When Natalie Bustamante was 11, she was in an accident in her home country of Colombia that damaged her spine. She healed, but the pain lingered. Soon she was prescribed pills for pain, other pills to relax her muscles, more pills for a stomach issue caused by the other medications — not to mention sleeping pills, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds. All before she was old enough to vote.
While studying at George Washington University, she learned some things about Big Pharma, including how "in the U.S., you can sell pills through advertisements like TV commercials or in magazines, whereas in most other countries in the world, that's illegal," Bustamante says. "Here, you're sold this idea of needing a cure before you're even diagnosed."
She began to question her long list of prescriptions and made the choice to wean herself off the chemical cocktail and seek natural alternatives.
After graduating, Bustamante had a brief stint working as an intern on Capitol Hill before taking a job teaching English in Thailand. There, easy access to natural medicine allowed her to explore the field.
"I started learning about plants, herbs, roots — all these things we have in nature," she says. "I ended up learning about CBD and I became obsessed."
Now, at 29, she is the founder and CEO of Vital Tonics, which late last year officially launched its line of products infused with CBD.
Not to be confused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, CBD (AKA cannabidiol), is a related but non-intoxicating oil found in cannabis plants. Bustamante believes it has helped control her pain, stomach issues, and anxiety.
"CBD had all the medical benefits I wanted, without the high," she explains. "I decided to dedicate my life to it and study it further, and now a few years after that trip [to Thailand], here we are with Vital Tonics."
The idea for her Miami-based company began as a concept for a CBD-infused soda. But using CBD in food came with many restrictions, so Bustamante opted for a different route. Because the oil works as an anti-inflammatory, CBD the ideal ingredient for certain beauty products.
Beyond that, Bustamante zeroed in on so-called water-soluble CBD (also called nano CBD), which has undergone a process to cause it to be more readily absorbed than CBD oil when applied to the skin or ingested.
"[The nano CBD molecule] is so small that it bypasses digestion and makes the reaction time that much quicker," Bustamante says.
While conventional oils may take 30 to 90 minutes to kick in, Bustamante says her tonic works within five to seven minutes.
In addition to a liquid tonic, Vital Tonics offers a lip balm, bath soak, sheet masks, and even dog treats.
"Nano CBD is the main ingredient in all the other products I create," she explains. "When applied topically, CBD is amazing for rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, all sorts of skin ailments that stem from anxiety and inflammation."
Bustamante says her personal favorite is a biodegradable sheet mask ($20) made from bamboo.
"I'm not hurting the environment, and I'm creating a great product," she says of the mask. "On top of that, it has hyaluronic acid, which helps to fill in fine lines. I'm almost 30, so I use them almost daily, and I instantly look younger and am glowing."
The bath soak ($30), she says, is a popular item — a step beyond non-CBD bath bombs or salts that moisturize and relax muscles and joints but fall shy of providing relief from pain and mental tension.
Bustamante reports that she's now working on a new bath product and an all-natural lubricant.
"The goal is to make natural products that improve our quality of life," she says.
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