LACONIA — Theresa Fornea, 52, said she is grateful for the emergency rental assistance that paid for her and her husband, age 60, to stay at the Best Western in Concord until they could relocate to McKenna House, the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter in the capital.
Three weeks ago, the Laconia residents were thankful to have a two-night campsite near Weirs Beach, where they stored their possessions under a tarp.
“Our life has been tough and tougher. We stick together. That’s how we get through it,” said Fornea.
A pop-up tent, two sleeping bags and hoodies provided by Isaiah 61 Cafe enabled the couple to stay dry and warm after they and 10 others were discharged from the Salvation Army’s Carey House in Laconia after failing a drug test.
“My life’s in uproar and a twister over something I can buy legally over the counter,” Fornea said.
The Forneas used cannabidiol products, more commonly known as CBD, that contain trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana — which apparently was enough to register on a drug screening which does not detect levels of THC, only its presence.
Fornea, who has asthma, emphysema, and a cyst in her brain, said she uses a CBD puff bar and CBD lotion to relieve anxiety, depression and pain from spinal problems. “I won’t take opiates. I won’t do it,” she said, adding that CBD has helped her stay drug-free after quitting marijuana.
Now, without a car or transportation to get from Concord to her job at the deli counter at Laconia’s Vista Foods, she is without a paycheck and steady employment. “I lost my job over this,” she said.
To offset the cost of staying at McKenna House, the couple has been volunteering at the Salvation Army’s thrift store in Concord.
“This is a stop, and I haven’t stopped yet,” Fornea said.
A complicated issue as CBD products become widely available
Carey House, like other homeless shelters, has rules designed to keep its residents safe. Drug testing can occur at any time, for any reason. The 30-bed shelter has a substance-free policy and requires its guests to sign contracts that specify abstinence. The consequences for substance use violations while staying there include immediate expulsion, with arrangements made to go elsewhere. The rules, the house manager said, help ensure a safe and drug-free environment for families with children.
“We take the safety of the shelter very seriously. We definitely have to have a drug-free zone,” said Lt. Christopher West of the Laconia Salvation Army. “There’s a protocol in the system. The individuals who were asked to leave did not have just a CBD situation.”
What troubles the Forneas is that they and another woman were expelled for testing positive for THC that is theoretically in trace, federally-allowable amounts in the CBD vapes and roll-on pain creams that are sold in smoke shops and convenience stores.
According to the results of their drug tests, the Forneas tested positive solely for THC.
In health food stores, some CBD products are labeled “THC free,” which means they are not psychoactive and do not have addictive properties, said Ryan McCourt, store manager at Sunflower Natural Foods.
Those that are not marked “THC free” contain a non-zero amount below the federally allowable limit, according to patient care advisor at Sanctuary ATC, one of the state’s four medical marijuana dispensaries in Plymouth. “If there’s no THC, CBD is not psychoactive or addictive,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified in the story due to the sensitivity of the subject. “They have isolated CBD from other constituents. I’ve seen a lot of people greatly improved in transitioning from an opioid use to CBD. That’s anecdotal. A lot more research needs to be done to establish the benefits to mental health.”
Medical marijuana became legal in New Hampshire in 2013, but recreational pot remains illegal.
For many, CBD presents a safer and more effective alternative to pharmaceuticals and anti-inflammatory medications that can have side effects over time and can lead to dependency.
At Sunflower, displays of CBD products — which come from the hemp plant, like marijuana — include lotions, shampoos, skin toners, oils, tinctures, capsules and gummies that either have no THC or trace amounts, and are labeled to indicate that they are THC-free.
“We have doctors who send their patients here to get CBD products,” said McCourt. “We have people off the street inquiring about them. We have people from the retirement communities. Everyday someone is buying a CBD product.” They’re used by people suffering from arthritis and those with lingering pain from sports injuries.
Lack of research, awareness and regulation
Lack of sufficient research, awareness and education among the public and health care professionals is a stumbling block when it comes to CBD. In recent years, following the 2018 federal Farm Bill which limited the amount of THC allowed in agricultural products made from hemp, CBD has exploded in popularity and its products have proliferated in stores.
Today, many question the THC content reported on product labels, and believe that monitoring and regulation of CBD is essential.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not certify or inspect CBD products. The 0.3% THC content permitted in CBD products was specified by the federal Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the definition of marijuana within the Controlled Substances Act, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It is derived from parts of the hemp that are different from those that produce marijuana.
“They have isolated CDB from other constituents,” said the patient care advisor at Sanctuary ATC.
Natural health practitioners maintain that CBD can be crucial when pharmaceuticals fail to eliminate pain or cause unwanted side effects.
Dr. Andrew W. Seefeld, an emergency medicine doctor with Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth, said CBD seems to have a balancing effect on the human body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates sleep, digestion, the immune system, moods and other systems intrinsic to human health.
“It can help boost immune function and reduce inflammation. Studies support its use in mood disorders, pain [management] and opioid-use disorder to mitigate cravings and ease withdrawal,” he said.
Seefeld added that he is not an authority on CBD, and more research is needed to clarify its uses, benefits and long-term effects.
“There’s a lot of confusion and not a lot of robust data out there,” he said.
At the ground floor, the lack of understanding and regulations related to CBD is confounding people who make decisions that affect others, including those in recovery.
“CBD is not going to be a gateway drug,” said Seefeld. “But THC is a problem for someone who is predisposed to addiction.”
Local recovery experts contacted for this story said they didn’t know enough about CBD to comment. Concord Hospital — Laconia plus a manufacturer of CBD products in Belmont would not comment on the topic of CBD use.
“It’s an emerging and evolving science. There are new studies coming out all the time,” said Bethanie Vachon, director of development and public relations for Lakes Region Mental Health Center in Laconia. “The thing we can safely say, just make sure your sources are regulated. The market is being flooded by CBD, and no agency is constantly testing. It’s not regulated.”
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