With the popularity of CBD products booming nationwide, the hemp-derived compound is now often found in oils, balms and gummies, but a “hemperoni” pizza is set to make its local debut.

For the past seven months, Pizza Mia co-owners John and Mel Jennings researched and developed the pizza that has CBD isolate mixed into the cheese and is topped with young hemp leaves as if they were pepperoni, bacon or mushrooms.

A few hurdles remain, but their hope is to add it to the menu of their Bellefonte-based eatery in about two weeks. If all goes according to plan, John Jennings said it will be a seasonal item that is offered from late summer to December.

“I get it. It’s hip and it’s cool and it’s avant-garde and it’s borderline edgy and somewhat naughty,” John Jennings said. “But for me, it’s been a journey about health.”

Talking about the pizza publicly, he said, is something that “terrified” him because hemp looks similar to marijuana. The difference is CBD does not cause a high like marijuana does.

Marijuana has low levels of CBD, but is higher in THC, which is the compound that gives pot its high. Hemp is the opposite.

Pizza Mia co-owner John Jennings eats a slice of “hemperoni” pizza on Wednesday. Pizza Mia is hoping to add the product to its menu in the upcoming weeks. Abby Drey [email protected]

CBD, which can be extracted from hemp, is often sold as a dietary supplement or included in creams and other personal care products and has been increasing in popularity. Businesses are also getting more creative with how it’s used, with The Phryst in downtown State College recently introducing a line of CDB-infused cocktails, the Daily Collegian reported.

John Jennings referred to hemp as “the more benign cousin” of marijuana.

“How do I feel about the legalization (of marijuana)? Six months ago, I would’ve given you a 49-year-old ‘very unsure,’ ” Jennings said. “Now, all you have to do is look at statistics and compare alcohol to marijuana and it’s just very clear. It’s very, very clear.”

Proponents of CBD believe it treats pain, relieves anxiety, can help you sleep and keeps you focused. Scientific tests are scarce, though the Food and Drug Administration in June 2018 approved a drug with purified CBD to treat two rare seizure disorders.

The Jennings’ inspiration to create the aberrant pizza was two-fold.

The first was a series of conversations with medical professionals about seizures, cancer, postpartum depression and hip replacements. After the latter, Jennings said he gained about 10 pounds per month for about seven months and knew something needed to change.

Pizza Mia is looking to add “hemperoni,” a pizza with CBD isolate mixed in with cheese and hemp leaves used as a garnish, to its menu. Abby Drey [email protected]

He turned to CBD after attending a seminar in California and credited the substance for eliminating his pain, though he does not claim CBD is a cure for anything.

A family trip to Rehoboth Beach about two months ago was the final wire to make the proverbial lightbulb go off. A high-end, country club restaurant sold CBD-infused items and the Jennings quickly pondered, “How do we do that?”

There was trial and error, like learning to mix the CBD isolate into the cheese instead of the sauce and putting the leaves under the cheese to make it more subtle.

The Jennings are aware that some could be off-put and pledge to never visit the restaurant again, but felt having an innovative, fresh menu was worth the gamble.

“It’s time, I think. I think it’s really, really time to have a common sense approach to a plant that’s a medicine,” Jennings said. “And it’s also time (for) some of us that might be in the closet with this stuff to come out and say, ‘You know what? I’ve researched it. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing at all.’ ”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.