In a small kitchen on the grounds of Scatter Good Farm on East Coxon Road, three entrepreneurs have created a product line with the goal of providing a natural alternative for people suffering from pain and anxiety.
Stacy Moore, Ashley Lenz and Paul Clark IV are the founders behind Healing Harbors, a company that originated in Harpswell and creates soaps, body butter, and oil tinctures infused with cannabidiol oil, which is derived from hemp plants.
And while the operation may look small from the outside, Healing Harbors caught the attention of judges at the Top Gun Pitch Off May 9 in Lewiston, making it to the final round of the business competition May 23 in Portland.
Alongside seven other finalists, the company was scheduled to compete Wednesday night at the University of Southern Maine for a grand prize of $25,000.
The idea for the company was planted six years ago, when Moore was working in home health care in Harpswell. A woman she was caring for had suffered a stroke and was told by doctors she would only have limited mobility.
One day, however, Moore noticed the woman applying a cream infused with CBD oil. After learning more about the product, Moore said she was “blown away” and inspired to learn how to make it herself.
A year after her client began using the cream, Moore was even more amazed when the woman lifted her arm and moved it.
“Doctors told her, ‘There’s no way that that’s going to be possible,’ so she’s a big inspiration as to why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Moore said. “We’re more leaning towards people with some sort of pain or disabilities or inflammation, rather than just the hydration portion of (the product), which is great too.”
Because Healing Harbors products use oil derived from hemp, the THC levels contained in it are below 0.3 percent, making them non-intoxicating and completely legal; their purchase does not require medical marijuana authorization.
Legal or not, however, not everyone is convinced of CBD’s medicinal properties.
Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania spoke to HealthDay News about the lack of regulation for CBD, calling the new industry the “wild west.”
The same article reported the treatment of epilepsy is the only use for CBD that has “significant scientific evidence supporting it.”
All of Healing Harbors products, which are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, are intended to act as a natural way to soothe physical pain, inflammation, and even anxiety in the people who use them. They work because CBD oil mimics cannabinoids, small molecules naturally produced by the human body.
An example of a cannabinoid naturally occurring in the body, Lenz said, is anandamide, which is produced while a mother is breastfeeding. The molecule, she said, “helps with the bonding and feeling of euphoria” associated with breastfeeding.
Phytocannabinoids, she added, are molecules produced by the hemp plant.
After seeing CBD’s effect on her client, Moore began taking classes in 2013 to learn how to make it herself, and was eventually able to make another product that helped her client further.
“I was actually able to make a product that would loosen up her arm from her fingertips all the way up to her shoulder,” she said. “It helped her walk better, she’s able to get up and garden more, able to cook dinner with her husband, and that’s how Healing Harbors sort of started.”
Although she initially began taking classes through the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, Moore decided to switch to learning how to use hemp-derived CBD oil due to Maine law, which states medical marijuana caregivers cannot have more than five patients.
“I was like, let me switch to hemp and I can be able to help more people,” she said.
Today, Healing Harbors products are sold by a few medical marijuana providers around the state, including one in Brunswick and one in Boothbay Harbor, but Lenz said the company also does well through online sales.
The founders are also hopeful their products will be sold this summer at Land’s End Gift Shop on Bailey Island.
Having retailers in vacation towns is part of what makes e-commerce lucrative, Lenz said.
“One of our largest retailers is in the Boothbay Harbor area, and so that’s really seasonal, so a lot of people come and descend on the area for the summer, they find out about our products, (and) they start using them,” she said. “They get relief, they go back home, they start ordering that way.”
In the midst of the opioid crisis, Moore and Lenz also spoke to the power of plant-based solutions as alternatives to pain medication.
After leaving the U.S. Coast Guard, Moore said she broke her tailbone and was on several different types of pain medication. Eventually she switched to a CBD-infused product.
“I was able to only use a topical and the pain would go away in 15-20 minutes,” she said. “So I’m a true believer that I think it can definitely help you just have to be open-minded to it and educated about it.”
Moore said the enthusiasm of people in Maine has been a huge boon to the company, too.
“People are very open to trying topicals and soaps, and we’ve even got a pet line too for arthritic dogs or anxiety-driven (animals),” she said. “And once (owners) see the benefits of it, they’re like ‘oh my gosh, well if I can see what this is doing for my pet, imagine what it can do for me.’”
Many of the products use Maine-made ingredients as well; Healing Harbors body butter uses local Maine honey, and the soap is sprinkled with Maine sea salt.
Soon, the company is hoping to use Maine-grown hemp, although right now the company is using a pure form of CBD from Colorado. Moore even helped a Maine farmer plant enough hemp seeds for 40 acres over the course of two days recently.
Looking ahead, Lenz said Burt’s Bee’s is a business model the company would like to model.
For now though, taking care of customers, especially local ones, Moore said, is a big priority.
“We really care about our community, we are an aging population,” she said. “We want to be able to get the word out there and help out Maine first before we go state by state or go international.”