Fifty years ago, seniors who wanted more pep in their step turned to Geritol, a tonic to cure “tired, iron-poor blood.”
These days, people over 50 are more eager than ever to find a cure-all that will give them vim and vigor.
But today’s hot new elixir comes in products — capsules, creams, oils, gummies and even foods — derived from one of their generation’s favorite plants. Cannabis.
Cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD, is a cannabis compound that’s booming in popularity with boomers.
According to AARP, at least 64 million Americans have tried CBD — including more than 1 in 6 people over 50. According to a recent survey, more than 60 percent of CBD users have taken the compound for anxiety. Other reasons given for taking it include chronic pain, insomnia and depression.
Scientists are also studying CBD’s effects on Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Others claim phytocannabinoids can treat arthritis, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
How does it work?
Research is just starting to emerge, but the current scientific thinking is that CBD works by latching onto receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, an internal regulating system — with receptors found predominantly in the brain and nervous system — that plays a role in pain, sleep, mood, inflammation and response to stress.
While there are no conclusive studies yet, early reports are promising. Harvard Medical School recently reported that CBD has been effective in combating seizures, anxiety and insomnia.
Proponents say CBD can also be a source of relief for joint pain, arthritis, seizures and peripheral neuropathy. In a recent study, two-thirds of those surveyed said CBD helped their health issue all by itself; 30 percent said CBD helped when combined with conventional medications.
Epidiolex, a seizure drug for two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, is the only FDA-approved health use of CBD.
Over-the-counter CBD products are made from farmed “industrial hemp,” which is a cannabis crop that contains no more than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) — the chemical that causes the cannabis “high.” In other words, if you’re worried you’ll get high using CBD products, you won’t. In fact, some makers guarantee 0% THC for specific products for those who wish to avoid THC entirely. (Read on for more on that.)
Legislation is what kicked off the CBD boom: In 2014, the federal Farm Bill included language to encourage hemp crops for research. Then the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized the production and sale of hemp and its extracts.
According to the policy-focused Brookings Institution, the new hemp legislation wiped out long-held federal laws that “did not differentiate hemp from marijuana and other cannabis plants, all of which were effectively made illegal in 1937 under the Marihuana Tax Act and formally made illegal in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act, which banned cannabis/hemp of any kind.”
Under the new federal laws, industrial hemp — one of the first plants to be cultivated and turned into fiber by humans more than 10,000 years ago — is legal
as long as it contains no more than 0.3 percent THC.
Hemp crops or cannabis plants in the U.S. that contain more than 0.3 percent THC are classified as marijuana and are federally illegal. (State laws, of course, vary about medical and recreational marijuana. In Minnesota, medical marijuana crops and sales are legal.)
Benefits and side effects
Joshua Holmes is a Rochester native who completed his physical therapy training at Mayo Clinic and now has his own practice, Achieve Results Physical Therapy in Rochester.
He said CBD, which he sells at his practice, is creating quite a buzz.
“This is a tight-knit medical community, and people are definitely talking about CBD,” he said. “It’s a big movement.”
Holmes said many of the seniors he sees are using CBD to “dial down” their use of prescription medicines.
“Most seniors in the United States are taking five medications, on average,” he said. “The more medicine you take, the more your chances of having an adverse reaction can increase. Many of my patients tell me they want to try an all-natural pain reliever instead.”
Holmes was quick to note that CBD is a still a drug, however.
“There can be side effects, such as nausea or fatigue,” he said.
“CBD also changes liver function, so it can actually increase the potency, delivery and reaction time of medications,” Holmes said. “Talk to your doctor before you start taking it — and perhaps have a liver panel conducted.”
Dr. Brent Bauer, director of the Mayo Clinic Integrative Medicine and Health Research Program, said in a Mayo Clinic video that early research is showing CBD could have some promise as a tool for managing inflammation, pain and mood.
But he added that CBD can interfere with the metabolism of some chemotherapy agents as well as blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin). And, as with any supplement, CBD isn’t tested by the FDA for reliability, so its purity and potency aren’t guaranteed.
In the video, Bauer recommends always talking to your doctor before trying any supplements: “If it’s strong enough to help you, it’s strong enough to hurt you.”
Holmes said his clinic stocks the CV Sciences brand of CBD products out of San Diego.
“They’ve undergone third-party testing, and they contain no THC, which may not be the case for some off-the-shelf brands,” he said. “We start patients on 5 to 10 milligrams per day, which costs about $40 per month.” (It’s important to note that the safe amount to consume is still not known.)
CBD product packaging often includes the words “full spectrum,” which typically means the product contains all 100-plus cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, including low (and legal) traces of THC, rather than just isolated CBD.
Broad-spectrum CBD is cannabidiol that has been extracted from the cannabis plant with all of the other compounds from the plant — except for the THC.
Holmes said, anecdotally speaking, people who use CBD in conjunction with physical therapy in his practice seem to get better results.
“If patients are using CBD cream, we ask them to apply cream an hour before they come in for treatment,” Holmes said. “That way, they come in with a lower pain level, so their exercises are more effective.”
One woman’s story
Joan Barron, 56, lives in Ramsey, a northwest suburb of the Twin Cities. After a fall left her with a damaged nerve in her pelvis and severe pain, she was prescribed numerous pain killers, including fentanyl patches, oxycodone, oxycontin, hydromorphone, methadone and clonazepam. Her son, Adam, started using her medications when he was 16, became a heroin addict and eventually died from an overdose of her methadone.
Her primary physician and pain clinic have been supportive of her desire to reduce her prescription medications. To treat her chronic pain, she currently takes 1,200 milligrams of CBD three times daily, on average.
“It doesn’t get rid of all the pain, but it dials it back,” she said. “It really helps with inflammation.”
Her advice for fellow seniors?
“It should be an option for anyone being prescribed an opiate or a narcotic. Cannabis has a bad rap because people associate it with getting high. But this is really a natural product that’s been used for thousands of years,” she said.
“It doesn’t come with side effects of opiates or narcotics, like fogginess or constipation. If you can try something natural like CBD, you have nothing to lose, so it’s worth giving it a try.”
A chef’s tale
Payton Curry was born and raised in Minnesota and then moved to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America. After working as a chef in Singapore, San Francisco and Napa Valley, he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where, three years ago, he founded Flourish Cannabis, a chef-driven, lab-tested producer of high-end cannabis edibles.
In addition to supplying cannabis dispensaries, the company sells CBD brownies, candies, olive oil and other CBD foods online.
“We sell a lot of inventory in Minnesota,” said Curry, who returns to the state frequently to conduct workshops and host CBD dinners. “I have family members who have worked in Western medicine, and for a long time, I was the black sheep of the family. Now they joke that I’m the green sheep.”
Curry said Minnesotans are ready to look beyond hype. Many, he said, start buying CBD for their pets first.
“They buy CBD dog biscuits and watch their older dog start acting like a puppy again, and then they start to take it themselves,” Curry said. “All mammals respond to the technology that’s inside cannabis.”
Dosing and local sourcing
Maren Schroeder is the policy director for Sensible Change Minnesota, a cannabis lobbying organization. Pointing to the current lack of regulation for CBD, she urged consumers to purchase only after they’ve reviewed the product’s Certificate of Analysis (COA), a lab report on its chemical makeup.
She noted that CBD isn’t a cheap product, often costing $50 for 100 doses of 5 milligrams each.
Absent any FDA recommendations, her advice is to start with the lowest dose possible.
“If that’s effective, awesome, and if that doesn’t work, go up by 5 milligrams at a time,” she said. “Manufacturers want you to take as much as possible, but if you pay attention to your own levels of pain, you can determine the right amount for your body. The most important thing is to journal what you take and when — and what the effects are.”
For those looking to purchase CBD products with a local connection, she suggested checking out NJ Farms / Amberwing Organics, which uses hemp grown in Minnesota and Wisconsin and processed in Eagan. Another local source is Stigma Hemp, which sells oils derived from Minnesota-grown hemp from its North Loop Minneapolis storefront and online.
She also noted that Chef Curry of Flourish Cannabis has been a supporter of her nonprofit organization’s work.
“He comes back all the time, and he’s so helpful in making sure Minnesota is reaping benefits from this boom,” she said.
Whether the hype ultimately results in a longtime boom or an ultimate bust remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Holmes offered this advice: “More research needs to be done. But in the meantime, educate yourself as best you can, and know that while CBD works for a lot of people, it doesn’t work for everyone,” he said. “You need to be aware of possible drug interactions and to know where your product came from.”
Local CBD makers
- Canviva — is based in Minnetonka and sells its own CBD balms, gels and oils, including tinctures enhanced with essential oils, plus an oil for cats and dogs, all made with U.S. hemp. Kowalski’s Markets and other Minnesota locations carry Canviva, formerly c4life.
- NJ Farms / Amberwing Organics — uses hemp grown in Minnesota and Wisconsin (and processed in Eagan) to make CBD balms, vape cartridges
and oils for humans and pets.
- Stigma — 250 Third Ave. N., Suite 130, Minneapolis — uses oils derived from Minnesota-grown hemp to make CBD gummies, capsules, creams and oils, including an oil for dogs.
Here’s a look at some local and national products and what they cost.
Extract Labs CBD Muscle Cream / Reviewers love this aromatic CBD salve made in Boulder, Colorado, with jojoba, beeswax, rosemary, lavender, arnica, menthol and shea butter.
$90 for 2.8 ounces • extractlabs.com
Koi Tinctures / These CBD-infused oils from California-based Koi are meant to be held under the tongue for a few moments before swallowing. Flavors include lemon-lime, orange, strawberry, peppermint, spearmint and natural.
$39.99 for 1 ounce • koicbd.com
CBD Oil Roll-On Gel / Offered by Minnetonka-based Canviva, this cooling formula for muscles and joints contains arnica and aloe plus CBD oil.
$40 for 2.5 ounces • canviva.com
Dreamyard CBD Oil / Modist Brewing and Stigma Hemp, both of Minneapolis, partnered to create a CBD oil infused with the brewer’s Dreamyard hop blend.
$59.99 for 1 ounce • stigmahemp.com
- Is CBD legal? It’s complicated, according to a deep dive into the question by PBS and the Brookings Institution’s look at the 2018 Farm Bill.
- Can CBD trigger a drug test? No, says WebMD. But this article points out some exceptions to the rule.
- Is it safe for pets? A Minneapolis vet says to use care.
- How can I find quality CBD? Consumer Reports shares its top tips.
Julie Kendrick is a contributing writer for many local and national publications. She lives in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @KendrickWorks.