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Sourcing CBD

Have you ever wondered where concentrated CBD comes from?

In the United States, industrial hemp is now permitted under special circumstances, thanks to a 2014 U.S. Farm Bill which approves special grow programs. States like California and Colorado offer a legal pathway to growing smaller batches of medical cannabis for CBD production. CBD can also be legally produced synthetically without the plant at all with appropriate DEA approval. All three of these pathways represent avenues for legal CBD production in the United States. Assuming that the goal is to produce 100% pure CBD, these methods are all equivalent; the source has no impact. However, when CBD is initially extracted from a whole plant, terpenes and cannabinoids are extracted alongside and remain in the product. The greater the quality of the source plant, the greater and richer these terpenes and cannabinoids are, whereas synthetic CBD contains no additional molecules. Due to current cannabinoid research indicating the likelihood of synergistic effects of cannabinoids, we at Cornerstone feel that whole plant, high quality cannabis preparations of CBD are likely more effective medical solutions than pure or synthetic CBD.

If it were purely medicinal cannabis advocates arguing for the effectiveness of whole-plant derived CBD preparations, we might simply dismiss this notion as financial bias. Of course medical cannabis dispensaries have incentive to advocate for medical cannabis-based products! Of course we’d rather see the CBD market in the hands of local providers vs. industrial giants. That is our bias. However, ultimately the conversation about the effectiveness of whole-plant CBD vs. synthetic CBD doesn’t revolve around the medical cannabis industry; it revolves around the findings and reports of the scientific and clinical medicine communities, which can systematically sift through evidence in a more rigorously documented way. Those communities, as it turns out, are increasingly aware that whole plant synergistic effects are at play in cannabis-based preparations that simply do not exist in 100% pure CBD preparations. In fact, at the International Cannabinoid Research Society conference in Nova Scotia last year, Raphael Mechoulam, who first discovered THC’s molecular structure and the existence of cannabinoid receptors in the human body, cited this area as a primary target of interest for future cannabinoid-related research. Readers interested in learning more can read more here: (http://file.scirp.org/pdf/PP_2015021016351567.pdf).

The basic issue is that pure CBD’s effects tend to taper off, while whole–plant preparations can produce greater maximum responses. The idea is that the family of chemicals naturally found in cannabis work together. Terpenes and cannabinoids that are not active individually may be active when present with other molecules such as CBD. More and more reports seem to confirm this finding. Of course, it’s difficult to control the exact ratio of chemicals in a whole-plant derived extract. Production ratios may vary based on temperature, lighting, nutrients, time-of-harvest, extraction methods, etc. This, in turn, makes whole-plant based preparations a difficult pill for the FDA to swallow and a nightmare to regulate.

Furthermore, there hasn’t been a clear consensus on what hemp is or can be defined to be legally. As Project CBD points out, a lot of farmers grow medical cannabis strains but harvest them at a point before the flowers reach the federal cut-off of 0.3% THC, meaning the product technically qualifies as hemp. Why do that? Predominantly, again, this goes back to terpenes and other cannabinoids found in medical-grade cannabis. Actual industrial hemp, which is much lower in resin production, has been bred mostly for fiber and seed oil. Thus even high-CBD varieties of industrial hemp will have less additional terpenes and cannabinoids than medical cannabis, albeit more than synthetic CBD preparations alone! Additionally, medical cannabis plants produce up to 20 times more CBD than industrial hemp plants, meaning they take roughly 1/20th of the space, water, energy, and foliage production to produce the same amount of CBD and with additional terpenes. For these reasons alone, it seems like medical cannabis would be the ideal source for plant-based CBD.

However, economic pressure still exists for industrial hemp to supply CBD. For one, the farming industry is perhaps more cut out for a hemp crop that can be produced in bulk and from seed, harvested and processed by machine, rather than meticulously cared for. Secondly, rather than grow plants specifically for CBD, farmers can sell waste material from hemp crops to CBD processing plants, thereby acquiring CBD for pennies on the dollar and creating a win-win for the farmer as well as the CBD producer. As Project CBD reports, this currently happens in places like Canada, where it occupies a gray market area of being illegal but still occurring mostly unregulated. As resourceful as this approach seems, it represents a problem in that non-edible pesticides are often used on industrial hemp that would not be used on medical cannabis, thus adding more source of potential contamination to the final CBD product. Likewise, lower percentage CBD hemp means more plant matter must be used to extract an equivalent amount of CBD. Unfortunately, the more raw plant material used, the more likelihood of soil contaminants sneaking their way into the final product as well. This is not to say that industrial hemp CBD production is impossible; hypothetically a well-regulated company with proper soil and testing could eliminate the problem of contamination.

Regardless, for the time-being, medical cannabis whole-plant-derived CBD solutions seem to be the most effective and safe preparations of CBD currently available. We can only hope that in coming years the federal government will allow for nation-wide production of medical cannabis for CBD. This would confer a large financial benefit to the U.S. in terms of more effective pain management, nation-wide availability of safe medicine, and less risk for farmers who occasionally have to sacrifice whole harvests due to hemp testing marginally over the line for THC! In the meantime, patients in states like California and Colorado can continue to access CBD medicine safely, and Cornerstone will continue to be a dedicated, loyal provider of high-quality medicine.


A recent article from Project CBD does a great job of breaking down the various sources and respective issues with each (see here: http://www.alternet.org/drugs/where-cbd-cannabis-oil-come-marijuana-industrial-hemp-vagaries-federal-law).

Works Cited

Ruth Gallily, Zhannah Yekhtin, Lumir Ondrej Hanus. “Overcoming the Bell-Shaped Dose-Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol”. Pharmacology and Pharmacy (2015) 6:75-85.

Martin Lee. “Synthetic vs. Whole Plant CBD”. Project CBD (2015). URL: https://www.projectcbd.org/article/synthetic-vs-whole-plant-cbd