I am not a stoner.
I don’t smoke, vape, bake, or dab. Neither THC nor CBD is my jam. I have no designated dispensary, no red card. The last time I tried an edible, I saw myself in the mirror and promptly had a panic attack. The time before that, my body relaxed so much that I couldn’t move and I got so freaked out that I, you guessed it, had a panic attack.
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In short, I am not the kind of person who would typically spend her Sunday at the inaugural RiNo Cares: Cannabis Health & Wellness Fair. Yet I believe in the power of cannabis as a medical tool. There are too many people whose chronic pain has subsided, whose stress levels have dropped, whose inflammation has disappeared because of medical marijuana to not recognize that this strange little plant can change lives for the better. So I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about—by spending six hours at RiNo’s Cultivated Synergy, an incubator and coworking space for cannabis-related companies, alongside people who swear by Mary Jane’s healing abilities. Here’s what I learned.
Cannabis users come in all shapes and strains.
I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone who dabbles in ganja has questionable hygeine and perpetually bloodshot eyes. But it’s still enlightening to see how many wildly different folks make up the hemp-using population in particular. (For those of you who are also new to the wide world of weed, hemp is typically defined as a type of cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent of THC—the compound that gets you high at stronger levels—so it’s often used for pain relief instead of euphoria.)
Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly guys wandering around in Rastafarian-style hoodies at this cannabis fair. But there was also an older woman looking to combat her osteoporosis. A fitness instructor hoping to incorporate pot into his classes. A blogger who resembled Nicki Minaj (colorful hair included). A grandpa-looking dude in a vest and khakis who reminisced about throwing whole bags of marijuana into his food in the ’60s. A beefy representative from the Weed for Warriors Project, which advocates for medical marijuana access for veterans. A neuroscientist with a THC molecule necklace who’s one of the foremost cannabis scientists in the country. And so on. The point is, the community is diverse enough that there’s no pressure to look or act a certain way in order to fit in—and that’s refreshing.
On the other hand, the cannabis industry could do a lot more to help beginners feel welcome.
OK, I know the vendors at this thing were probably expecting folks who know their salves from their topical creams. But I also think a fair that’s supposed to be educational should be exactly the kind of place where those interested—but not well-versed—in CBD products should be able to dip their toes into the… grow house or whatever.
For the most part, that was not the case. When I asked one guy how much ingestible hemp oil to put in my mouth at once, he looked at me like I needed brain surgery. One woman asked me where I typically “shopped” and didn’t conceal her surprise at the fact that I’d never set foot in a dispensary. When the guy I took to calling Aging Hippie Grandpa (vest and khakis) didn’t understand a few things during the culinary demonstration, the response was more condescending than it should have been. To be fair, the panel discussions that took place throughout the day were fascinating, and the experts mostly took care to break down confusing language into layman’s terms. The manufacturers could take note.
The cannabis industry could help advance the idea of personalized medicine.
It was a bit irritating to hear from pretty much every vendor that your dosage of a cannabis product depends on personal preference and how you react to it. Just tell me how much to start with, I kept grumbling. In reality, though, cannabis (and the wide variety of products that incorporate it) really does affect each person differently. That means there shouldn’t be a standard amount given to everyone—an idea that’s just starting to be applied to traditional medicine. The fact that this is already the norm in the cannabis world may be a boon to the concept catching on for medicine in general, and that seems like a win for everyone.
It’s hard to know which products to trust.
At least once a week, 5280 editors get an email about a company that claims to be offering some revolutionary new CBD line. Inevitably, they’re doing what every other cannabis company seems to be doing: producing high-quality, natural, pure, organic, non-GMO products—at least according to their labels.
This a) makes sifting through the CBD space and actually choosing a product incredibly difficult for consumers—although, to be fair, the same could be said about a lot of industries—and b) may not actually be true. One expert at the fair told me there’s no such thing as an organic certification for hemp-derived products. A vendor gossiped that another company’s hemp plants were grown in China—and since hemp absorbs toxins in the air and ground, all of the country’s smog goes straight into the plant. On one panel, the two experts argued about the number of helpful studies that had been done on cannabis; the only thing they seemed to agree on was that there could be more.
I ended up doing some research about the regulations (or lack thereof) on my own and still ended up confused. The most helpful thing I found was a list of the warning letters the FDA has issued to 18 companies, including two in Colorado, that have advertised unapproved drugs containing CBD. The investigators found that some of these drugs didn’t have any CBD in them. Moral of the story: Be careful what you ingest—or believe.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the cannabis space.
If you thought the conversion around cannabis would die down once the substance was legalized, you thought wrong. Local researchers are conducting studies on whether medical marijuana would be beneficial for everything from epilepsy and PTSD to inflammatory bowel disease and Parkinson’s Disease. Cannabis lobbyist Cindy Sovine-Miller is opening Denver’s first legal marijuana spa, hopefully in early summer. The company CannaMakeADifference is connecting cannabis companies that want to donate charitably with appropriate nonprofits. And that’s just a small sampling from what I heard about at RiNo Cares.
In the end, I don’t think my experience pushed me to start rubbing CBD oil into my temples every night. But I do think I’m going to pay more attention to the cannabis realm from now on. There’s so much potential there, for both positive and negative outcomes—we’ll just have to see which path the ganja-preneurs decide to take.