Global demand is growing fast for cannabidiol, or CBD, the cannabinoid believed to hold a plethora of curative properties. Despite the fact that CBD continues to be a controlled substance under U.S. federal law, plenty of companies have been engaged in what could be called a “CBD arms race,” trying to figure out the most efficient ways to produce the cannabinoid.
So, when a corporation claimed to have derived CBD from hops, a flurry of news stories started to declaim the potential. However, most experts concur that the only way to get hops to produce cannabinoids is through genetic engineering, which means that the cannabinoids are still coming from cannabis genes.
The Big Print Giveth…
Back in November, Vancouver-based Isodiol International issued a press release boasting of plans to begin U.S. sales of “ImmunAG, the market’s first non-cannabis cannabidiol (CBD) product derived from the hops plant.” Then, just this month, San Diego-based Medical Marijuana Inc. issued its own press release announcing similar plans and making similar claims about the same product, in a partnership with Peak Health of San Francisco. The two firms will market the CBD product as Real Scientific Humulus Oil (RHO-K), as humulus is the scientific name for hops.
ImmunAg’s website says the company is based in Goa, India, and boasts of being “the world’s only supplier of healing extract from the patent pending ‘Humulus kriya’ plant.” It describes ImmunAg as a combination of CBD with β-caryophyllene and humulene. These last two are terpenes also found in the hop plant.
In its coverage of the Medical Marijuana Inc announcement, Denver-based Westworld called hops-derived CBD a “loophole” in the federal stricture on the cannabinoid. The account stated that because humulus kriya “is a variety of hop, not cannabis, the oil is legal in this country.”
Industry website Merry Jane similarly hyped an “interesting way around the problem” of federal stricture — “creating a new CBD extract sourced from unquestionably legal plants.”
… and the Small Print Taketh Away
Alas, such verbiage is misleading. It is CBD itself that is listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a controlled substance — regardless of how it is derived. Any ambiguity about this was removed on April 30 of this year, when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in litigation that CBD was a controlled substance. In the case, the Hemp Industries Association argued that since CBD is not actually listed in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, it is not proscribed. However, the court accepted the DEA’s argument that since it is found in cannabis, it is automatically covered by the law.
This is expected to change — the DEA is obliged to reconsider the status of CBD pursuant to the Food & Drug Administration‘s June approval of a CBD product — GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex. But even if the DEA does reschedule or deschedule CBD, the plant it is derived from is not relevant.
And many are skeptical about the claim of hop-derived CBD altogether. Vice Money, in its write-up on the Isodiol announcement, flatly stated: “Scientists, however, are questioning the authenticity of that discovery.”
The article quoted Isodiol’s communications director Christopher Hussey saying: “It’s a powerful product and it’s not associated with the cannabis plant, yet we have managed to proof [sic] that it has the same effect as CBD from cannabis.”
But also quoted is Jonathan Page, an adjunct professor at University of British Columbia’s Botany Department who was openly skeptical: “It’s really puzzling to me. As far as scientific literature goes, there has been no reported case of CBD being isolated from the hop plant.”
In fact, Page added, the hop plant is not even believed to contain CBD. “To Isodiol, I say show us the evidence. A corporate press release is not scientific evidence.”
Cannabiz Journal, in a write-up this April, stated in its opening sentence that Isodiol “may have found a way around the DEA and FDA stranglehold on access to cannabidiol.”
But dig several paragraphs deeper, and Cannabiz quotes Dr. Ethan Russo, former president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society and now a senior medical advisor for GW Pharmaceuticals. Here’s what he had to say: “Hops (Humulus lupulus) is also from the Cannabaceae family, and the closest plant relative of cannabis. However, hops does not contain CBD naturally. So, if there were hops that produced CBD, it would only be after it had been genetically modified artificially, a step that I certainly do not endorse. Alternatively, a hops extract might have CBD added, but that would be a marketing ploy with no real scientific, medical, or legal advantage in the end.”
Legally and scientifically, the claims about this product are highly dubious at the very best. It would be nice if journalists would put the caveats closer to the first sentence (even at the expense of clicks), and remember Public Enemy’s old adage — don’t believe the hype.
TELL US, do you think cannabis genes should be genetically engineered into other plants?