A crucial stage in CBD history

Tumultuous doesn’t come close to describing the last twelve months in the UK CBD industry. With the introduction of novel foods regulation, whole plant CBD oils have faced a potentially catastrophic threat to their survival. Instead, products containing synthetic CBD or CBD isolate look set to be favoured by the Food Standards Agency, leaving consumers who prefer full spectrum CBD products out in the cold.

At this crucial stage in ‘CBD history,’ it’s vital that consumers understand that not all CBD is created equal and why choosing ‘natural’ CBD products extracted from hemp is not only better for their health and wellbeing, but for the small, grass roots businesses who are the backbone of the CBD industry.

But before we get started, I want to get something straight about CBD oil.

Until the last eighteen months, most of the 4-6 million people in the UK who report having tried CBD oil have actually been taking a whole plant hemp extract.

That’s because until the last year or so when CBD was declared a novel food (more on that later), CBD oil was actually CBD plus a host of other naturally occurring compounds in hemp such as minor cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. As a result, they tended to be darker in colour and still retained that hempy, peppery taste.

These naturally occurring molecules weren’t perceived as ‘impurities’ that should be removed. They were (and still are for whole plant advocates) vital to the overall effectiveness of the extract.

Novel Foods Favours Synthetic CBD

With these full spectrum hemp extracts, it wasn’t such a leap to consider them as a food. Afterall, for thousands of years, millions of people around the world have consumed hemp in their diets.

Unfortunately, neither the European Food Safety Authority or the UK’s Food Standards Agency view it that way. Instead, they have declared CBD a novel food, because in their mind CBD products that have been extracted from the hemp plant were not commonly consumed before 1997.

This has meant for any food (supplement or otherwise) containing CBD, in order to continue to be sold after 1st April 2021, a costly novel food authorisation must be obtained proving it safe for human consumption.

Because of the huge investment needed to make a robust novel food application, the big CBD industry players who tend to value profit over the wellbeing of consumers, have moved away from the comparatively risky hemp-derived CBD, which remains in a regulatory quagmire. Instead they have opted for synthetic CBD that has been biosynthesized from yeast.

From a business point of view this is of course a no-brainer. Not only is synthetic CBD more likely to get novel food authorisation as it is neither from the hemp plant nor contains any other naturally occurring compounds, but it is cheaper to manufacture than hemp derived CBD and can be scaled up quite easily.

But having aggressive global expansion plans isn’t why most of us got into the CBD industry. For us, it’s not just about CBD ‘the molecule’ whether it’s derived from mould, hemp or otherwise. We are passionate about the role of cannabis and hemp in its entirety for supporting human health.

It’s interesting to note that some of the companies selling synthetic CBD go so far as to include other cannabinoids and terpenes amongst the list of toxins and pollutants their products don’t contain.

Unfortunately though, it is quickly becoming apparent that whole plant CBD oils or hemp extracts don’t cut the mustard in the eyes of the FSA who like their novel foods to be standardised, stable, and so it would seem, synthetic. Indeed, at the time of writing it is largely synthetic CBD brands that have been so far awarded novel food authorisation.

This is not wholly surprising when one considers that most vitamins we take are synthetically derived. Which begs the question, when did it become preferable to consume synthetically derived or isolated compounds, instead of getting them direct from their natural food source?

CBD Consumers Prefer Natural CBD

While the synthetic CBD used in these products appears to be chemically identical to natural hemp derived cannabidiol, many of us have come to CBD because we’re looking for natural alternatives to the synthetic pills and potions pumped out by the pharmaceutical industry.

A recent survey compiled by stakeholders in the CBD and hemp industries such as the Cannabis Trades Association, British Hemp Alliance and the Scottish Hemp Association found that approximately three quarters of those that answered preferred ‘natural’ full spectrum products containing trace amounts of THC.

Interestingly, less than 1% said they preferred synthetic CBD.

However, the majority of consumers buying CBD for the first time assume that all CBD is created equal. This is not helped by the fact that right now companies are under no obligation to disclose whether their products contain synthetic CBD.