Providing veterans with access to hemp and CBD products was an influential argument on behalf of the plant's legalization, and now one Colorado company is putting its money where its mouth is.
Emek Blair, founder of Fort Collins-based Puffin Hemp, aims to ultimately raise and donate $1 million worth of company proceeds and hemp products to veterans. He estimates that his company has given away $20,000 to $30,000 worth of hemp and CBD products since launching in 2015, but recent efforts have created lofty goals.
Veterans enrolled in Puffin's new MVP appreciation program receive up to three months of free supplies of the company's hemp-derived CBD oil, Blair explains, and then pay as little as one-tenth the standard retail cost for Puffin products after that.
"You have a person, they volunteer for the military, go out, put their life on the line, get into unimaginable situations — and then they come back to the United States, become civilians, and most of them go back to jobs doing things like social services, where they continue to help people," Blair says. "But those jobs don't pay very much. So [hemp] is something available that could help them, but they don't have access to it. To me, it seems that as someone in the industry who is profiting from it, [giving back] is ethically, morally and civically a requirement of me."
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Although CBD has shown promise in treating an array of physical and mental issues, it typically comes with a hefty price tag, costing anywhere from $50 to $80 for oil containing 1 gram of CBD. Blair, who started Puffin Hemp after a decade of working in the dietary-supplement world, believes he's found a way for our bodies to better absorb CBD. Sharing the wealth with veterans was an obvious next step, he says, calling it his "duty" to give back to those who served the country.
While studying chemistry in college, Blair researched how to make nutritional supplements more efficient for human ingestion. That experience taught him to focus on liposomes, lipids used as carriers for pharmaceutical molecules, to help cut down on his products' need of CBD, enabling Puffin to donate more, he says.
"It's not 'You are what you eat.' It's 'You are what you absorb,'" he explains. "Our bodies are fundamentally terrible at absorbing nutrition. What a lot of people complain about, especially when they're taking supplements, is that they take it and they don't feel any different. That's because when you're taking CBD, for instance, 95 percent of it gets rejected by your body, and it takes a long time to absorb."
To improve absorption levels, Blair looked at how babies absorb nutrients from breast milk, and discovered that by surrounding CBD particles with little fat bubbles (the difference between liposomal hemp and ordinary hemp), the human would body recognize the CBD as nutrition and absorb on a larger scale.
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"If I don't need a whole lot of hemp — because almost all of it is getting absorbed — then I don't need a huge farm. If I don't need a huge farm, I need less electricity, less gasoline, less everything, so there's less pollution," Blair explains. "We try to be as environmentally conscious as possible, and so not only do we use local hemp, we also use one-twentieth of the amount of hemp."
Funding will certainly be an obstacle to reach that $1 million goal, but education about hemp and CBD is essential for Puffin, as well. The company has hosted two resource fairs this year to educate veterans about CBD's potential, bringing in Phillip Blair (no relation to Emek), a retired Army colonel, to answer questions about CBD.
"We would've been able to give away $100,000 worth of product instantly, but so many people came up to us and immediately were concerned," he remembers. "We couldn't destigmatize hemp for them; it was too close to marijuana. So we want to get the word out there that hemp and marijuana are different things."
And marijuana and hemp are definitely two very different things in the eyes of the feds. Puffin wants veterans, many of whom receive health benefits from the federal government, to understand that. So the company is planning more outreach events to teach veterans about CBD and the MVP program; veterans who are unable to attend are still able to sign up for the Puffin MVP program online.