CBD, or cannabidiol, is a derivative of the hemp plant. Unlike THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, another plant in the cannabis family, CBD won’t make people high. Many consumers attribute other qualities to the substance, however. People claim CBD has helped them with ailments ranging from anxiety to migraines to arthritis. The compound can be found in products including honey, oil, and even candy. There’s a lot of confusion around CBD, which is illegal at the federal level, but is available in every state and online. The state of Vermont has no age restrictions on purchasing the product, so retailers and producers set their own rules, if they set any.
Patricia Eames, owner of Clover Gifts and Apothecary in Woodstock, Vermont began selling CBD in her store in 2016 after she took the product for anxiety and found it worked for her. Once customers learned she had CBD in stock, it sold well. Among the pillows, quilts, and baskets Eames sells in her shop, she now carries 30 lines of CBD in the form of tinctures, topicals, honey, and gummy bears. Clientele range from people in their 60s and 70s who use it for arthritis to younger adults who use it to ease stress and anxiety.
With some of the substance’s sweeter forms, however, Eames realized the product might be attractive to children, so she decided to set some restrictions.
“I wasn’t even thinking about kids buying it, at first,” Eames says, “but the CBD honey is one of the things that got this on the radar for us about the idea that maybe younger people would want to buy it. We have gummies, too — that’s another reason we restricted it,” she says, adding that aside from topicals, gummies are her top-selling category of CBD.
Even though CBD age restriction isn’t a state law, Eames thought it made sense to set the purchasing age in her store to 21 when cannabis was legalized for recreational use in Vermont with the same age requirement. “Hemp is a member of a cannabis family, and my thought was that would be my rule,” she said.
At her store, she asks for a driver’s license to verify purchase of CBD products. She says the age-limit issue has only come up three times. She’s had a few disappointed college students stop by: “I felt bad, but I had to explain this was just our policy,” she said.
“I think CBD can be beneficial for people who are younger,” she adds, “but I think it’s important for parents to be involved in that decision. For me, it’s not my place to make that decision when it comes to somebody else’s child.”
People on the production side of the CBD industry are also considering the implications of the product’s availability.
According to Andrew Switz, who together with Rachael Henne operates RopaNa, a CBD producer in White River Junction, Vermont, CBD is beneficial to people because of its direct interaction with the endocannabinoid system within our bodies. “Since this endocannabinoid system is responsible for a wide range of functions and regulatory roles,” Switz said, “any compound that has a direct and potent effect on this system will have significant results on the entire being of that organism.”
Switz believes it is possible for people to have endocannabinoid deficiencies in a similar way that someone experiencing depression can have a serotonin deficiency. “The theoretical remedy for this proposed problem,” he says, “is to supplement phytocannabinoids, such as CBD or other cannabinoids, from plants — cannabis — so the body can function properly and return to homeostasis.”
Still, he said, “There is much more research that needs to be done on the endocannabinoid system and its function and dysfunctions. Many people have found CBD to be a natural and safe alternative to common pharmaceuticals and over the counter medications.”
His company advises all people interested in using CBD that the substance has the potential to interact with 60-80 percent of common pharmaceuticals, including anti-depressants, birth control pills, and blood thinners. “People should always consult with their physician before taking CBD on a daily basis,” he said. “The drug interactions caused by CBD can make some medications less effective, and can be problematic for individuals on certain medications that have a narrow window between a therapeutic dose and a toxic dose.” He adds consumers should also make sure to buy products that have been grown for human consumption, and that have been laboratory tested not only for cannabinoids, but for residual solvents and pesticides.
According to Switz, RopaNa’s products include the notice "not intended for use by minors" listed on them because the FDA and DEA have both made statements regarding marketing CBD products to minors or children. The FDA has also issued cease and desist letters to CBD companies who are advertising specific doses, uses and treatments. Switz: “We do not have a recommended dose on our label because we are trying to play by the rules and avoid any conflict with regulatory agencies. So really, we include the disclaimers on our products to protect ourselves from parents, regulators and other institutions. We always tell our customers that our product is safe and laboratory tested. But ultimately, it is up to the parents to decide what is right for their child or dependent.”
Dr. Clare Drebitko, a pediatrician at Mount Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, said she has had some parents of patients ask her opinion about trying CBD for a range of ailments including ADHD, anxiety, and insomnia. Some parents have asked her before they have tried giving it to their kids, others have asked afterwards.
“Not enough is currently known about CBD and how it impacts the brain to make recommendations for use in a pediatric population — a population whose brains are still developing and are therefore particularly sensitive to substances, such as CBD, that have effects on the brain,” Drebitko said. “My concern is that it is unregulated, that the few studies that have been done have shown significant cross contamination with THC in many products and complete lack of CBD in others that are advertised to contain CBD.”
She adds that she is also wary of any substance that claims to have such a panacea of health benefits that have never been proven in medical studies. “I can't in good conscience recommend a substance that so little evidence exists about and that has potential harm,” she said, “so I discourage my patients from trying it.”
Drebitko points out that the two current medical uses for CBD are for children with severe disabilities and seizures unresponsive to other medications. It can also reduce psychosis in schizophrenia. “So, clearly, it is doing something to the brain,” she said.
So far, the parents she’s spoken with who have tried CBD for their children haven't noticed any improvement in the symptoms of concern. “They have stopped using the product once they've been informed about the lack of information, lack of regulation, potential for liver toxicity and interference with other medications, and my concern about the fact that the medical uses for it are quite extreme.
“I appreciate those stores who have elected to only sell CBD products in alignment with the age restrictions on the sale of THC products, which is 21 years of age,” Drebitko said. “I think that protects consumers and businesses while these important issues are flushed out.”
Elizabeth Kelsey is an essayist and the addiction prevention coordinator for the Hartford (Vt.) Community Coalition.