Like any small business owner, Pure CBD Exchange CEO Dillon Gross is busy pretty much all the time. And like lots of busy people, he got some of his stress relief from smoking tobacco. It was a bad habit, he knew, but most days, the thought of quitting sounded like more trouble than it was worth.
It wasn’t until spring of last year that he found something that made it easy for him to give up smoking tobacco—smoking high-CBD hemp flower instead.
The Case for CBD Cigarettes
“I was offered some hemp flower by a colleague in the business, and even as someone who sells CBD, I thought it was a little unusual,” Gross told Leafly. “Most of the hemp grown in Colorado, where we’re based, is grown specifically for extraction. You don’t get the sort of manicured buds people associate with a good smoking experience.”
But as he dipped his toe into some carefully trimmed and properly treated hemp flower—high in CBD but containing almost no THC—Gross found his cravings for tobacco smoke subsiding over the course of weeks. Smoking hemp flower, he found, not only left him relaxed without being high. It also served to replace the rituals he associated with smoking cigarettes.
Prior to this experience, Gross had wondered whether smoking hemp flower might serve as a replacement for some tobacco users. Now, he saw the results for himself, and he wasn’t the only one. Many consumers are turning to CBD in various forms to replace tobacco, and early research indicates the cannabinoid may well have some potential in that arena.
Building a Better Cigarette
Gross and his small team were already bringing CBD products of all stripes to consumers. Now, the question for the Pure CBD Exchange team became how they could best share hemp flower with tobacco smokers seeking an alternative. While smoking flower from glass or in a joint might provide the same experience, chemically speaking, those formats were far-removed from the one most smokers were looking to replace.
“For a lot of people, myself included, it’s more than just a chemical addiction to nicotine that keeps them using cigarettes,” Gross says. “It’s the chance to step outside and have a quiet couple minutes to themselves, or a conversation with a friend.”
To beat a cigarette, Gross’ team reasoned, they needed something that replicated the feel and experience of a cigarette. A replacement that had the same feel in the hand and mouth that cigarette smokers were accustomed to. It would have to smoke like a cigarette and come in similar packaging. It needed to recreate what smokers were used to in every way they could manage, with the exception of replacing tobacco with CBD-rich hemp.
In short, they needed to help people fight cigarettes with cigarettes.
The Challenge of CBD Cigarettes
Turning hemp flower into a convincing replica of the modern cigarette, though, was no easy feat. Even when it’s diligently trimmed and properly ground, the plant has a different character than tobacco. It’s stickier, for one thing, and moister to boot—two qualities that make it particularly tough to replicate the feel of cigarettes composed of thing, dry strands of tobacco.
“We started with a concept using small machines that was very popular with our testers. Unfortunately, it was also very, very inefficient,” says Gross.
As the Pure CBD Exchange team watched jars and prerolled joints of high-CBD flower grow increasingly popular with customers, it became increasingly clear that there was a market for these products. It was this demand among consumers that drove them to keep working to overcome the challenges standing between them and the hemp flower cigarettes their customers obviously wanted.
“This specific product, a hemp cigarette for people trying to quit tobacco, was in really high demand among the people we serve,” Gross recalls. “We owed it to them to keep working at it and get it right.”
Picking the Right Partner
Rather than provide customers a product they weren’t yet satisfied with, the team at Pure CBD Exchange instead took a moment to step back and assess their priorities for a CBD cigarette. It wasn’t enough, they thought, to get the product right most of the time—achieving the sort of consistency that cigarette manufacturers got in their products was key.
“There’s plenty of bad things you can say about the tobacco industry, but those companies provide a product that’s the same every single time in every single pack. If we wanted to provide smokers with an alternative to that, getting that sort of consistency was job one,” recalls Gross.
While Pure CBD Exchange’s employees kept trying different, grinds, blends, and levels of moisture content to dial in an ideal look and feel for hemp flower destined for their Aspen Valley cigarette brand. Once they had that in, they came to another tough understanding—the machines they were using in-house weren’t up to producing the product they needed to deliver to customers, at least not at a scale that could keep up with demand.
It was clear that they needed a partner—a company that had the equipment and experience in tobacco. That began a search for a tobacco company that could help Pure CBD Exchange improve their process and practices, while still being someone the team could feel OK working with.
“The partner we’ve chosen is a small, Native American owned company that has high-speed equipment and experience doing contract manufacturing,” Gross reports. “And more than that, the values of our two companies are aligned, so it’s a partner that we felt morally okay working with to bring this product to market as a consistent, finished product.”