CBD craze hits LA’s high-end juice bars

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Tucked off Sunset Boulevard in LA’s uber-hip Silver Lake neighborhood is the upscale yet endlessly ethereal juice bar Moon Juice. Inside the sunlit space, past a row of leafy plants and a wall of shelves stacked with crystals, body creams, and beauty elixirs, sits a rainbow array of beverages. Most carry price tags in double-digits. Thirsty? A 16-ounce bottle of Gracious Greens will set you back $11.

Describing itself as an “adaptogenic beauty + well being” shop, Moon Juice offers what it calls “plant-sourced alchemy” in many forms, from drinkable tonics to “activated” almond milks to mineral blend “Moon Dusts” and cold-pressed juices. On the front lines of Southern California’s stylish self-care scene, the shop—which has been endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop—has long boosted its products with health-forward additions such as probiotics and spirulina. Now, joining the ranks of vanilla mushroom plant protein and chia seeds is an ingredient familiar to the cannabis world: CBD.

Cannabidiol is “a really popular additive with a lot of our guests,” assistant manager Camille Jackson told me. It can be added to the shop’s juices for a few dollars a pop.

There are CBD-infused chocolate bars, pet supplements, and even CBD Living Water, an infused bottled water that promises 'maximum hydration absorption and wellness.'

It’s not just Moon Juice offering CBD to sip on. Within just a few miles of the Silver Lake location are numerous smoothie stores and organic outposts hawking the cannabinoid. Most shops charge at least $3 a shot and promote the trendy extract’s anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties.

Moon Juice’s CBD comes in the form of infused olive oil, which is methodically dribbled into beverages with a dropper. At $3.50 per serving, it’s a common addition to customers’ lattes, smoothies, matcha, and just about anything else on the menu. Customers commonly ask about CBD’s reported health benefits, whether the extract is addictive or will get them high, or whether the cannabinoid will throw off the taste of their drink, Jackson said. (No, she says—it doesn’t make for any significant change in a drink’s flavor or composition.)

Moon Juice’s CBD comes in the form of infused olive oil, which is dribbled into beverages with a dropper. 

CBD’s cameo on fashionable LA juice bars reflects a broader trend: CBD, which for decades took a back seat to the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, is going mainstream. Industry analytics group New Frontier Data predicts that CBD sales in the US will quadruple over the next four years, blasting off from $535 million this year to more than $1.9 billion by 2022 thanks in part to businesses like Moon Juice.

Without question, CBD holds incredible promise for some medical patients. Patients have used cannabis-sourced CBD to treat everything from anxiety to chronic pain and inflammation. A number of studies are now exploring its effects on epilepsy, specifically its apparent ability to reduce the number of debilitating seizures among children whose symptoms weren’t improved through traditional treatment.

The successes have rocked the health and political sectors, having helped legitimize medical cannabis and fueled legalization initiatives across the country. They’ve also elevated CBD to something of a superfood.

CBD’s Moon Juice’s Silver Lake location, one of three in the city, began offering CBD about a year ago, said Jackson, but since adult-use cannabis sales began in the state in January, the shop has seen an uptick in the number of people requesting it. “A lot of people come here because they specifically know we’ve carried it for a long time,” Jackson said.

Head east about a mile and a half to Lassens Natural Food & Vitamins, in Echo Park, and a towering case in the store’s “Holistic Solutions” section displays CBD products “naturally derived from eco-friendly hemp.” Situated among immunity boosters and a dizzying collection of vitamins are all sorts of CBD oils, balms, and sprays.

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There are CBD-infused chocolate bars, pet supplements, and even CBD Living Water, an infused bottled water that promises “maximum hydration absorption and wellness.” On Lassens’ website, a recent advertisement drew attention to the store’s “CBD Mocktail Happy Hour,” at which customers could try infused beverages for free.

Not pictured: Juice Crafters’ Coachella-branded version of CBD-infused drinks.

In Downtown LA, California chain Juice Crafters now sells CBD teas, a CBD elixir with turmeric and herb ashwagandha, and two CBD juices that combine the extract with ingredients like blue spirulina and vegan probiotics. Recently, the company even sold a Coachella-branded version of these drinks, marketing to the festival-going millennial crowd. According to supervisor Thalia Capilla, the shop started selling the line about two months ago, on the heels of legal cannabis sales.

Across town at any of Erewhon Market’s stores, customers have long been able to buy a wide array of CBD-infused products, including muffins, coffee drinks, tinctures, and even ghee.

“You name it—CBD,” said Jason Widener, vice president of new store development.

The posh organic grocery chain, with locations in Santa Monica and La Brea, among others, started selling CBD products about a year and a half ago. While customers initially had a lot of questions about the product—namely, how it would make them feel and whether it would get them stoned, Widener said—most people who shop at Erewhon are now familiar with the cannabinoid.

After all, he said, this is California.

“It wasn’t a hard decision at all to say, hey, lets try out this supplement that can help people with inflammation … something that has these type of benefits,” Widener said.

While many of the LA stores serving CBD have ridden the wave of cannabis legalization, the hemp products they’re selling likely haven’t changed in legal status since the passage of Proposition 64. And the laws around industrial hemp are a “bit of a tangle,” said Hilary Bricken, an attorney who specializes in cannabis law.

Although hemp products can be bought and sold in the US, the plant still faces muddy regulations at both the state and federal levels. For example, the cultivation of industrial hemp is currently illegal without a permit from the DEA, which classifies hemp as only the stems, stalks, and sterilized seeds of the cannabis plant, said Bricken. The only exception is under the 2014 Farm Bill, which allows certain state pilot programs to grow hemp for “research, agricultural, and educational purposes,” she said.

That could soon change under a bill introduced this month by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would remove hemp entirely from the Controlled Substances Act, allow states to create their own regulations for the hemp industry, and remove barriers to research and development. Rescheduling or descheduling of cannabis more broadly would also open the door to wider production, availability, and research.

Meanwhile, the DEA has maintained that CBD oil, as an extract of the cannabis plant, is included as a Schedule I controlled substance. That designation, however, is being challenged in a lawsuit argued earlier this year in San Francisco.

While most studies have centered on cannabis-derived CBD, nearly all of the products offered at LA’s health stores are made from CBD processed from hemp, a variety of cannabis that contains only trace amounts of THC, if any.

Many stores selling CBD in Los Angeles today seem to be recent adopters, capitalizing on the increasing popularity following the adult-use legalization of cannabis in California. But while so far THC has generated the bulk of controversy about cannabis, Bricken said she doubted CBD would be able to fly under the regulatory radar for long.

“I’m just waiting on the [Federal Trade Commission] to come crashing in and say it’s snake oil,” said Bricken. “This, to me, is just another bumper sticker that people are trying to cash in on.”

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