All CBD is Created Equal … Or is It?
By Zack Shrigley
It's no secret that our recreational and medicinal cannabis industries are fraught with a landscape of transitory regulations. As the veil of prohibition is lifted from our beloved plant—state by state—an unsustainable trend is slowly emerging. With a disconnect between regulatory entities that make federal government operations look finely-tuned, current cannabis regulations at the state level make it nearly impossible to source material that passes residual solvent and contaminant testing. It is particularly hard for producers who use cannabis concentrates in their creations, because they can't always be certain of the chemical composition of some base ingredients.
As the average consumer becomes educated in the nuances of cannabis pharmacology, standards must remain consistent between samples. This standardization in testing facilitates continuity between producer, laboratory and purchaser.
A popular trend emerging from this mountain of data collection is a focus on identifying and classifying individual cannabinoids and their mechanisms of action. This limelight is firmly pointed at cannabidiol (CBD) and its medicinal benefits. While the jury is still out on exactly how some minor cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid systems, the general consensus is that CBD and its synergistic relationship are medicinal and here to stay. High-CBD medicines make up a medically important and constantly increasing percentage of the cannabis industry. Evidence of this trend is the average of 15-30% of all expo booth applications for CBD-specific ideas and products. It's the fastest-growing constituent of the industry.
With all the CBD-laden flower and concentrates floating around, you'd assume there was a large movement to produce CBD-specific strains on an industrial scale to meet demand. Unfortunately, this isn't the case yet. A disproportionate quantity of CBD-rich oil is filtering in from overseas—which wouldn't be a problem if its production was regulated to the standards of our most stringent extractors stateside. Alas, the majority of imported CBD concentrates are shipped to the US from China, and nearly all of that CBD oil is the result of unregulated hydrocarbon extractions using re-purposed industrial hemp originally used to irrigate rice paddies and other agricultural ventures.
The difference between a purpose-bred strain of 50:1 CBD-dominant sensimilla and a stalk of industrial hemp is negligible when you compare the percentage of active cannabinoids directly against each other; the chemicals are identical. The problem arises when you start measuring the amount of cannabinoids by weight being extracted from a single sample. Industrial hemp has a mean cannabinoid content of 1–3% by weight, and the most potent strains of selectively-bred high-CBD cannabis test anywhere between 17–28% CBD. Because the delta between the two is so large, an exponentially larger quantity of industrial hemp is required to produce the same amount of CBD concentrate than from a flower alone. Because more raw material is needed when using industrial hemp, the processors of contaminated hemp unintentionally concentrate large quantities of any contaminant in the foliage. This problem is especially prevalent in the unregulated Chinese CBD market, where the industrial hemp tends to be chock full of heavy metals, pesticides and a whole host of chemicals that are worth avoiding.
As we forge ahead with standardized regulation, a couple golden rules are worth remembering if you're in the market for CBD concentrates on a commercial scale: It never hurts to support local business, and sourcing raw material close to home (within driving distance) is an enormous bonus. Processors that are licensed will have procedures in place to enforce state-mandated quality controls; these standards are generally safe across the board nationally, whether it's flower- or hemp-based CBD oil. If you can't source it from a local processor, the next best bet is an established processor out of the area but within the confines of the country. Unfortunately, no samples tested from China have passed the most stringent safety standards enforced by any regulatory body. This, unfortunately, lands all imported oil in a grey area safety-wise, and while it's possible to find safe samples from overseas, keeping it local is always best.