Behind the Scenes With LabCanna's Sarah and Derek Besenius

Sarah and Derek Besenius, along with Sarah's brother and co-founder, Matt Chapman, own and oversee the day-to-day operations of LabCanna, a vertically aligned cannabis company that grows and produces quality hemp and CBD products under the brand TenneCBD. “It’s all hands on deck all the time,” says Sarah. They are as likely to be found in the office as harvesting hemp on the farm or trimming plants in their 10,000-square-foot indoor grow and genetic research facility.

The company, an early participant in the Tennessee Department of Agriculture's Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program, holds the state's very first hemp processing license and one of the first hemp grower licenses. Plants are organically grown on the family farm owned by Sarah and Matt’s mom — Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Amy Grant — whose support of her kids extends to posting on her social media about their work.

Sarah and Derek can personally attest to the benefits of cannabinoids and CBD. In March 2016, they were in a horrific car accident that left Sarah seriously injured and Derek with a grim prognosis due to traumatic brain injury. They attribute a lot of Derek’s full recovery to consistent use of CBD while he was recuperating, and Sarah also used it to successfully overcome lingering effects from the wreck.

As a result, LabCanna is on a mission to improve lives through cannabis. “This plant is meant for all of us,” says Derek as he explains LabCanna Cares, a needs-based discount program, and their involvement with Sounds of Acoustic Recovery, a nonprofit helping veterans through music. We sat down with this busy couple to learn about their volunteer efforts, their favorite products and more about CBD.

What is CBD? CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of over 100 cannabinoids present in the hemp plant (scientific name: Cannabis sativa L.). CBD has been majorly popularized by the media over the past several years, primarily for its holistic, therapeutic effects and seemingly limitless applications for health and wellness. 

What’s the most misunderstood thing about CBD? That it doesn’t work! CBD doesn't necessarily have an immediate effect or impact for everyone, and dosage varies drastically from person to person. We recommend individuals get into their own personal CBD dosage routine and self-monitor for the effects. Trials and research are now being undertaken on an international scale, which will provide much more concrete information on the full impacts of CBD — and, hopefully, all cannabinoids — as they are being discovered.

What are the benefits of using CBD? CBD promotes equilibrium and homeostasis within your body by working with your endocannabinoid system. This system is found in all vertebrates and is responsible for regulating a variety of functions, including neurotransmission, mood, appetite, nerve function, addiction, inflammation and metabolism. Scientists have discovered that there is a direct correlation between overall well-being and the presence of cannabinoids in your body. CBD and other phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids that are produced in the cannabis plant) can mimic or interact with the cannabinoids naturally found in your body to help you maintain balance and overall health.

What products are under the TenneCBD brand, and what’s most popular? We produce tinctures, topicals, gummies, smokable hemp and pet products, all available at our store, LabCanna East, and our website, labcanna.com. Formula Black, a CBD isolate tincture that contains zero THC, was our first product and remains the most popular. Formula Green Plus, our strongest full spectrum tincture, is a close second.

What’s your favorite CBD product to use? TenneCBD Formula Green Plus. There are many products out there that advertise their high potency but not many that address the true bioavailability of the CBD. All TenneCBD tinctures are formulated with specific carrier oils that increase the bioavailability and membrane transfer of the active ingredient — in this case, CBD. 

What would you recommend to someone interested in trying CBD for the first time? Start low, move slow and have patience. Considering research is still being conducted regarding dosage of CBD, being aware of its impacts [on you] is very important and will allow you to maximize the benefits. We generally recommend two weeks of consistent usage before making your determination on whether or not to increase your dosage or try another product.

What is important to know when purchasing CBD products? Identifying the right product comes down to safety, efficacy and traceability. Look for batch numbers and current test results, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many products advertise a certain potency that may not be backed by third-party test results. Other companies increase the size of their products while maintaining the same potency. It's important to check how many milligrams of CBD are in each recommended dose to see if you're paying for the relief you're looking for. Considering there is still no regulatory body policing these products, it is up to the product manufacturer to maintain quality control and publish test results and, unfortunately, also up to the user to hold those producers accountable.

What is Sounds of Acoustic Recovery (SOAR), and what do you do with them? SOAR is a nonprofit that offers guitar courses to veterans, providing each student with a free guitar to keep. Their mission is to create a welcoming community through sharing musical experiences. We learned about the organization from my mom (Amy Grant), who knows the founder, Mike Byer, and hosts (pre-COVID) retreats at the farm, where they pair the guitar students with local songwriters. She suggested adding our products to the retreats when reports came out about the positive impacts of CBD on PTSD. The retreats are only a couple of times a year, and we wanted [participants] to be able to use our products throughout the year. Now, when veterans sign up for classes, they have a chance to try a bottle of Formula Black for free and receive a card entitling them to one free bottle each month. It’s great seeing the same names come through ordering their monthly bottle! 

When you have out-of-town guests visiting, where do you take them? Bare Bones Butcher on 51st Avenue in West Nashville. Derek’s father is from Luxembourg, and across the pond, having your local butcher is a necessity. Bare Bones has an amazing selection of top-quality beef cuts, pork options, sausages and, in my opinion, some of the best meat-heavy meal options available in Nashville. I’d venture to say they have the best meatball sub in Nashville, and that’s saying something, coming from a New Yorker.

What’s your favorite locally made product? We’re both heavy users of TenneCBD’s Alleviate balm. You won’t find us without a tin. When it comes to shopping for gifts, our go-to spot is ABLE on Centennial Boulevard. They have an inspiring mission and make beautiful jewelry, as well as leather goods.

For some peace and quiet, where do you like to go or what do you like to do? Just taking a stroll in our home neighborhood or work neighborhood with the dogs and each other has been fantastic. Getting familiar with the places you spend a majority of your waking hours is very grounding and creates a sense of gratefulness. Breathing in your local air, noticing your surroundings, running into neighbors and just shooting the breeze really creates a connection to the things that are so easy to overlook.

What local event have you missed most during the pandemic? Watching the Preds play! Of course, we miss the energy of Bridgestone, but watching a game with friends at a bar would be just as good. A close second would be Bonnaroo. We typically go as a family and have [missed] making those memories together this year.

What are you currently reading? Oh, boy… I think, collectively, we’re currently reading about nine books, half of which are professional, three of which are to expand our understanding of the civil liberties and injustices in our societies and one fantasy series called The Wheel of Time. It is a 14-book series, with the shortest [being] roughly 600 pages. It’s not for the faint of heart. We’ve actually been reading this series together since before we got married.

What was your most recent Nashville celebrity sighting? Sarah: Momma!

What trait do you admire most in others? Integrity and tenacity equally.

What person has influenced your life the most? Derek: Honestly? My wife. I never understood how married couples were able to give a speech or write a card that looks as though Mr. Hallmark wrote it himself. That was until we experienced all of the trials and tribulations of running a business. 

Sarah: That’s a tough answer to follow! I have to say my husband. Not just because he said me, but because of the impact our shared experiences have had on the trajectory of our lives. Before we got married, we were in a near-fatal car accident that really put life in perspective for both of us. We both broke bones, but Derek’s future was hanging in the balance for longer than I’d like to remember. We credit Derek’s incredible recovery to CBD, which fuels our passion to continue on this journey.

Both: And of course, our parents, for all of the encouragement and support to follow this wild dream. We wouldn’t be the people we are today without their influence. 

What’s the one thing you hope never changes in Nashville? The sense of community. True Nashvillians are there for their neighbors, and I think we’ve seen a lot of that this year. I hope that, no matter how big this little town gets, the compassion and care for our neighbors never fades.