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Keeping an eye on CBD

Local leaders discuss rise of legal products in Iowa

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY Center Associates Executive Director Paul Daniel listens during a meeting about the rise of CBD products in Iowa last Friday morning.

Although the recreational use of marijuana is still prohibited in the state of Iowa, a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized some hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products with less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound known for inducing the ‘high’ feeling.

As a result, legal CBD products, which are often sold at convenience stores and vape shops, have rapidly grown in popularity over the last few years. Last Friday morning, a group of Marshalltown area leaders in the mental health, substance abuse and law enforcement fields met at Center Associates to discuss this rise and the challenges it could pose in the future.

Erin Hatcher, an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP) at Center Associates, said she has seen signs of side effects typically associated with marijuana usage — psychosis, paranoia and physical sickness — in clients who have used CBD products, especially those who mix them with prescription medications.

“My concern is the public perception is that if you purchase something that says CBD, that is safe, and what we’re finding is because these products are not regulated in the way that a medication would go through a process to have clinical trials and be evaluated for their ingredients and purity and you would know what you were getting, people are getting all sorts of things,” Hatcher said. “Some people are searching for a high, and honestly, some people are thinking ‘This is going to help me sleep,’ or ‘This is a healthier way for me to take care of my anxiety.'”

Hatcher stressed the “real risks” associated with the products and worried that using unsubstantiated therapeutic claims to sell them could violate federal law.

Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper told the group that the entire matter is still something of a gray area as he seeks clarification on what products stores can and can’t sell. Active investigations into some establishments, he added, are ongoing.

“From a law enforcement standpoint, I think it’s fair to say that this is all a very complex and confusing issue,” he said. “I think there are some products that some vendors — I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt — honestly believe are legal that may not be, and they’re selling them. So we’re going through an education process.”

Another issue, Tupper noted, is the delayed high of edibles (CBD products are often sold as gummies), which cause some users to take too many at a time if they do not feel an immediate effect. Both Hatcher and Tupper called the effort to keep up with new substances with slightly different chemical makeup a challenge, recalling past fads like K2, bath salts and other synthetic drugs.

As the discussion shifted to vaping of both nicotine and marijuana among local teens — which have largely supplanted alcohol and cigarettes as the intoxicants of choice — and how they could be curtailed, Paul Daniel, the executive director at Center Associates, expressed concern about waiting until a tragedy strikes when a substance like fentanyl is mixed in with a vape to make any substantial changes.

“The snowball is going to pick up and get worse. It’s already moving faster, and so what we can do (is) we have to strike fast and get the word out somehow,” Daniel said. “It’s something that I think we need to be on the front of rather than reacting.”

Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa (SATUCI) Prevention Coordinator Shannon Chyma compared the rise of CBD products to the opioid crisis, and Katie Zoske of Center Associates suggested that edibles may actually be more dangerous than traditional marijuana because they’re so much easier for children to ingest by accident.

Near the end of the meeting, Tupper conceded that marijuana arrests are no longer a top priority for the Marshalltown Police Department (MPD), and despite his own mixed personal feelings on the matter, he believes it will be fully legalized in Iowa within his lifetime.

“As a 30-year police officer, I’ve had many interactions with people that are drunk and many interactions with people that are high on marijuana. I would much rather deal with the guy that’s high on marijuana than the drunk. Drunks tend to be very angry and violent,” Tupper said. “But I think a lot of people believe that marijuana’s not addictive, it’s not going to cause any problems and it’s just going to make everybody happy. I don’t think that’s the case, and I think there’s also unintended consequences for the states that have legalized… I don’t think legalizing the substances is going to be all rainbows and butterflies for our state.”

Sgt. Jim Gibson of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office and the Mid-Iowa Drug Task Force said there are currently 13 establishments in Marshall County — all of them in Marshalltown — that sell CBD products. According to Gibson, the owners and managers at these outlets are doing their best to comply with Iowa law “for the most part.”

“What we are hearing is there’s side effects caused by people not taking (CBD products) the way they say to take them and using them polyamorously with alcohol and other stuff,” Gibson said. “I think it’s becoming a little more accepted with some people. The perceived risk is down because of that.”

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