A few years ago, economists and the media were predicting the future of the cannabis industry. Now, it’s not so much a trajectory for cannabis, but rather a trajectory for cannabinoids. The more we move into the future of weed, the more we are going to see formulations of isolated cannabinoids and even biosynthetically produced cannabinoids. These formulations will give predictable results consistently, and essentially, will follow more of a pharmaceutical model than a “herbal medicine” model.
Since California first legalized medical cannabis in 1996, the cannabis industry has been the fastest growing industry. Now, over 20 years later, we are watching cannabis change from a green, fragrant flower into a series of extracted formulas with perfect ratios of cannabinoids. It’s now normalized to equate “cannabis” with “CBD tincture”, “CBD isolate” and “terpene infused full spectrum CBD oil”. These products are the trajectory for the cannabis industry as it transforms into cannabis and its derivatives industry.
In at least the last 5 years, cannabis consumers have taken a particular liking for isolated cannabinoids, especially CBD. The first cannabis extracts were made with butane, and the resultant product was BHO. Since the dawn of this kind of cannabis extraction, the industry has continued to purify and refine techniques for extracting cannabinoids. Now, the industry employs techniques such as fractional distillation to isolate all of the different cannabinoids in an extract. This means that the cannabis industry is currently able to produce near pure single cannabinoids such as CBD isolate.
These powdery, white substances are extremely far removed from the sticky flower that once exclusively belonged in a joint or in alcohol tinctures. In fact, they don’t at all resemble cannabis, despite the fact that cannabis is their source. Manufacturers are using these isolated cannabinoids to produce single-cannabinoid products such as CBD vape juice and CBD oils.
Interestingly, these isolated cannabinoids are also being used in the manufacture of pharmaceutical cannabis products. Until now, there aren’t many, but products such as GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex and Epidolex are manufactured with isolates. This ensures the perfect ratio of cannabinoids in every bottle and removes the inconsistencies we observe in the raw flower.
Overall, isolated cannabinoids have a commercial purpose. Consumers can still purchase CBD isolate for their own mixing at home (such as making edibles, vape juice or tinctures), but for the most part, these products are used by the industry.
Manufacturing cannabinoids in a laboratory
Aside from manufacturing single cannabinoid products, certain companies are now investing in cannabinoids that are biosynthesized in a laboratory. Zenabis is one such Canadian company which has partnered with Farmako, a German pharmaceutical research company. The objective of this partnership is to bring biosynthetically produced cannabinoids into Canada.
In fact, Zenabis admits that biosynthetically produced cannabinoids will meet Canadian demands for cannabinoids at an extremely competitive price. After all, growing plants and extracting their cannabinoids is time-consuming. Now, the technology has been developed to produce cannabinoids such as THC and CBD in a laboratory without the need for growing. This technology may even lead to biosynthetically produced cannabinoids such as CBG and CBN, which are also medicinal but less prevalent in the cannabis plant.
If we excuse politics and all the legislation and regulation that will come with this change to the cannabis industry, it’s quite obvious that the trajectory for cannabinoids is pharmacy. Cannabis-derived products aren’t just gaining popularity, but are also gaining validity as therapeutic substances. Thanks to the mountains of research currently being pumped into cannabinoids, the medical industry is slowly accepting these compounds as inherently therapeutic. This move requires stricter regulation and of course, more precise formulations of cannabinoids.
The current swing towards isolated cannabinoids all points towards the pharmaceutical application of cannabinoids. However, for this to take place, formulations have to be created with perfectly consistent cannabinoid ratios. Pharmaceutical companies have to produce a cannabinoid product that is consistent every time and with virtually identical results every time it is used. No such guarantee can be given to cannabis flowers, which vary in their cannabinoid profile greatly between strains, growing techniques and climate.
We can look at this shift as a shift towards greater regulation. Essentially, cannabinoids will be treated with the same rigorous testing and regulation as pharmaceutical products. It almost seems like a necessary adjustment for medical cannabis to make its way into the pharmacy.
The future of cannabis is cannabinoids. It won’t be called the cannabis industry anymore, but rather the cannabinoid industry. This movement is expected to meet the growing demand for cannabinoids around the world, especially in their medical context. That’s not to say that cannabis flowers will no longer be a thing, but will likely be reserved for recreational users, while medical users revel in a new era of pharmaceutical cannabinoids.