At 17, an age when many teens try cannabis for the first time, Aaron Howard was already deep in the weeds. Aaron began growing cannabis for his brother Wesley, who used the drug to mitigate pain from myriad health complications including epilepsy. When Aaron and his business-minded younger brother Nathan learned cannabidiol was used to treat epilepsy, they dove into research.
“We decided to grow some and give it to Wesley,” Aaron says. “I saw the implications for a wider range of people who may not be interested in THC's more intense psychoactive effects.”
Wesley died from a rare genetic disorder in early 2017. Three years prior, Aaron and Nathan founded East Fork Cultivars in Southern Oregon, specializing in CBD-rich cannabis. CBD, or cannabidiol, and the more well-known and potent THC are both compounds in cannabis. If THC is responsible for, say, the pizza ordering habits of Jeff Spicoli, CBD is a mellower, anxiety-quelling compound that Mr. Hand might use to treat his aches and pains.
CBD fell from favor among the illicit producers of the ’80s, who prioritized THC to deliver quick intoxication, resulting in a weak genetic pool. In recent years, CBD has been extolled as a nonaddictive treatment option for numerous conditions—but also as a remedy to the recreational industry’s potency wars.
“We want to show people what it can do for their quality of life,” says EFC’s CEO, Mason Walker.
By 2016, the Howard brothers had successfully bred new CBD-rich strains (bearing low THC content) and transitioned into the recreational market. On their nine-acre ranch in Oregon’s Illinois Valley, the brothers grow product sold at more than 160 dispensaries across the state.
East Fork focuses on sustainable farming, references terroir—a term associated with winemaking—and brands joints with pacifying names like Balance, Relax, and Create. Recently they launched a free education program to share emerging research on the CBD’s benefits. “We’re combating the delta between the complexity of this plant and its potential benefits and efficacy,” Aaron says, “and a lack of education and in some cases misrepresentation.”