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Will Legal Synthetic Cannabinoids Take Over Cannabis Industry?


We live in a world of synthetics. Most of our clothing is no longer cotton, but a mix of plastics. Much of our food is made of chemicals that can barely be pronounced. And now cannabis, our favorite smokable medicine and recreational pastime, might be replaced soon with legal synthetic cannabinoids.

It’s a world of synthetics

My mother used to work with a guy that had a great hookup for getting Coach bags. For anyone unfamiliar with the brand, Coach produces high quality leather bags, that come with a nice high price tag. My mother was buying tons of them, passing them on as gifts, and using a different one herself every day. They weren’t real of course, although I don’t remember how she found this out. They were knock-offs. Products that looked almost exactly the same, that felt almost exactly the same, but were actually made of entirely different materials, and overall of lesser quality. My mother was very unhappy when she realized what was going on, and never spoke again to her workmate who had bamboozled her, but buying synthetic products is pretty standard, and a lot of the time, most people never know that what they have isn’t the real thing.

Aren’t synthetic cannabinoids already a big thing?

Yes! Massive! In fact, if you read around the internet, you might get a little confused. Every time you see words like ‘spice’ and ‘k2’ being spoken about in reference to cannabis, its referring to synthetic cannabinoids. So, what’s the difference between these synthetic cannabinoids, and the legal synthetic cannabinoids that biotech industries are rushing to create and put on the market? Good question. While large biotech firms have the money and ability to make different concoctions, they aren’t technically producing anything terribly far off from the illegal version that people are constantly being warned against with terror stories of a few people dead over years of time. In the article cited it should be noted that most of the deaths weren’t even attributed to the synthetic cannabis, but rather a rat poison contaminant. Of course, somehow, those stories are all forgotten, or pushed aside, when the synthetics being spoken about come from companies that can sell their products above board, and have them taxed by the government. Funny how that works, right? While I suppose one could make the argument that its regulated vs unregulated, and that one is more dangerous than the other, the lack of relevant deaths from the unregulated version (no matter how much the very few that occur are publicized, let’s remember what it really means to have an epidemic of overdoses), and the standard story of putting down the one that doesn’t make the government tax dollars, while promoting the one that does – and which brings billions to large biotech companies – isn’t an unfamiliar story at all. So no, synthetic cannabis is far from new. I was smoking Mr. Nice Guy in Tel Aviv 10 years ago, and word on the street back then is that it was all synthetics. Now, with a massive 180º, the very thing being warned against constantly, is now the new thing being pushed by large biotech corporations.

synthetic cannabinoids
synthetic cannabinoids

The new world of cannabis synthetics

The production of synthetic cannabis seems to be twofold. Sometimes it’s just about creating an alternate version (that can legally be patented), and sometimes it’s about large scale production of a substance that is found in only tiny, miniscule amounts. Like, for example, CBG, or cannabigerol, a cannabinoid that makes up only about 1% of a cannabis plant by the time of harvest, and which has been associated – much like CBD – with pain management, as an anti-inflammatory, with neurodegenerative diseases, and with glaucoma. In fact, Willow Biosciences, has partnered with manufacturer Albany Molecular Research to create a large scale production of the cannabinoid – which also like CBD, has not been associated with psychoactive effects, making it a good addition to the medical cannabis family.

Willow is a Canadian company out of Calgary, but it’s already got a lot of competition. US based Biomedican Inc., of Fremont, California, is giving Willow a run for its money, claiming to already have a CBG strain that’s ready for mass production. Two other companies,  Demetrix and Amyris, are also looking to get specifically into the CBG game. In what is to me an incredibly and profoundly misconstrued statement, Headset, which apparently tracks cannabis trends, made the statement that cannabinoids on the market today are currently plant-derived for the most part, particularly with products like vape pens, but that synthetic versions should be coming soon. Now, this thought would have a lot more meaning if we weren’t constantly being told to stay away from ‘spice’ and ‘k2’, which are black market synthetic cannabinoids. In fact, the majority of vape pens being sold in a place like California, which has the biggest legal cannabis market, are knock-offs, and that means synthetic cannabinoids!! Whoever made the statement at Headset, which was picked up by Inquirer, must have only been speaking of the legal market, and the thing about cannabis, is that if you’re only looking at the legal market, you’re missing so much of what goes on. So much so that we’re having a conversation about legal synthetic cannabinoids as if they just came out, when the majority of us vaping pens, or smoking ‘fake weed’, have been using them for years…and generally without incident.

What are they making synthetics of?

Pretty much anything that can be isolated from the cannabis plant and serves some understood value. CBN, CBG, THC-A, THC-V, Delta-8 THC… This is probably a good time to remind about Marinol. While this whole discussion goes on about synthetics, its easy to forget that along with all the black market synthetics that are warned against, there’s also Marinol. Marinol, also known as Dronabinol, is an entirely synthetic cannabis medication which has been around since 1986 and is produced by several pharmaceutical companies at this point. So, not even pharmaceutically a new idea, it is quite possible that pharmaceutical versions of cannabis may not have, as of yet, made the dent in the industry that they were intended to.

dronabinol
dronabinol

Why synthetics?

This should be more obvious than it probably is to most people. If the majority of vape pens out there are knock-offs, and if mass producing ‘fake weed’ is cheaper (probably wouldn’t have been done if it was more expensive as criminal organizations aren’t generally looking to produce knock-offs at higher prices), than it should be understood that in the case of cannabis, fake is cheaper. This means that extracting real cannabinoids is going to be a much more expensive and difficult process than creating synthetics that can then be mass produced at lesser cost.

If you take a step back, this becomes almost silly. Growing cannabis is one of the easiest things to do, and very cheap. Just consider that in any legal place, a person can generally grow their own plants. But once it becomes a regulated market, and prices are jacked up, its no longer cheap, especially when considering dispensary prices, and massive taxes. Synthetics, on the other hand, make it cheaper again – bringing it back to where it would likely be priced if it were on the black market (although I can’t confirm this as there isn’t a price point to compare right now). It also does something else though… plants can’t be patented, at least not in their natural form. However, changed, or synthetic versions, can be. So, while the cannabis game has been hard for pharmaceutical companies to control – creating a non-plant version gives our biotech and pharmaceutical compatriots a way to create a substance that can be patented.

What to expect

The general expectation is that the biotech and pharmaceutical industries will do everything they can to co-op the medical marijuana and general legal cannabis industries. Whether it will work or not is a different story. Sometimes pharmaceutical companies don’t have the pull they wish. If they did, everyone would be using Marinol, and Sativex already, and that’s not the case. The problem with cannabis, when it comes to big pharma, is that cannabis isn’t a pharmaceutical drug unless its made to be one. If the people are never interested in these new medical advents, then the old rules remain, and people keep smoking the plant. If big pharma can produce a product at the right price point, that’s accessible enough, and gets the job done, it could be a very different story. In this particular instance it’s an interesting battle for the market, and its hard to say how it will go. In the case of cannabis, the thing to remember is that we don’t technically need all this, and the more production that goes into it, the higher the cost, and the more need to find synthetic answers.

The takeaway

It looks like the legal medicinal cannabis market, (and possibly recreational one), will soon be flooded with legal synthetic cannabinoids. What will this really mean? Well, that’s up to all of you. If you want your plant to be a plant, then smoke your plant and nature wins. If you’re cool with the synthetic version, that go out and use it. The ability of the synthetic market to do well has mainly to do with the ability of biotech companies and governments to convince their people that synthetics are a better answer.

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