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CBD is Everywhere

by Valerie Latona

From spa facials and foot soaks to body treatments and massages—this is only the beginning.

The Farm Bill of 2018 changed everything. In legalizing the cultivation and sale of hemp, this bill spurred a nationwide explosion in the growth of CBD, or cannabidiol, from the hemp plant. Spas, with their emphasis on relaxation and wellbeing, were the early adopters and continue to embrace CBD. Up to 74 percent of spas are either using CBD or planning on using CBD in their treatments, according to a recent International Spa Association (ISPA) study. Defined as any Cannabis sativa L. plant that contains 0.3% or less delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC—the psychoactive component of marijuana—hemp, and CBD, do not have mind-altering effects. What it has been shown to do is enhance relaxation and provide anti-inflammatory relief from aches and pains and skin conditions. Now, with more research being done on the benefits of hemp and a brand-new Farm Bill coming out later this year, more big changes  are on the horizon. 

The Cannabinoid Effect

All plants contain powerful natural compounds that, when extracted effectively, can help benefit the body and mind. The cannabis plant is no different. CBD, and THC for that matter, are the most well-known natural plant compounds in this plant. They’re called cannabinoids because of the way they interact with the body’s own nerve-signaling or endocannabinoid system. It’s this system that controls the release of neurotransmitters or chemical messengers that help regulate stress, pain, behavior, mood, memory, inflammation, and even immunity. The endocannabinoid system has receptors on nerve fibers throughout the body, including on the skin. Much like a lock and key, cannabinoids have what it takes to lock into these receptors to activate a physiological response.

While one study found that 51 percent of people who use CBD do so to relieve anxiety, the inflammation and pain benefits are not to be diminished. Fitness-minded spa-goers, sports enthusiasts, and even those with arthritis are requesting, and buying, CBD treatments and products in spas to help reduce pain and swelling in muscles and joints. “CBD soothes sore muscles and provides immediate relief with long-lasting benefits that help increase recovery from mild injuries,” explains Maureen Vipperman, spa director at The Rittenhouse Spa in Philadelphia, which offers The Rittenhouse Elevated Experience—a CBD foot soak and sound bath followed by a full-body application of CBD- infused products. “It’s especially beneficial for our guests with arthritis who are relieved from pain when treated with a CBD balm.”

While plenty of research backs up CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, there is now more research being done on the many other cannabinoids—more than just CBD and THC—in the cannabis plant. These additional cannabinoids are where the future of hemp lies. “CBD is just one of hundreds of cannabinoids in cannabis plants. There are over 118 that we know about. The most famous ones are CBD and THC but there is a lot of chatter about the other ones,” explains Antonia Schreiber, founder of The Windham Spa in Windham, New York, and owner of the farm that grows cannabis plants for use in the spa. It’s these other cannabinoids that are starting to be formulated in new products and called out on packaging.

CBC, or cannabichromene, for example, has been shown in early studies to be effective at mitigating inflammation and pain. And while CBN, or cannabinol, also seems to help with pain and inflammation, it works very well as a sedative. “CBN is absolutely phenomenal for sleep,” explains Hugh Huffaker, founder and CEO of Cause+Medic, a line of CBD body products (and an ingestible oil, which can be taken under the tongue) used and sold in luxury spas like Canyon Ranch, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, and the Mohonk Mountain House. (Organic Spa Magazine voted its CBD Body Butter as one of the top CBD products of 2022.) Another up-and-coming cannabinoid, CBG, or cannabigerol, helps with inflammation, pain, and nausea.

It’s not just cannabinoids that experts are buzzing about, however, it’s the additional compounds in the cannabis plant that are turning out to be powerful as well. These compounds, plant-derived chemicals like terpenes and flavonoids, exist in all plants but many researchers are beginning to realize that it’s not just cannabinoids that are producing an effect on the body. It’s the combination of all these compounds together that have the potential to create a more potent and therapeutic benefit, what’s called the “entourage effect.” This, says Schreiber, is “the most therapeutic way to use the cannabis plant.” While many of the mass-produced CBD products that were rushed to market after the Farm Bill of 2018 were isolates (which means they only had CBD in it), these products are starting to fade out. What’s becoming more common now: broad-spectrum and full-spectrum CBD products. Broad- pectrum products only remove the psychoactive component, THC, from them, leaving CBD and other cannabinoids. Full-spectrum is what Schreiber and other experts like Huffaker are banking on. These are the products that include CBD and other cannabinoids as well as other powerful plant chemicals like terpenes.

“Pairing full-spectrum cannabinoids with other clean active ingredients shown to be effective like peptides is the future of skincare.”

– Hugh Huffaker, founder and CEO of Cause+Medic

Benefits for the Skin

The skin—the body’s largest organ—is full of endocannabinoid receptors that bind with CBD to relieve pain and inflammation. This is why some research has indicated that topical application of CBD may help inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. CBD also has antimicrobial benefits, which is why using it topically seems to have a beneficial effect on acne. “Studies show that CBD can help treat an array of conditions related to the skin,” explains Allison Bevan, spa director for The Spa at The Joule, in Dallas, Texas, which offers guests treatments with CBD. “CBD has also proven to adjust the output of oils in the skin and hair by inhibiting skin cells’ lipid production, making it effective for preventing acne.”

The endocannabinoid system also helps maintain skin homeostasis and barrier function. It’s the skin’s barrier that keeps out unhealthy environmental toxins and pathogens—and locks in moisture. When applied topically in the right formulation, CBD is well absorbed into skin cells, helping to hydrate and heal the skin. As part of the entourage effect, full-spectrum CBD works with other cannabinoids as well as its essential fatty acids, antioxidants, amino acids, flavonoids, minerals, and vitamins like B, C, and E to help repair the skin while keeping it soft, smooth, and radiant. “We’ve learned that the maximum impact must come from a dependable delivery system,” says Margaret Lora, spa director at Mohonk Mountain House, which began incorporating CBD into spa treatments last year. “Water-soluble CBD is the key to improving [its] bioavailability. CBD is naturally fat-soluble which typically makes it harder for the body to utilize.”

Huffaker believes that this entourage effect will impact the growth of CBD skincare moving forward. “Pairing full-spectrum cannabinoids with other clean active ingredients shown to be effective like peptides is the future of skincare,” explains Huffaker. For example, CBG, Huffaker has found, is particularly good at treating under-eye bags. Huffaker has been researching the effects of full-spectrum cannabinoids on the skin and is expecting to launch a facial skincare line using water soluble CBD—after four years of research—at the end of this year or early next. He’s not alone. Market forecasts predict the growth of CBD skincare products to reach $1.7 billion by the year 2028 (up from $414 million this year).

One part of this growth may be golf resorts and spas that are beginning to invest more heavily in CBD skincare products, as well as CBD drops to be taken orally. Because of their known anti-inflammatory benefits, which can offer relief for golfers’ muscle pains and sunburns, not to mention stress, golf-targeted CBD products are growing. Best Ball CBD is a brand of CBD products, with names like CBD Swing Cream, that was started by a husband-and-wife golf pro and physical therapist team. It caters exclusively to golfers. Medterra is another golf-friendly CBD brand (it has its own director of golf) that has been endorsed by PGA players. Professional golfers have also signed on to endorse the cbdMD line of products. Even The PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is embracing CBD with the Golfer’s CBD Massage—complete with a CBD-infused oil, acupressure, and stretching—to loosen hips and shoulders and improve golf swings.

More Than Skin Deep

While so many of the products on the market cater to the topical application of CBD on the face and body, spa experts are beginning to dabble in adding edibles to the spa experience. In fact, it’s the incorporation of edibles for a full CBD experience where many see the spa industry as heading. Huffaker’s Cause+Medic offers a CBD ginger shot before spa treatments with CBD. The Rittenhouse Spa in Philadelphia is incorporating CBD gummies into a post- treatment ritual to ensure guests are relaxed after leaving the spa. The Windham Spa, which bills itself as “a seed to spa CBD experience,” not only grows its own hemp plants on a farm up the road from it, the spa includes CBD from these plants in treatments like its OHM massage. But it also goes a step further in offering “The Entourage” experience complete with CBD tasting. “We offer a choice of beverage like CBD sparkling water, a CBD chocolate, and a CBD gummy,” says Schreiber, who is exploring additional ways to bring the benefits of cannabinoids to spa-goers.

CBD-infused drinks, including sports endurance drinks, are currently on the rise, too. Stephen Letourneau, founder of Stephen James coffee, which sells CBD coffee, anticipates being in hotels and resorts by the end of the year, with more to come in 2024. As edibles become more mainstream, Letourneau stresses the importance of knowing where the products were grown and how they were grown. “We consistently visit the farms we work with,” explains Letourneau, who adds that the cannabis plant is considered to be a super absorber meaning it absorbs whatever is in the soil and air around it. This includes soil nutrients as well as toxins, which can then be passed down to the consumer through edibles and even through the skin. “It’s important,” Letourneau stresses, “to know who’s up the road from the farm, what’s in the water run-off, and whether pesticides are being used.” Asking for a COA or Certificate of Analysis—a lab tracing and quality control on ingredients—on products you buy is another good way to ensure what you’re getting.

Breanna Neff, a Brooklyn-based Certified Food Scientist, just launched her own functional CBD and cannabis drink mix company, brelixi. It includes not only cannabinoids in the mix, but also electrolytes for hydration, adaptogens for stress relief, antioxidants for an immunity boost, and nootropics—ingredients that can help boost cognitive performance and mood. (Caffeine is one example of a widely used nootropic.) Neff is just beginning to market the fast-acting full-spectrum CBD-infused drink mix sticks, which come in an elderberry hibiscus lemonade flavor, to spas nationwide. “My products use the latest nanotechnology, which allows for ingestibles to be immediately absorbed sublingually in the mouth and through the digestive system, bypassing being metabolized in the liver. This allows for much faster and safer benefits,” explains Neff. “The speed of nano cannabis is remarkable. You can feel the benefits within five to 10 minutes, sometimes less. This is particularly helpful for those with anxiety and stress.” She adds: “As a food scientist, it’s really cool to see how innovative this field is getting.” Letourneau anticipates drinks will be a big part of the growth of CBD in spas, resorts, and wellness weekends around the country. “You’ll be able to drink things like CBD coffee or tea and CBD mocktails,” he says, “for micro moments of wellness.”

After the next Farm Bill, look for streamlined regulations (see the sidebar) as well as more refined and potent CBD products to come. “Of all the spa trends that I’ve seen, I’d put CBD right at the top in terms of acceptance and reception because it works,” explains John Morris, general manager of Sundara Inn & Spa in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, which incorporated CBD into massages, bath soaks, body treatments, and facials not long after the first Farm Bill went into effect. “CBD provides calming relief for guests and this trend isn’t going away anytime soon.” 

What to Expect With the Farm Bill of 2023

A new Farm Bill, expected out at the end of this year, is expected to further change up how we define, produce, and use CBD, explains Jonathan Miller, general counsel of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, the hemp industry’s advocacy organization. Despite the Farm Bill of 2018 that legalized hemp, some confusion still exists about hemp and its safety among consumers. One reason: “We’ve seen the growth of other delta products, which could cause intoxication,” explains Miller. Delta-8 THC, for example, is a slightly less potent cannabinoid and form of THC that comes from the hemp plant and isn’t regulated by the Farm Bill of 2018.

Ditto for Delta-10 THC. It’s found in the hemp plant and can give people a feeling of being “high.” These cannabinoids weren’t clearly delineated in the original Farm Bill but are being included in products sold today. “They need to be strictly regulated for safety,” says Miller. Until the Farm Bill is voted on, ensure you’re getting a quality product that doesn’t contain these non-regulated cannabinoids by looking for a product’s Certificate of Analysis or COA—the lab tracing and quality control on ingredients. Miller also recommends looking for The U.S. Hemp Authority seal on a product.

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