Though state health officials warned this week of “potentially contamined” cannabis oil causing a spike in emergency room visits, that doesn’t seem to be affecting sales of such products.
Ayman Nasser, who manages TJ Smokes, a Durham tobacco shop that sells cannabidiol oil (or CBD) products, said Thursday that he had not heard the warning issued by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Apparently, neither have customers who shop at the store, which opened about six months ago.
“It’s one of our big sellers,” said the 20-year-old Nasser, whose older brother co-owns the shop. “People use it for pain and for relaxation.”
In a news release Tuesday, State Health Director Betsey Tilson said people should be aware that products labeled as CBD oil might contain other substances.
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“The symptoms we are seeing that result in these emergency department visits are not typical for CBD oil use,” she said.
Ingestion of contaminated cannabis oil resulted in more than 30 reports since December of residents across the state seeking treatment in emergency rooms for symptoms including altered mental status, hallucinations, seizures, loss of consciousness and rapid heartbeat.
Hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant. Hemp growers cultivate the plant for its flowers, stem and stalk. The plant contains only trace elements of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive agent that produces the marijuana high.
Advocates of cannabidiol oil tout the health benefits of the product and point to medical research that suggests it can be used to relieve PTSD, epilepsy, autism, depression, arthritis, diabetes, infections that are immune to antibiotics, and other neurological conditions.
President Obama in 2014 signed into law an agriculture act that allows farmers and researchers to grow and cultivate industrial hemp. The plant is used in a variety of products, including fibers, textiles, paper, construction and insulation materials, cosmetics, animal feed, food and beverages.
In North Carolina, former Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015 signed into law a bill that authorized a pilot study of “hemp extract” and permitted its use as an alternative treatment for state residents, particularly children, who have intractable epilepsy.
It’s unclear how legal it is to sell cannabis oil in retail outlets. Concord police on Feb. 28 charged two men with possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana after they sold the oil out of their vape stores.
State officials said in Tuesday’s news release that the hemp extract, along with being consumed as an oil, has been found in electronic cigarettes and vaporizing pens.
The display cases at TJ Smokes feature an array of cannabidiol products including $8.99 tubes of “Premium CDB Flow,” pre-rolled hemp blunts, 16-ounce bottles of “CBD XTreme H20” and “Hippie Choice Hemp,” which looks and smells like lime-green buds of marijuana. There also is “Hemp Bombs Complete Relaxation Syrup,” along with “Tru Spectrum” and “Koi” oils that range in price from $22 to $55.
“People buy them all the time for relaxation,” Nasser said.
State health officials have not publicly identified the substance that contaminated the cannabis oil. Similar serious symptoms related to CBD oil use have been reported at medical facilities at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, where military health authorities have also raised concerns.
“Cases are spread across the state and not concentrated in certain regions,” state health spokesman Cobey Culton wrote in an email Thursday to The News & Observer.
Health officials say people who experience these symptoms should seek medical attention and call 911 if immediate assistance is needed.
To report symptoms or get answers to questions related to CBD oil, call the Carolinas Poison Center at 800-222-1222.
Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald