Welcome to this month’s installment of our Normalize This Series, where we open up through heartfelt conversations about life as we age, and shatter antiquated notions of what’s relevant to women as we get older.
This month’s installment dives into the world of CBD - the hottest new ingredient in many wellness products. 1 in 3 American adults have used CBD, 40% of which use these products for reducing pain, 20% to help with anxiety, and 11% for achieving better sleep. And 28% use CBD products daily! While it’s clear that CBD has incredibly healing properties, it’s still a new or uncharted territory for many of us.
Here to help us sort health from hype, is Aliza Sherman, Latina entrepreneur and CEO of Ellementa, a women’s health company focused on alternative paths to wellness. Amongst many other things, she is the author of Cannabis and CBD for Health and Wellness: An Essential Guide for Using Nature's Medicine to Relieve Stress, Anxiety, Chronic Pain, Inflammation, and More, and host of The Ellementa Show, a podcast that taps into women’s wisdom for wellness.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Welcome Aliza! Tell us about Ellementa and what inspired you to start this kind of a company.
Ellementa is a women’s health and wellness virtual learning community focused on alternative paths to wellness. We educate women about traditional medicines like herbs, adaptogens, and cannabis. We produce a weekly podcast, publish educational content, review products, and work with brands that want to market their products to our wellness-minded women.
Back in 2016, I was inspired to start a company where women could educate women about cannabis. I started out researching cannabis for menopause and chronic pain. When I found tremendous relief from microdosing cannabis, I began interviewing women in the cannabis industry to learn more. Those interviews are archived on HerCannaLife.com.
In 2017, Melissa Pierce and I founded Ellementa to bring women together in-person to talk openly about cannabis and learn from experts about the wellness benefits of the plant. We grew to monthly events in over 75 cities, and then the pandemic hit. We morphed our company into a virtual learning community and expanded our online marketing options for brands.
Over the last year, we’ve also broadened our content focus from cannabis and CBD to include many different angles and aspects of wellness, all with a focus on women’s health or women’s roles as caregivers. We still provide education about cannabis wellness and that remains one of our most popular health topics.
Talk to us about the “grass ceiling”, and what it’s been like to create a space for women’s wellness within an otherwise male dominated space?
When I started in the cannabis industry in 2016, there did not seem to be a “grass ceiling.” The opportunities seemed limitless and the men in the industry were quite respectful of and impressed by the women in the industry. The grass ceiling “appeared” when venture capitalists stepped in and rapidly turned cannabis into the “next big industry” for investors. Once VC money entered the picture, and those who wanted to “get rich” quickly jumped in, the entire complexion of the industry changed.
The ceiling many women in cannabis hit is financial because, like in most industries, men are holding the majority of the proverbial purse strings. There are still women at the top of cannabis companies or founding companies that are getting funded, but in far less numbers than we initially thought we would be seeing. Ellementa was early in the game, and we hit all the same obstacles I hit when I started the first woman-owned Internet company, Cybergrrl, in the 1990s. Male VCs were not convinced that women would want to use the Internet back then, and my company educated women about getting online and leveraging technology to improve their personal and professional lives.
A few years ago, when we began fundraising for Ellementa, VCs were not convinced women were the right market for cannabis. They were looking at cannabis products in the wrong way for women and overlooked the huge wellness market as well as the needs of perimenopausal and menopausal women. You could see the VCs eyes glazing over the minute we said “Menopause.”
And then the pandemic hit, and everything changed.
Hemp, CBD, Cannabis… For those unfamiliar with these terms and their differences, can you help provide some basic explanation?
Cannabis - Technically a family of plants called Cannabis sativa that contain the intoxicating chemical compound THC which is federally illegal but legal in some states. To purchase cannabis or cannabis-derived products, you need to go to a dispensary in legal states.
Hemp - A form of the Cannabis sativa plant that has minimal THC. You can think of hemp as a “sister” plant of cannabis. It is now basically legal federally and in most states due to changes in the law in the Farm Bill.
CBD - A chemical compound called a “cannabinoid” that has anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. Like THC, it interacts with your body and brain but unlike THC, it does not get you intoxicated or “high.” CBD and THC are only two of over 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Let’s focus on CBD, as it is one of the hottest ingredients to hit the wellness space in recent years. What makes it so beneficial, specifically for women as we age?
CBD isn’t as beneficial as the hype claims, but early research shows that CBD has some specific properties that can make it an effective medicine or health supplement. Like THC and other cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, CBD interacts with receptors in your body and brain. The constellation of receptors throughout our body is called our Endocannabinoid System or ECS. Plant cannabinoids, like those found in cannabis, can nourish our ECS - something that some scientists think can help prevent disease.
In carefully administered high doses, CBD can have neuroprotective qualities and be an antispasmodic and anti-seizure. CBD administered properly to children and adults with neurological issues could see benefits from using CBD.
Because hemp-derived CBD is considered “legal,” it is more accessible - but that doesn’t make it a cure-all by any stretch of the imagination. If you need to reduce inflammation or reduce anxiety, however, it can help. CBD is most effective when it is in a form that retains as much of the natural plant chemicals - such as cannabinoids and terpenes - as possible. Many CBD products barely have any actual CBD in it or the concentration is so low or it doesn’t have the benefits of other cannabinoids to be its most effective.
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there making false claims about CBD or adding CBD to products of all kinds in order to charge more. CBD does not make a bad product better. CBD doesn’t do anything beneficial if added to makeup. CBD applied topically can reduce some surface inflammation but doesn’t really sink in enough on its own to address deep pain. CBD can help reduce skin irritations like acne, rosacea, and psoriasis.
A healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep habits are so beneficial, especially as we age. Reducing stress is also key to good overall health and a strong immune system. In supplemental doses, CBD can nourish our ECS, reduce anxiety, and reduce inflammation so it can be helpful with mood swings, difficulty falling asleep, or chronic pain from inflammation - some of the things women experience as we age.
From edibles to tinctures, to creams, and drinkable infusions, the variety of modalities can be both exciting and overwhelming. Do you have any advice for women trying to figure out what’s right for them?
Know what you would like to address before shopping for CBD.
If you are looking for a health supplement or to reduce internal inflammation, CBD can be easily taken orally via capsules or oil drops (referred to as tinctures but are made with oil and not alcohol). CBD in beverages is mostly a gimmick — you could get a supplemental dose of CBD from them, although you may have to consume a few each day depending on the concentration of CBD in each bottle.
Take note that CBD beverages contain other ingredients - and some even have sugar - so if you are looking for more therapeutic benefits, you are better off with a full-spectrum CBD oil. Full-spectrum means that the greatest number of cannabinoids are retained in the plant extraction along with CBD.
CBD edibles such as gummies, like beverages, contain other ingredients that may or may not be beneficial for you and the concentration of CBD is often too minimal to make any impact. Creams, ointments, salves, and balms with CBD can help reduce inflammation, but many have very low concentrations of CBD.
What should women look for when shopping for CBD products?
The most important thing to look for when shopping CBD products is the Certificate of Analysis or COA. Not every CBD company pays extra to test their CBD or their CBD products and that is a huge red flag. Because CBD is not currently regulated, testing is not mandatory, but the smart companies are investing in testing, and posting their COAs on their websites, to be transparent and build consumer trust.
These tests should match up with a lot number on the CBD product packaging and verify that the amount of CBD claimed on the label is accurate. Also check that the CBD is free from pesticides, fungus, and other contaminants. Organically farmed is a plus.
When shopping for CBD products, look for high quality CBD products that are full-spectrum and contain very few other ingredients. The closer the CBD form is to the plant, the better. Also, CBD works far more effectively as medicine with THC present. Even small amounts of THC can make CBD more therapeutic.
There is so much hype and misleading information about CBD all over the Internet. One major mistake people make is to shop for CBD on Amazon. Amazon does not allow CBD to be sold on its platform so what you are really getting is hemp seed oil. There is no CBD present in hemp seeds or hemp seed oil so you’re getting ripped off.
Look for fewer added ingredients and higher concentrations of CBD. A jar of cream with 50 mg of CBD is far less helpful for inflammation or sore muscles than one of the same size with 500 mg.
Do you have any favorite products for women looking for recommendations?
I’m the main CBD tester for Ellementa so have tried dozens and dozens of CBD products over the last several years. The ones that are my favorites are also the ones I continue to personally use. Here are a few of my favorites:
Rational Hemp - This brand has high concentrations and is undiluted so the taste is very bitter. The company is unapologetic about the taste because their product is so pure and effective.
FoCo Organics - If taste is an issue, I find this oil to be lighter and quite palatable.
Vital Leaf - If you prefer a tastier CBD oil, Vital Leaf can’t be beat.
Topicals for Pain
One thing to note about CBD topicals for pain is that they often include other pain-relieving ingredients like arnica and then add ingredients that give off a cooling or warming sensation. That isn’t the CBD working, although some of those added ingredients could help the CBD absorb a little better.
Topicals for Skin Care
I adore Clean Coconut, Priya Apotheca and Element Apothec skin care products. Clean Coconut sugar scrubs, lotions, and face oil are amazing. Applying Priya Apotheca’s energetically infused face cream is a transcendent experience. My skin feels totally nourished from Element Apothec’s face serum. For an everyday cream, Rational Hemp has one with a hint of bergamot that I also like a lot.
CBD Edibles and Beverages
While I would never consume CBD edibles or beverages for any real therapeutic benefits, I do enjoy Collective Project drinks and Má Tea. For edibles, Vital Leaf chocolates are wonderful as are Mello CBD-infused caramels. And if you really crave a CBD gummy, you can’t beat Pollen for intensely good flavors although Mendi’s gummies are really good, too. Even without CBD, all of these products are quality and delicious.
When it comes to women’s health, how do women stand to uniquely benefit from this world opening up?
Back to the things that women experience as we age: hormonal changes, mood swings, stress, anxiety, achy joints and muscles, internal inflammation, and external/skin inflammation, using CBD properly could address these issues to varying degrees. With a foundation of healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits, CBD can be a helpful supplement, particularly during our perimenopausal and menopausal years.
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