One of the top wellness and spa trends emerging in 2015 would have been unheard of just a few years ago. Certainly, using cannabis as an agent for healing in spas would not have sat well with many of our grandparents. But as the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana expands across the nation, cannabis has found its way into spa, beauty and yoga applications, reports Susie Ellis, president of Spafinder Wellness, Inc.
Why cannabis? Because the cannabis plant, and oils infused with its derivative cannabidiol (CBD), are very high in essential fatty acids (Omegas -3, -6 and -9), vitamin C and antioxidants. This renders them a natural, healing fi t for skincare applications, especially when it comes to dry and aging skin, says Beth McGroarty, Spafinder’s research director.
“Some medical studies indicate that these oils show promise for conditions like acne, psoriasis and eczema,” McGroarty explains, adding, “They’re also an effective topical for pain and inflammation.”
But before wellness practitioners can fully embrace cannabis treatments, there are a couple of caveats that must be considered. First, although written history traces the plant all the way back to ancient Greece, where it was purportedly used for its well-known mind-altering effects, far more research is needed before cannabis can receive the green light for use among healing professionals.
And then there are the legalities. Incorporating cannabis applications into spa treatments has been a slow and difficult process. Rules and regulations not only hamper the use of cannabis, but they also complicate where it can be purchased. However, in Colorado— the first state to legalize recreational marijuana—there are two facilities that are helping to lead the charge.
HAPPY, NOT HIGH
The proprietors of LoDo Massage & Private Yoga Studio (lodomassagestudio.com) in Denver and Primal Wellness Company Day Spa & Studio in Englewood, recognized an opportunity to help their clients alleviate pain by offering cannabis treatments. For these spas, the results have been very positive.
LoDo owner Ed Rich is seeing solid results with his spa’s Mile High Massage (60, 90 or 120 min./$65, $95 or $125), a treatment dubbed to honor Denver’s nickname: the “Mile High City”. The deep-tissue massage is actually anything but controversial. Before the service, clients are given the choice of three topical lotions, one of which contains cannabis oil. (There’s no extra charge to clients who take that option.) “It’s a pain cream much like certain over-the-counter topiscalanalgesics,” says Rich. “Nobody gets high—not the client and definitely not the therapist.”
The cannabis-infused lotion serves as an anti-inflammatory. A thin layer is applied and given time to absorb. Because the lotion doesn’t thoroughly penetrate, Rich says, it doesn’t substitute for the massage cream used throughout the treatment.
Rich buys the lotion containing cannabis oil through Apothecanna, a dispensary in Colorado. He pays a 30% tax, which makes the purchase legal and satisfies the state’s marijuana laws. The oil contains low amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, a chemical compound in cannabis) and CBD (cannabidiol, one of 85 active cannabinoids found in the plant, and accounting for 40% of its extract). It can only be distributed through licensed recreational and medical centers in Colorado. THC is said to relieve pain, nausea, depression and other physical ailments. CBD also has medical effects but doesn’t make people feel “stoned.”
At Primal Wellness Company Day Spa & Studio, all treatments—massages, facials, scrubs, manicures and pedicures—include an optional complimentary cannabis infusion. “When a client chooses the infusion, we add Colorado-grown and -manufactured, whole-plant cannabis oil to our base lotions,” explains Danielli Martel, owner and CEO. “This oil is manufactured in a licensed and certified facility and then delivered to a dispensary for us.”
The base lotions and oils at Primal Wellness are made from industrial hemp and can be used on anyone. But when the cannabis oil is added, the adult age client gets the full spectrum of cannabinoids, which results in deeper healing effects on the body, Martel says.
Although Martel did her due diligence in complying with Colorado’s marijuana laws, she has also experienced challenges. “Initially, the people at Groupon refused to work with us,” she says. “They had understandable concerns about federal issues and other possible repercussions. Fortunately, they were open to communication. Now we’re the first cannabis-related business to offer a Groupon deal.”
To make sure guests are well informed about the ingredient, LoDo Massage provides laminated cards explaining the benefits of the cannabis-infused lotion. Primal Wellness also supplies literature, posts information about the treatments on its website and hosts free monthly educational seminars.
“The best way for other spa owners to prepare for this trend is to find out all they can about the benefits of cannabis and share that knowledge with others,” says Martel. “The opportunity to bring the plant into spas or other realms of healing will be impossible unless people vote for the legalization of recreational cannabis,” he adds.
As of this printing, Colorado appears to house the only spas offering cannabis-infused treatments. However, Alaska, Oregon and Washington states have also legalized the use of recreational marijuana and, in total, 23 states and the District of Columbia have so far passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form.
Even though cannabis is one of the oldest plants used by humans medicinally (8,000-plus years), its criminalization for more than 80 years in the U.S. has literally and figuratively stunted its growth. Classifying cannabis as a “Schedule 1 controlled substance” put it in the same category as heroin. According to McGroarty, that means that even the plant’s non-high-inducing delivery in beauty topicals hasn’t been thoroughly investigated. “This plant’s many uses have been ‘buried’ for decades, but with creeping legalization, state by state, new topical beauty and pain reducing applications are starting to sprout like weeds,” she says. “With more decriminalization on the horizon in more states, and a possible national legislative move in the next few years, the future for these products seems bright.”
Marijuana dispensaries that look like day spas also contribute to the confusion, McGroarty says. Many of these venues even offer yoga classes, massages, chiropractic treatments and more. Some dispensary attendants have been dubbed “budtenders.” In other words, she adds, marijuana dispensaries are using the “health and wellness halo” to try and change the image of the plant.
Certainly, the novelty factor of cannabis treatments has helped the two aforementioned Colorado spas increase their business. Both have only been offering such services since 2014 and, by all accounts, their clients love it. Rich says his cannabis clientele has raised his rebooking rate substantially, and McGroarty notes that both LoDo Massage & Private Yoga Studio and Primal Wellness Company Day Spa & Studio have tripled their business since adding the cannabis feature.
Still, in much of the country, sentiment about the legal use of marijuana and its byproducts in any capacity is shaky or downright negative. The fact is that that type of treatment might alienate some clients at this stage. So, for most spa owners it’s a “wait and watch” situation until the trend takes hold and it becomes time to “take the high road.”