“Hemp in Onslow” is a multi-part series spotlighting the emergence of the local hemp industry.
In 2018, Chad Fleetwood and his brother-in-law Justin Cleve started Crystal Coast Farms, an organic hemp farm in Swansboro, with a specific vision.
“Our main thoughts and concerns were we could help the local community,” Fleetwood said, who is among Onslow County’s first state-licensed hemp farmers.
Crystal Coast Farms is now one of the Jacksonville area’s only commercial hemp farms.
PART ONE: Intro to Hemp and CBD, a potential medicine for veterans
PART TWO: Local business pioneering CBD oil extraction in Onslow
For nearly two decades, Fleetwood has managed greenhouse nurseries. In recent years, he pivoted to hemp because he believes in the benefits of Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound found in hemp, which is a species of cannabis, like its psychoactive, federally illegal relative marijuana.
“My background and passion is in horticulture,” Fleetwood said, the lead grower at Crystal Coast. “I know this plant is going to be something that is going to be around for a long time and is something that is going to help people.”
Onslow County is home to more than a dozen hemp cultivators licensed through North Carolina’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. Through the program, Crystal Coast has worked with N.C. State University and the state’s agriculture department to study the best time to plant the crop and how to grow it in Eastern N.C.
“The Department of Agriculture has been very helpful,” Fleetwood said. “We communicate very well and are helping each other figure out how [hemp] grows in our climate.”
North Carolina strictly enforces the law that hemp plants and hemp-derived CBD products cannot exceed 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis.
“It’s extremely stressful to put (in) all of the expenses (and) the value of growing a crop that could possibly test a 0.4 instead of 0.3,” Fleetwood said. “Then you have to dispose of it.”
Crystal Coast Farms has entered the hemp business for the long haul due in large part to the crop’s role in an emerging market for alternative medicines, like for people with chronic pain or post-traumatic stress, such as veterans.
“We’ve got veterans that have gotten off of three to five different pills and prescriptions,” Fleetwood said.
CBD oil can relieve pain and could reduce anxiety, depression, inflammation and blood pressure, according to a Healthline review of studies; however, it may have side effects like interactions with medications.
Project CBD, a nonprofit news service, says CBD is a cannabinoid, or a compound found in cannabis, that could potentially treat autoimmune diseases, metabolic syndrome, gut disorders, skin disease and cardiovascular dysfunction. They say CBD works by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates things like mood, energy, stress and more.
Products from Crystal Coast are full-spectrum, meaning the whole plant is used, which can create what’s called the “entourage effect” when the plant’s compounds work together.
“We appreciate and respect the whole plant,” Fleetwood said. “There are more cannabinoids in the whole plant than just CBD.”
While CBD shows potential, hesitancy lingers in the marketplace. CBD products are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so Fleetwood advises consumers to do their research and purchase products from trusted suppliers.
Despite the lack of FDA approval and differing state laws on cannabis, Crystal Coast Farms is well positioned to be one of the area’s leading hemp producers for years to come.
“I believe hemp is definitely going to stick around,” Fleetwood said. “CBD is going to be a strong part of hemp.”
Reporter Calvin Shomaker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.