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By Madison Margolin The Village Voice
Williamsburg techie Michael Christopher wants to merge the cannabis industry with the herbal wellness movement and “tea renaissance.” With a name inspired by the Brooklyn loft culture, Loft Tea is a line of “natural remedy” teas infused with CBD — a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, or chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. Christopher publicly launched Loft Tea in June.
“We live in lofts, we play in lofts, we work in lofts in Brooklyn all the time,” Christopher tells the Voice. “Loft Tea sounds like 'lofty,' ” he says. Without using the word “cannabis,” Christopher says the brand name is meant to allude to an “elevated, enhanced tea experience. You’re not seeing ‘grape’ in every title of a wine company.”
While CBD (cannabidiol) and the better-known cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are both used therapeutically, unlike THC, CBD doesn’t get you high. Cannabis with high amounts of CBD is known to be effective in alleviating epileptic seizures, muscle spasms, anxiety, inflammation, and pain. And if a cannabis plant contains less than .3 percent THC, it’s classified as hemp. While in most cases growing hemp is federally illegal (Loft Tea’s hemp comes from Denmark and the Netherlands), hemp products — including those with high amounts of CBD — are legal.
Each serving of Loft Tea contains about ten milligrams of hemp-derived CBD, according to Christopher. By comparison, smoking a joint rolled with “normal THC weed” reaps about half a milligram of CBD, says Todd Burner, a cannabis plant expert and founder of a cannabis marketing platform called Sesh. Burner adds that smoking a strain of high-CBD marijuana generally provides one to five milligrams per joint.
“It's more of a wellness supplement,” Christopher says. “We're most comfortable in the organic food space. People are already having a really great interest in the non-psychoactive parts of the cannabis plant. There's a demand for these kinds of products.” He plans on distributing Loft Tea to retailers like Whole Foods, while also trying to “capture the Brooklyn local market.”
Whole Foods already sells various hemp products, but so far none have CBD. Loft Teas come in nine different flavor blends — such as Taiwanese oolong with passion flower and turmeric, and chamomile with shou mei white tea and poppy flower petals — and are categorized according to which time of day they would best be enjoyed: "renew," "react," and "recharge" for morning, noon, and night.
In appealing to health-food-, yoga-enthused wellness fanatics — rather a large demographic in Brooklyn — Christopher hopes Loft Tea will also open up the cannabis market to women: “We feel [a female audience] has been overlooked in a male-dominated market." He says that teas and beverages may be a more palatable delivery method for enjoying the effects of cannabis, adding that a woman with "the daily working-girl type of lifestyle can’t necessarily roll up a big joint on her way to work, just to get the therapeutic benefits of a cannabis — that’s not my mother, my grandmother, or my girlfriend.”
But Christopher says it remains to be seen whether Loft Tea can actually pull off a successful marketing scheme.
“I think it’s kind of going to have to go on its own marketing journey,” Burner agrees. “The way Michael’s approaching it through educating potential customers and not going after a classical stoner market is really the best approach because, although it would be a quick bang for his buck and he could probably sell a lot of this to a smaller but heavy-use market, it's one of the first products that will help branch things into the mainstream.”
Part of CBD’s attraction is that it’s relatively new. Dr. Jahan Marcu, senior science adviser at Americans for Safe Access, tells the Voice, “The information about CBD has been so carefully orchestrated that you wouldn’t even think it was marijuana or cannabis anymore.” While some argue that CBD is more therapeutic when not separated from THC, Marcu says that when combined, CBD mitigates the psychoactive effects of THC. While in large doses CBD can affect cognition, such as by reducing anxiety, ten milligrams is an ultra-low dose for an adult. Marcu adds that such a small amount wouldn’t be used to treat epilepsy, for example. Christopher, meanwhile, is careful not to make any medical claims that would require FDA approval.
There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of education, according to Christopher. The general public does not understand CBD and the cannabis plant as well as it could, partially because of federal restrictions on research. “Once we have a better methodology for testing, we might restructure the frame of mind, based on research and allowing American-based groups to test and use these products without being fearful of arrest and forfeiture.” Researcher Sue Sisley, for instance, had been given Arizona state approval to test marijuana on veterans with PTSD, but her program died in part because of difficulties hailing from federal restrictions. “That’s been a really good example of why we’re not able to celebrate some of these medical benefits,” Christopher says.
Being in New York is also frustrating. Christopher points out that Western states have been able to make more progress in the cannabis industry. “Until the state and the feds are more helpful with that, I think New York will always be a little bit behind.”