ST. PETERSBURG — Prolific pitchman Anthony Sullivan has earned television renown as the commercial spokesman for a long list of products, including OxiClean, Smart Mop and Nutrisystem.
Now, the St. Petersburg resident has added a line of cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD, to that list.
But unlike those other products, he is doing more than marketing the CBD.
Sullivan founded a company to produce the oil, named MONTKUSH, with organic hemp that he and a partner grew on a farm they own and built with their own hands.
The venture was inspired by CBD’s positive impact on his daughter’s health, fueled by a possible midlife crisis and nearly foiled by a lack of farming experience.
All the while, television cameras rolled, capturing what Sullivan, 51, called “a fish out of water experience” he says will one day become a reality show.
“I am a marketing guy and knew the easiest way for me to get into this is to go to a lab, toss a white label on something there and call it Sullivan’s CBD,” he said. “But I thought, if I am going to do this, I want to know everything that goes into the process" by farming the hemp from seed to fully bloomed plant and then creating the oil.
CBD is extracted from hemp but does not produce the high of marijuana.
Some people believe it provides relief from pain and anxiety and is a useful treatment for ailments such as seizures and high blood pressure. Still, doctors and scientists say more testing is needed before it can be declared so medically effective.
Sullivan admits he was among the CBD doubters until he saw what it did for his now 9-year-old daughter, Devon.
Named for his hometown of Devon, England, Sullivan said her development is negatively affected by a genetic disorder so rare it does not have a name.
“She doesn’t talk,” Sullivan said. “But I can communicate with her in other ways and she is this amazing little human being who is vibrant and thinks the world is fantastic.”
The seizures started when she was 7, Sullivan said. She was prescribed a medication, which he would not name, to alleviate the episodes but it “erased her personality.”
“I could wave my hand in front of her face and it felt like no one was there,” he said. “She lost 20 percent of her body weight and her skin turned ashy.”
Her mother, St. Petersburg-based psychologist Brett Stone, suggested they try CBD oil instead of the pharmaceutical.
“My first reaction was no. I ignorantly thought my daughter would be walking around high,” Sullivan said. “But her mother has a Ph.D. and is a great mother, so I trusted her.”
The Food and Drug Administration’s website says Epidolex is the only pharmaceutical containing CBD that the federal agency has approved for treating seizures.
“That means FDA has concluded that this particular drug product is safe and effective for its intended use,” according to the website.
Sullivan declined to say which CBD his daughter initially took.
“I’m not a doctor and can’t talk about the science,” Sullivan said. “But I know it worked" because her seizures stopped and her personality returned.
About a year later, Sullivan traveled to Vermont to see a friend’s latest investment: a hemp farm.
“It was Labor Day 2018,” Sullivan said. “I found myself standing in the middle of this hemp field with 25 acres of cannabis plants in full bloom. It was quite the sight. I was blown away by it and thought, ‘I want to do this too. It can help my daughter.' And I was looking for a new challenge. Most guys buy a sports car during their midlife crisis. I started a hemp farm."
In January 2019, Sullivan and another friend, Dave Christian of Philadelphia, partnered on a 116-acre former dairy farm in Plainfield, Vt., that they named Mont Kush after the Kush strain of hemp they grow.
They transformed the property by adding roads, six Airstreams for offices and residences, three 3,000-square-foot greenhouses and a 2-million-gallon retention and irrigation pond.
Sullivan estimates they spent $3 million.
But the duo admits money could not help them overcome one obstacle.
“Neither of us had ever farmed,” Christian said with a laugh. “The locals thought we were crazy.”
They considered turning the operation over to experienced farmers “but decided we wanted to do it on our own,” Sullivan said. “I come from the very sterile world of television. I wanted to suffer through this. I wanted to get dirt under my fingernails.”
He also figured it would make a great television show about “two guys trying to start a business when they had no idea what they were doing," so Sullivan hired a camera crew to document the adventure.
Christian owned a water damage restoration company that operated in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida. He sold it so he could stay in Vermont full time and oversee the eight-employee operation.
Sullivan split time between the farm and his television duties in St. Petersburg.
Early on, they almost lost the crop because their warehouses, where seeds are planted, were too humid.
“I thought I created a wonderful environment for the plants to grow,” Christian said. “But I also created a wonderful place for fungus to grow on the plants.”
They were able to acquire enough organic neem oil to kill the fungus and save the crop.
Preparing the 65 acres of meadows for 75,000 plants was more difficult, they said.
The farm is 5 miles from Barre, Vt., the self-proclaimed granite capital of the world.
“Locals told us our farm grew rocks,” Christian said. “We thought it was a joke until we got into the fields.”
More than 5,000 rocks, some the size of “car engines,” Sullivan said, were lurking beneath the soil and had to be pulled before they could plant the crop.
“It was an epic battle of man versus rocks,” Christian laughed.
The seeds were planted in the greenhouse on May 9 and the baby plants were transported to the meadow on June 9. The first of the 75,000 4- to 6-foot-high plants were harvested on Sept. 2.
Those plants created the CBD oil available online at MontKush.com.
Sullivan said his daughter now uses his oil and he has a sense of pride he has not felt in years.
“It’s been the biggest adventure of my life outside of coming to America when I was 23,” he said. “We persisted and we succeeded.”