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The Stigma Surrounding CBD In Hong Kong (And How Heavens Please Is Changing It)

Thailand just legalized it. Professional athletes use it. And it’s even been deemed safe for consumption by pets. Acceptance for CBD is growing and the world is cashing in on the cannabis boom, so what’s with the hold up in Asia?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis. CBD infused products are popping up in restaurants, bars, and cosmetics counters all over the world—except in Asia. The CBD-inspired health and beauty craze should have huge potential in Asia, where natural wellness is deeply engrained in its culture, but some of the world’s strictest drug-enforcement policies coupled with a lack of education and understanding about the plant all contribute to the stigma surrounding CBD.

Based in Hong Kong, Heavens Please is a modern lifestyle brand focused on hemp-derived CBD. They have curated a range of CBD-infused health and wellness products designed to free people’s minds from the stress and worries of Hong Kong’s current state and create better days. Alongside their products, its website is host to a wealth of information to ease a first-timer into the wonderful world of CBD like terminology, a guide to choosing a product, and a handy dosing guide. And if you’re curious but would like to proceed with caution, Heavens Please outlines the legal status of CBD on the website, too. But we want to delve a little deeper, and better understand where the public opinion stands on CBD. But first, there are are some things you should know:


CBD essentials

1. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many compounds found in the cannabis hemp plant. It is mostly extracted from the flower and leaves.

2. Cannabis is a classification of plants with various species.

3. Hemp and marijuana are both species of plant within the cannabis family.

4. CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes people high.  

5. Numerous studies have shown strong evidence of its effectiveness to possibly treat anxiety, stress, depression, sleep disorders, pain, inflammation, acne, addiction, muscle spasms and epilepsy.


Some standout facts

1. In late 2017, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its prohibited substances list—meaning professional athletes can now take it.

2. According to the World Health Organization “in humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”


Heavens Please co-founders Denise and Terry


GITNB: The stigma surrounding hemp in Asia is real. Have you seen a shift since starting or is the landscape stagnant?

Heavens Please: There is definitely a shift and it’s happening rather quickly. Since I entered this industry about a year ago, there have been so many new CBD shops popping up. There are even conferences in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia that are dedicated to cannabis and CBD.


So more people are discovering hemp?

The number of individuals discovering hemp is growing immensely. We can divide this into two aspects. On the business side, more and more people are becoming aware that hemp can actually produce a lot of different things like fructose, cannabis, Chinese medicine, and fibre—and there are even more cannabinoid products. When you look at it from a political standpoint and think about laws and regulations, then a lot of countries in Asia are starting to make changes to their regulations like Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Philippines and Taiwan. Some of these countries have actually legalized medical marijuana and some hemp. In Japan and Thailand, the government even supports this change, but in Taiwan, the Philippines and South Korea where the laws are much stricter, it’s more reserved for medical use.

China is actually the largest country that is producing hemp. It is the number one country in the world for exporting hemp paper and textiles. But in Hong Kong, since the government announced that CBD is legal, the perception is changing rapidly. Some of the other cannabinoids are however still not legal.


What is the current legal status in Hong Kong surrounding hemp?

In Hong Kong, hemp is actually illegal because it is a species of the cannabis family. CBD, however, is a compound, and as a substance, it is not regulated. So, therefore, CBD is legal but hemp as in the whole plants is illegal in Hong Kong.


Okay, so anything with CBD is completely legal? Or is there any gray area in Hong Kong?

Anything with CBD is legal, as long as there is no THC in it.

In a region that depends so heavily on alternative medicines, what do you think the primary reason for the cultural aversion to hemp?

Hemp originated in Asia and is actually used in a lot of traditional Chinese medicines. Cannabis has been used widely in religious rituals amongst different cultures in India, Nepal and China. So, in my opinion, the primary reason for its oppression is a result of globalization. Hemp is widely used around the world, but after the United States implemented a ban on cannabis in the early 19th century, when modernization spread to Asia, so did the message surrounding hemp. And Asia really follows in the footsteps of the west, so the stigma surrounding cannabis stuck. Even now, the government is still giving the general public incorrect and incomplete information on the topic. Sometimes you will even see posters in Hong Kong around subway stations that read “cannabis is a drug” or “cannabis will kill you”, which gives people the wrong impression about the plant by demonizing it. And when people don’t receive proper information, they cannot move forward with their thoughts.


CBD-infused products from Yuyo Botanics are amongst their best sellers.

So what are you trying to chance the public opinion surrounding CBD in Asia, besides just selling it?

Selling it is actually very important in changing public opinion because we can teach people how to incorporate the compounds of the plant into their daily lives,  just like any other plant.

But besides that, we hold regular events and workshops, and we talk to people face to face. We let them use and feel out the products, and also educate them on what the effects are so they’re not just reading it from an article. We also do an oral presentation from an objective standpoint. We present facts and clinical research, and we explain how CBD is just one of the overall types of cannabinoids that comes from cannabis. Since the World Health Organization has deemed CBD an extremely safe substance that is good for your health, this is something we stress. They also claim there are numerous benefits and that there is no chance of addiction with relatively minor side effects. We are also partnering up with scientists to do researches on formulations on more effective ways to use CBD, and so on.

So we feel that by educating and talking to our customers face to face, we can teach them to incorporate CBD into their daily lives as a holistic and natural way of healing. These are just some of the ways we are trying to change the public perception of the plants as well as CBD.


Do you have a personal story or experience with CBD? Or was there some kind of motivator to enter this the hemp market?

I have anxiety and depression, like a lot of people these days who live in such a stressful society. My depression started in 2016 after the Fishball Revolution. I began looking for natural ways to treat myself because I didn’t want to go down the prescription drug path since there are a lot of long term side effects. From there, I got into more spiritual practices and me, and then my partner Terry and I began to incorporate plants into our lives even more. Plants and nature do heal us, and finding a holistic way to heal is important because we should be focusing not just on where we are sick, but really treating our body and mind as a whole.

On the topic of cannabis, we discovered CBD, which I now use for my anxiety and depression along with meditation. It is very effective with no side effects whatsoever. Cannabis actually heals our health on body, mind, spirit, both physically and mentally because of our body, we all have a whole system (the endocannabinoid system) that is built for this purpose. So we think this is really needed in Hong Kong because a lot of people are stressed by a lot of the issues happening here these days. So we decided to bring this to Hong Kong and work to try and lift the stigma surrounding cannabis and CBD.


Society is in the midst of a ‘great green rush’ when it comes to products that are healthy for the planet and our bodies (yay!). We already know that CBD is healthy for humans, but how healthy is CBD for the environment?

Hemp can replace things like energy sources, building materials, fibre, paper, and pharmaceutical drugs. Hemp itself is also great at removing toxins from land so a lot of farmers actually plant hemp to treat the land before they plant other things. For the CBD business, it’s great on both human and environmental sustainability because most CBD businesses were started by people who generally care for both humans and the environment. A lot of these businesses already have a great awareness of their environment actually. While most of these companies are based in the west, China is, in fact, the current largest exporter of hemp plants, but they not great at quality and environmental protection. But in general, most CBD businesses are really careful about the environment.


Sträva Craft Coffee is one of the products that Heavens Please sells on its site.


So for a first-timer, what might be a good introductory product from your shelves? 

For a first-timer, I would suggest trying a tincture. We recommend the AM Formula by Yuyo Botanics. It has a lower concentration of CBD in case people aren’t sure what is suitable for them or they want to address several concerns. Because a CBD oil is processed internally, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) then regulates our immune system, digestive system, cardiovascular and also our nervous system. The Yuyo Botanics PM formula, as well as the Chill Pack, are our most popular products because people can adjust their dosage however they need and even shared within the family. 

What are some of the items you’d like to introduce to Hong Kong in the future?

There are a lot of things that we are looking forward to bringing to Hong Kong. The CBD skincare market is growing because CBD itself works wonders on the skin. It can help with inflammation issues, it can increase cell turnover, it’s an antioxidant, and it can also be used for pain relief when applied topically. So we’re looking forward to bringing more skincare products into our offerings. Of course, edibles like foods and drinks are also on our list, we are working on this.


Most of your products are imports of western brands. Do you think there is ever room to develop your own products in Hong Kong?

Absolutely, we are actually already doing this. We have just started on some products in different areas so we really look forward to producing a local brand with quality but at a more affordable price so everyone, not only the privileged can benefit from CBD because right now the price for CBD is still relatively high due to the complicated extraction process.


What do you look for in a brand before you decide to work with them?

The most important thing for us is quality and transparency when we select brands to work with. Because CBD products aren’t well regulated, consumers can’t be sure what they are purchasing or where the product is from. Also, labelling isn’t always correct when it comes to product information. We also only select brands that use organic farming practices or use natural, clean ingredients. Of course, we also only work with brands that can provide us with third-party lab tests to prove that their products are of high quality. It’s important to us that companies list the exact CBD content inside their products, that they are free from pesticides, and contaminants that have other heavy metals.

We do select brands that are in line with our mission to benefit the planet and also the progress of humans. We generally select brands that are green and eco-conscious and have sustainability in mind when creating products. And of course, we also do test the products before we decide if they are suitable for the kind of consumers we have in mind. We only select products that we think have high quality and that are effective.


From your experience, what are some #LittleGreenSteps that people can abide by when it comes to wellness and hemp?

The most important thing is to remove the stigma surrounding the plant. The first goal to work towards is decriminalizing it and to stop demonizing the plant itself. With the right mindset, people can better learn what are the best ways for them to use the plant because different types of cannabinoids treat different issues. Even THC, although it’s psychoactive and gets people high, it’s pain-relieving quality is very high. It can also help people who have appetite issues. So when people are well educated with the correct information, they can better choose what to use, how to use responsibly, and what is good for them. These are the little green steps people can take towards this product.


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