Delaware native Alex Capano is the first person in the U.S. to hold a doctorate in medical cannabis science.
Just a few years ago, Alexandra (“Alex”) Capano would tell people at dinner parties about her cannabis research, and they’d respond with giggles.
“Oh, sure,” they’d say, sarcastically. “Research.”
The joke’s on them.
Capano, a Delaware native based in Philadelphia, is the first person in the U.S. to hold a doctorate in medical cannabis science, earned from Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis & Hemp. She’s also the chief science officer for Ecofibre Ltd., the parent company of Ananda Hemp, which makes CBD oils and topical products for people and animals.
If you’re unfamiliar with CBD, brace yourself. It’s already as ubiquitous as pumpkin spice, which means you’ll find it in a wide array of products: seltzers, dog biscuits, mascara, hair pomade and sunscreen, with more products being unveiled all the time.
Cannabidiol—commonly known as CDB—is a nonintoxicating compound derived from hemp and marijuana cannabis plants. If the plant has more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, the intoxicating molecule), it is considered marijuana by U.S. law; less than 0.3 percent THC is considered hemp. Because CBD lacks the psychoactive part of the plant, it’s far from the “jazz cabbage” you see in “Reefer Madness.” So, you won’t become Snoop Dogg from using it, and it won’t get you stoned. Think of it as Mary Jane’s helpful, sober cousin.
There are three methods of extracting CBD from the cannabis plant: alcohol, which involves steeping the stems, seeds and flowers in pure alcohol; oil, which is similar to alcohol extraction, just substituting an edible oil during the steeping process; and supercritical fluid extraction, where the CBD is targeted and extracted using highly compressed carbon dioxide. The latter allows for the highest purity of product and preserves the full spectrum of plant compounds.
CBD went mainstream after the 2018 Farm Bill went into law, legalizing industrial hemp at a federal level. That’s why you’re suddenly seeing it everywhere from bath bombs to beverages. No surprise, the demand for such hemp-derived products has exploded. In the U.S. alone, CBD is responsible for generating $1.1 billion in product sales, according to New Frontier Data, a market research firm that specializes in the cannabis industry. In Delaware, only hemp-derived CBD is legal, the same as under federal law.
“We know CBD works for a lot of people, but there are some products that won’t benefit anyone,” Capano says. “You don’t need CBD nail polish.”
The popularity of CBD can be attributed to its enormous therapeutic potential. The compound is often used to alleviate insomnia, calm anxiety or ease chronic pain. It can be so effective in reducing seizures associated with certain childhood-onset epilepsies that the FDA recently approved the first medication with CBD (Epidiolex). Other studies suggest CBD applied topically can ease muscle pain and inflammation due to arthritis.
However, select your CBD with care, Capano cautions.
“There’s not a lot of transparency about the product or the processing of it,” she says. “Some companies are just trying to jump on the bandwagon and make a quick buck. Right now, it’s a little like the Wild West.”
That means it’s up to the consumer to research products before buying. Brands should be able to provide a certificate of analysis that tells you more about the product, like quality, potency and whether pesticides or chemicals were used.
Since CBD is available in many different forms in a market saturated with products, it can be difficult to know where to start. The benefit, though, is that consumers can select the delivery method that most suits their needs. Here are some common forms:
Capano herself uses CBD to ease anxiety.
“I used to be prescribed medication for my anxiety that I was scared to take because of adverse side effects,” she says. “Now I only use CBD, and I don’t have to worry about any dangerous effects. As a bonus, when I’m less anxious, I treat my body better. I sleep easier, I exercise, I eat well. So, it all plays a role in overall wellness. [CBD] is just a tool that helps you achieve it.”
More people are seeing the potential in CBD, too. Now when Capano has dinner-party conversations about what she does for a living, the reaction is different.
“I get a lot of family histories. I hear about someone’s cousin’s best friend’s roommate who could use CBD. And it’s cool, because they want to know what will work for them,” she says. “The stigma is lifting, and that means people who might benefit from it will receive the help they need.”