SCHENECTADY — Donald Andrews has run a smoke shop in Scotia for six years, selling everything from tobacco and hemp flower to flavored vape products and glass pipes. He expanded to Albany a few years ago, as vaping grew in popularity.
But in recent years, the Schenectady native began getting a certain type of customer frequently enough that he started tinkering with the idea of a different kind of business altogether.
“People would come in and say, you know, I’m really struggling with arthritis or inflammation or pain, do you have any CBD?” he recalled.
It was those customers and their testimonials about the wonders of cannabidiol — an extract of the cannabis plant said to lessen pain, nausea, insomnia, inflammation and other ailments — that would prompt Andrews to open Upstate CBD, a shop dedicated exclusively to CBD products on Schenectady’s Upper Union Street.
Doors opened June 1. The same day, a national chain called Your CBD Store opened its first Capital Region location on Guilderland’s Western Avenue. Both were beat by another company called Green Papas, which opened a CBD shop inside Crossgates Mall last month.
That three stores devoted exclusively to CBD opened in the region in just a month’s time may be the surest sign yet that this once little-known cannabis compound has finally gone mainstream.
“It just started blowing up,” said Andrews, who attended seminars and trade shows on CBD as its popularity grew. “Demand got really crazy and people began asking for different kinds of products that I just decided, I’m going to go find a storefront and sell this.”
It’s not a venture entirely without risk.
Despite its popularity, the sale of CBD is largely unregulated in the U.S., enabling unscrupulous players to enter the market and sell mislabeled, contaminated or adulterated products — usually online.
Those states that have attempted to regulate it have butted up against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which can’t decide whether CBD should be marketed as a food ingredient, a dietary supplement or something else altogether. In some places, confusion over its legal status has resulted in products being seized from places of business without warning.
What the FDA is clear on is that companies can not claim the ingredient prevents, treats or cures any type of disease or ailment, as clinical trials to investigate such claims are currently underway. Most anecdotal evidence to date has suggested that CBD lessens issues such as anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain, though it may not eliminate them.
Christian Spenziero, a 30-year-old from Glenville, first tried it a year ago for shoulder pain that had migrated down to his elbow and was keeping him up at night.
“It really worked,” he said. “And I knew there were other people in similar pain, so I really wanted to bring something to the area that could help.”
He and a silent partner went in together to open Your CBD Store at 2027 Western Ave. In less than a week, he has seen customers with rheumatoid arthritis, back spasms, insomnia and mobility issues. One was a Vietnam veteran, he said, who took a bullet through the elbow and wrist and found CBD had given him “almost 100 percent” movement back in his hands for the first time in a long time.
“I take it primarily for anxiety and it’s just wonderful,” said 26-year-old Jezsanay Stevens, who was browsing the shelves at Upstate CBD on a recent weekday afternoon.
The Rotterdam resident buys her product online, but said she may consider shopping locally now that she’s seen the variety offered at Andrews’ store.
“I’m blown away,” she said.
His store carries CBD-infused edibles, drinks, lotions, tinctures, beauty products, vape products and pet treats from nearly 30 different manufacturers nationwide. He also carries hemp flower and pre-rolled hemp cigarettes, and said he hopes to expand to marijuana should New York ever legalize it.
While CBD wasn’t impossible to find locally (gas stations, vape shops, neighborhood pharmacies and spas have begun carrying products in recent years), the arrival of stores dedicated exclusively to the extract marks a new milestone for the region that can only bode well for consumers, owners say.
“When you come to our shop, you can rest easy that we’ve done our research, our products are sourced well, and our staff are knowledgeable and able to answer questions,” Your CBD Store’s Spenziero said. “This really should be a thoughtful purchase, not an impulse buy.”
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