A BUSINESSWOMAN who forged an unlikely friendship with Peter Howson during treatment for anorexia as a teenager has the Glasgow artist to thank, in part, for a new venture that could make her a millionaire.
Emma O’Neil, 30, set up La Rue Verte, the UK’s first spa brand range harnessing the increasingly recognised therapeutic benefits of Cannabidiol or CBD, a non-psychoative compound found in the Cannabis plant.
Ms O’Neil, who is also an art collector, financed the start-up by selling one of Howson’s paintings for £45,000, the culmination of a long-standing friendship with the artist.
She now boasts a client list that includes Bond actress Eva Green, her products are stocked in 70 UK pharmacies and she has a spa partnership with the five-star hotel chain that owns Glasgow’s Kimpton Blythswood.
Online sales of her CBD products have soared by 300% during the pandemic, she says, mainly for the high-strength concentrated tincture, requested by those experiencing sleeping problems and increased anxiety, which is normally administered with a few drops under the tongue.
The CBD market is currently worth a cool £300 million in the UK, a figure that is expected to more than triple in the next five years, helped by celebrity endorsements including golfer Tiger Woods who is said to take a few drops before important games.
Ms O’Neill, who lives in Lenzie and has two young children, was hospitalised several times for anorexia when she was 15, at one point dropping to around three stones and says this experience probably led her to where she is now.
“What that (anorexia) allowed me to do was to look at self-care and what it means to look after your own health, your mind, your body and your emotions,” she said.
An unexpected turning point she says, was being gifted a Peter Howson painting while she was undergoing intensive treatment for anorexia at the Priory hospital in Glasgow.
“I was gifted a painting by Peter Howson from a family friend called The Third Step that depicts a man almost in ruin, dragging himself up to salvation almost,” said Ms O’Neil.
“I’m not particularly religious but all the connotations of strength and courage were depicted in that and it started from there.
“I developed a bit of a relationship with Peter Howson, I used to write to him sending him paragraphs of what I was going through. He would create pieces of art that coincided with the paragraphs and he visited me the odd time in hospital.
“In order for us to start the CBD company, I needed capital. I sold Agony in the Garden which was a large 6ft by 7ft oil on canvas and depicts a man leaning over in a spiritual position in a garden.
“It doesn’t have the grotesque nature that a lot of Peter Howson paintings have, it’s very peaceful.”
CBD is thought to have an impact on the Endocannabinoid system of the body, which remains under preliminary research, but is thought to be involved in regulating physiological and cognitive processes including mood, appetite, pain-sensation, memory and fertility.
Ms O’Neil mentions that the system is now included in the curriculum for student doctors – her brother is studying medicine at Glasgow University.
She set up the company Hashtag Organics around five years ago after studying the Canadian stock market and noticing that bulletins for CBD companies ‘kept coming up.’
“It just wasn’t a thing in the UK market at that time, or even really in Europe and it piqued my interest.” she said.
“We knew that people were really interested in it so it was about making that acceptable to the UK market. We wanted to keep it away from the drug paraphernalia, Rastafarian images. It’s science backed.
“We can’t make any medical claims but if you look at the science, CBD stimulates the Endocannabinoid system, which regulates things like mood, fertility, sleep, pain and memory.
“If you are going to take a CBD tincture oil then those are the type of things you are going to see affected positively, if you use the right product at the right dose.
“It’s a food supplement so we have to go in with the best intentions and make it clear it’s not a medicine and we are not here to cure people.”
Ms O’Neil launched a partnership with the Kimpton Blythswood Hotel February to provide treatments including massage incorporating CBD products and says online sales of her products have soared.
She said: “Our online sales grew by 300% in lockdown, mainly from the tincture oils. People were struggling with sleeping and anxiety.
“Eva Green bought from us – it’s nice to get paying customers like that when you aren’t just sending it as a promo.”
She now plans to launch another partnership that will see treatment rooms added to UK pharmacies and says this endorsement is evidence of CBD’s growing credibility.
She said: “In endorsing CBD, it’s not just a massive revenue booster but it’s also a very ethical approach to human care.”