At the Feelz, a pop-up bakery that was hosted by vegan restaurant By Chloe at the end of September, every colorful concoction contained a bit of CBD — and the brand went hard on the Mary Jane messaging: Frosting piped into the shape of pot leaves adorned cupcakes, bold streamers and lava lamps added a ‘70s vibe and there was even a psychedelic drink on the menu that changed colors from blue to purple to pink, thanks to an ingredient called butterfly pea flower. The Feelz, which according to a spokesperson, served more than 2,000 guests during its opening weekend, exemplified what self-care looks like in 2018.
There were Rice Krispies treats, matcha bubble tea and espresso chocolate cookies — all of it vegan, all of it dosed with about 2.5 milligrams of CBD oil. These were Instagram foods at their finest: photogenic, cruelty-free, with a hint of the chill-out marijuana derivative that’s having a moment.
As a refresher, CBD comes from the cannabis plant, but it won’t get you stoned. It’s legal in most states, including New York, where standard pot is not, and it’s believed to help with anxiety, pain and a host of other conditions. While the research on the benefits of CBD isn’t robust, in June, the Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, making it the first prescription medication with CBD approved in the country.
As CBD earns some medically approved clout, it’s also gaining steam in the recreational sense. Businesses are treating CBD like the next pumpkin spice: Beyond By Chloe’s Manhattan-based pop-up, there’s a haul of new products hitting the market that tout the compound’s benefits. There are CBD teas, CBD-infused soft serve, CBD gummy vitamins, CBD herbal tonics, CBD sparkling water, CBD dog treats and even CBD intimate massage oil.
CBD may feel novel, but it’s yet another trend in the obsessive state of wellness we now live in. It feels different because CBD’s momentum was perfectly timed: while the culture is shifting from dieting and self-deprecation to body positivity and self-care.
CBD’s success wouldn’t exist without the rise of wellness
It’s no mystery why the CBD market is exploding. The U.S. hemp industry grew 16% in 2017 — with $190 million in sales for hemp-derived CBD products, according to a report from Hemp Business Journal. CBD products are expected to yield $646 million in sales in 2022, the report projects. CBD, like the kombucha, kale and turmeric trends before it, is an avenue businesses use to reel in consumers.
While CBD may be good for some people and certain ailments, its true success comes from growing alongside the wellness industry, which a 2017 report quantified as a $3.7 trillion industry. “Wellness” encapsulates a vast number of products and activities: Going to SoulCycle can be wellness, as can mixing up a homemade face mask from breakfast foods. Anything can be considered wellness, so long as there’s an aspect of self-improvement, be it physical, mental or otherwise.
It is this precise vagueness around wellness that has boosted CBD’s marketability. A gummy vitamin brand called Sunday Scaries says its products are “perfect everyday gummies to keep you relaxed, focused and on track.” Similarly, Recess, a CBD-infused sparkling water, promises feelings of “balance and clarity.” Those two effects can’t exactly be measured scientifically; they can mean very different things to individual consumers. Plus, it’s worth noting, none of these products’ claims have been validated by the Food and Drug Administration.
“We all have too many tabs open in our browsers and in our brains,” Recess’ site reads. “That’s why we made Recess: Each can is a moment to reset and rebalance. It’s how you wish that 2 p.m. coffee would make you feel.”
There’s no proof that drinking this can of glorified seltzer will make you feel improved or rebalanced. But what’s likely bettering your mood is the simple act of taking a break from a screen to spend a few free moments drinking a beverage — whether it be flavored carbonated water or a green tea. There’s real evidence for this: Taking breaks is proven to increase productivity, boost your motivation for long-term goals and help you stay focused.
Wellness as social currency
The trend around wanting to change our current state to feel something else — whether it’s relaxation, relief from anxiety or a sense of calm — speaks to a bigger cultural moment we’re currently experiencing. Self-care is the next step from busyness, which we, not long ago, used as a kind of social currency intended to show our own importance. Now we’ve moved on to wellness because it’s nearly assumed that everyone’s got too much shit to do, and people need to take some kind of action to repair the damage that being overworked causes.
This is not to say that self-care isn’t important; but it has been easily commodified. Purchasing something that promises relaxation signals to the world that the buyer is in need of something de-stressing because they work hard, which means they are important. CBD gets that message across.
CBD is the antithesis of diet culture
CBD —and more holistically, self-care — has replaced weight loss as a goal, as we’ve moved on somewhat from hating our bodies and prioritizing thinness to loving what we’ve got and embracing all shapes and sizes. It makes a lot of sense for CBD to emerge as we leave diet culture behind.
As we shed diet culture, (an example of this being WW’s — formerly Weight Watchers — new branding strategy), the treatment around CBD is perhaps the most powerful example of wellness existing without weight loss. By Chloe’s CBD espresso cookies are by no means “healthy,” but their vegan-ness and CBD chill factor lead consumers to feel like they’re participating in something virtuous.
In 2018, self-care does not include counting calories, but, rather, adhering to a meticulous skin care routine, or having dessert because you want it. CBD adds a so-called benefit to that dessert that has nothing to do with weight loss, which can make a person feel even better about eating it.
Can the CBD craze last, or will we move on?
In a world guided by wellness, countless trends will come, linger and ultimately fade. But here’s where CBD may also be different: While people continue to play with the chemical recreationally, science is increasingly embracing it, too. Does putting CBD in sprinkle-speckled brownies take away from its prestige in traditional medicine, as in, something prescribed by a doctor?
Samantha Wasser, By Chloe’s co-founder and creative director, said she thinks that CBD can be taken seriously in both worlds. “I don’t want to take away from any of the amazing properties and the medical usage, but I do think there’s a lot of work to get people to understand CBD in general, and that it’s not something that’s going to get you high or going to knock you out at work,” she said in an interview. “I think people think it’s the same thing as marijuana — and it’s not. I think the two parallel paths have to grow at the same time — in the medical world and the recreational. We’re just trying to get it to continue to become mainstream.”