Life & Culture

The magic 
of marijuana — and babka helps too

Can cannabis extract help your anxiety? In hippest Notting Hill, Viola Levy meets a man who says it can


As a beauty journalist, I’m used to hearing all manner of spiel from brand founders who don’t actually know the science behind their products (one memorably informed me that the skin on our neck has “no oil glands”.) So, when I heard that 26-year-old founder Daniel Zemmour had opened a lifestyle boutique called Molecule in Notting Hill centred on CBD — a highly contentious ingredient — I was sceptical. A puff piece this was not going to be.

Walking through its doors, its Millennial-minimal décor (lots of white space, green plants, hexagonal tiles) has a similar look and feel to the likes of goop with a chic coffee bar at the back and a ‘wellness space’ downstairs for yoga and Pilates.

But beyond the glossy furnishings, Zemmour knows his science and readily answered any questions I had without stuttering even once. With his softly spoken Israeli accent and quiet self-assuredness, he makes a stark change from the impish, nervous energy that young entrepreneurs usually exude.

But back to CBD. This non-psychedelic extract of the cannabis plant (tetrahydrocannabinol or ‘THC’ is the psychedelic component) is prized for its ability to quell anxiety, chronic pain and reduce inflammation. Yet it’s had its fair share of detractors due to a lack of industry regulation — despite the CBD industry’s being predicted to be worth $2.3 billion by 2024. Some claim it doesn’t work, while there have been reports of its giving people nausea and terrifying lucid dreams.

Zemmour agrees that the lack of regulation and testing is why people’s experiences of CBD can be varied. He himself was unconvinced when he first tried it, to help cope with burn-out from working in the finance industry. “I spent a ton of money, bought a bunch of products and didn’t feel anything!” he recalls.

However, a highly concentrated version of CBD paste changed his opinion and he was instantly converted. (“After about 15 minutes after trying it, I couldn’t believe how relaxed I felt!”) This prompted him to read up more about CBD, its benefits and how it actually works – and eventually spurred him on to create Molecule, a glossy retail space in Notting Hill — where else? — where CBD lovers could find high quality products in the form of tincture drops, skincare, supplements and teas. “I saw a gap in the market for high quality CBD products which take a scientific approach,” he explains. “A lot of what people are selling is so bad and mislabelled. There’s no testing in place — a lot of brands are white-labelling products or just whacking the term ‘CBD’ on anything and everything.”

After extensive research in New York and LA, Zemmour and his team found 120 CBD brands which they whittled down to 12, all of which have undergone extensive triple-batch testing. Zemmour explains that cannabis works by targeting brain receptors, which signal to the central nervous system and other body parts to either get more switched on or to relax. “THC and CBD have the same molecular structure pretty much,” he illustrates. “THC agonises the nervous system, but the right amount of CBD relaxes you and helps reduce anxiety, which a lot of our customers have.” He tells me how CBD also reduces the body’s T-cell count (T-cells are responsible for triggering inflammation), which is why it’s prized for inflammatory conditions like arthritis, acne and eczema.

Entrepreneurship is in Zemmour’s blood. Born in Israel, he moved to the UK aged seven, where his family ran and owned several delis and restaurants including North-West London institution Roni’s. Speaking Hebrew at home, his family were very traditional, (he still goes round for Friday night dinners) and he travelled back and forth to Israel to visit family and friends. It was an Israeli cousin who first introduced him to CBD (popular in the region due to the unsurprisingly high rates of anxiety). He also saw how his late-grandfather’s final years battling illness were made a lot happier and more comfortable after being prescribed marijuana (as with the UK, cannabis is illegal in Israel but is allowed for specified medical usage.)

As a British-Israeli Jew living in London, he’s used to being expected to answer for Israel’s foreign policy. “I try not to get involved,” he replies stoically. “I’m very open to others’ opinions but sometimes I can’t explain to them why I feel a certain way about the situation. A lot of my customers don’t know I’m Israeli — I’ve learnt it’s best to keep a low profile. The reaction isn’t always good when people find out.”

Faced with such prejudice, he did what many Jews have done for centuries — kept his head down and focused on building his business. While a lot of companies folded during lockdown, Zemmour’s shrewd business savvy kept them afloat which he attributes to being brought up to “prepare for the worst”. Having a coffee shop at the back of the store (with the tastiest babka buns you will ever try) helped, as it meant they were allowed to stay open for most of the lockdown.

Some people might still have reservations about CBD, but Molecule’s growing fan base speaks for itself. (And let’s face it, if their products didn’t work, they wouldn’t still be in business after such a challenging year.) I chat to Maggie, their sales advisor who is herself a former customer. She waxes lyrical on the benefits of CBD skincare, and how ranges like Electric Daisy transformed her problem skin. (She does have the complexion of a movie star to be fair.) I try the Grön CBD clay mask they kindly give me to try later that night — and admittedly it does make a huge difference to my hormonal breakouts the next morning. They could be on to something here. Those who are in the least bit curious should definitely pay Molecule a visit. If you remain unconvinced, you should still try their babka buns — which are little slices of heaven.

103a Westbourne Grove, London W2 4UW /

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