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Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, has become a commonly used addition to beauty products, medication and even food. The chemical compound derived from the Cannabis sativa plant is not psychoactive like its close family member THC, so many people use it as a relaxant, stress-reliever and even to mitigate pain. 

Many college students have turned to CBD infused products to help alleviate the stresses and pressures of school. A survey completed by The NewsHouse at Syracuse University found that 47% of SU students have used CBD products. 

Isea Kelley, a freshman in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications began using CBD infused cream her junior year of high school to treat the injuries she received while running cross country and track and field year round. It wasn’t until her senior year that she began using CBD oil and gummies to ease her anxiety. 

“I’m not anxious enough to ever need prescription medication, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have anxiety and stress issues and I need things to help deal with that,” she said. 

She purchases CBD products from a store in her hometown of Beverly, Massachusetts, called Kind Lab, usually spending from $50 to $90 on a tincture of CBD oil. She said buying CBD gummies is easier and less expensive and more often purchases them from Panacea Life Sciences, a CBD manufacturer based in Golden, Colorado, for $30.

marijuana, cbd
Partygoers pile CBD-infused food on their plates at a party last Fall.

Globally, athletes at all levels have to be cautious of the medications and substances they are using during competitions. Marijuana and cannabinoids are prohibited unless they have an approved Therapeutic Use Exemption, according to the United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA) But in 2018 the USADA removed CBD from their list of banned substances, as it is not psychoactive.

“I feel comfortable saying I use CBD because it’s just like I don’t really consider it to be weed,” Kelley said. “I guess it’s a part of weed, I think it definitely helps and you don’t get high from it so I don’t feel uncomfortable talking about it.”

Out of all of her products, Kelley said she finds that the oils have stronger effects and utilizes them when she has particularly high levels of anxiety or stress, sometimes even twice a day.

Ari Boyce began using CBD lotion to help treat the pain she experiences because of the titanium rod and eight screws she had inserted in her leg after she broke it last year. The freshman member of the SU cheer team said that she has noticed a lot of her teammates and athletic peers also using CBD products for pain and discomfort.

“I was super skeptical about taking it because everyone’s like ‘it’s a placebo effect’ and ‘it doesn’t actually work’ and I was one of those people but I was so desperate that I was like I’ll just try whatever,” she said.

Initially, Boyce was using a prescribed arthritis cream to treat her leg pain, but it wasn’t helping enough for the $200 her family had to pay for it, she said. The CBD lotion she now uses provides a greater relief for pain and is significantly less expensive, only costing $20.

Her parents recommended that she start using the CBD lotion as an alternative to the arthritis cream. They are comfortable with her using the lotion, she said, but do not want her taking the CBD gummies or any related products.

“They don’t want me to consume it but it’s fine to put topical, probably because of the stigma that it does come from the same plant [as marijuana],” she said.

In spite of this stigma, the CBD industry is on the rise. In 2018,  Grand View Business valued the CBD market at $4.6 billion. And a deep analysis of the cannabis market in the United States conducted by the investment banking company Cowen, predicted that the CBD market could represent a $16 billion opportunity in 2025.

But what makes the CBD industry so appealing to young adults? It could be the fact that 63% percent of college students reported having anxiety or stress and are looking for a natural way to cope. It could also be due to mainstream audiences excitedly participating in CBD trends. Former Coca-Cola executive Chris Burggreave even described CBD as the “new avocado toast” in an interview with Business Insider.

Or perhaps it’s that CBD’s surge in popularity offers business opportunities for young entrepreneurs. Mariah Bermeo had the idea to combine her love for food and marijuana when she was an undergrad at SU taking courses in global and food studies. After she graduated in 2019, Bermeo started her business “Mariah Juana,” in which she cooks food infused with different strains of CBD, often incorporating foods that are important to her Ecuadorian culture.

marijuana, cbd, cannabis
Mariah Bermeo poses behind her CBD food table at a house party.

“I think my biggest challenge in this is getting my parents and people who are old school to view that this is a growing business,” she said. “This is something that has many parts that work in different systems within the food system.”

She wants the marijuana she uses for her cooking to be local, and often gets it from “friendly drug dealers in the neighborhood.” Bermeo considers her dealers to be entrepreneurs and trusts their product.

The way marijuana and marijuana-based products are perceived is changing, Bermeo said. Her food studies professors at SU often talked about marijuana and hemp as if it was already legalized, and she sees the policies changing in the United States around marijuana usage.

Bermeo witnessed first hand how popular CBD was becoming after she did an internship at Head and Heal, a hemp farm in Cortland, New York, that makes CBD oil, salve, lotion and even a special CBD product for pets. After working closely with Head and Heal she noticed that cis-white heterosexual men were already dominating the industry, and said she wanted to get more people of color to be a part of the business.

Now she works with the James Beard House, a high-end dining facility in New York City, cooking CBD infused cuisine at different restaurants. Still, she realizes that food associated with cannabis just won’t appeal to everyone.

“I have to realize the fact that this is an illegal business, you know,” Bermeo said. “And some people are for it and some people are just not for it.”

Jewél Jackson contributed to this report.