Cannabis Is Buzzing Into the Spa Scene

There are few plants that have generated as much controversy as cannabis, which became part of the national lexicon with the recent legalization of marijuana in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C. While the plant is often associated with the mood-altering drug, it is also used in a less trippy fashion for fuel, clothing, food, medicine, and even skincare. It’s helpful to understand that although cannabis, hemp, and marijuana all come from the same plant species (cannabis sativa), U.S. law defines the stalks, stems, and sterilized seeds as hemp and the leaves, flowers, and viable seeds as marijuana. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in cannabis responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects, is found in the flowers. As the power of this plant continues to spread—seven more states are expected to legalize marijuana this year—the spa industry is also getting in on the action by incorporating it in products, treatments, and more.

Need to Know

For clients concerned about using a cannabis-infused skincare line, it’s important to note whether the product contains CBD or THC. “Using a topical skincare product containing CBD will not make you high or show up in your bloodstream on a drug test,” says Crave Skincare’s Janet Schriever. However, while CBD was thought to be legal in all 50 states, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently muddied the waters with a Federal Register item (21 CFR Part 1308) that clarifies the DEA’s position that all cannabis extracts, including CBD oil, are federally illegal Schedule 1 substances. This isn’t the first time the DEA has made such claims. In 2001, the agency tried to ban hempseed oil, but it was overturned in court. The general consensus is that this recent move will be met with the same resistance. Products that contain THC are another story. “There are many bath products and massage lotions that do contain THC, so spa owners need to know if what they are selling can be legally sold in their state,” says Schriever.

Weedy Wonder

As cannabis continues to make headlines, product manufacturers are taking note of the skin-saving benefits it provides. “Over the years, there has been a wide range of research showing the many benefits of hemp and cannabis sativa in skincare,” says Francine Kagarakis, a member of the board of directors for Lira Clinical. Janet Schriever, CEO of Crave Skincare, created her hemp-based skincare line after discovering the many benefits of CBD (cannabidiol), a phyto-cannabinoid harvested from the sticky resin of the plant. Unlike THC, it is non-psychoactive. Described by Schriever as an “anti-inflammatory powerhouse,” it is also credited with calming and soothing sensitive skin; helping to treat acne, eczema, and rosacea; and maintaining the skin’s lipid balance. Although CBD is a key ingredient, she stresses that the overall product formula plays an important role in the ingredient’s success. “The formula the CBD is in makes a big difference to the effect of the ingredient, and using CBD with other botanicals and phytonutrients is very important,” says Schriever. “If you are going to use a product with CBD, it should be in a clean, botanical-rich formula.”

Sweet Relief

Over the last few years, THC-infused oils and lotions have grown in popularity. While the high-inducing ingredient doesn’t have the same effect when applied topically, it is thought to have a therapeutic effect. Primal Therapeutics, a mobile spa service provider in Colorado, uses oils and salves with both CBD and THC. “Incorporating cannabis into treatments changed everything about my practice,” says founder Jordan Person. “Right before I started Primal Therapeutics, I was at a point that I had been doing massage for many years, and my wrists were starting to give out on me. I began applying cannabis-infused lotions and oils to my patients, and in a few weeks, I realized I had no wrist pain.” According to Person, reduced pain and discomfort, faster healing of wounds and injuries, an increase in blood flow, and a decrease of swelling and inflammation are some of the key benefits of a cannabis-infused massage. Of course, there are some challenges to offering such massages with THC. “Each state has different laws that need to be taken into consideration,” says Person. “In Colorado, for example, there is no place for a marijuana-based spa. When you perform treatments you need to store your products somewhere, and if they have THC in them, they would, at this point by law, only be able to be stored in a dispensary. My company is a mobile service in order to be compliant, because it is currently not legal for us to have a brick and mortar.” 

Changing Perceptions

Industry insiders share their views on the impact cannabis is having on the spa and wellness industry.

“Cannabis has come a long way in the last few years, and the veil of fear and shame are starting to lift as people become educated about the benefits of cannabis. The cannabis sativa species has many uses and medicinal qualities that are now being studied and recognized by science. These studies have validated much of the anecdotal information floating around and what prompted me to launch my company. The word is definitely getting around about the benefits of CBD in the indie market and with people who are into natural health and wellness.”—Janet Schriever, CEO, Crave Skincare

“We as a society are always in search of what products are best or for what is next. Cannabis-infused manis and pedis and facials are next—a full-blown cannabis-infused spa day. We get calls about it all the time. We recently started offering at-home spa days, and we are working with cosmetologists to provide in-home spa services to groups of women for various events. When laws change, it will be amazing to see what type of facilities open. The more it’s documented that there are no psychoactive effects from the topical use of cannabis, the closer we get to this movement exploding.”—Jordan Person, founder, Primal Therapeutics

“I think the cannabis industry as a whole is developing in my eyes a little slower than what it should be. It’s usually after three to five years you really start to see the fruits of your labor, and then, that’s when the big money wants to come in and not recreate the wheel but help you build the wheel. It’s evolving nicely but with where we used to be in the late 1800s and early 1900s with cannabis here in America, we are really behind.”—Dani Fontaine, owner, Colorado Hemp Project and Nature’s Root

Hemp Harvest

Nature’s Root (Longmont, CO), the first hemp-based spa, debuted in 2015. The idea came to owner Dani Fontaine as she and her dad prepared to harvest a successful crop for their company, Colorado Hemp Project. “We didn’t have buyers lined up, so one day, looking at the field, the idea of a bodycare line popped into my head,” she says. “That’s how our bodycare product line was created, and then, the spa came after a year of developing the products.” In addition to providing a host of treatments that rely on products containing organically grown hemp-derived CBD, the spa also incorporates hemp throughout with a hempcrete counter, hemp rugs, hemp paper, hemp linens, hemp uniforms, and more. “We really wanted to make the spa interesting with the fact that everything there is hemp and to show all the sustainable uses of hemp,” says Fontaine. “We wastefully continue to destroy our forests and drill for oil when we can do all the exact same stuff with hemp.” The spa has escaped legal scrutiny by focusing only on cold-pressed hempseed oil and hemp-derived CBD-rich plants. “We grow organically and process locally as well, so we really haven’t had any issues with what we do,” says Fontaine. “We don’t mess with THC, so we don’t have to jump through those crazy hoops you have to do with the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Department (MMED) out here, or I’m sure in any legal state.” Future locations are in the works for Port Antonio, Jamaica, Oahu, and Hawaii.

High on Travel

As canna-tourism grows, it continues to face hurdles. “Rules prohibit spas from marketing to guests who don’t live in legal states, and even local advertising is deficient, as the public ’consumption’ of THC- or CBD- infused topicals is in a legal grey area, making many places wary of promoting themselves,” says Matt Bell, vice president of public relations for Nerve Cannabis Consulting. However, he expects that to begin to change by the end of 2017. “Denver is in the process of initiating Initiative 300, which will allow limited public consumption,” says Bell. Permitted spas will be able to openly incorporate topicals, vaping, edibles, and smoking, too, if they have an outside patio that adheres to regulations. Still, without the ability to market to most tourists, it’s up to the wellness-focused traveler to do the research before they come.”