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DECATUR — When Jenny Ballinger lost her son unexpectedly in 2017, she needed relief from anxiety and sleepless nights.

Prescription medicines weren't working. She had constant headaches and migraines. One day, a friend suggested cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD. 

For Ballinger, of Long Creek, the cue to use her CBD oil comes when her heart starts racing. That’s when she puts a few drops under her tongue and experiences relief. 

"I've tried oil and gummies," she said, "but I use oil more."

Ballinger is among a growing number of people who are using CBD, a legal, hemp-derived substance that does not make its users high, for everything from anxiety and insomnia to arthritis and migraines. With the industry exploding, some are calling for more government regulation and questioning whether the substance is as effective as some users say.

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Demand is growing. CBD business has tripled nationally in the past three years, and analysts predict it will be a $20 billion industry by 2022. The substance is sold in a variety of forms: chocolates, candy, gummies, oils, tinctures and even bath salts.

CBD is different from marijuana, which is expected to become legal for recreational use once Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs a bill sent to him recently. Illinois already allows the retail sale of CBD products as long as they are derived from hemp and have less than 0.3 percent of a psychoactive cannabis compound THC.

Monte LeCrone, of Sullivan, used CBD oil for arthritis for a few months, but reverted back to prescription medication.

"It worked for a while," he said. "But when it got really bad in the winter, I had to go back to arthritis medicine."

For insomnia, LeCrone made the switch from melatonin to CBD oil and found positive results. He recommends CBD oil, or CBD products in general, for people who have a milder form of arthritis or insomnia.

CBD products are sold online, liquor stores, tobacco shops, health food shops and other retailers. It's used in everything from baked goods to oils to gummy bears. There are even products for pets.

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Mike King, president of Mari-Mann Herb Co. Inc., has been selling hemp products and hemp oil for years at the store on Decatur’s southwest side. For the past couple of years, the business has sold CBD in the form of chocolate bars, gummies, candy, different types of oils and dry powders. The best-selling items are flavored oils and olive oil-based products.

“With it being as hot of an item as it is, we are seeing a lot of innovation,” King said.

King said he has had about 25 customers replace their prescription medicine with CBD, and about 60 others who use the product have cut back on prescriptions.

Sherry Slifer, a sales associate at Country Nutrition at 645 W. Pershing Road, said the store sells products from two companies. The retailer sells topical ointments, oils that go under the user's tongue and capsules.

The store has been selling CBD products for at least a year, she said. Customers are usually seeking relief from pain and anxiety, Slifer said.

But the substance isn’t just being sold in specialty and health-food stores. It can also be purchased at Family Video stores across the country, including the Mount Zion location at 110 Wildwood Drive.

The company's CEO was inspired to sell the product at his video rental stores when the substance helped his elbow pain. Peyton Miller, a sales associate at the Mount Zion store, said sales so far have been successful.

Both Family Video locations in Decatur, 275 N. 22nd St. and 1935 N. Water St., have not started to sell the CBD products as of Thursday. Rainee Conerty, a sales associate at the Water Street location, said the products will be coming soon.

A survey by Consumer Reports conducted earlier this year found that a quarter of Americans had tried CBD for a variety of physical and mental health-related reasons. Many said they found it effective, particularly for treating anxiety.

Although many swear by the trendy product, some doctors and experts say more studies need to be done.

Dr. Peter Grinspoon, an author and primary care physician in Boston, wrote in a Harvard Medical School blog post that side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability. He also said a significant safety concern is the product is primarily marketed and sold as a supplement, rather than a medication.

Since CBD products are not regulated by the FDA, Grinspoon said users won't know for sure the product has the active ingredients at the dose listed on the label.

A study in 2017 found that 26 percent of products tested had lower amounts of the compound than advertised, while 43 percent had more than their labels stated.

Although a prescription CBD oil is considered an effective anti-seizure medication, there are many side effects, according to Brent Bauer, director of the Department of Internal Medicine's Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic. Dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, drowsiness and fatigue are included.

Bauer said while CBD is being studied as a form of treatment for multiple conditions like Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and anxiety, more research is needed.

But for Ballinger, the proof is in how she feels. She said CBD has changed her life.

"It's helped tremendously," she said. 

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Contact Kennedy Nolen at (217) 421-6985. Follow her on Twitter: @KNolenWrites

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