Like most of her prospective customers, “Your CBD Store Fairfax” co-owner Beth Collingwood initially approached cannabidiol with skepticism.

The Gainesville resident is a self-described “science junkie” who worked in the pharmaceutical industry prior to starting her own business, but she admits she had at best a limited understanding of cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in hemp plants, until about two years ago.

Collingwood was struggling to recover from cancer treatments that left her with residual pain, anxiety, and sleep issues on top of the more mundane stresses of life, especially with her children transitioning into adulthood at the time.

While doctors offered various prescriptions to alleviate her issues, Collingwood already had to take a maintenance drug as part of her cancer treatment and did not want to end up drowning in additional medications.

After conducting extensive research, Collingwood decided to try cannabidiol as an alternative. The effect was subtle but undeniable. For instance, she noticed while driving one day that her back no longer ached, and she started sleeping better.

“It immediately helped me with my sleep, anxiety and stress, and also just the pain, the back pain that I was in,” Collingwood said. “That’s when a light bulb kind of went off for me because I was like, this is phenomenal, and it helps your body in a very natural way…You’re not taking a bunch of different things.”

Collingwood was so impressed by her experience with cannabidiol that she started exploring the possibility of opening her own store, a daunting prospect for someone who was intrigued by entrepreneurship but had never pursued it before.

Fortunately, she had friends willing to lend their support.

First, an acquaintance in Pennsylvania introduced her to Your CBD Store and its wholesale provider SunMed CBD, which manufactures oil tinctures, edibles, skin creams, and other cannabidiol-infused products.

Collingwood also found a business partner in Lisa Thibault, a longtime friend with experience in franchising who discovered cannabidiol while dealing with lingering sports-related injuries and grief over the deaths of two relatives.

Together, Collingwood and Thibault started the company NOVA Wellness Group and opened a Your CBD Store in Gainesville earlier this year.

They opened their second Your CBD Store location, 11108 Lee Hwy in Fairfax, on Nov. 15 with the goal of not only selling cannabidiol products, but also educating potential customers on the science behind the compound that is becoming increasingly popular for its reported medicinal value.

“We’re not just here for people to walk in and buy something off the shelf,” Thibault said. “…We really have to educate people, find out why they’re coming in, what they’re looking for relief for, and then, work with the products, the dosing and delivering, the follow-up, making sure that they’re getting the benefits of it.”

One of the most common misconceptions that the women encounter is the conflation of cannabidiol with marijuana.

Cannabidiol is one of more than 100 chemical compounds or cannabinoids found in cannabis, but unlike tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the other most common compound in the plant, CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it does not alter cognitive functions and produce a euphoria or high.

Instead, it interacts with the biological system of endocannabinoid receptors that all vertebrates have to maintain internal harmony in response to changes in the environment, affecting processes related to pain, metabolism, mood, appetite, sleep, and stress, according to the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative.

Collingwood says CBD has anti-inflammatory properties that, combined with its effect on the endocannabinoid system, help relieve pain, among other health benefits.

According to the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded in a 2017 review that there is “substantial evidence” that cannabinoids can be effective for chronic pain, chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, and spasticity in multiple sclerosis.

The review also suggested the chemicals might help with sleep issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, traumatic brain injuries, and Tourette’s Syndrome, though evidence backing CBD’s effectiveness in those cases ranges from moderate to limited.

With federal restrictions on hemp products containing less than 0.3 percent THC loosened after the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act in 2018, the market for cannabidiol products has grown over the past two years with everything from lotions to pet food available through major retailers like Walgreens and Amazon, according to USA Today.

However, few of these products have undergone thorough reviews by federal regulators. An oral drug used to treat seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy became the first and, so far, only drug with cannabidiol approved by the Food and Drug Administration on June 25, 2018.

The FDA cautioned in a consumer update on July 17 that medical claims used to market CBD products are generally unproven at best and misleading or false at worst, as in assertions that it will cure cancer or other serious diseases. The substance’s long-term effects also remain unclear.

“The information we have underscores the need for further study and high quality, scientific information about the safety and potential uses of CBD,” the agency said.

Your CBD Store strives to be different.

Founded by a woman diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and looking for relief that prescription medications had failed to provide, Your CBD Store opened its first shop in 2018 in Bradenton, Fla., and has since expanded to more than 300 retail outlets nationwide with hopes of surpassing 1,000 stores by 2020.

While limited FDA regulation means that cannabidiol products can be misrepresented or become contaminated, Collingwood says SunMed, which supplies Your CBD Store, avoids potential quality and safety issues by manufacturing all of its products from an organically grown hemp farm in Colorado that has been certified by that state’s Department of Agriculture.

Cannabinoids are taken from the plants through a carbon dioxide extraction process that Your CBD Store says eliminates the need for chemical solvents and results in the purest possible end product.

SunMed also conducts laboratory tests on its products that are available to customers on Your CBD Store’s website.

“[SunMed] control the process from the actual growth of the plants to the bottling of the oil,” Collingwood said. “So, they’re plugged in every step of the way, so there’s a lot of quality control that you don’t have with a lot of the other oils in CBD products.”

Collingwood and Thibault emphasize that they do not want to discredit prescription medications or position cannabidiol products as a direct substitute, and Your CBD Store has a disclaimer on its website stating that its products are not intended for the cure, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.

However, the Your CBD Store Fairfax owners believe cannabidiol can make a real difference in the lives of people struggling with the same stress and pain that they experienced.

After getting a strong response from customers in Gainesville, Collingwood and Thibault opened a second store in Fairfax in the hopes of taking advantage of a central location at 11108 Lee Hwy in Fairfax. 

Thibault says the City of Fairfax has been supportive and easy to work throughout the process of setting up the business.

As they try to establish a presence in Fairfax, Thibault and Collingwood want to get to know the surrounding community by forming partnerships with local health and wellness businesses, such as chiropractors, massage therapists, and yoga studios, potentially for events and classes.

“We really just want the community to know that we’re here and just come and see what it’s about,” Thibault said. “…We’re going to be actively trying to be a part of the community. We’re a neighbor.”

With a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for December, Fairfax’s Your CBD Store is just the latest in Thibault and Collingwood’s ambitious plans to bring franchises to every county in Northern Virginia.

For the two women, all the work that goes into starting and running a business feels worthwhile when they hear stories from customers like the man who came into the store on Sunday and shared that cannabidiol helped him in his recovery from alcoholism.

“There’s no better feeling when people walk in and 70 percent of them are skeptical…and they come back and they tell you how it’s changed their life and how much it’s worked,” Collingwood said. “It gives me goosebumps now. I mean, it’s just wonderful.”

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