***APRIL 2019 update: I work as an associate attorney with a civil litigation firm in Cambridge. My boss is always interested in developing new practice areas, so we attended a Cannabis Law continuing education conference. Naturally, it was filled with Millennials… and my boss, who’s meow meow years old.
Because of his relentless questioning, Dan (my boss) got the presenters to admit that while industrial hemp is now legal per the federal government’s 2018 Farm Bill, hemp-derived CBD products are not. They are under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration because it is a product actually ingested by human beings.
The Brookings Institute explains it best:
CBD generally remains a Schedule I substance under federal law. The Farm Bill—and an unrelated, recent action by the Department of Justice—creates exceptions to this Schedule I status in certain situations. The Farm Bill ensures that any cannabinoid—a set of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant—that is derived from hemp will be legal, if and only if that hemp is produced in a manner consistent with the Farm Bill, associated federal regulations, association state regulations, and by a licensed grower. All other cannabinoids, produced in any other setting, remain a Schedule I substance under federal law and are thus illegal. (The one exception is pharmaceutical-grade CBD products that have been approved by FDA, which currently includes one drug: GW Pharmaceutical’s Epidiolex.)
So all of those CBD products at your local minimart promising to do everything from relieving headaches to curing your lupus? Technically illegal. However, the federal government doesn’t seem to be doing much enforcement (though New York has started issuing fines up to $650 to restaurants offering CBD-infused products and Ohio banned them outside of registered medical dispensaries).
My point being? This column is not legal advice. This trip happened before the 2018 Farm Bill and also involve foreign countries with nebulous laws surrounding CBD. I got specific permission from authorities in the Dominican Republic and was prepared for my CBD cartridges to be confiscated anyway. Don’t do anything stupid and always ask permission rather than seek forgiveness in these scenarios.***
I recently took a trip to the Dominican Republic. It was a 30th birthday bash for a friend at an all-inclusive resort, possibly one of the greatest vacations I’ve ever experienced. Rather than actually be excited for the trip, however, I spent months fighting crushing anxiety. I hadn’t traveled internationally in years, since before my first car accident. I figured I could handle this because we wouldn’t be doing much besides sitting on the beach or by a pool. Despite this knowledge, I was frightened. What on earth could I do to handle what I knew would be increased pain, much less participate in fun activities with 15 friends?
I wanted to go, and I was determined to go. I knew there would be few chances to travel with my friends like this again, and if I didn’t go, I’d regret it on my death bed.
How can anyone not want to go here?
So, how could I enjoy this trip?
My husband is a fan of Instagram. (Stay with me, this is relevant.) He follows many pro athletes’ pages, and thus he stumbled across ads for Pure Kana and Chakra Xtracts. They make CBD oil out of hemp rather than cannabis, resulting in a legal product that can be brought across state lines. For those who are unfamiliar, CBD oil is a pain-relieving supplement created from either cannabis or hemp that has no psychoactive tendencies. This is a very important either/or situation. You won’t get high using CBD oil. Many athletes use it as part of their recovery regimens. If made from hemp, it does not show up on drug tests. (Caveat: Pure Kana’s oils have less than 0.3% THC, so they can’t 100% guarantee it won’t show up on a drug test. However, the likelihood is low.)
As said on Chakra’s website:
On February 7, 2014, President Obama signed the Farm Bill of 2013 into law. Section 7606 of the act, Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research, defines industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana and authorizes institutions of higher education or state departments of agriculture in states that legalized hemp cultivation to regulate and conduct research and pilot programs.
It also has very few side effects. From the Ministry of Hemp:
A study published in 1986 in the International Journal of Neuroscience, examined the effects of CBD oil in 5 patients with dystonic movement disorders (muscle tremors and other forms of uncontrollable movements). CBD oil’s side effects “were mild and included hypotension [low blood pressure], dry mouth, psychomotor slowing [slowed thoughts or movements], lightheadedness, and sedation,” according to the study’s authors, Paul Consroe, Reuven Sandyk and Stuart R. Snider.
I experienced none of those side effects, for the record. I made sure to try both products prior to the trip, and I was pleased to find they muffled my symptoms enough that I could function.
The real question: Can CBD oil made from hemp — a legal product, but uncomfortably close to cannabis-derived CBD oil — be brought to the Dominican Republic, a country notorious for its strict drug laws?
Hemp-derived CBD is legal. Okay, great. That’s not quite the question. The DR’s official website held no answers about hemp, and message boards made it sound like I’d end up in a Dominican jail for six months if I even thought about bringing anything into the country. The clearest answer we found was that Dominican officials do not differentiate between CBD and THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. But this was hemp. Ropes and jewelry are made of hemp — surely they wouldn’t object?
As my husband noted, it wasn’t the United States I needed to worry about.
I ended up actually emailing the Punta Cana International Airport because I didn’t want to do anything, you know, illegal. I posed the question to Customer Service, who said they’d check: Am I allowed to bring hemp CBD oil into the Dominican Republic?
They wrote back and asked, “Well, how much?” I said, three vape cartridges and a 1 oz bottle, all made from hemp.
“What’s it for?” Chronic back and neck pain.
For those of you who don’t have 2,000/20 vision, that says “Thank you for the information provided. Due to the circumstances you have explained below and to make this process as stress-free as possible for you, our airport security have inform[sic] us that you are allowed to travel with your CBD oil in carry-on luggage (not exceeding 100 ml) or checked bag. Please keep in mind that this could be checked by a security inspector once you reach our security point.”
Excellent. I printed out the appropriate literature showing how these products were made and what was in them, should security decide to question me. My pain management doctor prescribed a few rescue medications for the trip, knowing it would be difficult to travel. Airplanes make my pain worse (changing pressure is always fun), though the return trip proved to be much harder than the trip out there. A week after our flight, I am still recovering.
Either way, I needed a plan in place for the possibility of Customs confiscating my vape cartridges and tincture at the border, leaving me without additional relief for my week in the country. Pills and the Quell can only do so much, and I knew that extra oomph was necessary if I wanted to transition from “pain-riddled lump” to “person sitting happily by the pool.”
I want to yell at everyone on those message boards for terrifying me prior to the trip, because Customs was a breeze. They’d made it sound like a parade of drug-sniffing dogs was going to launch at us the moment we disembarked. Instead, we filled out our forms, spoke briefly with an agent, and then we were welcomed into the country. Bam.
To be clear, I didn’t hide anything. It was above-board. It was all in my carry-on, in a clear plastic bag for their perusal. It went through security. The literature was right there with it, stating its ingredients and what it was used for. Literally nobody cared.
The best part? The trip was an absolute blast, and despite the intense humidity and heat, I felt relatively good. I even participated in most activities. I now have much more hope for future traveling plans, because I went to a foreign country and managed to have a great time. The pain was certainly there, and a low-grade migraine thudded along in beat with every thought. Being at an all-inclusive resort, however, definitely took out the sting.
Like, my God. Look at this place.The vapes and tincture were lifesavers. There is literally no question, and I cannot adequately express my gratitude. While I feel that hemp CBD as a whole is not as strong as others on the market, I noticed a significant difference before and after I took them. The tincture was 1,000 mg of CBD, and the vapes were 200 mg. While the vapes were not as potent, I think the very action of vaping allows the oil to hit where it’s needed: my head. Those helped my headaches considerably. The battery for the vapes died after a couple days, but the company sent me a replacement as an apology (and a free cartridge!). They were the size of pens when connected to the battery, so they were very discreet and easy to bring with me. The battery is charged via USB, so again — simple.
The sublingual tincture from Pure Kana tasted like mint and relieved a portion of my pain within minutes. The vapes from Chakra Xtracts ranged in tasty flavors and didn’t leave any lingering odor. I am absolutely adding them to my normal medication regimen and will use them again when I travel.
The world feels larger to me now. I can go places. I can do things. Having that possibility available means more than I could ever say.