Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are controversial to a lot of people, both inside and outside of the cannabis community. Those who are in support will point to scientific studies which have found GMO to be safe for human consumption. On the other side of the debate, there is a massive community of people who feel the research into GMOs is incomplete, and there needs to be more thorough testing done before reliable safety declarations can be made.
The concerns around GMO are not just reserved for human consumption; there are also worries about the ecological impact of GMOs. GMO cannabis creates a unique concern, as people consume it in various ways, such as smoking, eating, and oils. This is not the same for other crops such as corn and tomatoes. There is the need for further study to determine with greater certainty if GMO cannabis plants (and the CBD derived from them) are specifically safe to consume in all their popular forms.
Increasingly, more and more food items are being genetically altered around the world, and in different ways; for different reasons. For the first time, GMO cannabis is being patented and manufactured to be dispensed to the American and Canadian market. Europe is currently not behind GMO products, as the EU feels more research is needed. Let's take a step away from mother nature, as we learn what GMOs could mean for pure CBD oil.
Genetically Modified Organisms Explained
The science behind GMOs is a complex one, but to put it simply, a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is a plant, animal, microorganism, or other organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered in a laboratory through the application of genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This process makes changes to a virus, bacteria, plant, and animal genes that do not occur in nature or through conventional crossbreeding practices.
The concept of hybridising and crossbreeding has been around for decades. Before recent times, this included experiments with seeds to produce the best form of a crop, or to create new breeds of animals like horses and dogs. Now, herbicides can be directly introduced to the DNA of crops such as corn and soy. Genetic modification is particularly prevalent in America. Although the figures are challenging to record accurately, it has been documented that approximately 92% of all US corn is GMO, along with 94% of soybeans, 94% of cotton. 75% plus of all processed foods sold in America comprise of genetically engineered materials.
There is a risk involved in mixing random genetics without understanding the consequences. GMOs are a highly controversial topic, commonly debated, and they do not come with a definitive answer. The scientific community is currently unable to agree on whether GMOs are a good thing or not, and it is of no surprise that this debate has trickled into the CBD community. Although there are presently no CBD products produced with GMO ingredients, there are signs some in the industry could start using genetically modified organisms soon.
Opinions Towards GMO Crops In Europe
Although America and Asia have wholeheartedly embraced GMOs into their food chain, nineteen out of the 27 member-state countries of the Europeans Union have voted to either partially or fully ban genetically modified organisms. The European Commission requested for each EU nation to vote if they wanted to opt-out of having to grow GMO crops, even if they were permitted to do so within the boundaries of the EU.
Many EU countries have chosen a total ban, for example, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, and Slovenia. Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Wallonia (the French-speaking region of Belgium) have also opted out. Some will be surprised to hear, however, that England, Romania, and the Flemish region of Belgium are open to GMOs. Several groups and individuals are not happy with the current varied laws governing GMOs across the EU, and would prefer a total ban across Europe.
Presently, the only genetically modified crop to be grown in the EU is the GM maise called MON 810. It is mainly cultivated within Spain and Portugal by Monsanto, a global American biotechnology company (although Monsanto is in the middle of a merger with the gigantic German pharmaceutical and life sciences company Bayer AG).
There are, however, close to 60 genetically modified crops approved for use which are freely bought and sold throughout the European Union. Another eight GMOs are currently being investigated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to determine if they meet EU standards.
The European Union gave one month for Monsanto and other similar multinationals to respond to requests from those countries deciding to opt-out of GMO use. It was also made mandatory by the EU for all GMO products to be clearly labelled, in order to ensure all consumers know what they are buying. To date, the USA has still not done this.
GMOs cause controversy worldwise for several reasons, and remain a divisive issue, especially in Europe. Proponents contend that genetic engineering has been around long enough without any reports of health or environmental risks so is deemed safe. They state the procedure undergoes thorough testing and is more precise and more sustainable than traditional farming methods. Opponents say the biotech industry’s safety checks are self-motivated and require 3rd party supervision. They argue that in addition to apprehensions over long-term health issues, the environmental impact of GM farming is already apparent.
Although America has a long-established GMO-based agricultural industry, many groups across the USA have come out against GMOs. The US Food and Drug Administration has maintained their support of the industry. Advocates say GMOs guarantee that crops rarely fail and that they are needed to feed a rapidly growing world population.
Companies researching GMO Cannabis
For some time, there have been many environmental activist groups around the world protesting against GMOs. Greenpeace is one of the forerunners in GMO protesting, and has been targeting Monsanto for decades. The reason why the environmentally minded community are worried about GMOs is due to the potential harm it could cause to human and animal health, along with the ecosystem. There are also fears GMOs could dramatically reduce plant diversity. It is very tricky to halt the spread of GMO crops, as they can quickly transfer to areas where natural crops are already native. They can spread through means as simple as wind and insect pollination.
Interest into how GMOs could be used in cannabis farming has been gaining commercial interest. Canopy Growth Corporation is the largest legal cannabis company in the world, located in Canada. In 2018, they paid more than $300 million to acquire a small company in Colorado called Ebbu. Ebbu had developed one of the earliest platforms for manipulating the cannabis genome, with the gene-editing system CRISPR-Cas9.
In April 2019, another Canadian cannabis producer called Zenabis entered an agreement with Farmko, in Germany, to purchase 36 tonnes of almost-pure bacterial-made CBD. This was the first deal of its kind, in terms of biosynthetic cannabinoids.
David Kideckel is a renowned cannabis analyst from the financial services company AltaCorp Capital. He has described genetic engineering as a "disrupter" that promises to take a centuries-old agricultural practice into a new era of biotechnology. The implications of this are being felt worldwide throughout the cannabis sector, including in the CBD industry.
When it comes to creating cannabis extracts, plants could be supplemented using microbes, with the potential for a larger range of cannabinoids to become available as supplemental products. When this happens, however, the iconic cannabis leaf would no longer accurately represent where the active ingredients come from.
On the 2nd September 2020, the first patent for genetic-editing technology on cannabis seeds was secured. The license was awarded to Israeli-based CanBreed, a company which provided uniform raw material to farmers. The license comprises an agreement on patents for the company's premature CRISPR-Cas9 technology. It is expected the company will use this technology to provide farmers with improved varieties of cannabis, and quickly. CanBreed is claiming that its CRISPR technology can alter specific genes, which creates better, more stable seeds that may potentially improve productivity in farming.
The CEO of Canbreed, Ido Margalit, has been quoted as saying "We have patented all the crucial traits in cannabis, like disease resistance." What this means precisely was not expanded upon, but it may be an indication of the use of chemicals in genetic engineering. Issuing a license for this had been unheard of until now. Who knew there was even a need for licenses for genetically engineering cannabis?
According to CanBreed, the license was extended by Harvard University, Corteva Agriscience, and the Broad Institute of MIT. This extension is part of a non-exclusive licensing arrangement, which allegedly meets all regulation standards of international laws, US federal law, state or specific locational law, Canadian laws, and anywhere else applicable.
CanBreed is currently ironing out some regulation issues so that they can work with European Union nations, too. The European Union Commission presently classifies organisms modified using CRISPR technology as GMOs, and therefore illegal to sell.
Unsurprisingly, with America's pastime of embracing GMO into their food supply, CanBreed is not the first to attempt to patent a genetically modified cannabis product. In 2019, Trait Biosciences created a patent-pending cannabis plant that ostensibly self-generates water-soluble cannabinoids.
The cannabis plants are said to generate dissolvable cannabinoids, resulting in cutting out the requirement for introducing any hazardous extraction processes for making CBD. This may sound like an exciting development for the CBD industry; however, part of the problem with genetic engineering is getting the progeny to carry on the genes. When this happens, the plant is considered to be fully transformed into something new and, possibly, unpredictable.
There are many more companies carrying out GMO-based cannabis research. Hyacynth Biologicals in Montreal, for example, has been experimenting with finding new genetically engineered versions of cannabis to fight diseases. Then there is Cronos Group who have signed a $122 million contract with Ginko-Bioworks. Their objective is to use a yeast-based process (similar to the method used by Hycacynth) to genetically engineer cannabinoids or other active compounds within the cannabis plant.
How CBD Is Made
We know Quality matters when it comes to CBD, and when quality is concerned, everybody in the supply chain must be proving they are meeting the high quality standards that are expected by the CBD supplement industry. High quality includes the products being non-GMO, chemical-free extraction, and organically grown.
The quality management process starts with non-GMO organic seeds of high CBD content help. It should be grown in regions that are free from radiation, in soil that is free from toxins (all of our product is grown in Switzerland, for example). The hemp plants should then be nurtured with organic fertilisers and no pesticides. The farmer observes the crop closely until the hemp is ready for harvesting (when the CBD content is at its highest). The harvesting process is then conducted as quickly and carefully as possible.
The farmer subsequently harvests the floral biomass branches and thoroughly dries them out in a well-ventilated covered barn. An alternative option to this process is for the farmer to stop watering the crop and leave the hemp to dry in the fields. Once the hemp is completely dry, it is sent away for the CBD to be extracted.
When the hemp arrives at the CBD factory, it is inspected for any signs of mildew and tested for CBD content. The rate at which the farmer is paid is based on the quantity of CBD. The more CBD present in the hemp, the higher price paid to the farmer.
The CBD producer will then start the CBD extraction process. There are two possible methods of CBD extraction: one is to soak the dried plant matter in ethanol or butane. The ethanol or butane is subsequently poured out, and left to evaporate. What is left is CBD, which is then filtered to remove waxes and other unwanted plant matter. The issue with the first method is it results in the CBD containing traces of chemicals. This method is only viable if grain-made ethanol is used.
Another practice is to use liquid carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbon dioxide is chilled and pressured until it becomes liquid. This process results in the liquid CO2 becoming a solvent. When the plant matter is submerged into the liquid CO2, the CBD and other compounds are separated. The concoction is then forced through a separator, which channels the plant extract to one chamber and then recycles the CO2. The plant matter is then filtered to remove any remaining compounds resulting in pure CBD. This method is favoured, as it is an immaculate, clean process, and the resulting CBD is free of any toxins.
Why Quality Matters
When it comes to CBD oil, quality truly matters. Many farmers do care what they grow and will only grow non-GMO organic hemp for use in CBD oil. The reason for this is somewhat an ethical one. The intended use of most CBD is to improve wellbeing and health, so ingredients must meet the highest expectations of consumers, without adding any toxins or unwanted chemicals. There are several things to consider when choosing a high quality CBD oil:
Cost - CBD oil is considered costly to many consumers, and is even regarded by some as a luxury product. It can be worth every penny, however, as long as the CBD content is to your satisfaction. The most fundamental quality requirement of any CBD oil is that it actually does contain CBD; otherwise, the potential benefits will not work.
THC - Consumers of CBD need to be able to trust that the cannabidiol that they are using on their bodies is less than 0.3% THC, or completely THC-free. High THC levels could impair performance in a job, cause psychoactive effects and intoxication, as well as lead to failing drug tests.
Toxins - Choosing a high-quality CBD oil will ensure it is toxin-free. If there are added toxins to the product and they get into the body, it can stop any benefits the CBD oil could deliver. CBD oil should originate from non-GMO organic seeds, which are carefully selected and grown free from any agricultural chemicals. The result is hemp flowers that are free from any harmful chemicals.
CBD - The volume of CBD found in the product matters, because it plays a role in how any possible benefits will perform when inhaled or ingested. If a supplement contains low levels of CBD, it will not offer the same level of benefits as a supplement with a high level of CBD.
Broad Spectrum - This is a type of CBD oil which has been extracted from the cannabis plant. It includes all the other compounds and cannabinoids found in cannabis (apart from THC). Broad Spectrum CBD oil contains zero THC. It is worth investing in a CBD oil which includes the full range of terpenes, cannabinoids, and is extracted from non-GMO organically grown Swiss hemp. Some people focus on CBD isolate, but forget that this product may not offer the same synergy (brought on by the ‘entourage effect’ of all the compounds and cannabinoids working together in broad-spectrum CBD oil).
Example High-Quality Non-GMO Products
Consumers seeking high-quality products should consider our range of products, made in Switzerland. Swiss CBD producers are very particular about the quality of the products that they sell. At NaturalWorks, for example, we have a close relationship with the farmers who grow, harvest and process organic hemp. We are happy to provide evidence of quality tests performed by independent laboratories to satisfy customers that the CBD oil is what it claims to be: GMO-free, pesticide-free, heavy metal-free, and 100% pure plant.
Staying close to nature is best when selecting a high quality CBD product. We still have not seen the possible consequences of using GMO cannabis plants in the making of CBD oil. Until more research has been done, it is probably best to stick with the CBD that has come straight from the organic plants. The cannabis plant is an extremely versatile plant that has shown a lot of potential to help people live a healthier lifestyle.
CBD oil is set to take the lead in Europe, even though most regulators have a zero-tolerance policy towards THC. Whether European countries will become the top exporters of CBD oil is yet to be seen. If CBD is to have a lasting impact on local markets and possibly replace certain mainstream pharmaceuticals will depend on how much effort the industry puts into quality assurance.
Looking at the hype around GMO cannabis plants, it might make you think we do not know how to grow the plant properly. It could even appear that we, as scientifically knowledgeable humans, are necessary for the continued growth of cannabis plants. The truth is, cannabis grows just fine on its own and does not need to be genetically modified. There is already a large variety of cannabis species that, with minor tweaking, can become potential valuable supplements, which enhance our general health and wellbeing.
Genetically modified cannabis may give the larger pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies the power to take the reins. At the moment, the cannabis industry, even the medicinal part of it, is not part of the big pharmaceutical industry. Cannabis is still being grown by some talented independent farmers, and small companies can create and distribute high quality CBD products. Once cannabis becomes a project in bioengineering, the conglomerates can swoop in, and take control of the industry by creating products at a much greater cost. For now, let's stick to CBD oil that's come straight from nature.