Cheech and Chong are not the spokespersons for the Dyed Pirates Society. No greeny Fleur de Leafs are growing out back of the store on Highway 49 south of Dadeville and smoke doesn’t billow from within when the front door opens. In fact, the establishment that sells products associated with marijuana shares rental space with pizza and hot dog dispensaries.
In conservative Tallapoosa County, the debate over the safety and legality of using CBD — also known as cannabidiol — is going mainstream because it’s going into the bloodstreams of those who seek relief from nausea, depression, arthritis, diabetes, anxiety, diarrhea, epilepsy and even doggy angst.
CBD is extracted from marijuana or hemp plants but is not psychoactive because it has only minute traces of THC, the mind-altering chemical also known as tetrahydrocannabinol that produces a high. In Alabama, due to the passage of the federal Farm Bill in 2018, CBD products are legal so long as they are derived from hemp plants and contain no more than 0.3 percent THC.
“Hemp is at this end (of the spectrum) and marijuana is at the other end,” said John VandenBrook, the co-owner of Dyed Pirates along with his wife Serenity.
VandenBrook, 54, said he no longer takes prescriptions drugs for his arthritis. Instead, he chews CBD gummies.
“We want the truth to come out,” he said. “This stuff shows a lot of potential to work on a lot of ailments. I’ve been taking CBD for about seven years. I don’t even take aspirin anymore. I haven’t had a headache in three years. I take the full-spectrum products — the gummies, the topical ointment. My mom is 74 and she uses it and loves the stuff.”
Doubters become believers
Others have come into the store unconvinced of either the legality of what is sold there or that it stifles pain and eventually became believers, VandenBrook said.
“A gentleman came in and he was adamant we were illegal and he called the sheriff and the sheriff said, ‘There’s not much you can do because everything they sell is legal,’” VandenBrook said. “Now that man is a customer.”
Tallapoosa County Sheriff Jimmy Abbett said he is familiar with Dyed Pirates.
“We have not received any direct complaints for them,” he said.
Instead, many customers have seen their quality of life improve by using CBD, the VandenBrooks said.
Serenity VandenBrook said a woman in her 50s no longer struggles into the store using a walker.
“She had a seat on the walker,” VandenBrook said. “She couldn’t stand or talk for long; she’d have to sit down. I gave her a sample of hemp oil infused with CBD. She came back two weeks later and ordered more. After four months, she came in with her hand on her husband’s shoulder and now she doesn’t need the walker.”
A 74-year-old woman had fused discs in her back and neuropathy in her feet when she came to Dyed Pirates and took so many pills she didn’t have enough room in her medicine cabinet to wedge a Q-Tip.
“We explained CBD to her and I got her a bottle from a friend in Israel,” John VandenBrook said. “Out of the 17 meds she was taking, she gave up 15.”
There is even cannabidiol for canines.
“There are CBD dog treats for anxiety or if they’re getting old and are in pain,” Serenity VandenBrook said.
Lots to choose from
Human customers can choose from an extensive menu of CBD products, VandenBrook said.
“You can smoke it, use tincture to put under your tongue, it comes in gummies, brownies, vape, honey sticks, bath bombs, topical ointment, suckers, flowers, shots and even coffee,” he said. “We will be the distributor for Willie Nelson’s CBD coffee.”
The VandenBrooks said 70 to 75 percent of their customers come to their store for the CBD and not T-shirts or other merchandise. Of those, 75 percent are over the age of 55 and perhaps 40 percent are over 68, they said.
That’s not to say everyone welcomes the presence of cannabidiol, legal or not.
“Most of the people who come in here and see this, they turn around and walk out,” John VandenBrook said.
What they don’t know, he said, is the human body is built for CBD.
“The body has an endocannabinoid system and it requires CBD,” VandenBrook said. “Arthritis is an endocannabinoid deficiency. People develop these inflammations because the body is not getting the cannabinoid it needs. It’s been around for ages.”
Years ago, those who raised livestock unwittingly added CBD to their diet and were better off for it, he said.
“Our grandparents got their CBD naturally,” VandenBrook said. “Hemp was feed for livestock and when they ate the livestock they got their CBD. And they didn’t have a lot of the issues we see today. They didn’t suffer from Crohn's Disease or irritable bowel syndrome or anxiety as much.”
Lack of regulation a concern
Despite the legality of selling CBD items, law enforcement remains concerned because their production is not regulated.
In 2017 in Utah, 52 people were sickened by counterfeit CBD, including 33 by a product labeled Yolo CBD, according to consumerreports.org.
Barbara Crouch, a registered pharmacist and the director of Utah’s Poison Control Center, said she heard reports of people being brought to Salt Lake City-area emergency rooms unconscious and suffering seizures after ingesting Yolo CBD. Crouch drove to one of the stores where patients had purchased the product, bought a bottle of Yolo CBD and took it to local law enforcement for testing which showed the product contained a dangerous synthetic cannabinoid and no CBD.
However, the VandenBrooks said Dyed Pirates is the first dealer east of Colorado certified by the Physicians CBD Council and they take legality of what they sell and the safety of their customers seriously.
“We have a copy of the letter from the (Alabama) attorney general that what we sell is legal,” John VandenBrook said. “We’re a member of the Dadeville Chamber of Commerce. The sheriff knows what we’re doing. We have customers come from other counties. We want to work with the law. We made sure everything we do is legal and never comes into question.”
Serenity VandenBrook said she and her husband took 86 online courses to get their certification.
“A whole group of doctors put the course together,” she said.
Dr. Dung D. Trinh, who signed the certificate on display at Dyed Pirates, has served as the chief medical officer for the Irvine (California) Center for Clinical Research and helped develop the cannabis certification program.
“This is not overly complicated for us,” Serenity VandenBrook said. “We’ve been studying CBD for years before it became a thing (in the U.S.). We have the knowledge of talking to the customers about it instead of saying, ‘Here is some CBD.’ Sometimes people come in here and list their symptoms and treat us like doctors. We tell them we are not doctors and you need to tell your doctor what you are taking. We’ve had doctors tell patients they need to take CBD and they come here.”
Betting the farm on CBD
John VandenBrook insists what he and his wife sell is subject to strict quality controls despite the lack of regulation.
“There’s a whole lot of information out there that’s not good quality or tested,” he said. “All the products we sell are rated in the top 10 in the nation, they’re tested and blind tested. A student from Auburn came in from a class that had done testing and was learning about CBD. I gave a random sample of the gummy bears and the tincture. The biggest problem is there is no regulation. The label could say 1,000 milligrams of CBD and it isn’t or there’s no THC in a full-spectrum product, which can’t be true. We want to make sure our customers get what they are paying for. So far, what we have had tested has been everything claimed on the label.
“We have gone to great lengths to study everything we sell. It’s certified and tested. We carry third-party testing on everything we sell.”
Abbett concedes CBD is legal with no more than 0.3 percent THC but is still wary the products may contain unknown and possibly deadly substances, as was the case in Utah.
“It’s not regulated and that’s a concern to us,” he said. “One of the things we’re concerned about is the percentage of THC present.”
Sgt. Fred White of the Tallapoosa County Narcotics Task Force said the public needs to be cautious about the CBD they consume.
“There are warnings issued about the dangers of untested, unregulated and potentially dangerous CBD oil,” he said. “We are still being educated on this issue; however, we do know that products labeled as CBD oil and other CBD-related products may contain any number of controlled substances and there is no assurance that they are safe to consume. Right now, there are no regulations on CBD by the Food and Drug Administration.”
White said anyone caught selling CBD oil products with a synthetic controlled substance or an excessive amount of THC in Alabama could be charged with a Class B felony and be imprisoned for two to 20 years if convicted.
But the VandenBrooks plan to expand their investment in legal CBD by starting a hemp farm in Tallapoosa County.
“I am involved with some former DEA agents in it,” VandenBrook said. “We’re partners. We hope in the next three weeks to have the plants in the ground. The sheriff’s department is going to come out and take a look.”