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Is all CBD created equal? Everything you need to know about synthetic vs natural

British Cannabis explores the differences between synthetic and naturally-derived CBD.



CBD supplements are not always made from the cannabis plant

With advancements in technology and new regulations coming into force in the UK, CBD supplements are not necessarily made from the cannabis plant anymore. But can synthetic products live up to their natural counterparts?

The multitude of CBD oils, capsules and edibles available in the UK has been streamlined by legislators over the past year, with the introduction of Novel Food regulations. Since the deadline for applications on 31 March 2021 the CBD food supplements industry has been anxiously anticipating the publication of the long-awaited Novel Foods exemption list – due in the coming weeks – while they continue to meet consumer demand with uncertain caution.  

Under the tightened regulations, CBD (cannabidiol) is the only ‘cannabinoid’ permitted to be used and sold in food supplements products such as CBD oils. As a result, a host of ‘full spectrum’ products, offering (while sometimes dubious) trace amounts of other cannabinoids, including low-level CBG, CBN and even THC, will no longer be seen on the shelves or websites of UK retailers. 

Inside the British Cannabis hemp nursery in Portugal

This narrowing of which CBD products will remain legal to sell appears to be dividing the industry into two major product types that look likely to be available for the long term future: natural cannabis-derived CBD or synthetic CBD. The difference between those products which are derived from natural compounds and those which are developed artificially can be confusing for consumers. When it comes to labelling products, brands are only required to list CBD in the ingredients, regardless of the source. As a result, consumers may not be aware of what they actually are buying, never mind the potential benefits for the body or the biochemistry of each source.

We explore the differences between natural and synthetic CBD to help consumers debunk the myths around these products. 

Natural or cannabis-derived CBD

In natural or cannabis-derived CBD, cannabidiol is extracted from cannabis Sativa L. (hemp) or possibly from other cannabis strains if it has been grown outside of the EU. This has naturally (no pun intended) been the most common ingredient source for CBD products in recent years.

Often ‘full extract’ cannabis products contain at least trace elements of other cannabinoids (including CBG, CBN and THC) but Novel Foods regulations that allow CBD products to remain on the market call for an approach that leaves CBD as the only predominant compound in products.

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As a result, CBD isolate has emerged as a faster, more prevalent ingredient than ‘full’ or ‘broad’ spectrum extract products, with many brands opting for this method to avoid any issues with regulators. This has led to a slew of CBD oils that are just single-molecule CBD – combined with carrier oils such as MCT and coconut – becoming prevalent.


What is CBD isolate?

CBD isolate is a pure form of CBD, which contains no other cannabinoids or compounds. As with all CBD, it can be extracted from the hemp plant using various methods, including carbon dioxide extraction, solvent extraction or lipid extraction but undergoes more refined processing, resulting in a crystal form which is then ground into a powder. It is thought that isolate offers all the benefits of full extract CBD, but effects may be less noticeable due to the lack of other cannabis phytochemicals.

Environmentally friendly

When hemp (cannabis Sativa L) has been grown outdoors for a purpose, it is GMO-free, has relatively low water use, grows relatively easily and quickly (around 60-90 days per crop), with no herbicides or pesticides needed. Around 15 tonnes of CO2 are processed by each hectare of Cannabis Sativa L (Hemp), via conversion by the plant’s leaves and stem –  a higher rate than any other commercial crop known. This more than offsets any carbon used in production or transportation.

Economically savvy

Another economic benefit of natural cannabis products is the additional work that is created for the agricultural sector throughout the process. From seeding, growing, harvesting and processing to refining and testing, a plethora of jobs across the supply chain are generated from seed to sale.

As of late 2021 market conditions, a kilogram of naturally-extracted CBD isolate carries a price around one-seventh of the cost of its synthetic counterparts, so going natural will currently drive prices down for consumers. Extracting from hemp also allows for the other phytocannabinoids which are found in the plant to be used for other applications, such as in cosmetics which often contain minor cannabinoids.

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Whole-plant benefits

With products like Canabidol™ from British Cannabis™, it is possible to take multiple natural extracts and expertly recombine them to form whole-plant products, made only from 100 per cent of cannabis, that still passes the regulatory requirements by being free of unwanted constituents like THC. 

The British Cannabis approach is precision engineering, developed from over six years of knowledge of growing and studying industrial cannabis. This gives its products the whole-plant taste and phytochemical profile but with zero per cent THC or other cannabinoids illegal for use in food products. 

Its leading pharmacy-sector CBD brand, Canabidol™ contains only 100% Cannabis phytochemicals and cannabis-extracted CBD. This 100 per cent compliant range is now available with a new, super-premium packaging to revamp.

CBD: A row of CBD products

The new rebranded Canabidol range

Synthetic CBD

Recently the industry has seen the emergence of brands with lab-made replicas of the CBD molecule as their core ingredient.

Additionally, some manufacturers are claiming that their synthetic CBD is made from natural sources, such as orange peel. These compounds are said to be ‘bio-identical to cannabidiol (CBD), however, the processes that it goes through to get to this point has not yet been proven to have the same tested effects observed with natural cannabis extracts.

While it may be possible to utilise terpenes derived from oranges to create molecularly-similar compounds to CBD, it still requires controversial chemicals to create this, something brands frequently fail to mention in their marketing.

A ‘highly pure’ product

What these brands describe as “highly pure” products may appeal to some consumers, due to them only containing one single compound, so there is no trace of THC. The process also means that there is no variation between batches or risk of toxicity from pollutants. Some brands also claim that the methods they use have allowed them to enhance the bioavailability, improving the absorption of CBD by the body and therefore producing more effective products.

The entourage effect

However, proponents of naturally extracted CBD argue that there is more to cannabis than cannabinoids and a lot of the essential phytochemicals found in the plant have been shown to be critical in producing the entourage effect of benefits. These compounds, from naturally extracted flavonoids to terpenes and aminos, can still be put into products by companies with the right approach. As CBD oil products of synthetic origin are most often ‘single molecule’ products they may be losing out of these effects. 

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Tom Whettem, CEO of British Cannabis, said: “Time and time again, dating back to the original studies that coined the phrase ‘the entourage effect’, it has been clinically demonstrated that CBD alone is not as effective as when taken with the many hundreds of other cannabis phytochemicals from the plant, such as with our THC-Free, 100 per cent cannabis oils from Canabidol. It is undisputed that it is inferior to a full plant extraction. Synthetic CBD is cheap to produce, though as stated earlier, is being charged by manufacturers at several times more expensive than it should be.”

British Cannabis products offer the whole-plant taste and phytochemical profile, with zero per cent THC

Traces of chemicals 

In addition, consumers should be aware that some of the chemicals used to synthesise CBD have been found to be toxic and are often found as trace by-products in synthetic CBD products at detectable levels. 

Heptane, for example, used in the manufacturing process for some synthetic cannabidiol products[2], is a flammable, hazardous chemical commonly linked to side effects including headache, light-headedness, lack of coordination and loss of consciousness, as well as a variety of serious chronic health effects that can be linked to prolonged exposure. 

A residual n-Heptane solvent has been shown as detectable in the published Certificates of Analysis of an unnamed synthetic CBD manufacturer, as shown below:

Another chemical used in synthetic production of CBD is dichloromethane which is a carcinogen, linked to cancer. In a study by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, the report data for another synthetic CBD product showed that dichloromethane was detectable in seven products (3.8-13.1ppm) and cyclohexane was found in one (27.9ppm).

Twenty five per cent of products that were tested contain trace amounts of this hazardous chemical. When compared with natural CBD, which is only extracted with ethanol or co2, which are approved by regulators and found across the entire food supply chain.

To sum up, not all CBD is created equal, but ultimately, it’s up to the consumer to do their own research, draw their own conclusions and decide which product is right for them.

CBD: A banner announcing collaborative work

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The Sisters of CBD giving away free hemp seeds in the US

The Sisters of the Valley have become renowned for growing organic high-CBD hemp plants.



Sisters of the Valley
Home » Industry » Is all CBD created equal? Everything you need to know about synthetic vs natural

Self-formed order and CBD producers, Sisters of Valley, are giving away 1,000 free packets of hemp seeds to customers in California.

Known in the media as ‘weed nuns’ or the ‘sisters who make CBD’, Sisters of the Valley is a self-formed new age order of women based in the Central Valley of California, USA.

The women have become renowned for growing organic high-CBD hemp plants and producing homemade infused CBD oil which they ship across the world.

Sisters of the Valley: Hemp and CBD seeds

Now, to celebrate the arrival of spring, the sisters are giving away souvenir hemp seed packets, to 1,000 US customers who have shopped in their recently-launched online store. 

They hope to start send 500 packets in February, followed by another 500 in March.

Those customers will receive a thank card, along with their packet of seeds. 

Sister Kate said: “Worried about Covid, economic collapse, global warming, supply chain issues, un-compassionate governments?  So are we! Learn to grow your own food and medicine. It’s healing in itself just to be doing something.”

The seeds will be primarily distributed to American customers.

Sister Sophia, explained: “We aren’t shipping internationally because, firstly, there won’t be a lot of them since our international sales have fallen from 20 per cent to three per cent during Covid.  And secondly, we don’t want to get anyone in trouble.  We will reach out to those international customers and see if they want us to mail them before we 

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Sisters of Valley Community

The sisters describe themselves as ‘beguine revivalists with influences from the Indigenous Tribes of California’. They also live, work and pray together. While they refer to themselves as order and are called sisters, the group is not affiliated with the Catholic church or any other religion.

Their mission is to get plant-based medicines to those in need. The order work on their own farm to produce high-CBD hemp products including balms and oils.

In 2019 Breaking Habits, a documentary film about Sister Kate was released. It received an award at the London Cannabis Film Festival.

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New global platform offers affordable cannabis education

New online courses are set to offer low-cost, reliable, cannabis education.



cannabis education
Canadian education platform, Edusity, has partnered with the Pharmacology University

A new online education platform is set to tackle stigma around cannabis and open up opportunities for learners across the globe.

Canadian education platform, Edusity, has partnered with the Pharmacology University of Texas-based CHNC, to help learners assess the risks, benefits and business opportunities that come with cannabis legalisation.

Cannabis may be a legal product in Canada, but there are still barriers to learning about the plant, according to Edusity’s founders.

The online education platform enables instructors to post self-directed, video-based courses and to teach live webinars via its virtual classroom. Pharmacology University is another online educational platform which aims to transform the social stigma around medicinal cannabis.

“Education really is the best tool for addressing every area of social change,” said Vishal Shah, co-founder of Edusity. 

“In the past, there have been difficulties communicating about legal cannabis education, but with the use of age gate technology and other safeguards, Edusity is helping to create a culture of cannabis literacy that is essential to building a stable, safe industry.”

There are currently 12 low-cost courses from Pharmacology University’s programme available on ranging from cannabis and obesity to cannabis dispensary operations.

Anne Graham, CEO of Pharmacology University, commented: “Pharmacology University is pleased to partner with Edusity on the delivery of our program. As the legalisation of cannabis spreads around the world, there is a need for clear, honest and expertise-driven education about the herb itself, the medical science, the legislation and the business that moves it. We are pleased to have Edusity work with us to make Cannabis education happen.”

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71% of CBD consumers see improvement in wellbeing

3,000 people took part in the ‘first of its kind’ study



Report: A CBD oil bottle and products

Results from what is thought to be the largest study to date, show over 70 per cent of CBD consumers saw improvements to their wellbeing.

The study, carried out by Radicle Science, involved over 3,000 participants who were given CBD products to try at home.

The organisation’s Advancing CBD Education and Science (ACES) report, aimed to determine the effectiveness of botanical CBD products.

The randomised controlled trial involved 13 US brands and examined different reasons for taking CBD. This included wellbeing, quality of life, pain, anxiety and sleep quality.

Report: A banner advert for Always Pure Organics CBD business support

The results revealed that 71 per cent of participants saw an improvement in well-being, with 63 per cent seeing a ‘clinically meaningful improvement in anxiety. A further 61 per cent reported an improvement in sleep quality while 47 per cent said their pain levels were decreased.

Sixty one per cent of participants reported feeling the effects of the CBD within one to four hours of consuming their chosen products.

CBD report

Speaking with Cannabis Health,  Jeff Chen, CEO and co-founder said: “There are studies of American consumers showing that millions are using CBD yet despite that, we still don’t know a lot about it. One of the key reasons is that it was lumped together with cannabis for the longest time so if you wanted to study these products then it was near impossible. What little understanding we have comes mainly from cell and animal studies which shows some amazing things.”

He added: “When we talk about human studies of CBD then there is so little data. The main reasons people are using it is for pain, sleep, stress and anxiety. So our job, as Radicle Science was to generate a body of knowledge and understanding to help consumers.”

The result was a ‘first of its kind’ study providing real-world data on CBD use.

It examined how people used CBD in their own homes rather than a medical setting, how much they use and also what side effects they experienced. To do this, the researchers gathered a diverse pool of participants and paired them with different brands. As the products were mailed to consumers, the study wasn’t limited to those who live near a laboratory and as a result, 3,000 people took part.

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Jeff said: “We wanted to involve a variety of different brands with a variety of formulations but we also wanted a diverse pool of participants. This included people from different geographies, ethnicities and demographics to make this as ‘real world’ as possible. We mailed the products to people to take in their own home.”

Report: ACES study into CBD use

The success of the CBD was measured with different scientific scales. These findings were assessed through five indices: the World Health Organization (WHO)-5 Well Being Index, the Kemp QOL scale, the Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)-7 scale, the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS™) Sleep Disturbance SF 8B scale, and the PEG-3 Scale for pain.

Jeff said: “When we were assessing the outcomes, we used measures that were developed by the World Health Organisation or the US National Institue of Health for sleep or pain. We collected all of these validated survey instruments along with tonnes of information on demographics, behaviour and health conditions. we want to understand if there are any variables, whether ethnicity or caffeine consumption may affect usage.”

He added: “As we were working with the brands, we knew exactly what products they were taking and what was in them. Our study made calculating the dosage really easy too, which can be really difficult for consumers. We had participants report how many servings they were using whether that is a gummy or a capsule. The bottle is very clear about what each serving is. We have the chemical analytic results, we can back-calculate the dosage to give us a normalised dosage data.”

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Radicle Science report results

The study reported significant improvements in the three main areas people reported using CBD for, such as pain, sleep and anxiety.

Jeff said: “We found that depending on what health outcome you are looking at, 47 to 63 per cent of people experienced not just an improvement but a clinically meaningful one. This means that they are experiencing changes to sleep quality or anxiety that is large enough to make a healthcare provider say it is meaningful. It’s strong enough that it deserves to be further utilised.

Another interesting result was that a majority of people reported the impact within several hours of taking the product. We are still trying to figure out the mechanism of action for CBD. It appears that one of the mechanisms seems to be affecting the serotonin system. If you look at things like SSRIs that are prescribed for anxiety, then they can take several weeks to kick in. What we saw was the onset of effects from CBD happening within several hours.”

Jeff highlighted that the study also examined the participant’s quality of life and wellbeing, which may have seen an improvement due to decreased anxiety and sleep problems. The next phase will examine more of the data points from the study.

He said: “We will be doing a lot more sophisticated biostatistics. The next stage will examine the role that demographic or behavioural characteristics may have played or if they had predictive effects on the outcomes. For example, is the use of caffeine or alcohol made you more or less likely to experience an effect. Did ethnicity mean you were more likely to experience a positive outcome?

“We will look at the different product attributes for the 13 brands to see if a gummy had an advantage over a tincture for example. There is still a lot to be determined that will come in the next wave of analysis.”

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report: A row of three bottles of oil sitting on a shelf with a cannabis plant in the background

Prospect Farms entered some of its products into the ACES study.

Speaking with Cannabis Health, CEO Brad Tipper explained how beneficial the study has been for the brand.

“Our focus has been creating terpene-forward products,” said Brad.

“It makes Prospect Farms products unique in the market compared to a lot of our peers. Our balance products which were included in the ACES study are great for mood and cognition. This was a great opportunity for us to be able to differentiate our view of the market right now. We wanted to be able to show the difference in using quality carriers or terpene blends for health outcomes.”

He added: “One of the biggest areas we hoped Radicle Science would shine a light on is consumer behaviour around dosing. Tinctures are still a very unique concept for the broader audience. We are used to taking a supplement or an over the counter product but we are not used to holding something on our tongues for 30 seconds. Thinking about pipettes and graduated marks can be an intimidating concept.”

CBD report and product changes

Brad highlighted that the insights into dosing have been incredibly valuable for the brand. They have been able to take this into consideration when it comes to their products.

He said: “It has informed a lot of our product development considerations. We are restricted in terms of what we can do under current regulations and we can’t make explicit dosage recommendations. We can allow you to understand how much is in each one of your doses and have direct consultations with the consumer. It has also highlighted a need for potentially higher strength products. This has informed some of our product development.”

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