FLOBEL Advisor Melissa Gibson discusses her recent career shift and commitment to curating hemp-based products for therapeutic relief.
After over 25 years of strategic development consulting with grassroots organizations and independent businesses, a personal journey to improve her health inspired FLOBEL Advisor Melissa Gibsons’ professional career change at age 52. Melissa dedicates her life to sharing the key to wellness that she has discovered. Leveraging her degree in Agriculture Economics from Cornell University and an MBA in Brand Management, Melissa founded Qple LLC, a quadruple bottom-line company, which focuses on hemp and CBD education. Under the brand name, hemp&humanity, her company curates the best hemp-based product available and teaches others about the power of hemp to improve the human condition. Nectar News sat down with Melissa to learn more about her career switch and the journey that led to the establishment of hemp&humanity.
NN: Can you share some of your personal motivations for the development of hemp&humanity?
MG: Four years ago, I had a life-changing experience while on a snowboarding trip with my family to celebrate the winter holidays. In the months leading up to the vacation, I had been feeling somewhat stressed out due to a collection of circumstances going on in my life and I wasn’t really taking the time to acknowledge that stress. One night I woke up to what I thought was loud pounding at the door of our hotel room and asked my husband to to check it out. Weirdly, he told me he didn’t hear anything. It turned out that the banging noise was the sound of my own heart beating so loudly it rang in my ears. Over the course of the following week, I lost a lot of weight, began to suffer with stomach issues, and experienced a variety of other concerning symptoms, so I arranged to see a doctor after the holiday break. The general practitioner sent me to an endocrinologist, and he told that I had a thyroid storm, associated with hyperthyroidism caused by (in my case) Grave’s disease; an immunological response that results in your thyroid producing too many of its hormones. The thyroid is a very finicky – it’s like the goldilocks of organs — it must be “just right”. Too much or too little of minute amounts of hormones, and you’re out of balance.
Prior to the diagnosis of my thyroid condition, I had been battling several other auto immune disorders including Lyme disease and Celiac disease. I wasn’t surprised that I had another autoimmune disorder, but this one manifested in a way that was going to end up with either surgery or radiation. I tried for over a year and a half to get my thyroid condition under control with traditional medicines and had mixed results, in part because my stress levels remained high. Around this time, I began working with an upstate NY non-profit that was looking into hemp to revitalize the rural economy in upstate New York. Through my research, I was introduced to a compound in the hemp plant called Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, that works with your own Endocannabinoid System to help maintain homeostasis, or dynamic equilibrium. CBD is one of a group of compounds called Phyto-cannabinoids that can be found in the hemp plant. Recently, it seems like everyone is talking about CBD, but back then, nobody was. At the time, I knew hemp was somehow related to marijuana and THC – the compound in cannabis that gets people high and intoxicated – but I hadn’t heard of CBD. So, I began to research CBD, and eventually started taking CBD therapeutically on a regular basis. As a result, my thyroid condition began to improve drastically (as proven by my bloodwork), my menopausal symptoms (that had started the same month as my thyroid storm), started to dissipate, and I began to feel more like myself. Ultimately, I avoided surgery and radiation. It was at that moment I recognized an opportunity in the wellness marketplace that was increasingly looking for natural solutions. I founded hemp&humanity in 2016 with a mission to educate folks about hemp and CBD, and to consciously curate a collection of products that people can trust.
NN: How have you been navigating the legal challenges of working with CBD?
MG: After a robust relationship with the cannabis plant for thousands of years, prohibition of the plant in this country began with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1939, and then it was criminalized and categorized as a Schedule 1 drug with the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. The difference between hemp and marijuana is a man-made distinction brought to light again with the passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (known as the 2014 Farm Act). This piece of legislation made possible some research pilot programs to grow and study hemp, and a federal definition that differentiated hemp from marijuana was created. While both hemp and marijuana are cannabis, the 2014 Farm Act defined “industrial hemp” as a cannabis plant with no greater than a 0.3% concentration of THC (THC is a molecule in the cannabis plant that gets people high), and plants with greater than 0.3% THC remained marijuana. So, 2014 was the first time since prohibition that there was some viable opening to begin to bring back hemp as a crop in this country, and with it, an opportunity to create and sell products made from hemp. However, the legalities are very complex. Contradicting federal, state and local regulations generated more questions than answers, and cannabis was still a Schedule 1 drug, so although there was some room to explore hemp, there was significant confusion in the marketplace about legality, which affected institutions such as banking, insurance and interstate commerce. Having started in 2016, I faced numerous obstacles as a result of this murky environment. There was risk involved with promoting the plant, but I was determined to honor my mission. Then, on December 20th, 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act (The Farm Act of 2018) was passed, which further clarified the definition of hemp (including all of its parts and extracts), re-establishing hemp as a crop, and effectively removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. This has created tremendous opportunity around hemp, and flooded the industry with new enterprise instantaneously. Evidence of this is the massive spike in CBD-related products and content – it’s hard to go a day without seeing it featured in the news or on social media. However, it’s important to note that while there is new and promising legislation around hemp, regulation on all levels of government has by no means been set in stone – the USDA and FDA are still weighing in, and State governments are all over the place with policy. Many CBD companies are working hard to establish self-imposed standards and adhere to best practices; however, an unregulated and uncertain marketplace means that “snake oils” and bad actors are looking to make a quick buck on the “trend”. Therefore, it’s important to know which products are safe and effective, and which are not. Whereas hemp&humanity began with education (answering, what is CBD?) we are now very focused on offering valuable consultation and curation services to help sort through the confusion. We do all the vetting and background work necessary to make sure our offerings are formulated safely, grown organically and independently tested for potency and harmful solvent residue, metals and toxins.
NN: Tell us about the industry you left to embark on this journey with hemp&humanity and what carry over skill sets and strengths were you able to use in shifting gears three years ago?
MG: Prior to founding hemp&humanity, I worked for years with entrepreneurs, small organizations and non-profits to help them become more socially conscious and to have more of a positive impact in the new economy. I was very involved with a Hudson Valley, New York organization called Rethink Local, which was part of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies national network. I helped the organization to start up and worked with them for over three years with an emphasis on supporting independent business ownership and creative place-making. This experience put me in the mindset of developing for-profit business engaged in the social good. I think it’s why promoting a sustainable, eco-friendly plant that has the potential to improve health and wellbeing was a natural fit for me as I shifted gears in my professional life. Of course, my personal experience with CBD was a huge driver in my desire to create a company around hemp and education, but there was one other factor that inspired hemp&humanity and that was having a son that is successfully using cannabis to fight an opioid addiction. (I share this with his permission – he’s 23 now.) I’ve seen what the plant can do, and I’m a firm believer cannabis is an exit drug, rather than a gateway drug. With my son’s success, my improved health and the positive results from hundreds of clients finding relief and therapeutic benefit from CBD, I know my shift in career paths has been worth it.
NN: On the organizational side of the work, structurally how does it work for your clients or the people you interact with?
Early on in the development of the company I recognized that hemp is a plant that can spur the economy, but it can also improve the human condition. I set out to create a company that is centered in humanity and based on the Quadruple Bottom Line. Most people have heard of the bottom line – profit. A typical for-profit business exists solely to make money. There is also something called a triple bottom line that adds on people and planet to that profit measure. Through the work that I’ve done over the years and inspired by B Corporations such as Patagonia and Dr. Bronner’s, I’ve become dedicated to another metric — purpose. So, hemp&humanity is based on the Quadruple Bottom Line of people, planet, performance and purpose. (I renamed the “profit” metric “performance”). The manifests in even the little ways I run my business, how I market myself and make decisions. For example, my business cards are on a hemp composite paper, I use chalk board for a lot of my marketing so that I avoid paper waste, I offer free consultation to oncology patients and young adults, and I donate a portion of profits to the harm reduction movement, all as a part of my quadruple bottom line mission.
NN:Can you tell us more about the function of hemp&humanity? How do clients interact with you?
MG: I created hemp&humanity as part of a larger LLC called Qple LLC (that’s about the quadruple bottom line) and I decided not to create a brick and mortar retail store because there is a great deal of risk with this kind of endeavor, and the overhead can be quite challenging. Banking institutions are not caught up with the needs of my industry, so I couldn’t even rely on online sales. I had to be creative in my approach to interacting directly with customers and practitioners, including using farmers markets, pop-up shops, developing my own educational workshops and events, producing CBD-enhanced fitness classes, and hosting at-home group sessions where I take the time to explain different delivery and intake methods, detail the science of CBD, and give out information that people can use to make a decision about using CBD for themselves. The old marketing adage that an educated consumer is the best customer couldn’t be more appropriate than with CBD. From athletes looking to improve performance to those suffering from health disorders, folks just want to learn more from a trusted source. I just gave a talk at a monthly gathering of neighbors with Parkinson’s Disease who meet monthly and wanted to learn more about CBD. With all that they have to deal with, the last thing they need it to waste resources on potentially unsafe or ineffective products, so I can serve as their personal shortcut to accurate information and reliable CBD. You can bet that hearing from clients whose quality of life has improved as a result of this plant is both rewarding and validating. Hemp is a plant for the people – I’m honored to work with her.
To learn more about hemp&humanity visit the organizations website and social media pages below. For purchase information, and to access the hemp&humanity Consciously Curated Collection, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: NECTAR.