Health & Wellness

Parents enter a confusing space—emerge with a mission

By Marc Lewis

Ask a parent how far they will go to make their child well and they will look to the offing, imagining an endless trek, countless obstacles, mountains, rivers, bears, and unnamed beasts—all no match for their will to bring home relief. It is our duty as parents to go as far as we must. That’s why we’re here. Now what if the quest for a solution is not over some rocky terrain but rather into the murky depths of the internet? What if healing is hidden behind slick stories, shady actors, and scant scientific proof? This can turn that journey for answers into less a pursuit of will and more a dangerous guessing game. Should I go this way or that? Can I trust this site or not? How will I separate fact from fiction on this screen where every path seems safe and most maps lie?

When a parent wants to learn about how cannabidiol, or CBD, might help their child, they are on a curious trip, often by themselves, and without a guide. They are looking for relief from pain and anxiety, mood regulation, and overall holistic wellness outside the established medical community—which can be a scary thing. Maybe their pediatrician pointed them in a direction, steering clear of any real advice that might constitute malpractice. Maybe they read some literature here or there and found a hint. Or maybe they pieced together anecdotal accounts—those of soldiers, people with arthritis or ADHD, someone with chronic pain—and emerged with a narrative strong enough to make a call, select an answer, and bring back hope.

If you are a parent looking for clear advice about how cannabis derivatives might help your child you are entering a wilderness—with your instincts and intelligence as your compass. It’s a story we’ve heard before, and it’s one that was reinforced when we sat down with Jen and Chuck Dietzel, two people who took it upon themselves to find answers.

A family looks for information

Jen was familiar with CBD. She had used it for pain after a couple back surgeries. The family thought it may help their son. They had read the accounts of other parents in online support groups and on Facebook who used CBD to help manage autism and ADHD. But when they went looking for definitive guidance, they came up empty. Jen and Chuck spent countless hours researching online. They used sites like ours and others to paint a picture of the benefits and risks associated with CBD. They pieced together a way forward. Then, having decided CBD was an option, they started the second, maybe more difficult leg of the trip—finding a brand they could trust.

“One of the primary points of frustration for me, just being a mother and knowing other mothers in the mental health community, was the lack of information, in terms of what does a product provide,” Jen said. “Is it organic? What’s the concentration?”

This challenge is magnified when you’re looking to help a child in need.

“I started from novice looking at a slew of different websites and educating myself,” she said. “I wanted something where there were no additives in what I was providing my child who is already suffering from things, so we’re scrutinizing to an extra degree.”

Early on, NuLeaf Naturals stood out for the clarity of the information on their site and how their products were labeled. But a lot of other products seemed more positioned as a lifestyle brand than as a therapy. In some ways, this is due to the regulatory landscape. Brands are careful to avoid any kind of health claim for fear of a fight with the FDA. But it’s also a sign of the times. Wellness has become cool, a thing that plays well on Instagram in clean, well-lit photographs of products and people in pose. “It’s hip to drip,” says photos of girls on the beach putting CBD under their tongue. This lifestyle approach to cannabis may do much to break down barriers, introduce a new and younger generation to the science of the plant, but it leaves much to be desired when a parent is seeking facts.

“We have multiple doctors, a pediatrician and a homeopathic doctor,” Chuck said. “What the medical community is struggling with is there’s no official studies.” He mentions Israeli studies based on medicinal marijuana and studies on adults about PTSD, but there’s little knowledge in the way of children. “When it comes to how to deal with kids, what’s allowed under a state’s medical license versus what the FDA and USDA allow them to say, there’s a tacit acceptance that there’s a health benefit that comes from CBD, but there’s too many legal battles for that conversation to go beyond a wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”

The Dietzels studied enzymatic pathways, how CBD may interact with other medications their child was taking. They took it on themselves to find answers that doctors either wouldn’t or couldn’t provide. This absence of professional opinion pushes conversations about children’s health to the web. On the one hand this is great: parents can speak to others in the same boat, know they are not alone, and get real-time feedback on choices and options. On the other hand: parents are making choices based on the observations of untrained people.

“The doctors have acknowledged that there’s a large community of parents providing anecdotal evidence,” Jen said. “‘My child appears to be more sociable, my child appears to be calmer, better able to focus, better able to self-regulate mood on CBD.’ But absent the clinical studies they’re in a bind because they can’t condone the use of CBD in lieu of pharmaceutical options.”

The guidance parents get from doctors is to keep using CBD if they’re seeing benefit while the doctors wait for clinical results to arrive.

An exploding CBD market has created an endless amount of options for parents. But without regulation we are still in a space where the quality of marketing supersedes the quality of product. This realization led the Dietzels to think harder about how they would source hemp in the future.

“If we’re going to be giving something to our son, who better to trust than ourselves,” Chuck said. “We can have a craft-like product where we control everything from the day it goes into the ground, the genetics, to the processor and product creation.”

The family kicked around the idea of starting a hemp brand. They have some land in the family and the resources to get going. But starting a company can be tricky in a space where even a cursory glance reveals myriad flaws     .

“Why are we not going all in?” Chuck said, talking about the decision to start the company.  “This is our family. This is our health.”

Needs meet land

Robeson County is the last bit of North Carolina one crosses through headed south on I-95. The county was founded in 1787, before much of the rest of America was claimed. The land down there is a mix of rich soil and coastal swamp, cut through by the Lumbee River, once called “Drowning Creek” by colonials because of its tumultuous waters.

For generations, some 200 years, the Dietzels have had 500 acres in Robeson County. When Chuck was young, his grandfather farmed tobacco. Later, his father and uncles converted the property to grow timber. Sustainable forestry is a nice business for landowners, but the cycles of growth are decades long. Chuck wanted to diversify and modernize, establish his generation’s legacy for the land. It so happened that the family had recently come upon a plant that showed enormous promise. The burgeoning hemp market also presented a chance to make dirt that once grew tobacco, grow medicine.

The Dietzels are starting with seven acres dedicated to hemp. It will take some time to rotate out the timber and expand the cannabis operation, but those plans are underway. When we talk about this change, Chuck says it’s not only his land that’s changing but the agriculture community in general. Hemp talks bring a different group of people to rural meet-ups.

“When I go to Southern States to talk about organic fertilizer the general crowd is traditional farmers, 60s, 70s,” Chuck said. “When I go to these hemp events it’s a completely different generation.”

The start-up culture is entering the agriculture space and it can be a great opportunity for the farming community. New equipment, new testing, and a greater appreciation for pesticides come with a move toward hemp. Chuck also mentions precision agriculture will require new farming techniques that will consistently maximize CBD content. While permits for hemp are overwhelming some states and speak to the needed clarity in the market, markets produce information and information takes industry forward. Hemp has the power to revitalize the family farm.

With this opportunity comes risk, of course. The Dietzels had to seek out private crop insurance and there are no subsidies for hemp. Supply and demand will also dictate how farms do. But the potential to help people is there and at this time, the opportunity outweighs the challenges. Especially for a family who came back from their educational odyssey as believers. Believers intent on building a company to help people.

Brand comes to market

Naming their brand Seventh Zen, both for the seven generations of farmers who kept the land in Robeson County going, and the sense of relief hemp may bring, the products may also bring a calm to the next parents who set out for answers and find the Dietzels.

When we spoke with a nursery and extractor who know how the Dietzels are going about building their business, both were adamant that the Dietzels’ attention to detail and their scrutiny of each aspect of the product process was that of a brand intent on doing things right. Which is refreshing in a space that’s becoming more crowded and confusing each day. The market has expanded so quickly that shortcuts are readily available. Many large suppliers are willing to slap a well-designed logo on anything, soon will come the corporations, and no doubt eventually bad brands will number alongside the good. The process for parents may get harder before shopping simplifies. The market needs more good people in the mix.

Seventh Zen aims to be completely vertical—farm to shelf. The company will sell products online, help educate parents, and explore ways to help those in need with low cost options. Jen and Chuck hope to bring to the space all the things they wanted when they set out to learn about CBD.

It was here that I asked what they wish someone had told them when they started their journey to find help for their child. What do they wish someone had said to them?

Jen thought for a bit then smiled.

“You can have it all,” she said. “I felt like there were elements of things I liked in a variety of different places. But there wasn’t one space where I felt completely comfortable from start to finish.” When putting a substance in your child with the hope of therapeutic benefit the bar is high. “I wanted something that was small-batch oriented, and that I knew the people standing behind the product. What I would want to hear is that you can have it all.”

It is the cool thing about the CBD space. That good people are rising above naysayers and noise to help others find safe alternatives that work. The sharing of stories, the popping up of niche communities represents a coming together in an ever-fractured world. Strangers, things old and new, people rural and urban, right and left sharing thoughts and answers—a fertile mix not unlike that swampland down east where an unpredictable river gives life to good dirt.

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