An Emirati start-up has become the first company in the UAE to offer products containing CBD oil.
Such products were banned in the UAE because cannabidiol, or CBD, is extracted from the same plant that produces marijuana, which, like all narcotics, is strictly prohibited.
But Jassim Al Nowais, founder and CEO of Glow Destination, went to the very top to argue that CBD oil is not only harmless but beneficial for a host of medical conditions – and his own experience proved it.
“For years I suffered badly from severe eczema and it really took a toll on me. I couldn’t sleep properly,” he told The Livehealthy Podcast. “I tried different medications containing cortisone but the eczema would come back worse than ever after five or six days. The more cortisone you apply, the more severe the flare-up. You sort of get addicted to the cortisone but it doesn’t deal with the problem.
“I saw several doctors and they all said I either had to start having injections or I have to live with it.”
Jassim was introduced to CBD in 2019 on a trip to Los Angeles. He and two friends went to have breakfast at one of their favorite spots.
“When placing our orders, the gentleman taking our order asked us if we would like to add CBD oil into our acai,” he said. “We all refused, thinking that it will get us high.”
During the pandemic a friend suggested he try CBD cream and gave him a tube brought from abroad. “After a month, my eczema was gone and though it came back two to three months later, it was much milder than before,” said Jassim.
He started using it all over his body, even the parts where he did not usually get eczema, including his face. “To this day I have never had eczema on my face, and in the places where I do get it, it is much less severe,” he said. He was so impressed that he became determined to set up a company that would sell it.
“My thought was, this is actually working for me, so it can work for others, and I began researching.”
The main hurdle in his quest was a big one: CBD was illegal in the UAE.
“The first step was to go through the proper channels and persuade the authorities that CBD is a safe substance permitted by the World Health Organization and by the Food and Drug Administration in the US,” said Jassim. “The cannabis plant has two main components – CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the part that gives you a high. CBD contains no THC and is in no way hallucinogenic.”
Jassim, who is a business management graduate from the American University of Dubai and who had previously launched an app development business, had several meetings with the authorities and presented himself as a test case. “We got the product ready and showed them that I had used it on myself. We showed before and after pictures and explained how this product was not how people perceive it – it is actually very beneficial.”
The authorities took samples of his CBD cream to test in their own laboratories. Within six months, the official approval came through and Jassim’s company became the first in the UAE to market CBD products.
“It was quite a long process but we didn’t mind as long as the authorities were fully satisfied that it was 100 percent harmless,” he said.
So why is CBD oil beneficial? “It contains a lot of antioxidants and antibacterial components that fight against irritants in the body,” said Jassim.
CBD is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial to all essentially inflammatory conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea (redness of the skin) and can even be used as an anti-ageing treatment.
CBD products are now a proud – and very popular – addition to Glow Destination‘s range of 100 percent natural, organic and cruelty-free products, including creams for the face, body and muscular aches. They aren’t the cheapest, but as Jassim said: “You are investing in your skin and in your health. Price should not really be a limitation.”
The website lists the many benefits of CBD but also makes it very plain that applying CBD to the skin “will not get you high.”
After his breakthrough, Jassim is sure the market is open for new opportunities and, just as importantly, so are the UAE authorities.
“It takes persistence, but if you work with the authorities and go through the right channels to make your case and prove your point, they will hear you out. In the end they are here to help entrepreneurs.”
During that 2019 breakfast in LA, Jassim and his friends had discussed whether CBD products would ever be allowed in the UAE.
“Both without doubt agreed that it would never happen,” he said. “I told them defiantly it would happen within the next five years. And now I made it happen in less than two years.”
Jassim Al Nowais was a guest on the Livehealthy podcast on May 26, 2021.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.