Canopy Growth Corporation acquired a few old cannabis patents last year. One patent Canopy acquired was for the production of a synthetic variation of THC known as dronabinol. (1) Previously, it was understood that Dronabinol is too expensive to fit within the recreational cannabis market. Well, chemistry has made a few advantages that will be good for the research of the endocannabinoid system. However, these advantages can also put synthetic THC hidden as an organic phytocannabinoid on shelves thats a dollar or less to produce per gram.

One dollar THC can come from terpenes
Limonene is a major terpene in the essential oil of orange peels and cannabis. This ‘terp’ can be converted into carvone; a versatile platform for organic synthesis. Other terpenes can also be used to produce THC and CBD isomers as well.

Cost cuts give a synthetic cannabinoid an unfortunate chance

Dronabinol itself is expensive partly due to phase III clinical trials, which racked up a $10 million to $40 million bill according to a book published by the National Academy of Sciences — in 2001. And, it currently still costs $292 to $633 for a gram and a half of synthetic THC, divided into individual 2.5 mg capsules, as a prescription medication.

Not to disregard good cultivated cannabis (C. Sativa), but perhaps we should say, “at least this THC came from hemp, rather than acetylated terps?”

Regulators, and ultimately some processors, have distanced themselves so far from cultural tradition that non-cannabis-derived cannabinoids can enter the market disguised as natural substances — as phytocannabinoids. Now, due to advances in organic chemistry, it will cost less than a dollar a gram to produce THC and other rare and expensive cannabinoids.

It is a little more complicated than synthetic and natural in the realm of cannabinoid production and nomenclature. (3)

‘Is it Eubio?’ – A motto for cannabis fit for 2021

Many sales reps are promoting irrefutably poesynthetic cannabinoids as rare compounds with bold claims that they’re derived exclusively from the cannabis plant. In reality, it is irrational, economically, to produce certain cannabinoids, such as THCp for example, from cannabis. But, a eubiosynthetic cannabinoid should be exclusively produced by a plant according to a study published in Sage Journals. This research project was conducted by the independent researcher, Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, co-founder of the FAAAT Think and do tank. (3)

Some cannabinoids, such as THCp, are only found in the plant at less than 0.001 percent, which would require at least 100 kilograms of flower (or biomass) to produce 1 gram of isolate.

Now, the cost of cannabinoids made with chemical synthesis can drop so low that cannabis farms will struggle to compete. A few cannabinoids will always have their place in semi-synthesis, such as clean Delta-8 and even D10-THC. But, altering other cannabinoids found in hemp or cannabis is what creates these isomers of THC. There now exists techniques to turn non-cannabis terpenes into isomers of THC and other cannabinoids without any molecular differences — given the chemist’s experience.

How will chemical labs disrupt hemp farms?

Semi-synthetic THC for under a dollar gram is what currently threatens to disrupt the cannabis farmer and the market. This process will launch the industry’s reliance on the shoulders of labs and chemical manufacturers, if not low-cost hemp farms. This raises a lot of ethics questions but also directly puts the globe’s hemp farmers in the face of career loss, or at least major profit reduction. Are we really prepared to move the entire cannabinoid isolate industry away from agricultural fields and purely into the realm of chemical laboratories and imported regents?

Cannabis plants and chemistry are mutual and build each other in ways some can never understand. So, can it be agreed that a balance between the two needs to be maintained?

How make one dollar THC
Two different one-flow organic synthesis methods for the production of THC and CBD.

Derived from terpenes, not cannabis

Oddly, some poesynthetics entering the market are potentially only semi-synthetic since they are derived from a unique terpene. We previously discussed this procedure with Professor William Maio of New Mexico State University. So you may hear that the only residual compound in these “synthetic” cannabinoids is a “terpene.”

The process can involve transferring non-cannabis-derived terpenes into modified terpenoids, such as acetylated isopiperitenol. The resulting terpenoids are then smashed into polymerized cannabinoids by buffering them in a pink solution of boron trifluoride etherate (BF3) over a bed of acidified silica. This is quenched in a basic (high PH) solution and the resulting cannabinoids are purified.

With price cuts and limited transparency, we have a finicky fence between the processor’s semi-synthetic plans and the consumer’s edibles, vape pens, and dab rigs — regulatory hurdles.

Regulations and the big synthetic debate

The Feds are a pain for hemp and cannabis consumers and cultivators, generally. That said, it’s at a point that we must ask, does current self-regulation in the industry preserve the viability of the farmer? Policy and regulation penned by the wrong arm presently perpetuate certain turmoils in the industry.

More stringent restrictions will block major scientific developments from occurring in the rare cannabinoid space — advancements that might translate to horticultural science as well as clinical research. The question remains whether or not we allow the feds to completely restrict semi-synthetics.

There is an unknown boundary between right and wrong. This answer will depend on if it’s coming from a regulator, consumer, profiteering processor, or compassionate care provider. Perhaps, the simple acidic isomerization of CBD or D9-THC into D8 is innocent. And, if the regulator continues to restrict Class II solvents but allows acetic acid, perhaps, that’s a better step forward rather than outright restriction.

Some members of the industry claim to use CBD as a scaffold for D9-THC but are still quite familiar with one-flow organic synthesis methods. (A screenshot of a conversation about the topic of organic THC synthesis which the author engaged in via Instagram.)

How can a regulator ensure a product’s purity for their patient’s health without hindering recreational freedom?

D8-THC can be made from hemp-derived CBD in a clean process, but it can also be done dirty. The regulator’s job is to ensure access to solvents, for example, for cannabinoid production is not so limited it hurts the viability of the chemist, but not be so liberal it allows a disregard for safety. Any disregard for the farmer can fall on regulators when regarding product labels which are easily manipulated by processors who entered into this market for the wrong reasons.

The industry is powered by the consumer’s dollar and decision, so buy wisely. The green is dank but neighbouring fields are prospering and might just have a problem with snakes in their poorly maintained grass.

Let us know your thoughts on the true cost of cheap cannabinoid production in the comments. Do you think respect for cultural traditions is due while we advance the cannabis industry into lesser-known solvents?

Sources

  1. US8324408B2
  2. Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 10, PHARMACEUTICALS FROM MARIJUANA. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224399/
  3. Riboulet-Zemouli, Kenzi. (2020). ‘Cannabis’ ontologies I: Conceptual issues with Cannabis and cannabinoids terminology. Drug Science Policy and Law. 6. 1–37. 10.1177/2050324520945797.
  4. EP3 653 596A1
  5. Bloemendal, V.R.L.J., Spierenburg, B., Boltje, T.J. et al. One-flow synthesis of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol using homo- and heterogeneous Lewis acids. J Flow Chem 11, 99–105 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41981-020-00133-2

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