Survivors, entrepreneurs and common people reveal the hemp industry’s opportunities and the challenges.
Last year Rebecca Tulloch and Calum founded the Wee Hemp Company in Aberdeen to help people experiencing difficulties in overcoming major health issues.
Rebecca’s friend, who had daily seizures, also tried CBD products. Soon she started to get better as well. After that, Rebecca and her husband committed to helping others. They wanted to open their own hemp farm and produce everything themselves, but UK regulations forced them to get a long way around. “There are a lot of obstacles, guidelines, limitations and rules we had to go through,” says Calum with a serious expression.
“We had bought the seeds and rented a bit of land,” says Rebecca. They only needed licences from the government. It was taking too long and they kept missing the growing season, she tells. Last Christmas the couple finally realised that they did not necessarily have to grow cannabis themselves to offer people excellent natural products. Using the services of two European companies, Rebecca and Calum communicate to the specifications of the products they wanted. “They do all the hard work for us,” laughs Rebecca. Once the final product arrives, they have only to label, third party test, and sell it.
The couple was amazed by the great response they received from Aberdeen but they also had to cope with a lot of sceptical people and the stigmas surrounding cannabis.
The difference depends on the percentage of certain chemical compounds present in the plants species. The biggest and more easily extracted compounds are THC (scientifically called Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (or cannabidiol). Cannabidiol (CBD) cannot make people high. While THC can cause dependence and the feeling of being high, if taken in high doses. For this reason, it cannot be present into any products over a certain percentage.According to the rule of thumb: the more THC present in a plant or species, the less CBD there will be and vice versa. What is called medicinal cannabis usually presents a even percentage of THC and CBD. But in reality, there are many species of cannabis plants. The main ones are marijuana (or street “weed”) and cannabis sativa.L (also known as industrial hemp).
This information is still not well known among the general public. So many people still use the terms marijuana and industrial hemp as synonymous and resulting in many being sceptical towards CBD products.
Stigmas are usually related to marijuana’s side effects. Those depend “a lot on what type of cannabis you take and how much you take,” explains Pr. Pertwee. The main ones caused by marijuana (and plants with and high ratio of THC) are paranoia, schizophrenia and, in the worst cases, suicidal behaviours. Those may occur because the THC interacts with neurotransmitters present in the human system.
On the other hand, sometimes, medicines containing CBD may have positive effects on patients who have a dysregulation in the endocannabinoids system. This system controls the mood, sensation and sleep. A dysregulation in this system may lead to depression (and then suicide), fibromyalgia or insomnia.
So, CBD products may also result helpful in the case of Alzheimer, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Yet, Pr. Pertwee also recognizes the scientific community needs more medical trials before being able to completely legalise all kind of cannabis (even marijuana). In a controlled way which would allow people to access the right kind of CBD product or marijuana, according to their health needs.
Many cases involving epileptic children getting better after using cannabis oil have also been observed. These pushed the UK Government to allow doctors to prescribe two cannabis-based medicines, Epidiolex and Sativex, the only ones labelled as medicines in the country. There are many other CBD products though, considered as dietary supplements. This is exactly the case of Calum and Rebecca's products, officially oils, balms or capsules.
This allows Calum and Rebecca to stick on the “natural holistic path”.
Pharmaceutical products are different in terms of compositions and in terms of hemp’s growing techniques, explains Rebecca.
One of the European farms they are using hand-picks the hemp plants, says Calum. There, hemp grows naturally and, as a consequence, there may be little variations between a plant and another. But pharmaceutical companies have to show “the same levels of continuity” explains Rebecca, and so medicinal products must be grown in very controlled environments, which you could refer to as factory farming. Here growing techniques will likely be very different to current industrial hemp farming techniques.
When I asked her if she would like to stick to supplementary diet products, she widens her eyes and firmly says “absolutely”.
“We will always choose the natural route,” adds Calum, "because that is what has really helped Rebecca. After all, she did get 'on top' of everything herself”, as Calum says.
She committed herself completely to what she calls “conscious living” adopting a 100% natural, holistic lifestyle.
Her story is an example of the results a person may reach depending on the point in which that person is in their life.
“I didn’t want to go half-hearted but not all people want to target their ill health from a variety of directions,” explains Rebecca. “For some even just being able to drink a cup of tea without spilling it everywhere can be massive.” The couple smiles at the thought of being a part of this little yet profound change.
What put a shade on their faces is thinking about how the current UK legislation is influencing their customer service. Here CBD companies’ representatives must be careful to what they say.
Two years ago an Italian trader (who preferred to remain anonymous) entered in the Cannabis Store Amsterdamfranchising. He was driven by the need for a job and that seemed like a good opportunity. He was right. Apparently, a lot of people were waiting for a shop like his to open in Milan. His customers are “people of a certain level, lawyers, accountants and such, searching for relaxation after a long working day”. The majority decided to try CBD products just for curiosity.
This was the case of Rossana Bucciarelli, 48, from Tuscany. She had always associated cannabis with marijuana and soft drugs. When she heard about the relaxing effects of these infusions she went to Patrizio's shop. She tried tea, with her friends. At first, they all were a bit sceptical because it smelt exactly like marijuana. Then, they got surprised seeing there were no side effects and it effectively relaxed them.
Teas, chocolates and therapeutic oils are the most trending products Patrizio sells, all labelled as dietary supplements, like the Wee Hemp Co.’s ones. In the UK he would not be allowed to make any medical claims, but in Italy he can display sheets listing the CBD benefits in his shop. For Rebecca and Calum this would mean the end of their dream. “A CBD company can be shut down at any moment,” tells Calum. He and Rebecca have to bear that in mind every time they speak with someone about their products. Calum says they are used to it and understands why the government has such a rule.
“CBD in the UK is a food supplement,” explains Calum. “If it is a food supplement it can’t be a medicine and you should not make medical claims about it,” he says.
What really makes things hard for them is the banking system. “Hemp, in any form, is classed as a high-risk activity,” he explains, and this makes receiving payments, especially online, extremely difficult. Banks and PayPal do not want to work with any cannabis related activity, so the couple had to take “special payments acquires”. The couple firmly believes that banks' policies are “the first thing that has to change for the hemp industry to be fully accepted”.
In the meantime, Calum and Rebecca will continue working on their projects hoping one day to be able to live in a house made of “hempcrete”, they laugh. “Taking everything under an umbrella” is their “dream goal,” Rebecca says. They have not given up that. They have just placed it a little to the side to help other people first.
Written by Gioia Brogioni, journalism student at Robert Gordon University of Aberdeen