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In a high court ruling with far-reaching implications about EU governance vs member state law, the EU beat France making CBD legal throughout the EU, and setting a precedent for tons of cases in the future.
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What was the case originally about?
Before we get to the ins and outs of this landmark EU high court ruling, let’s look at the case that forced its way to the top of the EU judicial system. The story starts in 2014 when Sébastien Béguerie and Antonin Cohen were prosecuted under French law for marketing and selling a hemp-derived CBD vape product under the name Kanavape. France has very specific laws regarding the parts of a cannabis plant that can be used (only the fiber and seeds), and the amount of THC that can be in a product. The latter, in fact, is 0% as of 2018, which created an essential ban on CBD oil, since its nearly impossible to create a CBD oil without at least a trace amount of THC. France also doesn’t allow the leaves or flowers of a cannabis plant to be used for preparations of any kind, and the Kanavape product was made from the whole plant.
Béguerie and Cohen were importing and selling a Kanavape product that was made in the Czech Republic. Though this Kanavape product followed all EU mandates concerning the use and sale of CBD products, particularly the parts of the plant used, and a THC content that didn’t exceed .2%, it didn’t gel with French law which disagreed with the parts of the plant used, and the THC in the product. The two were found guilty.
After the guilty verdict, the two men appealed their case, citing that the product they imported and sold was completely legal by EU law, and that EU law allows the free trade of products across EU member state borders so long as the products meet EU standards. In this case, they did, and in time it was eventually kicked up to the highest court in the EU, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg, which had never made a ruling on CBD legality before. Today, November 19th, 2020, the court gave its ruling.
The court was tasked with making a ruling with a lot of further implications. Within the world of CBD itself it would make it impossible for any member state to deny an import that meets EU standards, thus legalizing CBD in all EU countries. The second aspect is that as part of the ruling, the court also had to decide whether CBD itself is a narcotic, thus setting an EU standard for that as well, and forcing that standard on all member states. Last, through these decisions, the EU set a standard for the general trade of products – CBD or anything else – leaving a large space open for new litigation and legislation based on this new case law.
What was the ruling?
As per the title of the article, the EU beat France as the CJEU found that France was in violation of EU law by not allowing products to be imported into the country that meet EU standards. Along with this, the CJEU also made the ruling that CBD is not a narcotic, saying “It does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health.” It went on to say, “The national court must assess available scientific data in order to make sure that the real risk to public health alleged does not appear to be based on purely hypothetical considerations”.
Together, the two aspects of this ruling force a CBD legalization across all EU member states, reinforce that products can freely be traded between EU member countries, and also reinforce a general foundational aspect of the EU, that EU law trumps individual member state law. This, of course, gives a major boost to the CBD industry which has been operating in gray area throughout Europe for quite some time; and a major blow to any EU country that was trying to ban CBD, like Slovakia, which will now also have to allow citizens to use CBD products.
What about synthetics and pharmaceutical products?
One of the interesting pieces of information to be made clear when the EU beat France in court, was that France had actually not banned synthetic CBD, only regular CBD – or plant-derived. Synthetic CBD is essentially the same thing chemically, but created in a laboratory instead of grown as a plant, and is the basis for a burgeoning synthetics industry, led mainly by pharmaceutical and biotech companies. This industry, in fact, threatens the actual CBD and cannabis industries. The overall lower cost of producing synthetics, over a cannabis plant industry that has grown more expensive through the instilling of infrastructure like regulation and taxation, has made synthetics much more popular. What this means is that France just spent years to fight two guys in court on the basis of selling an unsafe product, when it already allowed that same product to be sold, so long as it was made in a laboratory. Basically, France just fought a fight to allow the pharmaceutical version of CBD to be sold, while banning the plant version. Luckily, the EU beat France.
But let’s take a closer look at the situation for just a minute. One of the pharmaceutical cannabis products that is allowed in France is Epidiolex, a CBD-derived drug put out by GW Pharmaceuticals. This is the same drug at the center of Italy’s current legislative contradiction. Within the past few months, Italy has had two different government agencies put out opposing mandates. The Agriculture Agency listed CBD as an agricultural product in July, making it freely available for use in tons of products. About two months later, the Ministry of Health decided to list CBD as a medicine, making it only available with permission from the Medicines Agency, thus making it illegal to sell CBD products. This came complete with a warning to providers to take products off of shelves.
This discrepancy was made that much more stomach-turning by the idea that Epidiolex was just about to launch in the country. So now that makes two countries that specifically put out mandates to curb CBD usage, while accepting the pharmaceutical version instead. And funny enough, it was June, 2018 that Epidiolex was approved by the FDA in the US, the same time France made the designation that CBD oil must have 0% THC, creating the essential ban. Maybe it was just a coincidence…
Does all this sound familiar?
The case of France vs the EU highlights the same general controversy that is currently going on in the US, and has been for years. The idea of individual states legalizing cannabis (either medically or recreationally) while it remains illegal by federal standards. While there does seem to be a general upward trajectory in terms of change, starting with the latest Farm Bill which legalized hemp products with a THC content of no more than .3%, this discrepancy between federal and state law has been causing many problems for years. In fact, up until partway through the Obama administration, the federal government was constantly at odds with legal smokers, often putting them in jail even though they were going by their own state’s laws.
If the US did the same thing as the EU, it would mean that all 50 states would be required to bend a knee and accept the legalization. As of yet, it hasn’t happened, but the EU ruling might give some indication as to what might happen in such a situation.
The question of why France made the ban in the first place, and why the country was willing to go to such great legal lengths when it already was allowing a pharmaceutical version of the same thing to be sold, are certainly good questions to ask. In the end, GW Pharmaceuticals might be one of the biggest losers in this, and I certainly won’t be shedding a tear for their monetary loss.
CBD is now not a narcotic by EU law, and EU member states must abide by EU mandates concerning CBD usage since the EU beat France in court. All this is fantastic and moving in the right direction, but there is one more thing to consider. In two weeks, there will be a vote on WHO cannabis scheduling recommendations. How that vote goes could very well impact what the EU just decided today.
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Decarboxylation, which is an essential action in enjoying cannabis flowers and edibles, is a process in which carbon dioxide (CO2) leaves a stable molecule and floats off as a gas. Atoms in a molecule can be thought of like billiard balls, with each one having a size, weight, and exact position. As these atoms float away, the substance left behind will become lighter, like a dry towel being lighter than that same towel soaking wet. The idea is that as the CO2 leaves, the weight left behind is reduced.
Decarboxylation typically occurs by heating, but can also be caused by exposure to certain frequencies of light, and certain substances like molecular oxygen in the air.
If the weight of the molecule before and after its decarboxylation is known, then a percent of mass lost in decarboxylation can be calculated. If the CO2 contributes 10 percent of the weight of a molecule, than 90 percent of the mass remains after decarboxylation. This would mean that continuously heating 100 grams of this substance would eventually yield 90 grams of the decarboxylated substance, as the remaining 10 grams represent the weight of CO2 which gassed off.
How Does Decarboxylation Affect Cannabinoids?
Decarboxylation of cannabinoids and cannabis products is very crucial to understanding the power of cannabis as medicine. The cannabis plant only has the ability to produce cannabinoid acids, like THCA, and THC is only created by decarboxylation outside the plant. This decarboxylation is usually done by fire when smoking, or by baking in edibles. Most cannabinoids lose approximately 87.7 percent of their mass upon decarboxylation. This means that if you had 100 grams of crystalline isolate of a cannabinoid acid, such as THCA, after decarboxylation you would have 87.7 grams left of THC.
This is important for people decarboxylating their cannabinoids themselves, such as producers of cannabis-infused edible products and hash oil producer that wish to sell decarboxylated oil. This is also important for advertisers of raw cannabis products such as cured cannabis flower, who must either report the value of the cannabinoid acid directly observed by the testing lab, use the theoretical conversion, or display both.
This labeling issue with raw flower is not as easy as it seems at first glance. Let’s consider a typical example of THC-dominant cannabis. The lab will test the flower and find 26 percent THCA and 3 percent THC. This is because some of the cannabinoid acids produced by the plant are decarboxylated by air and sun before harvesting and curing. The smaller the amount of THC observed directly by the lab typically indicates that the cultivator has submitted fresh cannabis that has been protected from light and exposure. A very high THC content indicates that the cannabis flower is not as fresh and been more exposed.
Now the dispensary has to either advertise two numbers, 26 percent and 3 percent, or advertise one theoretically calculated number, 25.8 percent, or both. Both allow the patient to access the greatest amount of information and be the best informed, while also reducing liability on the cannabis business involved in label making.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a well-known cannabinoid for being the primary intoxicant and euphoriant of cannabis. THC is also one of the most practical and safe treatments for neuropathic, chronic, and other types of pain. THC is effective in addressing both the immunological and symptom component of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Despite the fact that THCA is not an intoxicant, it is a powerful medicine. THCA is one of the strongest anti-inflammatory agents in cannabis. Smokers receive very little to none of this cannabinoid, due to its decomposition in the smoking process. THCA is an anti-inflammatory agent, and according to one study, a more powerful neuroprotective agent than THC. THCA is a powerful COX-1 and COX-2 antagonist, similar to aspirin and ibuprofen, but with far less toxicity to the liver.
The effects of THCA and THC reflect the diversity of action on the human body a cannabinoid and its precursor acid can have. The other cannabinoids, CBD, CBG, CBC, and THCV all have acid forms which have distinct effects on human health.
Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to be an effective medicine for people suffering from anxiety. What CBD has also been shown to be effective at fighting is breast cancer cells. Many of these studies find that CBD promotes apoptosis, or cell suicide, in breast cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells unaffected.
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is CBD’s acid precursor from raw cannabis flower. CBDA has also been shown to fight human breast cancer, but in a different way. Whereas CBD causes apoptosis in breast cancer cells, CBDA has been shown to slow or stop metastasis of breast cancer cells by arresting their motility, or ability to move throughout the body. This evidence would indicate that a breast cancer patient may want to talk to their doctor about dual CBD/CBDA therapy, taking both decarboxylated CBD and raw CBDA together.
It is important to note that the mass loss is not a conversion rate. Mass loss assumes that all of a substance will decarboxylate and calculates how the mass will change. An accurate answer must account for how much of the cannabinoid will decarboxylate. Studies indicate that 30-70 percent of cannabinoids undergo decarboxylation under standard smoking conditions. This is why our calculations are only a theoretical maximum, and are not a result with the same standing as those directly observed in the plant. This is also why it can be very important to label your theoretical calculations as such, and provide all original values provided by lab results, as a means of reducing liability upon your business.
Most of what’s gone on in the field of medicinal cannabis has been related to simply isolating and/or replicating a specific cannabinoid to get its benefits. In today’s world of cannabis medicine, the new thing is for a customer to order a premium blend of their favorite compounds, because today, you can actually customize your cannabinoids.
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There’s plenty in the worlds of medicinal cannabis and recreational marijuana that have nothing to do with isolating anything. If a person wants to smoke hemp flowers, or buy a few grams of high-THC weed, they’re getting the whole plant, no isolation needed. However, the fields of medical and recreational cannabis have been more and more reliant on the idea of isolated cannabinoids. CBD is the most popular right now, with CBD oil and vape cartridges flying off store shelves all over the world.
Much like with other forms of pharmaceutical medicine, where we often pop a pill without really thinking what that circular, chalky, perfectly-shaped tablet contains, where it came from, and how it got to be in the form we take it in, we don’t often question how our CBD oil came to be.
Cannabinoids don’t start out as cannabinoids, but rather as acids that must be heated – or decarboxylated – in order to form into the cannabinoids we are familiar with like THC, CBD, and even the rarer CGBV, and THCV. Solvents are then used to separate certain parts. These can include, ethanol, hydrocarbon (butane, propane…), chloroform, light petroleum, and CO2 – which doesn’t leave a residue.
After extraction with one of these solvents, the solution is filtered at least a couple times, generally through something like charcoal. Then it should be made more concentrated, down to about half the volume, using a 2% aqueous sodium sulfate solution. When the solvent is stripped out, and the solution is concentrated, its left as a crude oil. At this point it can even be purified further with redistillation or column chromatography.
After extraction, the oil is put in alcohol, mixed, cooled (to remove unwanted terpenes, chlorophyll and flavonoids), and then heated to burn away the alcohol. Something called short path distillation is used to isolate different compounds using their individual boiling points. A pure powder of a specific cannabinoid is left at the end which can then be used in different ways for different kinds of products. It might not be important to know all the steps of isolating a cannabinoid, but understanding it as a process is important, because this process takes time and money.
We’re all familiar with THC at this point, as it is the most prevalent cannabinoid of the cannabis plant (for high-THC marijuana). Most of us now know a good bit about CBD too, which also can be found in plentiful amounts, particularly in low-THC hemp. We also know there are more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, even if some of them appear in only trace amounts. The ability to isolate some of these rarer cannabinoids through the process above, gives users that much more choice in terms of products, and the ability to now formulate different mixtures of cannabinoids. Some rarer cannabinoids, and cannabinoid acids, that are now becoming more popular due to the ability to isolate them, are the following:
CBG – Cannabigerol – Comes from acidic precursor CBGA and makes up less than 1% of a cannabis plant.
CBN – Cannabinol – A phytocannabinoid with THC as a precursor.
CBC – Cannabichromene – The second most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis.
CBCA – Cannabichromenic Acid – The acidic precursor to CBC.
CBGA – Cannabigerolic Acid – The precursor acid that transforms into acids THCA, CBDA, and CBCA, which in turn produce other cannabinoids.
CGBV – cannabigerivarin – A cannabinoid acid with CBG as a precursor.
CBNA – Cannabinolic acid – The parent compound that transforms to CBN through decarboxylation.
CBCV – Cannabichromevarin – Closely related to CBC, with the difference of a propyl chain.
CBDV – Cannabidivarin – Closely related to CBD, and mainly found in cannabis indica landrace strains, generally from Asia and Africa.
THCV – Tetrahydrocannabivarin – Similar to THC, and does produce a psychoactive effect.
CBDA – Cannabidiolic acid – The precursor to CBD that exists in acid form.
THCA – Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. The precursor to THC that exists in acid form.
And many more, most of which have gotten so little attention as of yet, that there isn’t much written about them, or studies yet performed on them. Whereas major cannabinoids like THC and CBD can take up about 2-20% of a plant’s biomass, these lesser cannabinoids generally make up less than 1%.
One of the interesting things about cannabinoids, though, is that they each have their own medicinal profile, as they are all unique compounds unto themselves. Sometimes you might want something pure, like CBD oil. Maybe other times you want the whole plant, and the synergistic effect of all parts working together. And on other occasions, you might want to mix and match the different parts and pieces available, to customize your cannabinoids to create medicines very specific to your particular wants and needs.
Mix n match
This new industry of customizing cannabinoids is only just beginning, but it does seem to be taking off. The companies that offer this service are offering a way to create custom medicines, while also introducing customers to lesser known cannabinoids, and cannabinoid acids. The idea of personalized medication is conceptually new to Western medicine. While different people are given different medications to take, in different quantities, pharmaceutical medications are not formulated with a specific person in mind, or tweaked to meet that specific person’s needs. Natural medicine traditions are much more likely to create specialized medication for patients, and this new movement towards the ability to customize your cannabinoids is a mirror of this concept. Instead of the standard ‘trial and error’ in standard medicine, where a person might be cycled through tons of different medications to find something that works specifically with their genetics, the idea is now to tweak the meds to meet the person’s needs.
Companies getting in on it
Global Cannabinoidsis a Las Vegas based CBD oil company that now offers something else. CBD oil, and other private label products, that can be customized by the buyer to have an exact profile of cannabinoids – rare and not rare – to meet their needs. This is twofold in that it exposes people to more rare options than the standard CBD, while also giving a level of personalization.
Global Cannabinoids is already one of the biggest white label and private label suppliers of CBD, as well as a leading ingredient supplier for brands that use hemp-derived cannabinoids for their product lines. The company is one of the biggest suppliers for wholesale and bulk cannabinoids, even rarer ones. Customers can purchase CBN, CBC, CBG, and CBDV in the ratios of their choosing. Obviously, there are plenty more rare cannabinoids, as mentioned above, but this opens the door, and gets the ball rolling for using rare cannabinoids at all.
Another company moving in the same direction, is Socati, a company based out of Houston, Texas with a Montana-based facility for manufacturing cannabinoid ingredients, that is known for producing USDA certified organic hemp products. Now, they’re opening up their offering a bit more, just like Global Cannabinoids. Socati recently launched a line of private label products offering the ability to customize your cannabinoids. Custom ratios of CBD, CBG, CBN, and other rare cannabinoids can be made per personal desire in the following products: gummies, tinctures, crystalized flavor powder, pressed tablets, softgels, and capsules.
Precision Plant Molecules is another company now offering a tailored cannabinoid experience. The company is a specialty cannabinoid-based ingredient supplier. It extracts and processes hemp to create distillates, oils, concentrates, extracts, and isolates. While there isn’t much press about the company’s ability to customize your cannabinoid experience, it is explained on their website. PPM uses several minor cannabinoids along with CBD, like: CBN, CBC, CBG, CBT, CBDV, THCV, CBGA, CBDA, and others. According to its website: “Fully customizable ratios of cannabinoids afford more effective health and wellness products. Enriching to achieve a specified ratio of cannabinoids smooths the variability in even Mother Nature’s most stable chemovars.” I expect we’ll be hearing more about this company in the news soon.
The same can be said for Trait, which also hasn’t quite made big news, but which now with Trait Tailored, is also offering customized cannabinoid combinations. According to its website, “Trait Tailored’sTM patent pending technology enables growers to perfectly customize the cannabinoid profiles of their hemp or cannabis strains with ground-breaking precision.” It goes on to say, “With TailoredTM, growers are able to produce strains with greater volumes of CBD, CBG, CBC and other less common cannabinoids to make more refined and desirable products for consumers.”
Customizable medicine is certainly a new thing for most people. As the field of medicinal cannabis grows bigger and bigger, more options are being made available that were never a part of standard Western medicine before. Now, instead of cycling through tons of meds to find the one that works, you can customize your cannabinoids to create the perfect combination for all your health needs.
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In the early days of legal cannabis, we consumers didn’t have nearly as many choices as we do today. We spent a lot of money on mediocre edibles loaded with sugary syrup to mask the marijuana taste, or tinctures made with extremely high THC content so we could get as stoned as possible – that was the goal, right?
Today’s cannabis consumer is far more discerning, and rightfully so. Numerous emerging cannabis brands have raised the standards for flavor, nutrition and sourcing along with extraction processes and sustainability. Buyers aren’t just looking for quality products. They want an experience that goes beyond getting high – something that supports health and well-being. Whether that’s calm, energy, clarity, relaxation or pain relief, cutting-edge cannabis brands are tailoring their formulations and designing precise outcomes for health-minded consumers. ReCreate is one of those brands.
CBD + THC Botanicals
ReCreate is the brainchild of the Stanley Brothers, seven actual siblings from Colorado who won global recognition as creators of the iconic Charlotte’s Web, an industry-leading pioneer in whole-plant hemp health supplements. With ReCreate, the brothers have centered the wellness component of cannabis consumables and added ancient herbal medicine to the mix.
ReCreate products combine full-spectrum cannabinoids (CBD and THC) with what they call “functional botanicals” – that is, plant-derived compounds like turmeric, valerian root, lemon balm, chaga and ashwaganda. Many of these herbs, plants and fungi are staples of Ayurvedic medicine, which has been foundational to traditional Indian health practices for more than 5,000 years.
With mainstream society’s growing interest in functional foods, adaptogenic herbs, natural remedies and plant-based health, ReCreate is providing health-conscious consumers with beneficial cannabinoid formulas that include popular botanical supplements. You know you’re keeping pace with a big trend when even the New York Timesis asking, “Are Mushrooms the Future of Wellness?”
The pandemic has changed the cannabis industry landscape in more ways than one. Beyond addressing daily concerns like arthritis or insomnia, consumers want to do all they can to support their immune systems, reduce stress and manage anxiety. ReCreate’s new formulations couldn’t possibly have better timing.
The brand prioritizes health over getting high – or as their website states, “ReCreate products are not intended to be mind-altering with high amounts of THC, but rather life-enhancing with optimal levels of THC, CBD and functional Ayurvedic botanicals designed to make your life healthier and more complete.” Further appealing to the GOOP cohort, all of their offerings are gluten-free, vegan and ethically sourced, and certificates of analysis for all products can be easily reviewed online.
ReCreate products are named after the effect they’ve been designed to produce. For example, the four chocolates in their product line are titled Focus, Sleep, Relax and Relief. ReCreate also offers tinctures called Everyday, Relief, Relax and Sleep. The Sleep tincture has a 1:4 CBD:THC ratio to promote drowsiness, along with the added punch of valerian root, a plant that has been used for sleep disorders in Europe for decades (I sampled the Sleep tincture and slept like a rock).
ReCreate is betting on a whole new concept of cannabis: that of a medicinal plant that can be artfully combined with other herbs to create botanical formulas that support overall health.
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