Photography by Libby Williams
By Allyson Sutton
From coffee and craft beer, to lotions, cosmetics and even dog treats, CBD is the latest wellness craze making its way into our daily lives.
Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical compound derived from the hemp plant. Unlike marijuana, it contains less than 0.3 percent THC, meaning it won’t get you high. Instead, proponents of the plant extract say it can help improve sleep, anxiety, depression and pain, among other health benefits.
Although CBD products have quickly become mainstream, it’s still a nascent industry. The production of industrial hemp was legalized by the federal government in 2014 but only became legal in South Carolina in January 2018 through the S.C. Industrial Hemp Pilot Program, a statewide research initiative that allowed 20 farmers to grow the crop. One of the first to be accepted was Charleston Hemp Co., an organic hemp farm and manufacturing facility here in the Lowcountry.
“We are a seed-to-shelf purveyor of industrialized hemp,” says Jennifer Thackston, who manages the company’s sales. “We grow the plants, process and extract the CBD and manufacture end-user products.”
Founded by husband-and-wife duo David and Jeanette Bulick, Charleston Hemp’s 18-person team includes researchers, a wellness clinician, a botanist and a crew of community educators, marketers and sales reps known as hemp ambassadors. Eleven of the 18 employees are women.
“A lot of women are leading the path in hemp. It’s not a good-ole boys’ network,” says Jennifer. “It’s a product that helps so many people – why wouldn’t we want to get involved and carry that baton nationwide?”
Jennifer initially joined the company as a consultant, bringing a 25-year background in sales, but no connection to this buzzed-about plant. As she continued to hear stories from folks who turned to CBD oil for help with ailments like diabetes, epilepsy, depression and addiction, she was inspired to join the team full time.
“It’s very powerful to hear these stories of CBD really changing people’s lives,” she says. “It’s exciting to be aligned with an organization whose product truly provides wellness. It’s something I’ve never experienced before.”
As the industry continues to grow, Jennifer, the co-founders and the rest of their team have placed a significant focus on education and outreach.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the industry, so we’re committed to educating people, whether that’s by talking to the general public during events or working with legislators to have a shared understanding about the plant and its potential,” says Jennifer. “As part of the state pilot program, we also have research partners who play a big part in our education efforts.”
One such partner is Dr. Melissa Milanak, who leads sleep and anxiety research as well as continuing education efforts for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC. Outside of her work at the university, Melissa serves as Charleston Hemp Co.’s academic expert.
“This team really strives to educate the community around hemp and CBD,” says Melissa. “It’s not just about growing and selling the products, it’s about promoting further research and bringing these benefits to the community in a deliberate and scientifically rigorous way.”
Melissa facilitates research partnerships with educational institutions examining the impact of hemp on sleep, mental health and addiction. She also helps create best practices for new farmers entering the industry and keeps tabs on medical journals and clinical studies to ensure Charleston Hemp’s information is based on current research.
In addition to their education efforts, the women-led team is on a mission to foster new economic opportunities through hemp.
“One of the driving factors to create the manufacturing and processing facility was so we could help other farmers in the state do something with their hard work,” says Jennifer.
The company offers white-label services, enabling growers and wellness innovators to produce and package tinctures, salves or other CBD consumer products they wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to create.
All of Charleston Hemp Co.’s production is overseen by Dr. Xiaojuan Wang, a chemist and doctoral candidate in MUSC’s Drug Discovery and Biomedical Services Department. She tests each batch of CBD to ensure purity and consistency.
“My focus is to optimize the extraction of CBD from the plants so it’s as pure as possible,” says Xiaojuan. “It’s meaningful work because we’re able to provide high quality CBD to other manufacturers who want to create products that help people with things like sleep and anxiety.”
As they enter their second year in business, Charleston Hemp Company plans to expand both its acreage (adding up to 20 acres as well as new greenhouses) and its impact.
“Industrial hemp is very sustainable, and it’s hardy and fast-growing in our climate,” says Jennifer. “We want people to get excited about what this particular crop could mean for the state. It has the potential to bring prosperity back to small agricultural towns; South Carolina can be a leader in where this industry goes.”
With the average age of farmers creeping to 65, Charleston Hemp Co. has focused on hiring millennial employees like Malia Young-Williams and Paige Allen who can inspire young entrepreneurs, farmers and wellness professionals to get involved in the future of CBD.
“It’s been so rewarding watching the company evolve,” says Malia, a hemp ambassador who joined the team early on. “Seeing the people we’ve helped, the other farmers who have gotten involved with hemp and CBD, the progress we’re making … it’s really become a community.”
On April 20, they’ll host the first Charleston Hemp Festival, an opportunity for locals to see hemp farming, extraction and manufacturing firsthand.
“We want to break down the taboos about this plant, build awareness and help people see where CBD comes from,” says Paige, another hemp ambassador. “Ultimately, we hope the festival creates more opportunities for the community to get involved in this industry.”
Where to try CBD around Charleston:
- Relax with the “Heaven on Earth Hemp Massage,” a CBD oil-infused session at Verdant Eco Spa in West Ashley.
- Sip the “Green Dragon,” a CBD-infused cocktail at Millers All Day, or slurp an Instagram-worthy CBD-infused frosé at the Co-Op on Sullivan’s Island.
- Imbibe on the CBD Smash IPA at Fatty’s Beer Works or the newly-released Pass the Lemongrass IPA at Revelry Brewing.
- Get through your work week with the Relaxation wellness shot at Huriyali, a blend of CBD oil, lemon, greens, turmeric and rosemary essential oil.