A Gap in Standards Leads to Industry Uncertainty About Synthetic CBD

By William SumnerHemp Business Journal Contributor

How do you know that the hemp-derived CBD products you have purchased came from hemp and not another source? The answer is, you do not. There are no state, federal, or industry guidelines for companies selling CBD products to disclose how they source their CBD. Facing a serious problem that threatens the mass-market legitimacy of the legal hemp-derived CBD industry, some operators are sounding their alarm.

According to some sources granted anonymity to discuss it, the Hemp Business Journal has learned how several high-profile companies in the state of Colorado have been selling products containing synthetic CBD without disclosing it to their customers.

What is Synthetic CBD? It is CBD isolate created in a laboratory. While synthetic CBD appears to be chemically the same as natural CBD, very little is known about the substance. The vast majority of scientific studies observing the effects of CBD were conducted with naturally occurring CBD, so it is remains uncertain the degree to which the two substances are truly identical.

However, what little that is known about synthetic cannabinoids does not inspire consumer or patient confidence. There are now several synthetic cannabinoids legally available on the market, including Marinol, a synthetic form of THC. Beyond being more expensive, Marinol comes with has a list of side effects not presented by THC, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval of the CBD-based drug Epidiolex, pharmaceutical companies have been looking for ways to manufacture CBD-based drugs as cheaply as possible, for good reason. The Hemp Business Journal estimates U.S. CBD pharmaceutical sales of Epidiolex (the only currently approved CBD-based drug) to reach $310 million by 2022. Yet, more cannabinoid-based drugs, many of which may be synthetically based, are expected on the market in the next decade.

Synthetic CBD may present a cost-effective solution for pharmaceutical companies. However, as with any new drug, one containing CBD will nevertheless be required to pass the FDA’s stringent approval process, whereas less regulated CBD oils and supplements may not.

There are two significant reasons why deceptively selling products containing synthetic CBD is problematic: First, there is a shortage of information regarding the substance’s effect on consumers and patients. Whether synthetic CBD is eventually determined to be positive, neutral, or harmful, it is irresponsible to sell products secretly containing it. Secondly, peddling synthetic CBD erodes consumer trust. Until late last year, both hemp and CBD were controlled substances as defined by the DEA. While both hemp and CBD are positively viewed by a majority of the public, one scandal could erode such good will. A single company’s publicized deception could put hundreds of honest and well-intentioned companies at risk.

Since synthetic CBD appears identical to natural CBD, the key to distinguishing between the two requires laboratory samples. Samples of natural CBD will contain trace amounts of other cannabinoids, like CBDA. Synthetic samples, conversely, will only contain CBD.

There are no laws requiring companies to disclose whether their products contain natural or synthetic CBD, and industry organizations like the U.S. Hemp Authority (USHA) have yet to take a stance on synthetic CBD. However, the USHA is now seeking public comment on the revised rules for its certification program.

It is unknown how many companies are selling products with synthetic CBD, or whether they are spiking products with synthetic-CBD isolates to boost the amount of CBD milligrams per product (to increase prices and profits).  The Hemp Business Journal will continue to investigate such issues as they unfold while the industry awaits clarification and clear regulatory policy from the FDA.

William Sumner

William Sumner is a writer for the hemp and cannabis industry. Hailing from Panama City, Florida, William covers various topics such as hemp legislation, investment, and business. William’s writing has appeared in publications such as Green Market Report, Civilized, and MJINews. You can follow William on Twitter: @W_Sumner.