Just a few years ago, "It's like marijuana but it doesn't get you high" wouldn't have seemed like much of a sales pitch, but these days cannabidiol, a.k.a. CBD, is everywhere. The PR emails I get these days that aren't about "crypto" are mostly about CBD, and an entire quarter of my local pharmacy has been re-dedicated to tinctures, creams, and inhalers containing this new "it" compound.
But if it doesn't get you high like the infamous THC does, and if legal weed is more readily available than ever, why does everyone suddenly want to try CBD? One reason is that it really could work as medicine: The FDA recently approved a drug derived from it to treat serious forms of epilepsy. Still, that doesn't explain why hordes of mostly healthy people are suddenly swearing by it as a treatment from everything from anxiety to restlessness. I suspected at least some of the hype around CBD could be chalked up to a placebo effect—but that was before I found out you could vape it.
My love of the Juul—the vape that was supposed to help adults quit smoking but now enjoys a bizarre popularity among teens—was enough to outweigh my CBD skepticism. I was perusing the vape's subreddit (sorry) about a month ago when I came across the first-ever ad for the Hempod, which is exactly what it sounds like: a way to mod the Juul so you could get high out of it.
The company behind the product (which is unaffiliated with Juul) was, maybe predictably, the brainchild of two 22-year-old college kids. Adam O'Reilly, a Hempod co-founder and Ohio State University student, was a relatively early adopter of CBD. He's been using it instead of weed to manage his anxiety for the past couple of years and has a brother who, like me, quit combustible cigarettes using the Juul. "I realized, 'Holy shit, this is the perfect mix,'" he told me over the phone.
For the past six months, he's been filling empty pods with a mix of e-liquid and CBD, trying to get the ratio just right. The first prototype used a ceramic coil pod, though the company has since switched to a cotton-wick one that sells for $50 a pop. O'Reilly assured me the new hardware was an improvement in terms of leaking and the pod staying in place within the Juul, but all I really cared about how the liquid inside the Hempod would make me feel.
O'Reilly told me he no longer smokes weed as a result of his creation, so I assumed he was going to tell me that smoking these pods produced a sensation somewhat similar to being stoned. Instead, he told me that many users have compared it to the anxiety-obliterating feeling of popping a Xanax.
"You'll notice something has changed," he said. "It's like the warm body feeling that you get when you're high, but there's no anxiety or worry. It's not psychoactive, but your body physically is tingly and relaxed. If you have racing thoughts, those jumbled-up thoughts in your head dissolve. It's really amazing actually that a chemical can be so effective without the THC."
He said it also tamed ADHD while managing to have no cognitive effect. This sounded a lot like the rhetoric I'd already heard—and rolled my eyes at—about CBD being a panacea. I tried to imagine, as he was talking, what a combination of amphetamines and benzos that didn't fuck you up would feel like. "You'll probably, definitely feel it," he continued, which made me less than assured that it did anything at all.
Still, I decided to put my skepticism aside and review it for a week.
The first problem was that, for me, the Juul is kind of gross to smoke if I'm not already kind of buzzed. That meant I never felt like smoking a Hempod when I'd be able to isolate its effects. It also didn't help that the flavor I tested—mango—smelled very much like fruit but tasted kind of like burning plastic when inhaled.
I decided to take my first foray when my anxiety is typically at its peak: When I had a mild hangover. I took a few puffs, which was the recommended dose according to O'Reilly, before getting on the subway on a Saturday morning. Though I definitely didn't feel "high," I was definitely acting a little more altered than usual. I teared up three times on my MTA ride—once when I started thinking about the "electricity" of the city, again when I saw subway ads urging people to help the homeless, and yet again when I thought about how good a decidedly non-emotional hardcore album was. My trip was three stops long.
Another time, I took a few hits when feeling particularly down and started laughing uncontrollably about nothing 10 minutes later. But these were the most dramatic moments of my weeklong experiment. Mostly, when I inhaled CBD it was just like my internal volume had been turned down a little bit. It's difficult to describe this sensation in positive terms. It's like having exactly one glass of wine or being what I call "post-high," which is the feeling you get after the paranoia and anxiety of smoking weed has worn off and you're left with only the good bits.
All in all, that's definitely not a bad thing. Given the range of experiences I had while using the Hempods, I'm still not sure what CBD technically does, if anything. I will say, though, that it doesn't matter to me; I genuinely felt more at peace several times after using it. The world is in a constant state of chaos, and while loads of people are using that as an excuse to get more fucked up than ever, remaining clear-headed is undoubtedly a better strategy. The occasional use of CBD, at least for me, turns out to be a way to feel some slight relief without going off the deep end. It is a true happy medium in a world of increasing extremes.
I didn't go into this thinking I'd be handing out an endorsement, but here you go: If you already have a Juul in your pocket and want to have the ability to feel ever-so-slightly less stressed at any given moment, Hempods are a good option. They're obviously less of a hassle to carry around than any of those big, breakable glass dropper bottles they're selling at my local pharmacy these days. Whether the undeniable lightness I felt was the effect of some miracle compound or all in my head is certainly up for debate, but seriously, who cares at this point. It's 2018—I'll go with whatever works.
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