CBD got you in a daze? We sit down with Toshiki Inoue, CEO of the brand Chillaxy, for his personal insights after three years of running one of Japan’s first CBD companies.

Chemistry is tough, but to put it simply, Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the hundreds of chemical compounds (also known as cannabinoids) found in the Cannabis sativa plant. The dried flowers, leaves, and stems of the Cannabis sativa plant are often referred to as marijuana, as well as other colorful nicknames (weed, pot, grass, etc.).

CBD does not produce any psychoactive effects — frankly speaking, it doesn’t get you high. However, its compound counterpart Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does. In fact, THC is one of the chief psychoactive components of marijuana and is illegal in Japan (more on what is and isn’t illegal below).

CBD: The hype

The company’s name comes from “chill” and “relax”. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

CBD is an ingredient used in many wellness and recreational products because of its apparent health benefits regarding sleep disorders, anxiety, and skin problems.

While research into CBD is limited, there are some studies that point to its calming effect on the mind. For example, this review citing 17 studies (published in Frontiers in Pharmacology) concluded that CBD enhanced performance in some cognitive tasks. In this study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research, many users reported that CBD helped their sleep and reduced stress.

As for CBD being officially regulated as a medical treatment, the medicinal product Epidiolex, which treats seizures, is currently approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How is this legal in Japan?

Toshiki Inoue says it himself: “Japanese cannabis law is very, very complicated.”

“There are two laws that we have to monitor,” he continues, “the Cannabis Control Act and [what is defined as] the actual narcotics.”

Inoue is referring to the Cannabis Control Act as well as The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan (MHLW). The MHLW is able to update what drugs are classified as harmful through ministerial ordinances. The change of the latter can happen quickly and affect laws that may prohibit the use of a drug. This happened with the newly discovered cannabinoid THC-O, which was deemed hazardous and banned in March 2023.

What is the Cannabis Control Act?

The Cannabis Control Act was first established in 1948 and defines what is and isn’t illegal when it comes to cannabis in Japan.

Cannabis under the Cannabis Control Act is defined as “…the cannabis plant (Cannabis Sativa, L.) and its products. However, the grown stalk of the cannabis plant and its products and the seed of the cannabis plant and its products are excluded.”

This distinction is important because this makes growing industrial hemp legal in Japan (provided it doesn’t produce THC). The stalk is used to make shimenawa rope — the braided rope you’ll often find in Shinto shrines — and hemp seeds can also be found in shichimi, a common spice mixture.

The stalk of the Cannais sativa plant is often used to make traditional ropes found in shrines. | Photo by Getty Images

While possession of cannabis can get you five years in prison, surprisingly, there are no laws against actually using it (as of July 2023). This was originally decided to protect farmers who might accidentally ingest cannabis as they cultivate the plant. However, current lawmakers are trying to change this.

“Which part of the plant [the product] is made of is a big factor,” says Inoue. “As a CBD supplier, as long as we can prove to the Ministry of Health that these cannabinoids are from stems and seeds, and it doesn’t contain THC, we can sell and import.”

Will cannabis ever be legal in Japan?

Toshiki Inoue believes there will be a time when cannabis is decriminalized in Japan. “I don’t think it’s going to happen in two or three years, “ he says. “But five to 10 years is very likely. It may take a longer time than other countries.”

Inoue isn’t new to cannabis, having spent his teenage years in Canada, he found it was common for people to use marijuana despite its illegality at the time — Canada legalized recreational and medicinal cannabis use in 2018.

“I always had a question, why was this so illegal [in Japan]?” Inoue goes on to explain that people in Japan have a general negative bias towards anything even loosely related to cannabis. Instead of falling in line, he “…thought it was a big business chance.”

Inoue has a strong history in equity investments, so he has a track record of foreseeing trends.

“I saw a global trend that was picking up with cannabis, not just CBD, but cannabis in general,” he explains. “As an investor who has been investing in Japan for a long time, I always see that trend — Japan always follows; we’re always five to 10 years behind the US market.”

Starting a CBD business in Japan

cbd vending machine
It is tough to find locations for Chillaxy CBD vending machines. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

“This business is nothing but difficulty, ” explains Toshiki Inoue. “Number one is regulation. Japanese cannabis law is very, very complicated. Just to unwind the law itself takes time, then it’s unwinding it and implementing it in a legal way. Just importing CBD is another step.”

Inoue found that even a simple task like opening a bank account was fraught with challenges as people still saw CBD as a drug. “It’s not even psychoactive but banks still see it as high risk.”

Every single step in the process had hurdles, such as renting property for stores and starting an e-commerce website to sell CBD. “CBD was still brand new to the Japanese. Especially when cannabis is perceived as negative. There was also that challenge.”

“I see it as a risk, but I also see it as an opportunity, “ continues Inoue. “This business is so hard in terms of constraints. No smart person would try and start this as a business.”

The future

The future may not be clear for a company beholden to the ever-changing drug laws in Japan, but Inoue believes Chillaxy will thrive.

“My target for this company is to be the biggest cannabis — not just CBD — player in Asia. I want to make this company the cannabis version of Supreme,” proclaims Inoue.

He goes on to explain the global potential of Chillaxy. While already having a store in Bangkok, they want to open stores in all the major cities in the world, such as New York and Toronto.

“I want to capture the cultural aspects of cannabis, CBD, and cannabinoids,” he says.

Who uses CBD?

The Yokohama Chillaxy store gets a wide range of clientele. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

It has been three years since Toshiki Inoue started Chillaxy and since then he’s had some interesting insights into who is purchasing his products.

“My customer base is pretty well mixed,” he says. “More than 50% are in their 20s and 30s. But there are also those in their 40s and 50s.”

He noticed the motivation behind visits differs depending on age group. The older clientele tends to visit for wellness purposes — such as getting better sleep or skin problems — but the younger generation has other things on their minds.

“The young kids are looking to get stoned or high… but it is also an alternative to drinking alcohol or smoking,” Inoue says. He mentions that young Japanese people tend not to drink or smoke nowadays — a fact that contributed to the controversial Sake Viva! Campaign in 2022.

Other factors include their exposure to cannabis culture through social media and the growing popularity of hip-hop in Japan.

Chillaxy’s products and stores

CBD can be smoked, topically applied, and ingested. Chillaxy has you covered on all fronts and even offers a range of products that you may not see in other stores. Here’s a taster of what’s up for grabs.

“The big categories are vape cartridges, edibles, topical skin care, and tincture,” says Inoue. As well as these, Chillaxy also sells coffee, cannabis-themed apparel (with new lines coming soon), and products from other brands.

Disclaimer: Chillaxy provides a certificate of assurance (COA) at the raw ingredient level. Some products may produce unwanted effects, so you may want to double-check with a health professional before purchasing.

Vapes

Disposable vapes are popular amongst tourists. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

Chillaxy sells three types of vapes: disposable, with a 1-to-2 day use; a refillable standard 510 battery; and a CBD Vape DART-X, which is small enough to fit into your pocket. There are various flavors and types — some recommended for recreation and some for wellness — so go in-store to find out what is suitable for you.

Tinctures (oils)

You can put it under your tongue. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

Tinctures are made from extracted CBD that is then diluted into coconut oil. You put a few drops under your tongue and let it sit for 10 to 20 seconds. This is meant to promote a good night’s rest.

Edibles

Sweet tooth? | Photo by Alex Ziminski

For those who don’t smoke, edibles are a comfortable way to figure out what CBD is all about. Chillaxy stocks vegan-friendly gummies and fruit-flavored candies, as well as “mellow” chocolate and other sweet products.

Note: Chillaxy warns that some of the edibles are very strong and should not be taken lightly.

Where to buy CBD in Tokyo

Chillaxy’s Asakusa store is built to chill. | Photo by Chillaxy

Chillaxy has stores in Asakusa, Harajuku, Azabu Jūban , and Yokohama. On top of that, there is also a thriving online store and a few vending machines dotted about.

While the Harajuku shop is currently the most popular — especially amongst foreign tourists — it is still quite small. For those who’d like to truly chill, CEO Toshiki Inoue suggests visiting the recently opened Asakusa shop as it is more spacious, has seats, and even has a balcony.

Inoue recommends making a trip to any one of their stores, where there will be English explanations and products to try, to see what suits them. After discovering your preference, you can then buy from their online shop — and receive a 10% discount if you buy 3 products or more.

CBD and THC Glossary

A handy cannabinoid glossary for those lost in the weeds.

  • Cannabis: products derived from the plant Cannabis sativa.
  • Hemp: products derived from Cannabis sativa that contain low levels of THC.
  • Marijuana: often used interchangeably with cannabis, but technically is meant to refer to parts of the Cannabis sativa plant that contain a lot of THC.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): one of the main compounds of cannabis with psychotropic effects.
  • Cannabinoids: any of the more than 100 chemical compounds found in cannabis.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD): the key cannabinoid derived from hemp stems and leaves with high pharmacological effects, but not psychotropic.

Broad-spectrum CBD contains only CBD as the active compound. Full-spectrum CBD contains various cannabinoid compounds including CBD and other nutrients. Remember to take a look at our full glossary below for more definitions.

  • Cannabichromene (CBC): a type of cannabinoid said to be higher in antibacterial, analgesic (pain reduction), and antidepressant properties than others.
  • Cannabigerol (CBG): a cannabinoid thought to suppress tumor growth and to help with bone formation.
  • Cannabinol (CBN): has antibacterial and analgesic properties, helps with bone formation, and specifically insomnia.
  • CBD isolate powder: a crystallized powder derived from refining only one cannabinoid component such as CBD or CBG. It tends to be 97% pure with no other cannabinoids or terpenes. Opinions vary on its effectiveness.
  • CBD liquid: a liquid made by mixing vegetable glycerine (VG), propylene glycerin (PG), and/or MCT oil with extracted CBD compound.
  • Terpenes: a general term for fat-soluble organic compounds found in plants, insects, and fungi that also have a distinctive smell. CBD terpenes are thought to help with inflammation and chronic pain.
  • Vape: using an electronic cigarette or vape pen to heat and evaporate liquid ingredients for inhaling.

Find out more about Chillaxy on their website, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Filed under: Cafés | Living
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