After Sherri Vanderstoep injured her back last week, she tried everything to relieve her pain — patches, Icy Hot products and prescribed medicine, but nothing seemed to work well or fast enough.
So, when she approached a booth at the Oak Harbor Farmer’s Market last Thursday with a banner proudly proclaiming, “The Weed Cream Guy,” Vanderstoep was interested but not optimistic.
Grimacing from the pain even simple touch in the area caused, Vanderstoep allowed “The Weed Cream Guy” to spray a minty mist over her back. For the first several seconds, she recalled she didn’t feel any affect. Then, after half a minute, Vanderstoep’s face went blank with disbelief.
“I’m kind of freaking out, because it’s working,” she proclaimed. “Oh, I have come to the right place.”
“The Weed Cream Guy” was not a title Byron Burns of North Whidbey ever aspired to, but after the army veteran and former fire protection engineer tried a topical cannabis product several years ago for his own back pain, he immediately decided he wanted to make similar products available to the public.
“I know what pain is,” said Burns, who was struck by a truck while serving in Vietnam. “And when I tried a topical cannabis product and felt pain relief within 15 seconds, I wanted others to have that relief.”
Burns now spends his retirement making everything from lotions and jellies to spray mists and bentonite mud infused with cannabis for his small business, Releaf Products.
Burns uses aloe lotion or non-petroleum jelly as the base for many of his products, with different combinations of eucalyptus oil, aloe juice and other mostly organic ingredients depending on the product. All of his products are applied to the skin externally and either have no scent or smell faintly of mint.
Though the applications are different, all his products serve the same purpose: localized pain relief.
On any given Thursday, Burns is sitting behind his booth at the Oak Harbor Farmers Market where he sells his 4 oz. products for $20 each. Burns also sells his products online and in businesses on Whidbey Island and in Anacortes and Snohomish.
Still, the best way to reach potential customers, Burns says, is to let them try a product and decide for themselves if it works.
It’s an approach he takes every time someone walks up to his table, and it’s exactly what he did when Vanderstoep stopped by.
“It was shocking,” Vanderstoep, who has never tried topical cannabis products, said after doing so for the first time. “It was just incredible how fast I felt relief everywhere.”
Burns says almost every new customer’s first question is how the cannabis affects their body. Not surprisingly, most think the cannabis will impair their motor skills and affect their mood, effects similar to when it is ingested.
Burns notes that topical cannabis by law cannot cross the “blood and brain barrier,” which is typically what happens when someone uses either recreational or medical cannabis.
Additionally, Washington state law categorizes items such as Burns’ as health and beauty products, noting topical cannabis products are strictly external and can only contain 0.3 percent or less of THC, the impairing component of cannabis.
Burns sends his own products to analytical companies that test the potency of cannabis he uses to ensure compliance with state law.
Rather than having a psychoactive effect through the bloodstream, topical cannabis penetrates cannabinoid receptors in the body that address pain relief. And unlike other pain medicine, Burns says topical cannabis only affects the area it is applied to.
“The only challenge I think I’ve faced is the stigma people place around the product and misinformation on how it works,” Burns says. “But this is like a big training wheel, more of a learning process where I can tell people the truth of how it works.”
For Burns, it’s all about educating people. Once that’s done, he wants the customer to decide whether his products are right for them.
“My greatest joy is seeing the reaction of people when they try it,” Burns says. “I always knew I would do something to give back once I retired and it really comes down to helping people.”
“It allows me to reach them and change their lives,” he said.
For more information on Pain ReLeaf products, go to www.painreleafproducts.com