CBD oil is hot. But will it burn out?

Cannabidiol Oil – or CBD oil as it is commonly called – is hot right now.

Sally Crowe of Shaffer’s Health Center restocks a display of CBD oil products for sale in the Allentown Farmers market shop. PHOTO/STACY WESCOE
Sally Crowe of Shaffer’s Health Center restocks a display of CBD oil products for sale in the Allentown Farmers market shop. PHOTO/STACY WESCOE –

People are buying it, selling it and investing in it.

CBD oil is made from oil in the seeds of hemp plants – whose cultivation was legalized under the 2018 federal farm bill, making the development of CBD-based products easier and less expensive.

The oil is touted as having many curative properties, from relieving anxiety, a claim most people familiar with CBD oil accept as likely true, to more far-reaching claims that it can be used to treat everything from the common cold to cancer. There are even CBD oil-based products for pets.

Overall, the U.S. CBD market could represent a $16 billion opportunity by 2025, according to a recent report by Cowen Inc., a New York-based investment firm.

However, skeptics of the oil’s benefits, and even some of its strongest supporters, sing a familiar refrain when it comes to investing in the CBD boom: “buyer beware.”

CBD Everywhere

CBD oil-based products have been on the market since 2014 through what Geoff Whaling of the National Hemp Association described as a “narrow interpretation” of that year’s federal farm bill, which allowed for limited growing of hemp for experimental testing. The 2018 bill cleared the way for wider farming of hemp, and the use of CBD products made commercial sales more appealing to more traditional retailers.

The products – including vapes, salves, capsules, tinctures and gummies – can now be found on the shelves at a wide variety of retailers, from health food stores to truck stops. CBD shops are even  opening in malls around the nation, while mainstream retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and footwear chain DSW have started selling CBD products.

The Altoona-based Sheetz chain of convenience stores is among them. It has added CBD products to 140 of its 580 locations, including stores in Bethlehem, Harrisburg and York.

“We’re always listening to our customers,” said Brad Campbell, category manager for Sheetz. “As it becomes increasingly popular, we wanted to provide this.”

Campbell said that while the company had been eyeing the sale of CBD products for some time, the changes in the 2018 farm bill helped to legitimize the product.

“I’m not sure getting into this is something we would have considered otherwise,” he said.

No Regulation

Because the market is so relatively new and growing so quickly, sales have been likened to the Wild West, with little regulation or information on how CBD oil products are sold, claims about their benefits and the actual amount of CBD oil in products on the shelves.

Not all products on the market do or contain what they say.

Whaling noted that in 2015 the Food and Drug Administration tested a number of CBD oil products and found that 34 out of 38 contained less CBD oil than they claimed, with many containing little to no CBD oil at all.

Dr. Bruce Nicholson, a pain-management specialist with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, who was involved in helping to craft Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana bill, said similar tests conducted more recently by the University of Pennsylvania and John Hopkins University found that CBD levels in the products they tested were “all over the board.”

Needless to say, he has his reservations about the proliferations of CBD oil products and the claims made on their behalf.

“With something that you get at a trucks stop, you might as well put your money in the lottery,” Nicholson said. “Your odds of a good outcome are about the same.”

Many retailers tend to agree.

Sheetz’s Campbell said the company reviewed a number of CBD-oil products before choosing a handful of brands that the company felt were “strong” while still providing a variety of options.

Tom Crowe, who owns Shaffer’s Health Center in the Allentown Farmers Market, said he has tried a number of brands for his own chronic pain with mixed results.

“There’s so many companies out there that sell it, but 70 to 80 percent of them you’d want to throw in the trash,” he said.

Currently, Crowe said he uses and carries a line of CBD oil products that has greatly relieved his own back and knee pain and won positive feedback from his customers.

He said anyone looking to try CBD oil products should talk to someone with experience rather than just try something they find on a shelf. He notes CBD oil products are on the expensive side. His line ranges in price from $18 for a small bottle of oil to hundreds of dollars for a larger, stronger supply.

Generally, his customers tell him they’re using CBD products for joint pain, inflammation and anxiety. Many have been happy with the results, judging by the repeat sales.

“There’s been a tremendous increase in business,” he said.

Not enough testing

Nicholson’s biggest concern is the lack of testing that has been conducted on CBD-based products, noting that only one actual drug, used to treat epilepsy, has been approved by the FDA.

Everything else he said is mostly speculation.

“There’s a wide spectrum of claims, all of them unsubstantiated,” he said.

Nonetheless, he doesn’t believe the claims lack merit. He said a number of pre-clinical studies in animals have shown CBD oil to be helpful for treating inflammation, some types of pain and anxiety.

He said, anecdotally, he’s seen CBD oil products work on people as effectively as some prescription anti-anxiety medication. He is looking for approval to begin a study into the use of CBD oil.

“The problem is we really don’t understand it. We don’t know how it works,” he said.

He said the FDA has already gone after a number of companies for making false or unsubstantiated claims and is keeping a close eye on the industry.

For Whaling, who is an investor in the hemp industry as well as chairman of the National Hemp Association, he said he has a concern about the “money grab” underway in the CBD oil market.

“It is a money maker right now… but there are reputations at stake,” he said. “It’s a little unnerving to me that there’s so much unknown. People don’t know what they’re selling.”

His fear as an investor is that there is such a rush on CBD oil without proven benefit, the hemp industry will get a bad reputation even as it is just getting off the ground.

Worth investing?

People looking to cash in on the CBD oil craze and invest in one of the growing number of CBD oil-producing companies should proceed with caution, said Nelson.

He said some companies will likely succeed, but he cautions that most of the publicly traded companies – the majority of which are being traded on the Canadian stock exchange – are still operating at a deficit.

He said investing in a CBD oil company now would be like investing in a tech startup during the late 1990s dot-com bubble.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there, but there a lot of disasters waiting to happen,” he said.  “Right now you can’t pick which ones those will be.”

Sheetz now has its own limited-edition beer. Here’s where it will be sold in Central Pa.

Sheetz is releasing its first craft beer with Project Coffee Hopz, a limited-edition coffee bean IPA. (Photo: Submitted)

Sheetz has added its name to the growing list of craft-beer brands.

The Altoona-based convenience-store chain known for its Shmuffins, Shmiscuits and Shmagels — don’t forget the hot dogz and bratz — has announced its first-ever craft beer.

Project Coffee Hopz, a limited-edition coffee bean IPA, will be available on May 21 in 55 Sheetz stores across Pennsylvania, including 16 stores in Central Pennsylvania. Sheetz will first hold a public launch party on May 16 in Pittsburgh.

Brewed by Union County craft-beer company Rusty Rail Brewing and using Sheetz Brothers sumatra coffee beans, the IPA blend will be sold in 16-ounce cans. Four-packs will retail for $7.99.

“We have worked for years to make beer available in our store locations across Pennsylvania and now, with beer in more than 140 stores across the state, we are excited to take the next step in this journey,” said Ryan Sheetz, assistant vice president of brand strategies at Sheetz.

The midstate store list includes the following :

  • 1900 Ritner Highway, Carlisle
  • 359 E. King St., Shippensburg
  • 3695 Paxton St., Harrisburg
  • 6290 Allentown Blvd., Harrisburg
  • 4001 Union Deposit Road, Harrisburg
  • 4651 Lindle Road, Harrisburg
  • 7970 Linglestown Road, Harrisburg
  • 1401 West Harrisburg Pike, Middletown
  • 777 Middletown Road, Hummelstown
  • 1699 Oregon Pike, Lancaster
  • 3505 Lititz Pike, Lititz
  • 1205 Lancaster Road, Manheim
  • 698 W. Main St., New Holland
  • 811 E. Main St., Palmyra
  • 2068 S. Queen St., York
  • 160 Leaders Heights Road, York

Coalition protests Buckeye Pipeline fuel redirection effort

A coalition of businesses has filed a formal protest in hopes of blocking Texas-based Buckeye Partners LP from redirecting a gasoline pipeline from the Pittsburgh market to Central and Eastern Pennsylvania.

It is the latest flare-up in a fight that has continued for nearly three years over the direction of a pipeline between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Since 2016, Buckeye has been trying to reverse the flow of the Laurel Pipeline, which currently moves gas from east to west across Pennsylvania. It wants to change a portion from west to east to bring what it describes as “cheaper” Midwestern fuel to central and eastern Pennsylvania.

Opponents say the move cut off Pittsburgh from eastern refineries and would ultimately lead to higher gasoline prices in the Pittsburgh market.

Last year, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission unanimously rejected the request.

In response, Buckeye went to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to move gas in two directions on a portion of the pipeline.

Buckeye said earlier this month that it is moving forward with planned bi-directional service, and has scheduled the necessary advanced hydro testing, while FERC continues to review a petition for a declaratory order the company filed in April 2018.

The coalition against Buckeye’s plans, which calls itself “Deny Buckeye,” includes Sheetz, Giant-Eagle Get-Go and Philadelphia-area refiners. It called the move an attempt to circumvent the PUC ruling, and on Tuesday filed a formal protest with FERC in opposition to Buckeye’s plans.

“We see Buckeye taking a new approach to a plan that still has the same negative impact to Pennsylvania consumers,” said Daniel Donovan, director of corporate communications for Giant-Eagle Get-Go, one of the coalition’s members.

He said the plan reduces competition in western Pennsylvania and noted that “Eastern refineries are losing access to an important market.”

The coalition also said Buckeye has not shown that its bi-directional proposal is workable in practice.

Buckeye Partners released a statement in response to the formal protest.

“Buckeye Partners is eager to provide more competition and added domestic fuel sourcing options to Pennsylvania consumers while ensuring our current customers have robust regional market access,” the company said. “Long-term, well-established market trends will not change, and bi-directional Laurel service – which will bring more price-advantaged American-made fuels from west to east – is a commonsense, forward-looking solution that is responsive to these new dynamics.”

Buckeye has also appealed the PUC ruling in a case that is currently before the Commonwealth Court.

Buckeye is one of the largest independent liquid petroleum products pipeline operators in the United States in terms of volumes delivered, with approximately 6,000 miles of pipeline. It has offices in Breinigsville and Reading.