CEO of CBD: the mark of cannabis on one JMU alumnus’ life

McKinley Mihailoff | The Breeze

When Ethan Pompeo (’16) contracted a case of strep throat at 13 years old, he didn’t know it would impact the rest of his life.

The case of strep throat receded, but what it left in its wake were “obsessive compulsive behaviors and thoughts accompanied by debilitating tics,” which would eventually be diagnosed as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS).

Strep bacteria survive in the human body by building molecules that disguise them to look like the molecules found on the heart, joints, skin and brain tissues, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. When the body recognizes that strep bacteria are foreign, antibodies are produced to get rid of them. However, because the strep molecules mimic other molecules, the immune system attacks both the strep bacteria and those molecules that have been mimicked. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), tics and other symptoms of PANDAS are caused by reactive antibodies targeting the brain.

Although the typical age range that PANDAS appears is 2 to 12 years old, it can present itself at later ages as well.

There are many more symptoms associated with PANDAS, including anxiety, symptoms of ADHD, mood changes, trouble sleeping and joint pains. Pompeo said that since he initially had strep throat when he was 13, he’s dealt with motor tics and severe anxiety. 

“It was a big struggle for me,” Pompeo said. “I was worried about distracting other people.” 

For 10 years, the solutions that Pompeo was given came in the form of pharmaceuticals. During the time Pompeo was in high school, he turned to smoking marijuana to find relief from his symptoms. 

I used cannabis as a way to deal with the stress,” Pompeo said, “[but] being high all the time was not a good solution for me.” 

Pompeo found that there were side effects from smoking marijuana that were also impactful, such as lethargy and appetite loss.

Upon graduation from JMU, Pompeo said he was searching for a new pace of life centered in agriculture, and found himself on a farm in Colorado. Down the road from this there was a 300-acre hemp farm, which Pompeo said was his first introduction to cannabis for medicinal uses.

“Seeking the benefits of marijuana without the high, Pompeo found his answer in CBD oil.

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CBD is an active ingredient in marijuana derived from the hemp plant, which doesn’t cause a high but still provides health benefits such as reducing anxiety and chronic pain, and treating insomnia and addiction.

Pompeo said his introduction to CBD was a huge blessing and dubbed it “nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory.” 

Following a hail storm in Colorado that destroyed the farm Pompeo worked at, he returned to Virginia in 2017 and encountered a devastating problem. 

“I couldn’t find any quality of CBD in Virginia,” Pompeo said. 

In lieu of this, Pompeo began making his own CBD oil from home. 

For six months, Pompeo imported hemp plants from Colorado in order to make his own CBD oil. Eventually, he began sending samples of this to friends and family and even spread the word about it through Snapchat.

“A lot of people liked it, and that’s when I thought I could make a business out of this,” Pompeo said.

Thus, Green Valley Nutrition (GVN) was born with the aim to provide natural alternatives to conventional medical treatments. 

What began as CBD oil has now expanded to include a catalog of CBD products including pain creams, capsules, edibles and CBD for pets, among others.

“We’re trying to change the public perspective about cannabis,” Pompeo said. “It can be used safely, medicinally. It can help improve the quality of your life.”

James Tsikerdanos, the sales coach for GVN, said he used CBD products to treat different aches and pains he has as a military veteran.

“I’ve realized that really you need to pay attention to the CBD you’re consuming and that it’s a great alternative to very expensive medications,” Tsikerdanos said. “It’s worth a shot before going down the route of traditional medicines such as opioids for pain management.”

The shifting opinion of cannabis use is something that Pompeo has witnessed firsthand, and since the legalization of cannabis in Virginia, he said that it’s been even more pronounced.

“It’s honestly dramatic,” Pompeo said. “It’s so funny, it’s been stigmatized my entire life. I remember many people looking down on me and judging me for helping cope with my symptoms … Boom! The instant it was legalized, it was like everyone was okay with it.”

One of Pompeo’s aims is to help continue the destigmatization of what he described as a “misunderstood plant.”

“There is a shadow side and a light side [to all things], and the use of a plant can lead to unhealthy side effects but there’s always a light side,” Lexi Hutchins (’10), the graphic designer and brand developer of GVN, said. 

Hutchins said that although she doesn’t personally use CBD products, she believes in the good they do and sends them to her mother.

“It’s helping them to relieve pain but without the side effects of pharmaceuticals, so it’s a lot safer,” Hutchins said.

Following the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, hemp was removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of controlled substances. This allowed Pompeo to begin “mingling and working with local farmers” in order to bring every step of his manufacturing process to Virginia.

Located in Charlottesville, GVN sells CBD products that house each step of the creation process in Virginia. Pompeo said the notion of being local from “seed to sale” is one aspect that sets GVN apart from competitors. 

“We can trace all of our products back to the field [where] it was grown,” Pompeo said. 

Pompeo said he intends to add a section of the website to introduce the company’s local growers, as it’s important to GVN that customers see the “real people behind this.”

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Another factor  Pompeo said sets GVN apart from competitors is its extraction process. 

“[We have] our own unique extraction process, so what we’re left with is a very pure and clean product,” Pompeo said. “Using the isolate, we know it will be consistent from batch to batch.”

CBD isolate is a pure extract that doesn’t include any other cannabinoids.

“[GVN] is the only company in [Virginia] that’s making a CBD isolate product,” Pompeo said, “There are other products out there, but they’re predominantly being manufactured and shipped over.”

Presently, GVN ships to every U.S. state and a few other countries. Pompeo said there are currently seven people on staff, but he’ll need to double that to maintain growth. 

As an alumnus, Pompeo is turning first to JMU, seeking full-time interns to fill a diverse array of positions, such as marketing, sales, chemistry and manufacturing technicians. Pompeo said the demographics he’s in search of are found among JMU students — “people who care and are involved in the community.”

Hutchins said she believes the opportunity to intern with GVN would be a great experience for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“[You’ll] learn the nitty-gritty things, you’ll learn what every single entrepreneur does from the ground up,” Hutchins said. 

She also encourages anyone interested in applying to focus on the skill set they can acquire from their experience with GVN.

“I really believe in the direction Ethan is going, and I think it would be a fun learning experience for someone to have,” Hutchins said.

Tsikerdanos said interning with GVN could offer some of the best in-class training for those interested.

“Whether it’s in operation marketing or sales, we’ll provide industry experts to help guide them where they need to go,” Tsikerdanos said. “I think this is such an amazing brand for the region, and I’m excited to see the impact we’re going to have.”

As GVN and the cannabis industry continue to grow in Virginia, Pompeo’s focus is on providing CBD products that can help people heal as they helped him, along with being the “locally sourced product you can trust.”

Contact McKinley Mihailoff at mihailmx@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.

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