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updated: 12/16/2019 11:10 AM

Constable: Cannabidiol chemist inspired by grandma's plea for weed

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  • Video: Wife's illness led to CBD biz


When Shannon Tor was in high school, his grandmother asked him to fix her up with some good stuff.

"She asked me to buy her some weed," remembers Tor, who ended up not purchasing illegal marijuana for his grandmother. She wasn't going to smoke it, but wanted him to soak the plant in alcohol and rub it on her sore knee. "It's an old Indian recipe," she told him.

Now 45 years old, an analytical chemist and an owner of a beauty product line, Tor embraces his grandma's logic.

"Here," Tor says, holding a jar of the cannabidiol (CBD) lotion he manufactures in his Tor Salon Products lab in Mundelein, "is the product my grandma asked me to make when I was 17."

If his grandmother inspired him to make CBD products, his wife, Tina, convinced him they could work. After giving birth to their daughter, Maddie, nine years ago, Tina was having issues with her new Crohn's disease diagnosis when the Tors went on a skiing trip to Colorado, where medical marijuana was legal.

"She hadn't had a regular meal in six months. She had gone through 12 or 13 medications," remembers Tor, who gave her a CBD pill before bed. "The next morning she woke up and said, 'I want a pizza so bad I could die.'"

CBD is one of more than 100 compounds from the hemp plant, but contains very little of the psychoactive THC, which produces the high of marijuana, Tor says.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and opened the door for a wide variety of CBD products, including gummy bears, lollipops, oils, lotions, fast-food hamburger toppings and beer. But the only FDA-approved drug containing cannabis-derived CBD is Epidiolex, which is used to treat seizures. Other CBD products aren't allowed to make health claims, as the FDA currently is hosting hearings and looking at studies.

"When I was growing up, it was very bad, very bad, very bad," Tina Tor says of anything having to do with marijuana. "Now, surprise, surprise."

She takes cannabidiol daily and says her Crohn's disease is in remission and that she no longer takes an anti-anxiety drug. A paper published on the website of the National Institutes of Health says CBD shows promise but also raises concerns. "Future studies must further explore the benefit-risk profile of medical cannabis use," the study concludes.

A 1996 graduate of Illinois State University with a degree in chemistry, Tor worked in pharmaceuticals and for a couple of steel manufacturers before taking a job with Avon Products, the beauty and personal care company. From there he moved to Alberto-Culver, where he was global research and development manager for hair products, and to Carma Laboratories, maker of the Carmex lip balm.

"My entire life, I was trying to start a company. It was always in the cards to try it," says Tor, who incorporated Tor Salon & Spa Products on Sept. 11, 2015. He started with three shampoos and three conditioners. He added cannabidiol products this year. Tor sells cannabidiol lotions and massage oils, concentrated liquid extracts, and a roll-on pain reliever.

Tor says the roll-on CBD allowed his stepfather, a retired cinder-block mason, to make a fist and move his fingers easily for the first time in years. Tor gave CBD to his father, a dentist who was complaining of shoulder pain. He promised his dubious dad he'd phone him on the way home to marvel at how well it worked, and he did. The Tors' daughter, a competitive skier, uses the topical CBD and says it eases muscle pains.

"The long and short is, it soothes our bodies," Tor says.

Buying all his CBD from scientists, Tor says the $5,000-a-pound price tag makes it "the most expensive ingredient I've every worked with." A batch in his 8-gallon pot costs $10,000 to make. But he's selling the products, priced from $95 to $145, in spas and online in an ever-expanding CBD market.

Some people see no benefits from CBD. Others hail it as a miracle product. And everyone calls for more research.

"I think the future of CBD will be in anti-aging. The bandwidth of CBD in personal care is huge," Tor says. "It's an amazing thing. We should take advantage of it."