Derek Mercury, owner of Jeffersonville, Vermont-based Maple Plus, says simple is better.
“It’s a very simple product,” he says of the enhanced maple sugar that became available on April 20 of this year. “There’s just two ingredients.”
Those ingredients: maple sugar derived from Vermont pure maple syrup and cannabidiol (CBD), one of the chemical components of hemp, which he adds in the production.
From beer to cheese to produce, buyers and sellers of Vermont goods take pride in knowing exactly what goes into the products on the shelves. As more products containing CBD as an active ingredient enter the market, people who make and sell these products are stepping up their testing standards and looking for new ways to assure users their products are uniform in composition and safe for use.
Makers want to see more accountability and higher standards for products.
“It’s a currently overlooked facet of CBD right now,” says Chris Thomas, co-founder of Good Body Products in Guilford, Vt. “It’s kind of the wild west for CBD. People aren’t thinking about where it’s coming from.”
While more than half of U.S. states, including the District of Columbia, have legal medical cannabis, it remains illegal under federal law. Being such, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate derivatives of the plant, including CBD. Products containing CBD cannot receive a certified “organic” label.
In a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania bought 84 commercially available CBD products on the internet and had them tested by an independent lab.
The test results found that only 31 percent of the products tested contained the actual dose of CBD as advertised on the label. Twenty-six percent contained less CBD than the label indicated and 43 percent contained more.
Another finding in the study: “Concentrations of unlabeled cannabinoids were generally low; however, THC was detected in 18 of the 84 samples tested,” according to the paper.
Tetrahydrocannabidol (THC) is the active ingredient in cannabis that produces a “high.”
By state regulation, any product containing cannabis extracts must contain less than .3 percent THC.
To verify the chemical composition of ingredients and the purity of products, labs provide testing, cannabinoid extraction, refinement, and product developing to businesses around the state. Companies also send samples out of state to be tested in third-party labs in Massachusetts.
In all areas of the Vermont CBD market, makers and sellers have adopted their respective approaches to the frequency and thoroughness of testing.
“If you can’t afford the test then get out of the business,” says Dennis Waters, who works in operations at Green Mountain Hemp in Saint Albans.
At Maple Plus, the CBD extract that Mercury purchases is tested before it’s added to the maple sugar. Before the maple sugar goes to market, a sample is tested by a lab in Waterbury. Batch numbers are stamped on every box, and the test results are available on the Maple Plus website.
“There’s multiple points of lab testing to ensure the quality and dosage of the ingredients.” he says. “I want people to know how much CBD they’re getting in each box of our sugar. It varies slightly batch to batch, but we want people to know what’s in our product.”
Elmore Mountain Therapeutics in Elmore, Vt. produces whole-plant CBD extract in a sublingual tincture and a topical balm. Each batch the company releases is tested by multiple labs, and the results are also listed for reference on the company’s website.
“We use two different labs to test for potency, purity, and contaminants and we feel very confident about the results,” says Ashley Reynolds, who runs the business with her husband, Colin.
Other makers want to see more accountability and higher standards for products.
“I feel like there’s not a lot of standards in the state and there’s not a lot of information so people are doing whatever they feel like,” says Waters. The lack of standards, he explains, can lead to products that are inaccurately labeled or contain “hot hemp,” or cannabis that has too high concentrations of THC.
“It’s really up to the store owners to check what they sell,” he says. “You don’t just want to buy something that says ‘CBD.’ It’s up to us to police our own store.” Waters says he demands test results from makers wanting to sell products in his store and emphasizes that no one should be in the business if they can’t afford to test.
“You don’t want someone who works in immigration, law enforcement, or the government to be concerned about what’s in the bottle and have that weigh on their mind,” says Michele Waters, a retailer at Green Mountain Hemp. “They should know there’s a line and that this is what you get with us and we don’t step outside that line.”
Dawn Rose Kearn is the sales manager at AroMed Aromatherapy in Montpelier and says she regularly talks with customers who have questions about products.
“A lot of what we do is maintaining information accuracy,” she says. “We also do some educating about what an ethical price point should be.”
Kearn says more CBD products are coming into the state from Colorado, California, Kentucky or as far away as Denmark. With some of these products, it can be difficult to verify where the plant was grown, which parts of the plants were used, and which extraction methods were used to obtain the extract.
“That’s why we work with Vermont-based farmers to maintain a close eye on the vetting process,” she says. “We want to maintain a close relationship with them.”
Chris Thomas of Good Body Products believes Vermont has a pretty conscientious community of growers. “We have a really good commitment to sustainability and organics,” he says. “As long as that is done correctly, the only thing that I think could be done to assure customer safety is the abundant testing.”
Thomas says that transparency will be critical as the demand for CBD-added products continue to grow.
“My attitude is there’s still plenty of room for everybody.” he says. “If you do it right, you’re bringing a therapeutic product to the market. CBD is good stuff.”
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