We don’t need to tell you that the CBD industry is booming—nearly 7% of Americans are already using CBD-infused products and the market is expected to reach roughly $16 billion within the next five years. We’ve seen this trend within SG too; you guys are already using and reviewing CBD and hemp-infused products, one of which is the Plant Balm by Plant People, which contains full-spectrum hemp extract (high CBD), beeswax, extra virgin coconut oil, essential oils, and camphor, helping with sore muscle relief, sprains and bruises, stiff joints and circulation.
Gabe Kennedy & Hudson Gaines-Ross, the co-founder of Plant People, want you to know that there’s more to their product than just cannabis extract. After they both suffered life-altering spinal injuries, the pair teamed up and created their brand that uses a mixture of cannabis and herbalism as pain solutions. Kennedy’s background as a chef and Gaines-Ross’ previous plant-based business ventures came together to form the brand, which now includes drops, capsules, balms, and even olive oil to address various needs from sleep and relaxation to body pain.
We spoke to the founders about their journeys to physical recovery, how they source their ingredients, their sustainable practices, and why we should all think of ourselves as plant people.
On how the band started:
Gabe: Plant People is really a manifestation of both of our journeys back to health. I'm from Boulder, Colorado, my parents are in alternative medicine. I was in a pretty bad ski accident, and it sent me on over a decade plus of dealing with it through multiple back surgeries. I was training, and I was a ski racer, and I fell and obliterated my disk and fractured my back. So over the course of ten years, I had multiple back surgeries I was having all these procedures, but really, the saving grace around that was the opportunity to use alternative medicine, herbalism, and cannabis as pain solutions rather than the traditional pharmaceuticals I was prescribed.
Two and a half years ago, Hudson I were hiking on this nature retreat and he was telling me about his own back surgeries and how he had to learn to walk again. It just became very apparent that there was a need for these alternative solutions in our communities. If it was needed in our community, which is relatively progressive, I could only imagine how what the opportunity is beyond that. That was kind of the Aha moment, and it sent us on this two and a half year exploration. I worked on a variety of plant genetics, growing methods, extraction methods and pairing those with other herbal solutions formulated by practitioners for the most efficacious products that we could create.
Hudson: I learned how to walk again. I had a tumor in my spinal canal in my T12 L1 and I had to get a laminectomy. You know the bumps on your back, they took out two of those and sewed me back up. I had to learn how to sit, stand, and walk around a city block.
I was having pain in my thighs whenever I would work out, and then I started doing physical therapy and I got an MRI. The doctor called me and he was like "you have a tumor in the canal of your spine." I didn't even know there was a canal, so like common sense kicks in, it’s fight or flight. And I was like, holy shit inside the spine? And so I immediately freaked out. I was using pharmaceuticals to recover from that. And also physical therapy and painkillers.
About a year before Gabe and I started this business I was using marijuana, and that was because it would help loosen on my back, I could go to sleep. I would have less pain when sitting. But what I didn't like was that there was always that fine line of getting too high. So I always take a hit just to relax at night and loosen up but then I would just get too stoned. When I found out about CBD I thought this is what I've been looking for, I can operate, I can be more focused, more present, but also my back isn’t hurting.
On Gabe's background as a chef:
Gabe: I'm a chef, but I also grew up in a family of alternative medicine practitioners. My mom is an acupuncturist and chinese herbalist and my father is a chiropractor and acupuncturist. And so I grew up within that kind of sphere. Being a chef affects the way in which I approach these solutions. We’re looking at it through the lens of, we’re not just following a recipe, it’s not just chinese medicine or ayurvedic medicine, it’s not just Western herbalism, but how do we do something different?
How do we rally around the central sort of benefits of something like hemp, or one component of it which people talking about which is CBD and CBN, and how do we create synergistic blends that maybe challenge the status quo but ultimately work? And so I think that that was like the exciting thing, challenging what existed in the market prior.
On where they source their ingredients:
Gabe: Either Colorado or the Hudson Valley. We plant a tree for every product that we sell, we're actively working with rebuilding ecosystem in forestries, which have been largely impacted by humans, whether it’s by climate change or coal mining. It's a partnership with the American Forests Association, they have initiatives in a variety of locations. In the northern Rockies, climate change has really devastated the ecosystems and that's either through pine beetle kill or disease through a loss of habitat because of forest fires or just changing climate. We also work in West Virginia, where coal mining has devastated entire mountains, and so it's working to recreate habitat.
The lack of trees in New York is unsettling. Now we’re figuring out how we can be a part of bringing some more plant life to people. Which is our mission, healing and connecting people on the planet through the power of plants. And that is what we're dedicated to that manifest through product. How can you live a better life by becoming a little bit more connected to these things that every day we’re becoming more disconnected from.
On their name:
Gabe: There's a reason that our name is not CBD people or cannabis people or marijuana people. We’re plant people—and what does that mean? It means that we care about the earth, we care about each other, we care about where things come from. We care about how we put ourselves or the products that we make into the world and assume a level of responsibility and ownership over our actions. And that means we don't use plastic, that we use post consumer glass and post consumer recycled materials, that we’re mindful of how we source, sourcing from regenerative agriculture.
On the misconceptions surrounding CBD:
Gabe: First and foremost we care about efficacy, if it doesn't work, we don't do it. That's very different from a lot of people, because there's a massive opportunity to make money in this space, and sometimes that means cutting corners. But for us, I'm not going to put something out into the world that does not truly help someone because people are coming to us with very serious issues looking for solutions. So if we don’t honor that as the number one priority then I'm not sure why we're doing business.
On how they began testing their product:
Hudson: In the early days before you could get really CBD anywhere, to be honest, Gabe and I were just getting like powders and dipping our fingers in it. We also packed pills for ourselves. I mean, the story really is that we started giving to friends and family and we realized that people didn't really know where to get it. They were replacing pharmaceuticals with it, and we thought if we can create a livelihood around helping people sustainably, then let's fucking do it. That's like the best win, right?
On their ingredients other than CBD:
Gabe: All of our extracts are full spectrum, meaning that CBD is one small part of it. It's interesting because the industry has taken to this one acronym, but there's all these different compounds within that plant, each of which has its own effect and we're really only just discovering what these opportunities are. People gravitated toward CBD because it's the most easily accessible compound within the plant outside of THC.
CBD rich plants below 0.3% THC qualifies as hemp, which is there for legal reasons, and that’s the space we operate in. With that being said, the plant is still rich with and all these other compounds. A full spectrum extract contains all of those compounds as well as terpenes and other phyto compounds that make for a very synergistic and whole plant healing or whole plant medicine.
The difference between that and other products on the market, is that they're oftentimes made with an isolated form of CBD-which is this full spectrum oil that you continue to refine until you're left with nothing but the CBD. It's a 99.6 to 99.9% powder that is fat soluble, and it looks like any other kind of white powder drug that you would find. And so that is CBD. That's oftentimes what people refer to a CBD oil. But it's not really as effective, you need much larger doses. So all of our products are full spectrum, meaning that it has a holistic profile of all the various constituents that are present in the plant and we blend it with that.
On the ever-evolving legality of CBD:
Hudson: Every week is different, and it's different state by state. There's a couple things at play. One is that there’s a lot of history surrounding cannabis in general, and it's such a new field, that everyone has to sign off. The DEA does, FDA does, Congress.
The other part is, it's like alcohol or tobacco, and I don't mean to compare it to that, but it is treated in that category. What's happening in cannabis is that states and countries, mostly states, are taking advantage of a very in demand ingredient compound or plant. And so each state is trying to get regulations so that they can also tax those hot, in demand products. It's kind of like finding something that you know people will use a lot, it’s like taxing for advil. So that's what's happening too, for example, let’s say New York state. If they make it legal, maybe they'll say that you can only sell product that's been farmed in New York so they're creating jobs at the same time.
There's all these different variables that we're considering. Also when it comes to labeling, do you say CBD do you say full spectrum extract? Everyone's also learning at the same time, and it’s constant. But it's exciting.
On their personal approaches to beauty:
Gabe: I'm a beauty from the inside out kind of guy. I don't lotion, I don’t even wash my face. I rinse it with hot water. When it comes to my shower routine I use a coconut body wash that supports women run businesses in Africa. I was using Dr. Bronner's but I was getting B.O. from it, because I also don’t really use deodorant. I don’t wash my hair, I don’t condition. I went cold turkey on chapstick about 15 years ago, I was addicted. I just started drinking more water. My regimen is very meager.
Hudson: Honestly, I’m Dr Bronner's everything just like to burn off the sins, you know? I clean my whole body with Dr Bronner’s, my face too. For shampoo and conditioner I used Prose. I had a pimple recently and I’m still recovering, but I put our full spectrum drops on it and it went right down, it was no longer red. CBD is good for acne.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.