CBD, Now at a Farm Stand Near You

Open Minded Organics gets into industrial hemp business
Industrial hemp, used to manufacture CBD. Judy D’Mello

They look the same, smell the same, and taste the same, as industrial hemp and marijuana belong to the same plant species, the Cannabis sativa. But that’s where the similarities end, because comparing industrial hemp to marijuana is like comparing a portobello mushroom to a psychedelic one.

“Just like there’s a difference between cherry tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes,” said David Falkowski, the founder of the Open Minded Organics farm in Bridgehampton, “there are different cannabis plants.” 

Mr. Falkowski is the only registered processor of industrial hemp on Long Island. He uses it to manufacture CBD, or cannabidiol, a chemical extracted from the cannabis plant that has gained prominence in recent years for its therapeutic properties in helping all manner of ailments, from restless nights and anxiety to aching muscles, menopause, and even skin problems. As a result, CBD products, such as tinctures, edibles, lotions, gel caps, and balms, are popping up everywhere, in heath food stores, yoga studios, the gym, juice bars, and, naturally, at Mr. Falkowski’s farm stand.

But misinformation about CBD is widespread, and the stigma attached to cannabis runs deep. So Mr. Falkowski and other reputable CBD manufacturers are eager for people to understand the facts.

CBD products are legal, if sourced from federally compliant farms. They are nonpsychoactive, as they contain less than 0.3 percent THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound responsible for that “stoned” feeling. Industrial hemp cultivars, such as Sour Tsunami, Turpey Hemp, and Wulf, are specifically grown for hemp-derived products and CBD, not for euphoric drug use.

In fact, as Richard Ball, New York’s commissioner of agriculture and markets and an enthusiastic promoter of the hemp industry, once said, “You can smoke industrial hemp for a week and all you will get is a sore throat.”

As such, farming industrial hemp, which Mr. Falkowski does in an undisclosed area — “Not because I have anything to hide, but because I don’t need high school kids thinking it’s weed and destroying it all” — is heavily regulated. 

The plant varieties he grows are approved by the Industrial Hemp Research Initiative of New York State, a government program launched in 2015 to enable certain educational institutions to grow and research industrial hemp. Since then, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has introduced and signed legislation to establish industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. Mr. Falkowski’s plants undergo stringent compliance inspections to test the levels of THC during all stages of farming and harvesting.

“This is the last chance for small, blue-collar farmers to stay in the legalized marijuana business,” he said, since obtaining a license to grow medical marijuana is now prohibitively expensive. 

The Alchemist’s Kitchen is a Manhattan-based manufacturer of botanical medicines. A few weeks ago, the company introduced its CBD product line at the Mandala Yoga Center for Healing Arts in Amagansett Square.

“There’s a history that goes back hundreds of years between cannabis and yoga,” said Lou Sagar, the chief executive officer of the Alchemist’s Kitchen, which he founded in 2015. “So, I was motivated by trying to educate people on the benefits of CBD, and one way to do that was through yoga teachers and their studios.”

“Of all the CBD companies that approached us to sell their products,” said Jolie Parcher, the founder and owner of Mandala Yoga, “Lou was the only one who wanted to see who we are and if we were right for the Alchemist’s Kitchen, which gave me the opportunity to check out their mission and decide if they were right for us.”

The company is “intention-based,” Mr. Sagar said, with seven resident herbalists who prescribe botanical remedies depending on a person’s needs or intentions. His CBD is sourced from a federally regulated Hudson Valley farm, and his goal is to create socially responsible products. The medicinal benefits of CBD, he stressed, are merely claim-based and not scientific, but when produced well, it offers three main benefits: anti-inflammatory, pain relief, and stress and anxiety-reduction.

CBD first came to public attention in a 2013 CNN documentary called “Weed,” featuring a young girl in Colorado who had a rare and life-threatening form of epilepsy that by the time she was 5 caused 300 grand mal seizures a week. Through online research, her desperate parents heard of treating her syndrome with high-CBD cannabis, which almost immediately ended her seizures.

Since then, CBD has gone mainstream, evolving into one of today’s biggest wellness fads. In Los Angeles, it can be found in cocktails, and juice shops will add a few drops of CBD-infused olive oil to a beverage. CBD beer has been introduced in the United Kingdom. In the Sag Harbor Gym on Bay Street, a countertop display of CBD products offers snack packs of gummy animals and a dropper filled with a single dose. 

Despite all of this, there is still much confusion about the legality of CBD. 

In April, Forbes published an article stating that “the Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that CBD is definitely still illegal.” On the D.E.A. website, however, CBD, or cannabidiol, is not listed as a Schedule I controlled substance. The D.E.A. recently issued an official statement, though still murky, basically stating that it is illegal only when sourced from a non-federally sanctioned grower.

What is known is that if CBD oil is ingested in high doses, a urine test for drugs will produce a positive reading, as the test determines only the presence of THC, not CBD. Regardless, for now, users of CBD products are touting it as the new “it” remedy. 

Lisa Zaloga, a yoga teacher who divides her time between Amagansett and New York, began using a tincture produced by the Alchemist’s Kitchen to deal with stress and a CBD balm to treat neck and shoulder aches. “I’m not exactly a skeptic,” she said, “but neither am I overly effusive. But I have to say, after about two weeks of steadily using the oil, I felt my whole nervous system relax.”

About the topical potion, she was unreservedly effusive. “The balm is the bomb. I walked out instantly cured. It was like I had rubbed Advil right into my neck.”

Janice Vaziri, a self-employed accountant who lives in Springs year round, said she was nervous about trying CBD because of the cannabis connection. “But after speaking with Lou, the owner of Alchemist Kitchen, and doing a lot of research, I was more than confident that it was a natural, plant-based way to get some relief from my symptoms without the hallucinogenic component.” Her ailment includes two severely herniated disks. Until she sees a specialist to discuss her options, she said, the balm is a huge help.

Mr. Falkowski of Open Minded Organics was also eager to share testimonials of his CBD clients, who had “amazing stories,” he said. But this week he was busy networking in Albany, at the inaugural Eastern United States Hemp Growers Conference and Expo. The first-ever professional conference dedicated exclusively to industrial hemp, it attracted internationally renowned hemp industry experts along with key government officials and agronomic researchers from the Empire State.

Extract, like those from cannabis plants grown by David Falkowski of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton, can provide many of the therapeutic benefits of marijuana without the high. Judy D’Mello