While the Compassionate Care Act to legalize medical marijuana has yet to go into effect — the state is still aiming for a January start date — a “legal” method of vaporizing cannabis has emerged in New York City and is becoming an integral part of the existing electronic smoking culture.
The cannabis plant contains dozens of cannabinoids, chemical compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which makes users feel high — and cannabidiol (CBD), which has few, if any, psychotropic effects. CBD extracts are now available in the form of oil cartridges that can be attached to commonly sold vaporizer “pens”; when inhaled, the oils’ smokeless vapor is said to be useful in treating pain, inflammation, anxiety, and spasms.
“[CBD] introduces non-cannabis people to cannabis,” says Scott Giannotti, founder of the Cannabis and Hemp Association. “Here are all these people in New York that are dying to get their hands on cannabis medicinally, [and with CBD oil] you don’t have to wait for dispensaries to open.”
In 2013, medical marijuana with high amounts of CBD gained popularity upon the release of the documentary Weed by CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The documentary told the story of Charlotte Figi, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy that caused her to have hundreds of seizures a week, stunting her development. When she tried a tincture made from high-CBD cannabis, Charlotte’s seizures decreased by 99 percent.
As CBD gains recognition and popularity for such therapeutic properties, its legal status remains a bit opaque. While marijuana is still classified in the United States as a Schedule I illegal substance — in the same category as heroin — hemp is legal, although it cannot be grown here in the U.S. Cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC qualifies as hemp, even if it has high amounts of CBD, which, many argue, allows CBD to remain “legal.” However, companies selling hemp-derived CBD products have been warned by the FDA that they cannot make claims that their products have medical benefits. And CBD extracts derived from marijuana are still Schedule I. “How you present CBD determines whether or not it’s a drug,” Giannotti says.
As vaporizer pens (for cannabis or nicotine) become more popular, CBD is also becoming more widely known and used as an easily accessible option for people seeking the therapeutic effects of cannabis. CBD oil cartridges for vaping can be purchased online or at specialty vaporizer shops.
“When you vape the CBD liquid it almost feels like vaping a…strain of marijuana: happy, content, calm, but you’re not high, you’re completely thinking clearly,” says Frank De Grasse, owner of Cloud99 Vapes in the East Village. “People want a sense of calm without breaking the law and without going to buy antidepressants or going to the doctor for pharmaceuticals.”
Many also vaporize CBD for what they claim to be its medicinal purposes, such as to alleviate stomachaches, nausea, or the side effects of chemotherapy. Basit Memon, owner of Aladdin Smoke Shop in Paramus, New Jersey, says the demand for CBD oil cartridges is increasing. Those who get drug-tested or who are trying to quit smoking cigarettes are frequent customers.
Yet while hemp-derived CBD has less than 0.3 percent THC, Giannotti says it’s impossible to eliminate all of the plant’s psychotropic properties. He says that when the molecule is heated, there may be a slight psychoactive effect, especially among elderly users. But while CBD is known to be more effective when accompanied by THC, most claim the trace amounts found in the oil cartridges do very little to get users high.
“The power of the CBD vape is immediate,” says cannabis researcher and author Lex Pelger. “If you’re using it for an acute flare-up or an autoimmune disorder, a CBD vape is a great way to safely inject cannabis into your system.”
Most experts agree, however, that CBD oils should be carefully vetted. Beware of “hemp oil hustlers,” Pelger warns. “They’re selling incredibly shitty product made from Chinese hemp industrial paste. Children are getting sick because they’re using it for epilepsy because there’s CBD in there, but the heavy metals in there are poisoning their guts.”
Some of these CBD companies are selling “snake oil” filled with pesticides and other chemicals, says Giannotti. Hemp grown for CBD ingestion is not the same as hemp grown for industrial purposes and labeled as CBD. “It’s very important that people understand the source and have a product that’s been vetted,” he says.