If you don’t know what to do with cannabidiol, you’ll have plenty of ideas by the time you leave a CBD store.

Stir some in your coffee. Put a drop on your tongue. Rub some on your skin. Take a bath in it. Feed it to your pet.

The CBD shops that have popped up in the metro Augusta area during the past couple of years are selling everything from CBD-infused tinctures to gummy candies purporting to relieve inflammation, alleviate insomnia and reduce anxiety.

Derived from hemp, CBD lacks the psychoactive chemical found in its sister plant, marijuana.

“You get the health without the high,” said Bruce Lyons, owner of the Your CBD Stores in Augusta and Grovetown.

Lyons, who has nine stores in Georgia and South Carolina, said he was skeptical of CBD until friends recommended he take it for anxiety and insomnia. Those friends happened to be the founders of the Tampa, Fla.-based Your CBD Store chain.

“I was very skeptical,” Lyons recalls. “But in three or four days I started sleeping better. In 10 to 14 days, I was sleeping all night. I’m not saying I’m cured, but I’m saying it’s not an issue in my life anymore.”

The walls of Lyons store are lined with pictures and testimonials from regular customers, who list aliments ranging from arthritis and depression to Parkinson’s and diabetes.

Hemp and marijuana are members of the cannabis sativa family. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp that contains no more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychotropic cannabinoid known as THC.

Lyons’ stores, as well as Vonetta Hinton’s Your CBD Store in downtown Waynesboro, sell “broad spectrum” CBD products that contain no THC as well as “full-spectrum” ones that contain the 0.3% legal limit.

Although a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report in 2017 said there is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that cannabis can treat chronic pain, the only medically approved use for CBD is as an adjunct drug to treat two rare forms of epilepsy in children.

CBD is just one of more than 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. THC is the only one known to have an intoxicating effect.

“Eventually, in a few years, we might have several (beneficial) chemical components from the cannabis, not only the CBD oil,” said Dr. Yong Park, an epidemiologist at Children’s Hospital of Georgia at Augusta University. “It is a natural plant that God made for us. It has been used for many thousands of years as a medicine. I believe God granted the gift of the plant so we could extract the good things for humans.”

Dr. Park was the principal investigator at AU for studies involving Epidiolex, the 90-percent-pure CBD drug approved to treat seizures in children caused by the Lennox–Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.

Most Americans first heard of CBD oil years ago during the clinical trials for childhood seizures. But CBD got another boost when the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of industrial hemp, the source of most consumer-based CBD oil.

A Gallup Poll in August showed that about 14 percent of Americans reported using CBD products, with most users saying the products help them manage pain. CBD customers are looking for natural ways to reduce their dependence on doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals, Hinton said.

“They pretty much are trying to go in a different direction,” said Hinton, who plans to open a CBD kiosk in the lower level of Augusta Mall during the fall. “Many of our customers come in suffering from chronic pain issues, things that bother them on an ongoing basis.”

Says Lyons: “Most people are looking for some kind of relief and they’re tired of taking prescription drugs. It’s very common to hear, ‘I used to take this, but now I don’t’ or ‘I used to take this and now I only take half.’ “

Some medical professionals are unaware of CBD and how it works, as the prohibition of cannabis at the federal level gave researchers little interest in studying the medicinal benefits of marijuana and hemp. Scientists didn’t discover human cannabinoid receptors until 1992.

The receptors, CB1 and CB2, are present in the central nervous system and many other parts of the body.

“The CBD binds to those receptors to produce endorphins, which are our natural painkillers and anti-inflammatories,” said pharmacist Kyle Pulliam, owner of Harlem Pharmacy in Harlem, Ga. “It also up-regulates the receptors so your body will produce more of it.”

Pulliam said most of his CBD customers are people who have researched the substance on their own, but some are referred by medical practitioners such as pain-management physicians, otolaryngologists and dermatologists.

Pulliam points to a 2016 University of Michigan study that chronic-pain sufferers reported a 64 percent reduction in their use of prescription painkillers. A more recent survey conducted by market research firm Brightfield Group for HelloMD, an online medical cannabis community, showed nearly 83 percent of CBD product users said it was effective at treating their pain, sleep and mood issues.

Lyons and Hinton said physicians and nurses are becoming less skeptical of alternative medicines, as evidenced by the number of their customers who are doctor-referred. Hinton’s business partner is a retired registered nurse.

With more than 500 stores nationwide, the Your CBD Store chain is the largest retailer of its kind in the U.S. As mainstream retailers such as Walgreens, Sprouts Farmers Market, CVS, Ulta Beauty and GNC Holdings wade into the CBD waters, the collective market for CBD sales in the U.S. will surpass $20 billion by 2024, according to a study by BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research.

“It’s amazing how it’s changed in just the past year and a half,” Lyons said.