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How CBD is changing D&B

As healthier lifestyles have become more prevalent in the dance music industry, some have turned to the legal compound CBD for its benefits. But who uses it? And does it really work? DJ Mag talks to some of its advocates in the d&b scene to learn more

It’s Monday morning, and the painful cocktail of a weekend club life and weekday deadlines hits hard. Focus seems impossible and every platform is bleeping with requests; email, Facebook messages, Skype, Slack, phone. There’s even someone knocking on the door.

“Here you go, love, you missed the post...” It’s a neighbour, who passes a parcel to me. She’s cheerful, although she wouldn’t be at all if she knew that the parcel contains 10 different strains of cannabis. For the last hour or so, her living room has been a veritable Amsterdam coffee shop. Bubble Gum, Gorilla Glue, White Widow, California Haze, Orange Kush. All the greats. But this is all fully legal and above board. It’s CBD weed: cannabidiol, to use its full title; a non-psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant.

Over the next few days, more parcels arrive: CBD in paste, oil, tea, capsule, lip balm and body cream form. It’s a mere fraction of the CBD products available on the market. The British Nutrition Foundation estimates the CBD market to be worth more than the vitamin C and vitamin D supplement markets combined, at £250m. You can find hummus, bottled water, rum, lollies, pasta, vapes, ice cream, cake, beer, pet products and even lube all alleging to contain CBD. There are no CBD DJ products available yet, but you get the feeling it’s only a matter of time before such a gimmick exists. There is a large interest in CBD across dance music, after all.

Take progressive legend Sasha. In March, he took to social media saying how CBD oil has helped him with sleeping, stress and anxiety. Timo Maas can be spotted chiming in positively in the comments. Other artists across electronic music who’ve been vocal about it include ex-Prodigy member Leeroy Thornhill and Dutch techno DJ Minitech.

But few areas in DJ culture seem quite so rife with interest in CBD as drum & bass. One particular afternoon triggered this feature, when three conversations with people in the genre all included CBD. Jack Worforce, one half of SpectraSoul, told us how it helped him with anxiety. Saxxon tell us that thanks to CBD, he's “never been so focused in the studio”. Later the same day, we catch up with Bristol jungle legend Krust about his forthcoming album. Most of our conversation is based around Amma Life, a health and wellbeing company he runs with his partner Sophia that exclusively focuses on CBD supplements such as oils, paste and tea.

“We mainly smoked [cannabis] because of its capacities as the creativity drug. We felt it changed our perception to create art” — DJ KRUST

Drum & bass and jungle have been synonymous with weed culture since the very beginning. The leaf has been a symbol used on logos, flyers and artwork to the point of clichéd oversaturation. Anyone who went to the dubplate cutting business Music House, or any given rave before the smoking ban, will remember the thick clouds of weed smoke. In the past, you had brazen collectives who wore their weed leaf-shaped hearts on their sleeves; Hype and Zinc’s Ganja Kru, or the Full Cycle side-project Dope Dragon.

“What do you think it was named after? The dragon’s blowing smoke and underneath him are loads of ganja leaf tips!” laughs Krust. “It was a message to put out what we were about. It was the opposite of what we did on Full Cycle. Shorter, rougher, very quick sketches for Saturday night damaging. And they were all inspired by — and made on — heavy amounts of weed.”

Drum & bass's relationship with weed is, or certainly was, as strong as hip-hop’s. This is partly down to Jamaican soundsystem culture, from which both genres stem, but Krust also believes it’s because it was anti-establishment. “It wasn’t socially accepted and there was a sense of rebellion with that,” he considers. “But we mainly smoked it because of its capacities as the creativity drug. We felt it changed our perception to create art.”

There are endless weed-based yarns behind your favourite drum & bass records being made. Techstep pioneer DJ Trace, Ed Rush, Nico and Fierce once decorated their studio with neon lights and were so baked when they wrote their ‘Torque’ album on No U-Turn Records that they felt like they “were actually inside the Bladerunner movie”. But as delightful as this trivia is, cannabis’s fabled knack of encouraging creativity can be found in all forms of music through the ages, and is as clichéd as the leaf symbol itself.

“It’s widespread, and potentially helpful, in the creation of any loop-based music,” says Bristol artist Mako. “You’re plugging away at something for hours and weed gets you into those subtleties. They stuck in my mind and those nuances become more apparent, because I was having these experiences while high. But then it became a habitual thing, so I needed to change my relationship with weed.”

CBD & The Endocannabinoid System

Here’s where writing this feature took an interesting turn. The idea was to talk to artists and understand how CBD might have benefited their lifestyle or creative process, but a much more dominant topic kept returning; how regular cannabis use over years has become a crutch, and even a social or mental obstacle.

“It’s a massive thing but no one talks about it. We all hide our weed and spliffs when we do videos or photos online, and I think many of us are in denial about it,” says DLR, another Bristol-based drum & bass artist. Earlier this year, he gave up daily weed smoking for four months. “Part of it was me thinking, ‘When I go away to a gig I don’t want to be pranging out worried I can’t get weed’. In the past I’ve been texting the promoter before I get there. Then it’s like, ‘Have you got it? Have you got it?’ But it’s not arriving till later and it’s all a bit cracky and weird. It’s not a vibe. I know so many people who go through this every time they go away.”

Another reason why DLR experimented with giving up weed was simply down to the fact he’d been smoking it for 15 years, and was wary of the health risks associated with that. But it’s not just artists who’ve been living creative lives for extensive periods who’ve had the realisation that habitual weed use isn’t conducive to career success. Bou — one of the fastest-rising and most respected new artists to emerge in drum & bass in recent years — is only 23-years-old, and has switched to a cleaner lifestyle.

“It had become far too much of a big thing in my life to be healthy,” the Manchester artist explains. “I loved the high and would have great moments of creativity, but then I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on things like mix-downs and often I’d just get paranoid as fuck. The quality of weed on the street is so unpredictable, too. It can be sprayed with chemicals. The final straw was me smoking this zoot and, no word of a lie, I was hearing voices in my head. At that point I was scared and broke into tears. I’m seeing it in close friends, too. They’d rather get stoned and make a tune on their own than come out for a meal or do something with mates. Anything you depend on every day isn’t good for you. Especially when it has such an effect on your brain.”

Bou’s output and accelerated rise could arguably be a reflection of his lifestyle change. He’s not only given up weed but also alcohol, and explains how he takes his career incredibly seriously. It’s a paradigm shift from the forefathers who laid the foundations 20 years ago and didn’t even know if jungle could facilitate any semblance of a lifelong income. Bou’s attitude represents many of his peers in the new generation of artists drum & bass is enjoying, and it mirrors a wider change in attitude toward health that’s evident across the music industry.

“Wellness is the new rock & roll!” laughs Krust. “Look at Goldie doing his yoga. Look at a lot of these younger artists coming through, and they’re not partying as hard as we did. We thought we were invincible for a while, but we’ve seen enough casualties and experienced enough bad health to understand how much of a marathon any career in music is. It’s not a fad, jungle can now spawn careers, the kids are taking that seriously, and a big part of that is a healthy attitude towards lifestyle and health.”

No worries in the dance

“The world is changing,” agrees Dean Heitman, founder of Totally Shredded, a drum & bass-based high impact training workout. He’s the original MC you could see on the Fight Klub d&b fitness viral videos doing the rounds a few years ago. Before he became a personal trainer, he was a drum & bass and garage host known as MC Ash.

“Everyone wants to get fitter and healthier,” he says, “and unless you’re Nicky Blackmarket who just drinks cups of tea all the time, there’s far too much of any type of drug in raving circles. That’s why the scene has a bad name. You can’t have that when you get older and start having responsibilities.”

Dean has also had positive experience with CBD for both physical and mental health symptoms. “I suffer from social anxiety and I also had tendonitis,” he tells us. “Someone recommended CBD, and within three days my tendonitis had disappeared and my anxiety had gone. I’ve reduced what I take daily, but months later I still feel top draw, on top of the world. I can’t remember the last time I felt anxious in public.”

The effect of CBD on anxiety symptoms is also one of the most echoed sentiments throughout all interviews for this feature. Take another new generation artist who’s made a big impact on drum & bass this year; Harriet Jaxxon. An early user of CBD, she’s been taking it regularly since 2013.

“My anxiety was awful, I’d have to run out of the lecturing hall in university,” explains Harriet, who started to experience acute anxiety around the age of 20. “I picked a seat close to the door in case I had that feeling. I felt I couldn’t breathe. It’s crazy to think about it now. Most of the situations I’ve been in through my work now — flying, playing to big crowds, interviews — I wouldn’t have dreamt of being able to do these when I was suffering anxiety.”

CBD: What you need to know

Jack Workforce shares similar experiences, but also considers how CDB isn’t just one isolated secret to a less stressful life. “This is the first year I’ve used it consistently,” says Jack. He was never into weed culture at all, and approaches CBD from a purely therapeutic perspective. “You never know if it’s a mixture of things coming together — diet, exercise, getting more sleep — but when I don’t have CBD, my anxiety noticeably creeps in. It’s not a magic drug, but it does help with my sleep and regulates my flight or fight response. It’s a component of a bigger lifestyle adjustment to combat the stresses and pressures of daily life.”

Stresses and pressures like the emails, Facebook messages, Skype, Slack, phone and doorbells I’m experiencing on that Monday morning, where this story began. Except now I have some CBD weed, and in the following days I have all the paste, oil, cream, capsules, lip balm and tea I need.

But did any of it work? Have we discovered anything besides the obvious fact that too many people in all types of lifestyles rely on an unhealthy daily weed crutch, many more of us are looking to adopt healthier lifestyles, a lot of us suffer social anxiety and depression and visual trends in music (such as drum & bass’s erstwhile fascination with the weed leaf) change over time?

It takes me less than five minutes of receiving the first parcel to start investigating. I choose a random strain and, while it doesn’t quite look like the real deal (less crystals, not so pungent, slightly off-colour), it hits the spot. My shoulders instantly drop. I feel a warmth in my belly and my head feels clear. Any sense of pressure and stress has gone. The mental clarity but physical sedation is disarming but enjoyable, and definitely conducive to focusing and avoiding distractions. 

But to focus on CBD weed is misleading. That’s the experience of a daily cannabis user looking to substitute weed for a CBD flower. In the vast world of CBD products, which is estimated to rise to the value of £1bn by 2025 and has been identified as a product that can potentially help people experiencing so many different conditions and illnesses, that’s a very niche approach. It’s when I came to the widespread digestible forms that there were more tangible benefits.

“This is the first year I’ve used it consistently, you never know if it’s a mixture of things coming together — like diet, exercise, getting more sleep — but when I don’t have CBD, my anxiety noticeably creeps in. It’s not a magic drug, but it does help with my sleep and regulates my flight or fight response. It’s a component of a bigger lifestyle adjustment to combat the stresses and pressures of daily life.” — JACK WORKFORCE

The cream cleared up an old skin issue I’ve had on my leg. A spot of CBD paste before hosting filmed interviews in an intense TV studio led to some of the smoothest and most confident professional experiences I’ve had as a journalist in 20 years. CBD oil at night helped me address erratic sleeping patterns where, like many DJs, I’ve had to turn my body-clock upside down to accommodate the commitments of weekend and weekday life.

Like most of the things you’ll read about CBD, all of this is anecdotal, however. But the more you read about it, the more people you speak to who’ve had positive experiences using CBD, and the more you understand about the human’s endocannabinoid system, the clearer it seems that CDB has some really exciting potential in the future.

Not just in drum & bass, where weed culture is still massively rife, even though its protagonists don’t shout about it quite as much as they used to, or in dance music, but for all lifestyles.