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In this episode of Call Me Cannabinoids, Pete sat down with Hugh Huffaker, CEO and co-founder of CAUSE+MEDIC and Plant Aid. They discussed Hugh’s entry into the CBD industry, topical CBD formulation, hemp plant health, and sustainable farming.

Hugh first became aware of the CBD industry five years ago, when his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

“She was suffering from horrendous spasms every night, and I’d heard that CBD could help out with these,” he says.

A few of the CBD companies that existed in the market at that time made topical products, but Hugh noticed they weren’t affecting his mother’s muscle spasms like he’d hoped. They tried a CBD tincture next; taking the tincture relieved her pain.

Hugh built a team and began exploring the industry further, learning everything he could about CBD and why some topicals were more effective than others.

“What we found was, more or less, common knowledge today: untreated CBD doesn’t have that high of an absorption rate.”

The CAUSE+MEDIC team decided to become a spa company focused on topical CBD formulations like massage oil, pain cream, and body butter. Hugh and his team worked with chemists to create a patented process that yielded highly soluble topical products.

Cultivating healthy hemp plants

When Hugh’s team started formulating their products, they continually ran into the same issues with the CBD suppliers they tried to work.

“We got samples in from all the major suppliers and send them to our lab to test, and we got some pretty crazy results,” he says.

“We saw a lot of pesticides showing up, as well as solvents like butane. A couple of the vendors hadn’t decarbed their CBD yet. It was a mess.”

CAUSE+MEDIC’s team made the decision to start farming and producing hemp themselves as a farm-to-bottle company. But they quickly discovered that fungal diseases and powdery mildew were going to be a problem for their crop, like many other hemp farmers in the industry. Despite other producers’ advice to spray their hemp with caustic chemicals, Hugh’s team decided to innovate instead.

“We started spraying hypochlorous acid on our hemp plants and we were pleasantly surprised,” Hugh said. “You can watch the powdery mildew oxidize right off the plant.”

Hypochlorous acid was last used commercially during World War I to treat chemical burns. Hugh’s team synthesizes hypochlorous acid using salt, then uses reverse osmosis water to run it through a specialized electrolysis process to stabilize the formulation.

Soon, Hugh and his team watched in amazement as their hemp plants grew healthier.

“All of a sudden, the hemp rows that we were treating started growing bigger,” he says. “It was essentially boosting the plants’ immune system.”

According to Hugh, the hypochlorous acid product his team developed–called Plant Aid–actually cleans the hemp’s root system, which is crucial for an overall healthy plant.

“A lot of times when your plant is looking unhealthy on the surface, if you look under the soil, there might be root rot or a really unhealthy root system,” he says. “It’s actually really important to clean your root system, not just the surface of the plant.”

Hugh said hypochlorous acid is only the third synthetic product the USDA has approved for use in organic crop production. It is also safe enough to be used in food processing facilities and dairies.

Avoiding GMOs and glyphosate for healthier hemp

Despite some claims within the industry that using GMO plants boosts hemp health and profits, Hugh is determined to avoid them.

“You’ve got groups out there like Farmer’s Footprint and others that are showing farmers that renewable agriculture is the way of the future. We don’t have to be using glyphosate to be profitable,” he says.

“In the long run, GMO farming is an unsustainable practice. It’s a risk to our health, our land, and the soil. It’s something we need to change for a more sustainable agricultural society.”

Gratitude for the hemp industry

Despite the challenges of navigating an emerging, quickly-expanding market, Hugh expresses appreciation for the hemp industry.

“I think it’s pretty important just to slow down and breathe throughout the day, and just enjoy the industry that we’re in right now,” he says. “The hemp industry is a fun industry to be in and we’re all lucky to be part of this.”