In 1996, when Laura Lagano was in her mid-30s, she gave birth to twins. One of them, Isabella, suffered from seizures and apraxia due to chromosomal duplication, a genetic ailment linked with autism spectrum disorder. A registered and certified dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) with a master’s from Columbia University, Lagano started searching for a holistic approach to alleviate her daughter’s difficulties.
“Isabella actually brought me to cannabis and CBD,” Lagano says. “I’m always looking for new approaches to help with her behaviors and CBD really made a big difference in her life.” She didn’t stop at home. While childhood seizure disorders have been the catalyst for the acceptance of legal cannabidiol (CBD) for years, Lagano, 60, is at the forefront of marketing it as a dietary supplement to combat all sorts of ailments — a booming business that has attracted critics along with the hype. The CBD market reached $591 million last year, according to analysis from the Brightfield Group, and could reach $22 billion by 2022.
Lagano has founded the Holistic Cannabis Academy, appeared on CNN, Fox News and the Food Network, and authored The CBD Oil Miracle, a book that touts CBD as a cure for everything from chronic pain to bad skin to sleepless nights. The science is far from clear, but early studies show promise for a variety of ailments.
“Laura is a true pioneer [who] creates her own path,” says Kathie Swift, co-founder of the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy, who met Lagano years ago when they were both volunteering for a progressive nutrition practice group. “It’s great that she integrates cannabis and CBD recommendations with nutrition and essential oils and other lifestyle choices. Laura is truly the cannabis nutritionist.”
Lagano grew up in an Italian household in Brooklyn where food was dear to the family. She decided to study nutrition after seeing how food affected her mother’s health. Now based in Hoboken, New Jersey, Lagano spends her time outside of work at the beach, traveling or writing screenplays.
An impassioned speaker, Lagano combines a clinical background with experience in PR and marketing alternative medicines long before the industry blew up. “Laura has always been holistic, even when she started out as an RDN, when that was not a popular choice,” says Diane Brown, who works in public relations and met Lagano in New York City when they were in their 20s. “She was part of a core group of RDNs who paved the way for others.”
While her original interest was in medical marijuana, Lagano came to appreciate the use of the other cannabinoids and terpenes in the cannabis plant that don’t get you high with THC. She’s also been touting CBD at medical conferences and with doctors individually. “I have felt that from a pharmacology and physiological perspective that cannabis sativa has been misunderstood and overly vilified as a dangerous drug,” says Jeffrey Bland, president of the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute. “I have enjoyed my conversations with Laura about the cannabinoids in that she is very knowledgeable on the subject.”
But to many, the ballyhooed CBD oil is more like snake oil.
“CBD has no nutritional benefits. It’s not a food; it’s not a foodstuff,” says Mike Power, author of Drugs 2.0, who says specious nutritional claims around the drug are simply an attempt to avoid regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, which doesn’t have approval power over dietary supplements. “CBD claims are so overblown right now for one reason: money. It’s the Wild West, and until we get a tight grip on a new medical trial model that satisfies clinicians and patients first, and politicians last, we [won’t] see any order and good sense.”
And Lagano agrees with Power to a certain extent.
“What’s happening now is that many companies are jumping on the hemp-derived CBD bandwagon,” Lagano says. “As far as companies out there selling CBD, do I think all of those products efficacious? No. I think there are companies that are running with what they perceive [to be] the green rush to get products on the market as quickly as possible.”
Still, Lagano believes that CBD can be effective when integrated with nutrition — in anything from brownies to smoothies to tea. Lagano also says the plant works well with holistic healing modalities such as aromatherapy, yoga and massage. Cannabis is an ancient plant with numerous health and wellness benefits, she argues, that society is finally rediscovering after 100 years of prohibition.
“Did I ever imagine 10 years ago that this is what I would do? No,” Lagano says. “Given the fact that we all grew up in the climate of the plant being illegal.” Marijuana still is prohibited at the federal level, but hemp (including hemp-derived CBD) is now legal nationwide. In addition, 34 states have medical marijuana programs and 11 (plus the District of Columbia) allow recreational use — though Lagano doesn’t like the term ‘recreational’ because she thinks it demeans the value of the plant. She believes most people who are using cannabis with THC are self-medicating to treat anxiety, insomnia or pain. And with the laws changing, it’s a brave new world in the medical nutrition therapy field.
Next up for Lagano is getting into the distribution business herself. She’s consulting for cannabis companies and is co-founder of the Holistic Cannabis Academy. Her home state of New Jersey recently expanded its medical marijuana regime, and its voters will decide next year whether to fully legalize the drug that has undergone a remarkable image makeover.