Why does everything always have to be natural?
Hemp: it’s complicated
Cannabis plants contain a number of different cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabichromene (CBC). Very little research has been carried out so far into their effects when isolated or combined. Our bodies actually produce their own cannabinoids called “endocannabinoids”, and we all have an endocannabinoid system with receptors that the cannabinoids can bind to. This system plays a role in regulating numerous things like sleep, appetite and memory. Some cannabinoids, such as CBD, can be produced synthetically. But are the synthetic versions as good as the natural ones?
Synthetic cannabinoids are cheaper
Synthesising natural substances is an important branch of the pharmaceutical industry. Aspirin, for example, is the product of the industrial synthesis of a natural substance. Salicin is an anti-inflammatory substance that can be extracted from the leaves and the bark of willow trees, and aspirin contains the synthetic version of this substance, acetylsalicylic acid. There is no reason we could not use willow bark extract to treat the same symptoms and conditions that we use aspirin to treat today.
For use as a pharmaceutical drug, synthetic CBD usually comes in the form of a very pure, crystalline powder. It is no different to natural CBD at the molecular level. Producing synthetic CBD is a very straightforward process for pharmaceutical companies, and quality can be standardised. The synthetic production process for substances such as cannabidiol is much cheaper than extracting the natural substance from the plant. Consumers usually prefer natural extracts, even if for purely subjective reasons, but the synthetic substances have a huge advantage over them when it comes to price.
Producing natural CBD is a high-cost, high-risk process
Despite the added expense, more complex production processes and unpredictability involved, a large number of cannabis products are made using natural CBD. Cultivating the plants from which the CBD is extracted is cost- and labour-intensive. Growing CBD hemp involves a number of additional risk factors, including aspects like limits for the concentration of THC in the plants. The amount of THC in a naturally grown plant can vary – if the amount is above the legally allowed limit, growers run the risk of losing the entire crop. Using synthetic cannabinoids eliminates this risk.
The entourage effect: the whole is more than just the sum of its parts
The advantage of isolated components is clear: you can use a specific active substance to treat specific conditions. If you have a vitamin C deficiency, you can take a vitamin C tablet. If you need more vitamin D, you can take a vitamin D capsule. But, in practice, we cannot always be sure what we are actually deficient in, and we also do not really know if the isolated substances have the same effect as they do when combined with other substances. Just like a phone call cannot replace actual face-to-face interaction, a vitamin C tablet can never replace apples or oranges. The whole is more than just the sum of its parts.
In cannabis research, this is called the “entourage effect”, a term that describes how, when we consume a plant such as cannabis, the combination of all the substances in the plant can have a more pronounced effect than the individual substances in isolation. In other words, we do not know if CBD is more effective when it is consumed alongside THC and other terpenes and flavonoids from the plant. All we know is that something worked. But why? This is the reason that Heimat products only contain entire natural hemp flowers and not just isolated components. Experience has taught us that, when we look at things under the microscope, we see a very small image extremely clearly – but we do not see the whole picture. Each plant is an orchestra, much like the human body. They should play together in harmony.