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Synthetic Cannabis Could Disrupt The Marijuana Industry In A Big Way

While black market "fake weed" has grabbed most of the headlines because of its dangers, the real long-term threat is from legal synthetic cannabinoids, insiders worry.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Just as plant-based “fake meat” has disrupted the meat industry, lab-created “fake weed” threatens to do the same for the legal cannabis industry, industry analysts say. 

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Manufacturers hope synthetic weed will provide a cheaper alternative to developing products use the real plant. To date, biomedical companies have focused primarily on synthetic CBG, a cannabinoid used to combat pain and nausea, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Like CBD, CBG does not have psychoactive effects.

Canadian company Willow Biosciences has partnered with Albany Molecular Research on large-scale production of CBG by mid-2021. Willow CEO Trevor Peters said the company sold out its first batch of the lab-created compound, and 17 other companies have asked to get the next samples.

Related: This Is Proof We Need More University Research On Hemp


A cheaper alternative

The success of Willow Biosciences serves as the latest example of how cannabinoids made in the lab, not derived from the plant, pose the biggest challenge for traditional cannabis companies. These developments have led some to predict that synthetic CBD is the future of cannabis pharma.

CBD has ranked among the fastest-growing segments of the cannabis industry. CBG may not be far behind. While the chemical compounds in both don’t get you high, many turn to them for pain management, stress relief, better sleep, and reduced anxiety.

That's been terrific for the CBD industry, which has drawn thousands of entrepreneurs to start new businesses. However, it's cheaper to manufacture synthetic cannabis, according to those in the industry researching this area. 

By creating synthetic cannabis compounds, companies also skip any issues using the real cannabis plant, which remains illegal at the federal level. And the costs are dramatically lower. Biomedican, a company that is working in this area, claims that they have 70 to 90 percent lower production costs than cannabis farms. 

Related: New Research Shows Cannabis-Users Require More Anesthesia During A Surgery


No relation to Zombie Weed

What’s happening with synthetic CBD and CBG is separate from the black market synthetic weed that is causing issues around the world. No case is as bad as the “zombie weed” in New Zealand.

The strain of synthetic weed, called AMB-FUBINACA, recently returned to the country after officials thought they had eradicated it years ago. It’s been connected to more than a dozen deaths, putting some who use it into a zombie-like trance.

The reason why: AMB-FUBINACA is an estimated 100 times stronger than natural cannabis. It’s caused legal marijuana advocates in New Zealand to push for adult-use legalization in the country, thereby reducing the black market for synthetic weed.

"Countries with more liberal cannabis laws are less likely to report synthetic cannabinoid use and related deaths," Chris Wilkins, a drug researcher at Massey University, told Newshub in New Zealand.

Troubles with synthetic cannabis also have appeared in Canada. Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto recently reported that synthetic cannabis compounds are associated with a higher death rate for seniors with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

While these black market issues are not connected to the research going on with legal synthetic CBD and CBG, consumers and the media might find it hard to separate the two. Herein, lies a big problem akin to the Vapegate scandal of last year.

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