What is Synthetic CBD Oil?

Cannabidiol (CBD) products are everywhere, but not all of them are natural. Synthetic CBD products are becoming increasingly widespread, and some of them can be hazardous to your health.

Before you shop, it’s important to understand:

  • What synthetic CBD oil is
  • How synthetic CBD differs from natural CBD
  • How to identify and avoid synthetic CBD products

We’ll also break down the legal nuances and address how—with the proper testing and regulation—synthetic CBD may one day become a safe, beneficial option.

What Is Synthetic CBD Oil?

Synthetic CBD oil is a chemical-based formula that’s designed to mimic the effects of real CBD inside the body. It essentially tricks your body into thinking that CBD is present even though it isn’t.

CBD is a cannabinoid, a natural compound found in marijuana and hemp that binds to cannabis receptors in the body. These chemical interactions are responsible for the physical and therapeutic effects of cannabidiol. Synthetic CBD binds to these same cannabinoid receptors, but sometimes with unwanted side effects.

If you’ve seen products like K2 and Spice sold in your local convenience store or smoke shop, you’ve seen synthetic cannabinoids. However, those products are designed to mimic the effects of marijuana. Synthetic CBD is like Spice for the cannabidiol market.

Why Is Synthetic CBD Becoming Popular?

There are several reasons why synthetic cannabidiol is making its way into stores:

  • It’s easier to mass-produce. Large quantities of hemp are required to extract small amounts of cannabidiol. This isn’t a problem with synthetic production.
  • It’s cheaper to produce and sell. Synthetic CBD doesn’t require the acres of hemp, the large production facilities, the million-dollar extraction tools, or the vast regulatory oversight. As a result, it can be produced at a fraction of the cost. The savings are passed on to the retailer and ultimately the consumer.
  • It’s an easy way to skirt legal restrictions. Though hemp-derived cannabidiol products are legal at the federal level, many states—like Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, and South Dakota—still have strict CBD regulations on the books. Synthetic products aren’t subject to these regulations.

How Do People Take Synthetic CBD Oil?

Just like real cannabidiol products, synthetic CBD is typically mixed with a carrier liquid (like coconut, MCT, or palm oil) and sold as a liquid-based tincture. The liquid is applied beneath the tongue using a dropper and is then absorbed into the bloodstream.

This is why it’s so easy to purchase synthetic cannabidiol thinking that it’s the real thing. The preparation and packaging often look the same. You have to read the label carefully in order to know what you’re getting.

Is Synthetic CBD Legal?

Although synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured in part to get around anti-marijuana laws, the legality of over-the-counter synthetics is murky at best. While there are no explicit laws prohibiting the cultivation or sale of synthetic CBD, the FDA is nevertheless cracking down, even going so far as to call synthetic cannabinoids “illegal.” Some of these products may be in violation of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

While the FDA hasn’t targeted synthetic cannabidiol specifically, they may start doing so in the near future. The Hemp Industries Association and other hemp stakeholders have been lobbying for the FDA to ban synthetic CBD, citing safety concerns.

For the time being, you probably won’t be cited for possessing one of these products. But just because you can possess it doesn’t mean you should.

Is Synthetic CBD Safe?

Synthetic CBD products are unsafe and should be avoided as of July 2020. They’re usually synthesized with harmful chemicals like fluoride and bromide, and some synthetics even contain traces of brodifacoum, an anticoagulant used in rat poison. In many cases, the product label will be marked “Not for human consumption,” merely as a means of shielding the manufacturer from liability.

In 2018, over-the-counter synthetic CBD oil sickened 52 people in Utah. Thirty-one of those people were sent to the emergency room. The illnesses were all linked to a product marketed as Yolo CBD Oil, sold at smoke and head shops. All of the victims believed that they were purchasing natural CBD oil.

So far, we only have one major study analyzing the effects of synthetic CBD. A study by the Journal of Medical Phyto Research in Los Gatos, California, examined two groups of CBD users: one group used natural cannabidiol, and the other used synthetic cannabidiol. The synthetic users were found to have dangerously high levels of Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST) and Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT), two natural enzymes that expel CBD from the body. The researchers concluded that the human body is ill-equipped to metabolize synthetic CBD on its own.

That’s not to say that a safe synthetic can’t someday be made available. Researchers at UC Davis have successfully produced a synthetic compound called 8,9-Dihydrocannabidiol (H2CBD) without the use of real hemp. The compound is currently undergoing safety and efficacy testing, but so far it has proven highly successful.

What Are the Side Effects of Synthetic CBD?

The side effects can vary greatly depending on how the cannabidiol was synthesized, but possible reactions include:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vomiting

The FDA has also warned of the possibility of severe bleeding, particularly associated with synthetic marijuana products that contain brodifacoum.

How to Avoid Synthetic Cannabidiol Products

To ensure that you’re getting a premium, natural product:

  • Read the label before buying—Confirm that the product is made from hemp, and determine where the hemp was grown. Avoid any product labeled “Synthetic,” “Not for human consumption,” or “Just like the real thing.”
  • Ask questions—Ask the budtender or business owner about the CBD brand; you might also search online for consumer reviews and information.
  • Request a certificate of analysis—A reputable CBD brand will offer a third-party certificate of analysis (COA) for each product. This means that the cannabidiol was lab-tested and that the quality is assured.

Consider a premium brand like Infinite CBD as an example. If you look at their labels, they make it clear that their oils are made from hemp and grown in Colorado. Each product is lab-tested and comes with a satisfaction guarantee, and their website has a complete knowledge base and comprehensive product information.

Those are the details you should always look for in a cannabidiol product.

Synthetic CBD May Someday Be Viable

Synthetic cannabidiol products are dangerously low-quality, but this may change as CBD continues to become more widely accepted and clinical-grade synthetics are developed.

Consider aspirin. This universally lauded medicine was once derived from the willow bark, a natural source of salicylic acid. Over the years, scientists have developed safe ways to synthesize salicylic acid without the bark, allowing for more effective mass production at a lower cost with fewer side effects.

We know that similar results are possible with cannabidiol because scientists are already developing safer formulations. In addition, the FDA has already approved three synthetic cannabis products for prescription medical use: Marinol, Sydros, and Cesamet. We just don’t have anything like that on the consumer market yet.

For now, stick with natural hemp preparations. It may cost more, but your health and safety are worth the added price tag.

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