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Our cover story focuses on the highly popular ingredient cannabidiol (CBD), a valuable compound found in Cannabis, including hemp and medical cannabis. Much of the commercial supply of CBD is sourced from hemp, which in the United States is legally defined as cannabis with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis) concentration below 0.3%. As the annual HerbalGram Herb Market Report in this issue shows, CBD rose to become the most popular herbal “dietary supplement” ingredient (even though it is not officially allowed as such by the US Food and Drug Administration) in the natural retail channel in 2018 and again in 2019, displacing the previously top-selling turmeric, which held the top position from 2013 to 2017.

CBD sales have skyrocketed in the past few years, with an estimated 1,700 companies in the United States selling the ingredient. CBD retail shops have popped up in strip centers and shopping malls, and CBD products are widely available through online sellers, many of whom have little experience in the herb and dietary supplement industry or knowledge of good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and other relevant regulations. Unsubstantiated claims for the physiological effects of CBD have been rampant, many of which have been promoted by inexperienced sellers, presumably motivated by economic gain.

To assess the potential health benefits of CBD, we present a review article on its pharmacology and published clinical trials. The article is authored by Nishi Whiteley, an expert in cannabis therapeutics, and Ethan Russo, MD, an internationally known authority on cannabis clinical pharmacology and a longtime member of the ABC Advisory Board. Their review concludes: “The promise of properly constituted CBD preparations for improving public health is great for treatment and prevention of a wide variety of diseases, conditions, and ailments.”

As we have done for more than 20 years, this issue contains the annual Herb Market Report, one of our most-cited articles each year. The 16-page report — from HerbalGram Managing Editor Tyler Smith and co-authors Georgia May and Veronica Eckl from market research firm SPINS and Claire Morton Reynolds from Nutrition Business Journal — shows another significant increase in US sales of herbal dietary supplements of 8.6% from 2018 to 2019, with sales totaling more than $9.6 billion in 2019. In addition, we present preliminary sales statistics for the first six months of 2020, which reveal significant increases in consumer spending on some dietary supplements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for immune-potentiating herbs and fungi (e.g., echinacea, elderberry, shiitake, and more).

Continuing with our ongoing coverage of conservation and sustainability issues as they relate to herbs and medicinal plants, we present two articles on this topic in this issue. HerbalGram Assistant Editor Connor Yearsley informs about North America’s favorite indigenous sweetener, maple syrup, and the challenges that maple trees and syrup producers are facing during a time of climate change. He asks if this breakfast table staple is in danger of “tapping out!”

In addition, Patricia De Angelis of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Anastasiya Timoshyna, TRAFFIC’s Senior Programme Coordinator for Sustainable Trade, report on the most recent meeting of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), where members discussed the current status of some of the world’s endangered, threatened, or otherwise at-risk plants and potential future directions for the convention. De Angelis and Timoshyna provide a detailed summary of some of these conversations and related decisions, with a focus on developments pertaining to medicinal and aromatic plants.

This issue’s herb profile covers one of my favorite fruits: fig. Fig has a long history of use as a food and traditional medicine and is a prime example of a common food with traditional uses supported by modern scientific research. As always, a tip of the hat to our good friends Josef Brinckmann and Thomas Brendler for yet another excellent deep dive into a fascinating botanical medicine.

And finally, we honor the lives of numerous persons who have contributed to progress related to herbs and medicinal plants: South Pacific botanist Art Whistler, PhD; West African herb developer Diane Robertson Winn; CBD icon Charlotte Figi; medical cannabis pioneer and legalization advocate Lester Grinspoon, MD; and botanist, aster expert, and University of Texas herbarium steward Billie Lee Turner, PhD. Their contributions have enriched our lives in countless ways, and will continue to do so.

—Mark Blumenthal