San Diego company sees promise in newly legalized hemp products

Stuart Tomc, vice president for human nutrition with CV Sciences.

A relatively new industry that manufactures and markets products containing cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which is extracted from the hemp plant, just received a major boost with the federal government’s decision to remove hemp products from its list of controlled substances.

The action was part of a farm bill approved by Congress and signed by President Trump in December. The change means that, rather than coming under the purview of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, hemp products including CBD oil will be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Although some companies, such as San Diego-based CV Sciences, have already been marketing products with CBD oil in health food stores and online, the new federal legislation takes the hemp industry out of a legal gray area and into the mainstream.

“This should give comfort to federally regulated institutions – pharmacies, banks, merchant services, credit card companies, e-commerce sites and advertising platforms — to conduct commerce with the hemp and hemp CBD industry,” said a statement from the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a national hemp industry trade group.

The hemp plant is a genetically distinct relative of marijuana, with a much lower amount of THC, the compound in marijuana that produces a “high” in its users, said Stuart Tomc, vice president for human nutrition with CV Sciences, which has offices in Sorrento Valley.

Tomc, in differentiating between the plants and products, said there are three “lanes” - pharmaceutical drugs made with CBD, marijuana sold in dispensaries, and nutritional supplements sold in health food stores. CV Sciences has two divisions, which focus respectively on pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements.

CV Sciences, a public company, had sales of $35 million in the first three quarters of 2018, said Tomc. A company spokeswoman said its product, PlusCBD Oil, is the No. 1 selling CBD oil in the U.S.

The company markets three different CBD oil products for different purposes, said Tomc, which can all be found in health food stores. The red-label product is made from raw hemp seeds, stems and stalks, and used by consumers to reduce inflammation.

The green-label product is a heat-activated extract used for stress, and the gold-label product contains triple-concentrated CBD oil for pain, said Tomc.

Various establishments in San Diego also offer CBD-infused cocktails, coffee and food, said the company spokeswoman.

The popularity of the products sold in health food stores speaks to their effectiveness, said Tomc.

“If this is a placebo effect, this is the most widespread, sweeping placebo effect I’ve ever seen,” said Tomc. “People don’t buy things that don’t work over and over. It certainly suggests that we’re on to something.”

CV Sciences has conducted studies regarding the safety of CBD oil, and the company now has a study in progress to look at its effectiveness.

Dr. Joe Maroon

Dr. Joe Maroon, a member of CV Sciences’ board of directors and a practicing neurosurgeon in Pittsburgh (he is also the team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers), said studies have indicated that CBD oil can help with inflammation, pain and anxiety, and also may help insomnia sufferers.

CBD oil, he said, “is a very safe, natural substance derived from hemp, with very minimal side effects, although caution needs to be used with anyone taking blood thinners for other medical conditions.”

Maroon, a triathlete, said he uses CBD oil to treat his own pain and inflammation, which he prefers over drugs such as ibuprofen.

Consumers can protect themselves by using products from well-known companies that publish their test results online, Maroon said.

Maroon said he has seen his patients benefit from taking CBD oil, but he can’t say for sure how much of the effect is placebo and how much is therapeutic effect.

“That’s why we need more clinical studies to thoroughly assess the therapeutic efficacy of this,” Maroon said.

CV Sciences is seeking to do just that, said Tomc. “We’ve demonstrated safety and consistency and now we’re working on demonstrating efficacy.”