North Coast cannabis marketplace sees surge among health and wellness users

To accommodate greater interest from breast cancer patients, Raea Campbell of Mendocino makes cannabis oils for breast massage.|

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The legalization of cannabis for recreational use this year has brought new consumers into the fold of the multibillion-dollar retail marketplace in California - but not all are looking to get high.

In fact, the easing of the stigma over cannabis has caused a surge this year of people using the plant for health and wellness reasons, even though medical marijuana has been legal in the Golden State for more than 20 years, industry officials said.

The newer users range from women looking to ease the nausea from chemotherapy and treatments for breast cancer - a disease which cannabis advocates say the plant appears to be uniquely suited for - to lawyers looking to reduce stress after a difficult workweek.

To accommodate the heightened interest from women with breast cancer, Raea Campbell of Mendocino is working to grow sales of her line of cannabis-based oils designed for breast massage. Campbell developed the homemade product, Bosm Wellness, a few years ago as her mother, Linda, went through breast cancer and found that the extracts from the plant helped her get through the disease with limited side effects.

Campbell had a limited production run in 2017, which she said was encouraging.

“It was overwhelming … I couldn’t keep up with demand,” she said. “It was a small-scale thing. I didn’t have a lot of funding to scale up.”

She is now searching for a company that can make and distribute her line, given new regulations that went into effect this year, particularly establishing higher standards for quality control tests.

“It’s part of inspiring a healthy breast lifestyle,” Campbell said.

The North Coast stands at the center of such activity, in large part being in the heart of the Emerald Triangle counties of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity that historically have been the most prized growing region for cannabis. That means the local region is teeming with growers, manufacturers, medical professionals and retailers who are catering to the demands of customers looking for additional relief that is not provided by traditional medical practitioners.

“The frequency of these patients for cancer has just blossomed in the recent years,” said Jeff Hergenrather, a Sebastopol doctor who has provided recommendations to patients for cannabis treatments for almost ?20 years. About a third of his patients have cancer, including breast cancer patients.

When Hergenrather started providing recommendations, almost all of his patients were already cannabis users. Today, more than half of his clientele have not tried marijuana before they visit him.

“I am busy. It’s a new era,” he said.

The sector, however, is still limited by restrictions in federal law, where the possession of cannabis is illegal with the narrow exception of a few research settings. Marijuana remains listed as a so-called Schedule 1 drug - the most severe category - by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. There is “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” with such drugs, according to the agency.

Yet the tide is turning for a plant the has been used for thousands of years to treat medical conditions. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a report that surveyed research on the health effect of cannabis, including more than 10,000 scientific abstracts.

The authors reached 100 conclusions, including a finding that showed sufficient evidence that those who took cannabis or cannabinoids - the chemical components of the pot plant - were more likely to see a significant reduction in pain. They also urged greater research with less restrictions on scientists.

In regards to cancer, the authors found “conclusive evidence” that some oral cannabinoids were effective in preventing nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, a common cancer treatment. These cannabinoids help trigger certain receptors in the body to produce druglike action, notably in the central nervous system and the immune system, according to the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health operated under the federal government.

A key milestone was reached this summer when the FDA approved the first cannabis-based pharmaceutical made from the marijuana plant, rather than from a synthetic version. The drug, Epidiolex, made by United Kingdom-based GW Pharmaceuticals, treats seizures related to rare forms of epilepsy.

Yet, cannabis manufacturers are limited on what they can say about their products, even though the National Cancer Institute notes the potential benefits for cancer patients include appetite stimulation, pain relief and improved sleep. Most medical recommendations are used to treat cancer symptoms, the institute noted, rather than the disease itself.

“The challenge cannabis product maker faces are formidable at the present time,” said Martin Lee, director of the Healdsburg-based Project CBD. His nonprofit promotes the use of cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound in the plant that provides pain relief but does not have the psychoactive effects of another cannabinoid, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

“They make a product, but can’t say what it’s great for,” said Lee of the regulations.

For example, the quandary with Campbell’s oil for breast massage is “I have to say this is a cosmetic product,” she said. “I can’t say it’s stimulating the lymphatic system.”

The FDA last November cracked down on four U.S. companies that made claims about how their CBD products could help treat cancer, including one company that said its product “makes cancer cells commit ‘suicide’ without killing other cells.”

Indeed, Sonoma County’s top cannabis manufacturer, CannaCraft, has to put legal notices on its website saying its products have not been evaluated by the FDA and the firm’s information is not “intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.”

The Santa Rosa company has a product line called Care By Design that is used by those seeking health benefits from the plant, including those battling breast cancer or its affecteffects. Its products range from soft gels to edibles, vaporizers to topical creams. They come in a CBD-THC ratio varying from 18-to-1 to stronger items that have a 1-to-1 pairing.

The Care By Design line represents more than a third of the company’s business, said Kial Long, vice president of marketing for CannaCraft.

“The medical side is what we are seeing with the most uptick,” she said.

CannaCraft is planning new products for the Care By Design line in the near future, Long added, without revealing specifics.

The growth has come even though the products are not covered by health insurance. A bottle of soft-gel CBD pills can easily cost more than $100. And state legislation, SB 829, that would have allowed pot dispensaries to provide free cannabis to low-income patients was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bullishness, though, continues and has spread to Eli Melrod, the co-founder of the Solful dispensary in Sebastopol, which just celebrated its first year in business with customer visits that went beyond his expectations.

Melrod was especially enthused that Solful’s male-to-female customer ratio was split evenly, since an industry study found that 68 percent of recreational cannabis consumers are male.

“I can only imagine what happens as people become more comfortable and cannabis becomes more mainstream,” Melrod said. About half of his customers visit his dispensary for health-related reasons, including women who have breast cancer.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Think Pink

This story is part of The Press Democrat's Think Pink series for the month of October. To read more Think Pink stories,

click here.

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