Gone Wild

© jdwfoto | dreamstime.com

© jdwfoto | dreamstime.com

It surprised me not only to see that a synthetic marijuana bust occurred 30-minutes from where I live; but that it made both the local and national news. ABC News, The Fix, a small local paper called The Cranberry Eagle among others reported on the joint operation by the PA State Attorney General’s bureau of Narcotics Investigation and the state police Southwest Strike Force. About 360 pounds in total of synthetic marijuana with an estimated street value of $1.6 million was seized. Intriguingly, three of the four individuals arrested were senior citizens. Talk about putting away something for your retirement.

Two of the individuals owned and operated several tobacco and drug-paraphernalia shops in the tri state area of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.  According to court records, they would receive shipments of synthetic marijuana from out-of-state suppliers at their Cranberry Township shop, where they would allegedly break down the packages for resale. They were both charged with multiple offenses, including dealing in unlawful proceeds, criminal conspiracy and possession with intent to deliver synthetic marijuana. They were released on $50,000 bail.

In October of 2013 investigators seized about 73 pounds of synthetic marijuana at the UPS facility in Jackson Township. A few days later they seized two additional packages containing another 109 pounds of the drug. Multiple packages had been shipped to the Cranberry Township shop between December 2012 and October 2013 from the same individual in Tampa Florida. The grand jury received testimony that the shop’s owners also imported 3,000 to 4,000 packets of synthetic marijuana from New York and Massachusetts suppliers between October 2013 and November 2014. Search warrants obtained in November of 2014 led to the discovery of another 148 pounds of synthetic marijuana.

The Cranberry shop is one of six retail stores within a company known as “Glass Gone Wow.” All six stores are in the tri state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They are all upscale head shops. The home page for “Glass Gone Wow” highlights areas for Elite Glass, Electronics and Wellness. Also look at the Glass Gone Wow facebook page. The Elite Glass products are from several glass and water pipes companies. Yes, you can technically smoke tobacco in them, but I don’t think that is what the vast majority of Glass Gone Wow customers put in their pipes.

When I was on their website, there wasn’t any content under the Electronics link, but it would be for products like e-cigarettes, e-juice flavors and vaporizers.  The Wellness Center sells CBD Hemp products, and ‘exotic’ herbs such as Kratom, Kava, Blue Lotus and Damiana. The herbs are all legal, but three of them—Kratom, Kava and Blue Lotus—have psychoactive properties. Kratom is used as an opium substitute. Kava and Blue Lotus will produce mild psychoactive effects alone and more intense effects if mixed with other drugs. Look up these substances on Erowid, if you want to confirm what I’ve said here. Erowid is a pro-drug website offering extensive information on the history, effects and dangers of various psychoactive plants and chemicals.

CBD or cannabidiol is one of the 85 or so cannabinoids found in cannabis. THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, while CBD has the greatest medical potential. See “Let’s Not Get Ahead of Ourselves,” or “Clearing Away the Medical Marijuana Smoke” for more on medical marijuana. But the CBD Hemp products may not have the therapeutic effects they claim. First, any CBD product cannot make a medicinal claim without FDA approval. So the products are sold as dietary supplements, which the FDA has limited control over.

In order to force a company to remove a dietary supplement from the market, the FDA has to complete scientific studies and undertake complex legal procedures to support its recommendation. Simply put, it is usually more trouble than it’s worth. So dietary supplements abound, with little or no reliable scientific evidence to support their claims. We are largely going back to the days of the bogus claims of snake oil salesmen when it comes to these “dietary supplements.”

For example, there is a company named GreenGardenGold that sells “CBD-Rich products.” Their “About Us” page said it is one of the first companies to market CBD rich edibles. The company says their products are infused with CBD obtained from reliable providers and are legally shipped in all 50 states. They direct the reader to Project CBD for more information on the “potential therapeutic use of CBD. ”  There is then a list of 51 “Potential Therapeutic Uses of Hemp.” In the small print at the bottom of the list is the following:

Green Garden Gold makes no claim as to the efficacy of our products of the use of CBD in treating or combating the symptoms of the above list of medical conditions. We encourage our customers to sample our products for taste and quality. If, as a result of improved health is experienced, then we are delighted for the added bonus our products have provided.

Writing for Forbes, on March 9, 2016, Debra Borchardt indicated that the FDA sent out a number of warning letters to companies that make and sell products containing CBD. A spokesman for the FDA said the companies receiving the warning letters were in part selected because of the flagrant claims made about their products. He said:

Many of these products are claiming in their marketing and promotional materials that they are intended for the use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of diseases, including, for example: cancer, various infections, psychiatric disorders, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and diabetes.

The companies were told in their letters that they had 15 days to notify the FDA about how they were going to take steps to correct their violations, which include products with little or no CBD in them. Borchardt wrote: “No consumer should be sold an expensive product that claims to have CBD, but then has none whatsoever. Consumers should also get truthful information on the products they buy, i.e. the labels need to be correct.”

Looking at the FDA announcement, it seems that products from “Cali Stores” tested by the FDA were found to have no CBD in them at all. Green Garden Gold was one of the companies who received a warning letter from the FDA. You can read a copy of the letter sent to them by the FDA here. The levels of CBD in the two products tested by the FDA indicated there had .096% and .079% CBD. The range of CBD within the tested products went from 0% to 35%. The Green Garden Gold products were on the lower end of that range. The FDA announcement said:

In February 2016, FDA issued eight warning letters to firms that market unapproved new drugs that allegedly contain cannabidiol (CBD). FDA had previously issued six such letters in February 2015. FDA has tested these products, and many were found to not contain the levels of CBD they claimed to contain. It is important to note that these products are not approved by FDA for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease. Consumers should beware purchasing and using any such products.

In October of 2014, writing for High Times, Mike Adams wrote about the proliferation of “knockoff CBD treatments.” He noted how CBD has become “rock star” popular in the medical marijuana industry because it can treat a variety of medical conditions. But CBD is still illegal in most of the U.S. This has resulted in “an opportunity for some hemp businesses to market a variation of knockoff CBD treatments that they claim have the same healing power as popular strains such as Charlotte’s Web.” Adams then noted where Project CBD launched a “full-blown investigation” into the matter.

He went on to say these products were only technically similar and “do not provide the same health benefits as high-CBD cannabis strains.”  Martin Lee, the director of Project CBD, wrote in the introduction of the report: “We believe that industrial hemp is not an optimal source of CBD, but it can be a viable source of CBD if certain hemp cultivars are grown organically in good soil and safe extraction and refinement methods are employed.”

The report focused on three companies that were operated by the same controlling interest.  You can read a copy of the report here. On page 13 of the report is a quote from a press release of the Hemp Industries Association stating its position on CBD Extracts Misbranded and Marketed as “Hemp Oil”.

It is important for America farmers and processors of hemp to understand that most CBD in products mislabeled as ‘hemp oil’ is a co-product of large-scale hemp stalk and fiber processing facilities in Europe where the fiber is the primary material produced at a large scale. CBD is not a product or component of hemp seeds, and labeling to that effect is misleading and motivated by the desire to take advantage of the legal grey area under federal law. Hemp seed oil does not contain any significant quantity of CBD.

The Glass Gone Wow shops were apparently used as fronts to sell synthetic marijuana. At least that is what the grand jury indictment of their owner-operators implies. The shops legally sell water pipes and other paraphernalia commonly used in smoking marijuana. Although I don’t know if the vape pens sold at Glass Gone Wow can be used with hash oil or marijuana, there are e-cigarettes that can be modified to do so. See “E-Cigarettes and E-Joints.” It is also evident that the CBD Hemp Products sold there do not contain high-CBD from medical marijuana. According to High Times, Project CBD and the Hemp Industries Association, their hemp products will only have a serendipitous effect on your health, as was implied in the Green Garden Gold advertisement: “If, as a result improved health is experienced, then we are delighted for the added bonus.”

But there is one final piece of information to leave you with. All six of the Glass Gone Wow stores are located within 2 miles of a high school, middle school or elementary school. This seems to be more than just coincidental, when teenagers are prime consumers of the company’s products. The webpage “About Money” gave the following tip for finding the right location for a retail store: “You know who your customers are, so make sure you find a location where your customers live, work and shop.”

This location claim is easily verified. Go to the Glass Gone Wow location page. Use Google maps to get directions between each site location and local schools. Gateway High School is 1.7 miles from the Monroeville store. There is a middle school 1.5 miles from the Cranberry store. There is an elementary school and a park just across the street from the Robinson store. There was even some concern voiced about this by the Montour Elementary PTA. There is a school 1.9 miles from the South Side store. In Morgantown West Virginia, a school is .8 miles away; and in Boardman Ohio, a school is 1.6 miles away.

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