But there is a loophole: for CBD that is not derived from cannabis. And the Peak Health Foundation took advantage of that loophole to create Real Scientific Humulus Oil (RHSO-K), a CBD oil derived from the kriya brand humulus plant. Because that plant is a variety of hop, not cannabis, the oil is legal in this country.
Discovered by Bomi Joseph in the Silk Road region of northern India, kriya brand humulus is naturally endowed with a high concentration of CBD because the hop plants cross-pollinate with wild cannabis plants that grow nearby. Peak Health, a San Francisco holistic medicine center where Joseph is the director, extracts a CBD oil from these plants that's dubbed ImmunAG.
John Sullivan was a British governor in the southern part of India. Sullivan was ahead of his time, Joseph says: "He believed in natural health; he believed in natural curing. And he was powerful, right, he had the British government, they ruled India. He could do what he wanted. He made an estate called Stone House in a place called Ooty — it's a cool-climate, hilled station in the southern part of India — and he had the British soldiers bring plants from all over the country and plant them there."
Sullivan's Stone House became a sanatorium for the British. When they felt sick or in need of some rest and relaxation, they would go there, taking solace in the hills. Years later, researchers identified a variety of humulus yunnanensis at Stone House that was useful in treating malaria.
"That got my attention," Joseph says, "because normally when people talk about yunnanensis, they talk about China, the Yunnan province. So the fact that in the southern part of India, where my family is historically from, you find this humulus yunnanensis, I was like, 'How the hell did it get there?'"
He was determined to find out. Then Ari Cohen, one of his colleagues at Peak Health, found a reference to the yunannensis plant at a symposium given by India's Central Food Technological Research Institute. Their analysis of the plant discovered traces of cannabinoids.
Joseph cites this as his first tip. "I knew that there was a chance of this [cannabis-humulus cross-pollination] actually happening," Joseph recalls, so he headed to northern India and started searching. "In the beginning it was hard, because the native tribes people there, they're all sitting and looking at me like, 'What is this crazy guy doing?' They're like the porters, we had hired them and they're wandering around chewing betel nut, drinking their rice wine and sitting around looking at me. For a few weeks it was crazy, but then I finally showed them what we're looking for. Once they got it, they were just taking me here, taking me there, showing me this, showing me that. I was like, 'No, no, no,' but then we found it. It started getting faster and faster. Once they found some and we found some, then we started getting samples. But we looked at thousands of samples before we found one or two that had CBD in it."
After that, though, "We were in good shape," Joseph says. "Then it was just a matter of grunt work and effort," cross-breeding the plants (in which CBD is a recessive trait) until they'd created a dependable, high-CBD concentration variety.
Joseph's kriya brand humulus is a variety of humulus yunnanensis, one of three species of the humulus genus. Distinct from humulus lupulus — a different species of hop, the one from which the female flowers (known as hops, plural) are used to make beer — humulus yunnanensis is native to the Yunnan province in southern China, along the Indian border. Here, the plant was able to cross-pollinate with wild cannabis, as both genera are members of the same family of flowering plants, cannabaceae. This endowed kriya brand humulus with trace amounts of CBD and, in some cases, THC. Avoiding the latter, Joseph and his team meticulously selected and cross-bred plants with high concentrations of CBD until they arrived at a variety — kriya brand humulus — with an 18 percent CBD concentration. Joseph holds a patent for this as well as the modification of any other humulus plant to produce CBD and cannabinoids.
Through a partnership with distributor Medical Marijuana Inc. (which previously made headlines as the first publicly traded cannabis company in the U.S.), what's now known as ImmunAG is combined with medium-chain triglyceride oil to form RSHO-K. Last month, Medical Marijuana Inc. made the product available to consumers nationwide via its online store.
Since it's free of THC and the cumbersome legal baggage of cannabis, RSHO-K gives Stuart Titus, CEO of Medical Marijuana Inc., high hopes. Beyond simply filling gaps in the U.S. CBD market, he expects the product to have an international impact. "This is certainly going to help change the dialogue for not only many parents whose children have epilepsy," he says, "but various other world markets which still, of course, consider cannabis part of the United Nations single convention treaty on narcotics."
Looking back, Joseph is grateful for his luck. "If John Sullivan hadn't planted it and if a mention had not been made of it, I don't know if we would have had a clue," he says. "He did something that made it stick out and that led us to it. I'm sitting here in my office in Los Gatos, a fancy little place. I've got 500 megabit WiFi speeds; I can Google anything. But the reality is, we haven't studied more than 4 percent of all the plants that are out there. If I want to go beyond the 4 percent, I've got to go to the Amazon jungles, the Himalayan mountains; there's no other way. We've got to go get bitten by mosquitoes, chewed up by leeches and deal with the heat and humidity, there's no other way."