The ABCs of CBD

Cannabinoids are being consumed in every conceivable way — from vaping to tinctures, lollipops to face creams. We spoke to East Enders on the cutting edge of the movement, to answer some basic questions: What, exactly, is C.B.D.? And are the miracle-cure claims bogus or science-based?

Ask Dave Falkowski about hemp and chances are good that you’ll find yourself in a long and engrossing conversation. The discussion may range to unexpectedly diverse topics, from nutrition to organic farming to the opioid epidemic and even politics, but it will always come back to hemp. In Dave’s world, it’s all connected.

And he knows his stuff. As the owner of a farm on Butter Lane in Bridgehampton called Open Minded Organics (OMO), and one of the first licensed growers of industrial hemp in New York State, Dave is uncommonly knowledgeable about the subject and has been educating people about hemp and hemp-derived products for years. 

In 2017, Dave began growing industrial hemp as part of a state-funded pilot program that permits a limited number of businesses to do so. He is one of a few New Yorkers who hold a license to grow hemp and produce hemp-derived products, like cannabinoid oil, or C.B.D. as everyone knows it these days.

If you have bought a cup of coffee, glanced at social media, left your house, or otherwise emerged from beneath a rock over the last year and a half, you already know a little something about C.B.D. oil, which is quickly becoming as ubiquitous as table salt. But, like many of us, you still might not know exactly what it is. 

Dave, who has been selling his C.B.D. oils at his farm stand for more than a year, recently expanded his business to include a new storefront in Sag Harbor. The OMO Apothecary, which opened its doors with little fanfare in April, is found in what was previously a tailor’s studio in the Long Wharf Plaza, just beyond Big Olaf’s Ice Cream. 

“We want to be a local face for hemp, a place where people can come to learn about these products,” says Falkowski, who unpacks boxes of C.B.D.-infused bath bombs as he talks.

In recent months, there has been a swell in cannabis-related news coverage as New York State appears poised to legalize recreational marijuana. As an active proponent of its legalization, Dave has thoughts about weed, as well, but he consciously endeavors to keep the topics separate. While C.B.D. may be derived from the cannabis plant, Dave will tell you, weed and C.B.D. are totally different things. 

So, what is it, exactly? Well, C.B.D. is an acronym for the chemical cannabidiol, a natural component of the cannabis plant, which — unlike its cousin tetrahydrocannabinol, or T.H.C. — is non-psychoactive. In other words, ingesting it doesn’t make you high.

A little over a year after C.B.D. appeared on the commercial market in New York State, it is already widely available in an astonishing number of forms: soaps, creams, vapors, tonics, capsules, honeys, lollipops, and lattes. just to name a few. You can eat C.B.D., drink it, inhale it, or rub it on your body. 

Yet, despite its proliferation, many consumers remain ignorant about the therapeutic properties of the mysterious odorless and flavorless little tincture. “You wouldn’t believe the questions I get,” says Dave. 

Dave responds to such questions with the generous, if slightly tired, tone of a teenager explaining Snapchat to a grandparent. Indeed, a big part of his job consists of correcting commonly held misconceptions about hemp products in general. “I can’t tell you how many times I have had to explain to people that these products won’t make them stoned.”

“The largest hurdle is the stigma around cannabis — period,” says Dave. “I mean, some people are conservative, ya know? Marijuana is cannabis, and hemp is cannabis, and a lot of consumers don’t understand the difference between them.”

However, for many consumers, not only has cannabis — in C.B.D. form — shed its illicit associations, it has been transformed into something wholesome and healthy, an essential part of a self-care and wellness regimen.

Part of the confusion around C.B.D. no doubt results from the dubious claims made by some proponents, who promise cures for ailments as diverse as acne, anxiety, insomnia, depression, post-traumatic stress, and even cancer. With such unverifiable hyperbole floating around, it is easy to become suspicious: Is this stuff for real, or is it just another wellness fad? One wonders if the cheerleaders of C.B.D. are the same people who promised immortality via goji berries in 2012. Even pot-savvy millennials sometimes have a hard time keeping the distinctions straight, when faced with the dizzying array of products and claims  

While OMO Apothecary is the first East End storefront to be devoted entirely to C.B.D. products, it is by no means the only game in town. Just up Main Street, Onda Beauty offers C.B.D. facials. At Sag Town Coffee, a few doors down, customers can for $4.99 add a drizzle of C.B.D. oil to the top of their espresso drink. 

Dave is adamant about separating his business from the snake-oil salesmen: “I just want to provide a space and opportunity for people to learn about it, try it, and decide if it is for them.”

He is careful about the language he uses when discussing his products. “I always make sure to speak in disclaimers,” he says, with a laugh. “I use words like anecdotally or ‘I have seen’ when talking to our customers, because I don’t want to make false promises. That said, we have seen things that are just short of miraculous.” 

Dave’s customers have stories of C.B.D. oil successfully treating maladies from anxiety disorders to Parkinson’s and fibromyalgia.

“A lot of the people come to us because they have tried other kinds of therapies and they’re at their wits’ end. I mean, some of their stories are enough to make you want to cry.”

One OMO customer named Mikea mechanical engineer who declines to give his last name, swears it works more reliably than other medicines he has tried. “I broke my hand a few months ago on a job, and some days in the morning it swells up so bad I can’t move it, can’t even hold a coffee cup, nothing. I put a few drops of the oil, rub it in and it takes the swelling down almost like ibuprofen, but it works a lot faster. It’s almost like putting grease in there. Twenty seconds later, the whole hand is loosened up.”

“I want to be clear: We are not claiming anything,” Dave repeats. “We are just noticing that there are a lot of these . . . coincidences. and we’re still waiting on the science to explain it further.”

The reality is that, while research into the medical benefits of C.B.D. is underway at places like New York University and the University of Mississippi, it will likely be years before such studies will be able to offer concrete information about its effects. Until then, consumers are more or less forced to rely on anecdotal evidence.

“Given how widespread it already is, it’s pretty amazing how little we actually know about it,” says Diane Schade, a nurse practitioner in East Hampton. “That said, I am hopeful about it. There’s a lot of interest in C.B.D. in the medical community. We see a lot of people are reaching to it as a natural, nonadictive alternative to drugs like Xanax, which could be a good thing. Clearly it has medicinal properties and I’m in favor of more research. Let’s see what plant medicine can do.”

 A C.B.D.-laced latte at Sag Town Coffee in Sag Harbor, which is careful to disclaim any medicinal benefits . Elsewhere, delivery systems include gumdrops, bath bombs, chocolate bars, pet-grooming products — you name it. 

 

At a time when the future of American health care coverage is increasingly uncertain, and many families are crippled by the cost of insurance and medicines, more and more people seem to be looking for over-the-counter and homeopathic cures for their ills. 

“People are wary of pharmaceuticals,” says Schade, “and rightfully so.”

The opioid epidemic has increased pressure to find alternatives to painkillers like Oxycontin and Percocet. Unlike many prescription drugs, C.B.D. is not addictive and doesn’t appear to have any negative side effects, which makes it an attractive option for those struggling with drug dependence or sensitivity. Still, Schade warns that C.B.D. could present adverse interactions with other medicines in ways that we don’t yet understand.

Falkowski contends that comprehensive healing is just how natural products work. It’s not a single pill for a single ill, but a supplement that affects entire body systems. Think of the early days of aspirin, or Advil. 

While the major lab reports are yet to come in, preliminary studies do suggest C.B.D. may indeed have therapeutic benefits. For example, in 2018 the F.D.A. approved Epidiolex, a C.B.D. concentrate, for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy.

That said, others in the medical field attribute the effects of C.B.D. largely to the placebo effect, framing it as just a heavily-hyped fad. On this point, Dave is diplomatic, pointing to inconsistencies in the quality of different products. “Dilution makes a big difference,” he says. “We work with higher-concentration products, which means our oils can be expensive, but the potency is much stronger than others on the market.”

The C.B.D. oils at OMO range from $95 to $165 an ounce — pretty steep for a supplement with no scientifically proven benefits. 

But unlike oat milk and avocado toast and similar food fads, which track along age and income demographics, C.B.D. users don’t fit neatly into one demographic box. The days when hemp products were used mainly by a small class of progressively minded Burning Man attendees are gone for good. If we took as a sample the customers that wandered through the door of Open Minded Organics over the course of one rainy afternoon this spring, we would find among them an electrician, a mechanic, a farmer, and a schoolteacher. 

Widespread willingness to give it a try may have its roots in the rubble of our current national health care system, which has left many looking for alternatives to a doctor’s visit. 

In an effort to provide new customers with an entry-level way to sample products affordably, Dave has begun to produce small, single-dosage packages of high-concentration C.B.D. at $10 a pop.

If nothing else, the overwhelming public demand for C.B.D. indicates that Americans are hungry for an antidote to an epidemic of anxiety. With the political climate as it is — not to mention the foreboding state of climate change, and the pressure on immigrants, who rank high among the consumers of C.B.D. — it is no wonder that many are eager to get their hands on a calming agent.  

 

Dave Falkowski is one of a handful of small-scale farmers licensed to grow hemp in New York State. He opened OMO Apothecary in spring; among his customers are many who cannot afford traditional health care. Tycho Burwell photograph.

Cornelia Channing

Our associate editor at EAST, Nina has written this year about land preservation, Montauk ghost stories, and Trump helicopters. Born and raised in Bridgehampton, she graduated from Wesleyan University in 2016 and is now an MFA candidate at Stony Brook Southampton. When she’s not working, she can be found driving to the beach in her Volvo station wagon with her dog, Tucker, riding shotgun.