabis
products, the federal government categorizes CBD products other than Epidiolex as a Schedule 1
drug, like heroin, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. And
cannabis remains illegal under federal law, even in states that have legalized
marijuana for medical or recreational use.
Even so, the D.E.A.’s mission is to go after large-scale
drug traffickers, not individual users, said Barbara Carreno, an agency
spokeswoman. “We’re not swatting joints out of hands in Hilo, Hawaii, and we’re
not going to focus on somebody who is buying lotion or ice cream that has CBD
in it.”
Although there have been scattered raids of CBD retailers
around the country, several states, including Alabama, Texas, Florida and
Oklahoma, have passed laws approving specific CBD products to treat specific
ailments. And CBD shops have cropped up nationwide, in Los Angeles, Oklahoma
City and Austin, Tex., to name just a few cities.
In New York City, for example, CBD tinctures and other
products can be bought at specialty shops, health food stores, yoga studios,
flea markets, boutiques and even some corner delis. (The availability of CBD is
perhaps not surprising, given Mayor Bill de Blasio’s continued efforts to reduce
the penalties for low-level marijuana
violations
.)
Aside from a federal crackdown, the only thing that may
eventually kill CBD’s momentum is hype itself, said Mr. DeLand of Dosist.
The frothy claims about CBD “sets up some false expectations
that the molecule will never be able to live up to,” Mr. DeLand said. Not only
are questionable claims an invitation for government regulation, but they risk
making even legitimate applications seem dubious, he said.
“In isolation, CBD obviously does have some benefits, but
it’s certainly not a catchall for all the world’s health problems,” he said.
“We are at the tip of the iceberg on what its therapeutic applications are, and
how to make those applications repeatable.”
“The future of this industry,” Mr. DeLand added, “is going
to be based on fact, not fiction.”
A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 27,
2018, on Page ST1 of the New York edition with the headline: CBD
Is Everywhere. 

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