A couple of years ago, advertising for CBD oil started popping up everywhere around town, from little shops in strip malls to signs in the gas station windows. It feels a little like a fad, like something that will be here for a while and slip away once everyone is bored with it.
However, some see CBD as the beginning of a long and exciting exploration of what the calming product can do for the wider world.
“I don’t see it tapering off. I see it ramping up. It’s like an iceberg,” says Cody Seals, senior farming and extraction advisor at Blühen Botanicals. “We only see the tip and everything else below the water is about to surface and show people all the things cannabinoids can do for us.”
In February 2014, President Obama signed the Farm Bill into law, which allowed industrial hemp to be grown and researched in the United States, a practice that was mostly abandoned in 1957. Tennessee followed suit, and by 2015, farmers were participating in the pilot program to grow hemp, research its agriculture and economy, and consider its marketing and sales. While the door had been opened for the CBD oil boom, it wasn’t easy to walk through.
“2015 was our first growing season, but to have raw hemp, you needed a permit every day,” says Cody. “It was very regulated. You needed a permit to move it and process it. There were so many hoops to jump through.”
By 2018, Tennessee legislators changed the law. Gone was the movement permit for processed hemp, flower included, which is why consumers saw a quick emergence of CBD shops in the area. Almost overnight, CBD oil was everywhere.
“This was also in tandem with allowing us to use different genetics. In the beginning, we were only allowed to grow hemp from Canada or Europe, which weren’t great for the smokable market or the CBD market. They were very low in cannabinoids,” says Cody. “So, 2018 was a brand new year for hemp. It opened the flood gates.”
The botany of hemp is comprehensive since the entire plant can be used - the leaves, the seeds, the stalk. The various components of hemp can be churned into textiles and food, fuel and cosmetics, concrete and paper products. Hemp’s industrial history dates back thousands of years and is a huge part of the fabric of the country’s industry and economy. It’s only when hemp is considered consumable when folks start to get worried. It’s a fair concern, depending on who you talk to.
But for CBD oil advocates, they’ve been waiting for this day. They want to make sure consumers understand what the product can do for them and to dispel any fears and confusion.
There are dozens of cannabinoids - chemicals unique to the Cannabis plant - and they fall under myriad subclasses. The most commonly referenced (and researched) is THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the one responsible for psychoactive effects (the high) and consistently up for legal debate. However, it’s cannabidiols where we get CBD, and they have no psychologically active elements. According to Cody, this is what separates CBD oil from marijuana.
“At the end of the day, we’re after what the flower produces, which are cannabinoids. It’s the sparkle, the shimmer, those are trichomes or modified plants hairs,” he says. “When we’re processing them, about 90 percent comes back out and can be used in a totally different way, such as composting. We’re washing off those trichomes.”
The co-founders of Blühen Botanicals, Joe Fox and Erich Maelzer, saw hemp coming down the road and decided to look into the production of the plant. Then Cody came along and together they saw an opportunity to create something new, a conceptual approach to hemp and CBD. What if it was more than a capsule or tincture? What kind of new, creative business model could serve a curious CBD community?
Blühen opened its multi-functional space in Old City in May 2019, where consumers can purchase a variety of products but also ask questions, grab lunch (or a beer), or work remotely. It’s open and bright with plenty of room for patrons. The shop is also used to host events and activities that promote overall wellness. It is unlike anywhere else in Knoxville.
What exactly are the health benefits of CBD oil, whether it’s smoked, consumed, or applied topically? That’s a tough question, and it’s one that often frustrates those who sell it.
“We’re allowed to say virtually nothing. We can’t even say it relieves stress since stress is a condition,” says Cody. “It makes marketing hard, and conversations hard, when you’re trying to explain the product to the people. We can say that CBD has a calming effect, but you have to go off of the testimonials, which really speaks to the public.”
Retail space aside, Blühen Botanicals boasts Certificates of Analysis on every batch of hemp it produces. Not only does it verify you’re buying a safe product, but it also confirms what’s in the batch and what’s not. Cody warns consumers of CBD oil to be wary of other companies that can’t produce a Certificate of Analysis.
“We’re one of kind,” he says. “There are others who do some facets well, but we’re probably one of the only ones who grew hemp with farmers, processed it, and made it into a tincture. We are truly seed to shelf.”