What Is CBD (Cannabidiol)?

CBD is a chemical compound derived from cannabis. It was first elucidated in 1930, and by 1940, Roger Adams isolated and synthesized the first CBD molecule. The synthesization of CBD came with a good deal of discussion.

  • What are the structural differences between natural & synthetic CBD?
  • Are manufactured CBDs better or worse than botanical CBD extracts?
  • Which is more efficient in treating specific medical conditions?
  • Is there a place in this world for synthetic CBD?
  • Are there any advantages in using synthetic CBD compounds in dosage accuracy and consistency?
  • What are the costs differentiation between the plant CBD & synthetic CBD?
  • Are there advantages in using synthetic CBD to avoid potential contaminants that may exist in the plant CBD such as pesticides, heavy metals, etc.?

How Does Plant Based CBD Differ From Synthetic CBD?

No matter how the CBD molecule comes into existence, a CBD molecule derived from a plant has the same absolute configuration as CBD synthesized in a laboratory. According to chemists, there is no structural difference between plant CBD and human-made CBD. Although, there are some major chemical differences between synthetic and plant based CBD requiring further individual investigation.

Structure Of CBD

Being a synthetic creation simply means the molecule was made with human efforts. Nowhere in nature will you find a synthetic compound. However, chemistry does assert that synthetic and natural CBD molecules are structurally the same and have the same absolute configuration. But what does this mean?


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Take the example of vitamin C and the differences between naturally found and synthetically created vitamins. Once again, chemistry asserts that two compounds have the same chemical structure. This means the similarities between the two (smell, taste & body reaction) are “virtually” 100%, but not quite. With any differences, no matter how slight, can cause massive unintended consequences further down the chain reaction.

What is the technical difference between synthetic and natural Vitamin E?

The technical difference is the letter ‘l’ that gets added to the synthetic creation. This makes up the entire difference and chemists assert the synthetic copy does no harm to the human body. However, even though synthetic Vitamin E is not harmful it has a bioavailability of 1.36 times less than the naturally occurring counterpart. Meaning naturally occurring Vitamin E is more potent than the synthetic blend by a factor of (0.36). Putting it another way, if you were to take 1000 units of naturally occurring Vitamin E, it would be the same as taking 1,360 units of the synthetic version. (PubMed Article)

According to Scientific America, the natural vs. synthetic discussion is more grey than it is black and white. As we are beginning to see with Vitamin C & E, each chemical must be considered one molecule at a time, thus where the grey area comes into play.

Single molecules extracted from cannabis come with an extra dimension of consideration called the entourage effect. The entourage effect shows up when attempting to effectively utilize either synthetically created cannabinoids or naturally derived ones.

What Is The Entourage Effect?

This term came into existence in 1998 by S. Ben-Shabat & Raphael Mechoulam. They coined the term ‘entourage effect,’ to describe the seemingly magical effect that whole plant cannabis extracts have on the body.

What they found was individual isolated cannabinoid molecules did not work as well as whole plant cannabinoids extracts. In fact, according to the British Journal Of Pharmacology, whole plant cannabis extracts have “two or four times greater than that expected from their THC content.” The truth is, any single isolated chemical compound, such as CBD, is not cannabis. Just like the isolated THC molecule is not cannabis, no one molecule can replace the synergistic power that whole plant cannabinoids can provide.

As the cannabinoids interact with each other, they alter the cannabinoid receptor sites. These alterations then create a type of “synergistic” effect. This synergy is not possible by isolating a particular molecule.

Which Is More Effective At Treating Specific Medical Conditions?

Even though chemists can synthetically manufacture very similar CBD molecule as nature, neither natural or synthetically created CBD is as effective as a whole plant extract. Isolated cannabinoids do not work very well on their own, as the research continues to point out. In order for any single cannabinoid molecule to work efficiently, they need to interact with the entire network of cannabinoids to create the powerful synergistic entourage effect.

According to an Israeli study titled, “Overcoming the Bell‐Shaped Dose‐Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol,” purified CBD has limited clinical use. However, as the title of this study suggests, we can overcome the “bell-shaped” problem with whole plant extracts that are rich with CBD.

What does Bell-Shaped Dose-Response mean?

In plain language, this means that once a certain amount of pure CBD has been taken, the therapeutic effects cease to have a positive response. With pure synthetic CBD, there is a limited window of therapeutic use, no matter if the dose was higher or lower. Thus ultimately limiting the usefulness of a single-molecule approach to therapeutics in a clinical setting.

The results of this study firmly establish that the entourage effect is real. The debate is no longer necessarily natural vs. synthetics. Where the discussion is now leading the cannabis industry is towards whole plant extracts.

Are There Any Advantages In Using Synthetic CBD Compounds In Dosage Accuracy & Consistency?

Because of its isolated properties, measuring dosages can be done with great ease. If you were to test the effects of doses, slowly working up from micro sizes to larger ones, you would be able to plot a defined curve of its properties. The research studying this phenomenon, Overcoming the Bell-Shaped Dose-Response, shows how isolated, synthetic CBD works to a certain extent.

Small doses have little effect, and huge doses have little effect. The best way to utilize synthetics is to accurately take the perfect dose. Because of this study, we can extrapolate how easy it will be to recommend the accurate dose. We can also infer that the accurate dose will have a consistent effect on the user.

Compare this to “natural” CBD compounds extracted from the whole plant, and you see many different results. As doses increase, so do the effects, there is no “bell curve.” This has been attributed to the myriad of other compounds found in marijuana, helping to increase the potency of the CBD compounds.

What Are Cost Differentiations Between Plant CBD & Synthetic CBD?

First and foremost, it is a federal crime to grow cannabis, any extractions made from it must be done on a scale that glides under the nose of federal agencies. For companies who wish to mass produce significant quantities of CBD, this is a problem, one that can be worked around by creating CBD’s without whole plants. By synthesizing the compound in the lab, companies can use legal products to create mass quantities, all within the parameters of the law.

Another way synthetic CBD’s are cheaper is because more can be made with fewer resources. There is no harvest time or large greenhouses required to produce the compound, only the chemicals needed to produce it. The lower overhead, the potential for huge quantities, legality, and freedom from relying on a living plant make synthetic CBD much more cost effective to produce. Stevia has a press release stating their opinion on synthetic compounds.

Are There Advantages In Using Synthetic CBD To Avoid Potential Contaminants That May Exist In The Plant CBD Such As Pesticides, Heavy Metals, Etc.?

Plants are known to absorb heavy metals from the water and soil they grow in, even pesticides that are sprayed. These harmful chemicals will manifest within the leaves and stems, ultimately becoming part of any extractions made from the material. To avoid such contaminants in CBD compounds, synthetically creating it in a laboratory will forego the dirty environmental hazards. Because synthetics do not use plants, there is no life cycle to absorb heavy metals and pesticides.

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