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Does CBD Only Come From Cannabis and Hemp?

July 12, 2018
(RyanJLane/iStock)
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is exploding in popularity, but its uncertain legality has created barriers between consumers and providers. But what if cannabis and hemp were not the only sources of CBD?

Chemists have been able to synthesize CBD in the lab for years, but it’s wildly expensive (from one research supply source, it’s $159/10mg, and many require hundreds of milligrams to achieve therapeutic benefits) and you’re required to have a Schedule I DEA license to make the purchase. On top of that, it’s not intended for human consumption.

So instead of turning to the beaker, others are considering ways of manipulating the machinery of organisms to create CBD.

CBD From Hops

One recent notable example of alternative CBD sourcing comes from the hops plant. Isodiol International Inc. claims to have created the only source of CBD from a non-cannabis plant (including hemp).

Hops are well known for their distinctive flavor they impart in the brewing of beer. But can the hops plant, Humulus lupulus, be made to produce cannabinoids like THC or CBD? Isodiol International Inc. has not shared any data supporting their ability to create CBD from hops, nor did they respond to my request for comment. So, does their hops-derived CBD product, ImmuneAG, actually contain CBD? Maybe, and in theory, it can be done. (More on that shortly.)

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CBD From Yeast

Others are turning to yeast to do the hard labor of creating cannabinoids. Yeast do not naturally produce cannabinoids, but give them the right tools and it’s possible.

By manipulating their DNA, yeast can produce CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids or terpenes that would naturally be found in the cannabis plant.

Librede, a California-based company has done just that. They hold a patent and have received federal funding to mass produce cannabinoids from yeast. By manipulating their DNA, yeast can produce CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids or terpenes that would naturally be found in the cannabis plant. And they do it for far cheaper than traditional cultivation methods.

It’s a one-step process: add sugar and let the bioengineered yeast do the rest. Liberte estimates that they’ll be able to create a gram of CBD for 20 cents, far less than cultivation and extraction of CBD from cannabis or hemp plants.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of a lower environmental impact. Cannabis and hemp plants require a substantial amount of water and energy (especially for indoor grow operations). Many growers also commonly use pesticides and fertilizers that can contaminate local water supplies, which has a significant environmental impact.

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The Recipe for Producing Cannabinoids

To create cannabinoids, you need two basic features: 1) the precursor molecules from which cannabinoids are made, and 2) the enzymes which convert the precursor molecules into particular cannabinoids.

In order for hops or yeast to create cannabinoids, they must first be able to produce hexanoic acid and geranyl diphosphate (GPP). Hexanoic acid is common in many plants and is eventually turned into olivetolic acid (often simply referred to as OA), where together with GPP, it is synthesized into cannabigerolic acid.

Creating cannabigerolic acid is a key milestone in the pathway to create cannabinoids. Once you’ve reached it, all you need is the right enzymes to convert it into THC, CBD, or other cannabinoids (note: technically, the enzymes convert cannabigerolic acid into the acid form of THC or CBD—heat then converts them into the familiar THC and CBD we know and love).

But this is a major holdup, as plants other than cannabis don’t possess the DNA that allows them to naturally produce these enzymes.

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Adding the Ingredients

Bioengineers have developed the tools that enable yeast to produce the key ingredients in cannabinoid production. Yeast have been engineered to produce hexanoic acid (which you’ll recall is the precursor to OA) as well as the enzyme that converts cannabigerolic acid to THC acid (THCA). Librete claims that the entire process, from sugar to cannabinoid, takes less than a week. Once THCA is produced, now all you need is a flame to get high.

Is it possible to turn the hops plant into a cannabinoid producer? Yes. The new gene-manipulating technique known as CRISPR can do just that. CRISPR is a method that allows scientists to cut out a certain region of DNA and replace it with DNA of their choosing. Using CRSIPR, scientists could insert the DNA for the enzymes that convert cannabigerolic acid into THC or CBD, thus converting the hemp plant into a cannabinoid producer. Is this what Isodiol has done? They won’t say.

The issue of the medicinal effectiveness remains. For instance, whole-plant extracts of CBD-rich cannabis are known to have stronger anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing qualities than CBD on its own. Yet, by bioengineering plants or yeast to create a spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes, with time and research, the optimal combination of “ingredients” can be created for each condition.

Josh Kaplan's Bio Image

Josh Kaplan

Josh Kaplan, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Western Washington University. He is a passionate science writer, educator, and runs a laboratory that researches cannabis' developmental and therapeutic effects.

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  • Austin

    Think you could make me some THCa isolate from yeast, Mom?

  • Patrick Anderson

    CBD oil from hemp is nothing but snake oil

    • Roger Vestad

      Heee ??

    • Curt

      That’s an ignorant statement. The best way to extract low THC and high CBD is from hemp. Full plant extracts from cannabis have other applications. Many people benefit from CBD oil.

      • Patrick Anderson

        People who think they are benefiting from Hemp CBD oil are suffering placebo effect! There is 0 medical value in Hemp! If you want to waste your money on this snake oil, have at it. Your loss

        • Sledge Hammer

          are you drunk, high or just stupid???
          What is snake-oil and where your bullsh*t-opinion that Hemp have no medical effects come from?

          (some people should really be banned to publish their mental flaws over the world so easy)

          • Patrick Anderson

            The fact that you do not know what “snake oil” is shows what you know, or rather don’t know! There is a reason they call it INDUSTRIAL hemp!

  • ✨ Lee Know, ND ✨

    I vote to keep the cannabis industry free from GMO. Once the genie is out, can’t put it back in the bottle!

  • Jackson McCormack

    I believe you mistakenly used “hemp” in the final paragraphs when you intended to use “hops”; as hemp is already a ‘cannabinoid producer’
    I still very much appreciate the article! 💚

  • Hus Sae

    Well it seems like the durrrty mad scientists are at it again. If our creator wanted yeast to produce cbd then it would have been doing it already. These are the same people that have caused americans to become the most obese people in the world with the highest rates of cancer etc.

    • YCNAN

      THE ONES WHO ALSO HAVE CREATED GMO FRANKENFOODS

  • Shelley Marie Salvatore

    I agree whole plant extracts! We do not need to synthesixe this plant medicine! Also, CBD oil from Hemp is def not snake oil!! My son grew with some friends a wonderful Hemp CBD and it works ! i have been in this Industry for decades and make all kiinds of products and it is just at the beginning stages of being a useful plant whether it be Hemp derived or Cannabis derived! CBD and THC are very helpful to me, take it form someone who takes no pharmaceuticals and has lived with chronic pain for over 30 years!

  • Sledge Hammer

    “Is it possible to turn the hemp plant into a cannabinoid producer?” ???

    The author writes the article like cannabis and hemp are 2 totally different plants, which is just wrong, because
    Hemp is Cannabis, its just a special strain with THC-Levels under 0,2 % THC, so the question is bullshit as hemp alsp always produce THC (just in miminal amounts and much more CBD (about 5 %) for normal hemp.

    So, the articel is wrong, confusing and diseducating and makes it hard to believe the higher chemical explanations while talking bullsh*t in such a simple condition.

    HEMP=CANNABIS, its just a special strain