On a 40-acre farm in a small South Carolina town, John Jameson is trying to bring some truth and transparency to a new industry that’s booming in popularity — but due to a dearth of regulation, is also loaded with questions that can place doubt in consumers’ minds.
The industry is cannabidiol, better known as CBD, which mushroomed into a billion-dollar health phenomenon after the U.S. government legalized industrial hemp in late 2018. Jameson’s approach is called “seed to sale,” and it begins in Neeses, a town about 40 miles south of Columbia — where the industrial hemp grown for his company, Nature’s Highway, is cultivated, harvested, dried and cured.
From the time the hemp sprouts in the Palmetto State soil to the time the hemp is ready to be harvested and crafted into CBD goods for consumer use, it never passes through the hands of someone who isn’t a partner in Jameson’s endeavor. In an industry where there’s very little oversight, and where disingenuous purveyors can put anything in a bottle and call it CBD, Nature’s Highway has designed a clear and candid process designed to bolster consumer trust.
“It's really comforting to know that when we watch our plants grow, that eventually they're going to end up in our product,” says Jameson, a Columbia native. “So it's cool to see it from the beginning to the end. And if there's something that's not right, we can put a halt to it.”
At the ground level
By legalizing industrial hemp, the 2018 Farm Bill separated the crop from its cannabis cousin, marijuana, with which it had been linked for decades. Hemp used to produce CBD does not induce a high — by law, it can contain at most only .3 percent THC, the chemical that gives marijuana its psychotropic properties. In a short period of time, CBD has found legions of believers in people suffering from anxiety, chronic pain, and other maladies.
Currently, the FDA provides little guidance on how CBD is regulated, placing the burden on sellers to prove their products are the real thing. That’s where Nature’s Highway and its farm play a pivotal role. When Jameson learned that South Carolina was allowing for 20 licenses for the farming of hemp for CBD production, he knew just who to call — his close friend, Andy Fogle, Chairman of Carolina Fresh Farms, one of the largest sod growers in the Southeast, located in Neeses, SC.
“I called Andy and said, ‘You want to get into the CBD business?’ His answer was, ‘What’s CBD?’ I told him, ‘You’ll hear about it soon enough,’” Jameson says. “It’s unique to get the opportunity to get in on something like this that’s still at the ground level, and where the market is still being defined. It’s really exciting.”
The farm had a preexisting research relationship with Clemson University, satisfying one of the state’s requirements. Additionally, there was equipment on site, helping to control and minimize costs. The hemp could be crop-rotated, as not to drain the soil of nutrients. With Carolina Fresh Farms signing on as a majority stakeholder in the business, Nature’s Highway devised a method of extracting the crude CBD oil on site, far more efficient than moving thousands of pounds of raw hemp by truck.
Showing steps along the way
For equipment and training necessary for processing, the company entered into a joint venture with New River Distillation of Boone, North Carolina. “We have our own stainless steel containers where the oil is stored and kept. None of our oil comes in contact with anybody else's stuff, and we're not running anything through a distillation machine that processes oil from another farm,” Jameson says.
Once the oil has been processed into distillate or isolate, it’s shipped to one of their partner compounding pharmacies to produce it’s CBD product formulations for Nature’s Highway and Cannabloom, their newly introduced cosmetic line. The lone step overseen by an outside party is testing, which is conducted by ProVerde Laboratories of Milton, Mass., one of the premier cannabis testing facilities on the East Coast.
“We have to have a third party involved in the testing,” Jameson says. “Obviously, we can say whatever we want to say — that our CBD is THC-free and contains no pesticides or any of that. But no one is going to trust our word.”
In addition to its own consumer products, Nature’s Highway also produces CBD oil for other manufacturers.
Nature’s Highway added a pair of orthopedic surgeons to help provide direction on CBD formulations. Hemp’s legalization has flung open the door for more testing on CBD’s therapeutic effects, with some seeing it as a potential replacement for opioid therapy, and one study offering promise for its use in addiction treatment.
“We feel like there's more acceptance coming down the pipeline in both the medical community as well as the rest of the world,” Jameson says. “So we feel having that seed-to-sale control makes a huge difference when it comes to the consumer market and the business-to-business market. We can kind of show them the steps along the way. The most powerful thing we can say is, why don't you come down to the farm?”
Interested in more information on Nature’s Highway, and its CBD products grown in South Carolina? Contact the company through its online form, view its online shop, or visit its website at natureshighwaycbd.com.