It started with a staff member at Charlotte CBD making small talk with a regular customer who bought an array of different products each time he stopped in. Turned out, he was a scientist at Wingate University testing CBD products to find out what exactly was inside the bottle. Afterward, the store’s owners had a brainstorm — why don’t we just give him samples of products to test?
It was the beginning of a relationship that’s helped establish Charlotte CBD — which in June opened a Columbia location in Five Points — as a leader in the Carolinas CBD industry. With no federal guidelines defining the composition of CBD products, it’s been left largely to retailers to reassure customers that whatever they’re buying is indeed what it claims to be. In the case of Charlotte CBD, that means rigorous testing of every product they carry.
“Achieving consumer confidence is something we’ve fought for since the very beginning. We ran into the same issues as consumers when we started this whole thing: ‘OK, we want to take CBD products, what makes one good and makes one bad?’ How do you know it’s from a reputable source? There’s very little out there to assist with all those questions,” says Charlotte CBD owner Mike Sims.
“There’s not really any regulation or oversight. You or I or anyone could put pretty much anything in these bottles and call it CBD, and there’s nothing to stop us. There’s no punishment, no fines, nothing. So we teamed up with Wingate University to have everything continuously tested, because there’s literally nothing in the industry that says ‘meet these standards.’”
‘There was no one at the wheel’
CBD has become a phenomenon, almost overnight blossoming from marijuana’s lesser-known cannabis cousin into a multi-billion-dollar industry. People suffering from anxiety, sleeplessness, chronic pain and other maladies often claim to find relief through cannabidiol, a form of hemp containing only trace amounts (.3 percent or less) of THC, the psychotropic element in marijuana which induces a high.
The CBD doorway was flung open by the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp at the urging of federal legislators looking for new cash crop. But the months since have been rife with confusing or even conflicting bits of information, some of it from the federal government itself, which has clearly struggled with how to manage an industry that’s exploded within the span of a single year.
In the absence of regulation, it’s up to retailers like Charlotte CBD to instill consumer confidence. “It’s confusing for the customer,” says Sims, who opened his Queen City flagship dispensary in 2018 along with two partners, and has since expanded to two other locations. “We quickly realized there was no one at the wheel. There was no one really doing this. We wanted it done for ourselves.”
With good reason. While many CBD products come from reputable suppliers, others are made in kitchens or basements, or cultivated under less-than-ideal conditions. Some dilute CBD with other substances like coconut oil. Others contain too much THC. Traces of herbicides, pesticides, microbials, and mold and mildew are all “pretty prevalent” in lower-grade CBD products, Sims says.
Which is why Charlotte CBD partnered with G2 Analytical, the lab out of Wingate, to find out exactly what was inside each product they carried. Initially, “most of the products tested did not come back to what it said on the label. Most of them were way under what it said on the label,” Sims said, referring to CBD content. Products whose testing results were at odds with what was on the bottle were pulled off the shelves.
‘We’re completely transparent’
In the absence of government regulation, the gold standard in the CBD industry is a Certificate of Analysis (COA) obtained from a verified laboratory. At Charlotte CBD’s Columbia location, COAs are available to customers in a binder. Many products also include COAs embedded in a barcode that can be scanned with a cellphone. COAs for several products are posted on Charlotte CBD’s website, and Sims says even more information will be available via a forthcoming website called letsbeblunt.org.
“We’re completely transparent,” Sims says. “It’s all a learning experience, and we’re humble enough to know that we don’t know everything. But we are working really hard to find the answers, because when consumers ask us, we want to have an answer for them.”
It’s part of one company’s attempt to bring some clarity to an emerging industry that’s proven immensely popular, but remains riddled with questions. U.S. Food and Drug Administration concerns are offset by a World Health Organization report that found no evidence of health problems associated the use of pure CBD. The quality of CBD products runs the gamut. So Charlotte CBD tests, and keeps testing, in an effort to put customers’ minds at ease.
“Ultimately, our whole goal here is try to set the industry standards, working alongside scientists and scholars and farmers people with knowledge to really understand this plant and how it works and what’s safe,” Sims says. “We’re having to take up the slack for what the government isn’t doing.”
Interested in learning more? The Columbia location of Charlotte CBD is located at 610 Harden Street in Five Points. Contact them at (803) 563-6012, or online at CLTCBD.com.