Last week, the 2018 Farm Bill passed in Congress with provisions that take hemp off of the Schedule 1 controlled substances list and turn it into a normalized agricultural commodity. Once it’s signed by President Trump, the legislation will clear the way for the sale of hemp-derived Cannabidiol, known more frequently as CBD, a chemical compound that lacks the psychoactive effects of its cousin THC but retains potential health benefits. Some have claimed that it has anti-anxiety properties.
The night before the bill passed, I found myself walking through the halls of a fourth-floor SoHo loft, guided by Christmas lights and fabric collages by the artist Kelly Dabbah on the walls, eventually making my way past a photo booth and into a living-room space whose centerpiece was a decorated table adorned with glow sticks and desserts made with CBD. The party was care of the art adviser Raphael Castoriano’s Kreëmart, a project that has in the past worked on sweets-focused collaborations with artists including Marina Abramovic and Tony Oursler.
“The idea is to have a very chill evening where people are going to [talk about] what they know about CBD, because a lot of people do not know,” Castoriano told me at the party. He was introduced to CBD by his friend, the entrepreneur Laura Lehmann, who splits her time between New York and Los Angeles. It was in the latter city that she noticed the popularity of the substance. The desserts on hand ranged from marzipan balls to lollipops and gummy bears, all infused with hemp-derived CBD, sourced both locally and online. (Currently, Cannabidiol’s legality varies widely on a state-by-state basis.)
In New York, CBD-infused products are everywhere. Lehmann, who worked on the project with Castoriano, said that the aforementioned legislation “should, I think, open up the floodgates for [CBD] to be less of a kind of mom-and-pop-shop enterprise,” and push the industry in a more nationwide, corporatized direction. Castoriano agreed. “I think that Kreëmart has a position to be part of that market, and that’s where Laura comes in, and recognizes that position,” he said. “We have several people out there that we’ve invited, very low-key, instead of having a business meeting with them, we’re just showing them, you know, what’s our take.”
CBD is often branded as a natural source of anxiety relief, something like an herbal Xanax. The writer Al Bedell, an avid CBD user, told me that the substance makes her feel “dumber, which is nice.” Coming into the evening, I wasn’t entirely convinced that its calming abilities are not mostly just a result of the placebo effect. I’ve used it a couple of times; at best, it possibly functioned as a sleep aid. I could’ve just been tired, though. Dosage strength is likely a major factor. “What we have on the table there today, I think it’s the best that’s out there in the industry,” Castoriano told me. Soon after arriving at the party, I ate a couple marzipan CBD balls.
The scene that night made me flash back to an episode of Freaks and Geeks where a high-school party keg secretly gets swapped with non-alcoholic beer by the host’s younger brother; there is speculation on the keg’s potency, but many sober partygoers still end up performing the affectations of intoxication. In this case, alcohol was present at the party, and one attendee told me he might be feeling some effects of the CBD, but it could also just be the glass of wine he drank. I wasn’t drinking, though, and sitting on a stranger’s couch in a SoHo loft, I suppose I felt less social anxiety than I would normally feel in this kind of situation, but that is a pretty low bar. I ate a third ball.
Trying to figure out if I was mildly stoned or just susceptible to influence became a kind of psychedelic game in its own right. Wandering around the party, I did feel what I can only describe as a gentle dulling. Someone told me that I “looked stoned,” but then another guest, whom I had met earlier, said “that’s just how he looks.”
Shortly after my fifth ball, some wireless microphones appeared. Following quick speeches from Castoriano and Lehmann, the evening’s surprise entertainment was announced—a performance by Yanna Avis, the Parisian cabaret singer whose late husband was Warren Avis, the founder of Avis Rent a Car. Avis had on a sling from a broken shoulder, which she adjusted between songs. “I’m such a good sport, here I am, suffering for Raphael,” she said. Shortly after, someone in the crowd shouted “CBD!” to scattered laughs. Avis sang through a lightly amplified microphone while wandering around the loft. Her backing tracks were controlled by a person with a large tablet device. I ate a couple more balls and then left.
Walking to the subway, I had the embarrassing thought that I might be in a good “head space” to enjoy the really long rock song “Everything All at Once Forever” by the British band Th’ Faith Healers, but for the life of me I could not remember their name. After standing at the intersection of Houston and Broadway for around 10 minutes, I eventually gave up. I thought back to Bedell’s comment about CBD. She might have a point.