Make Way for Artificial Cannabinoids

They are cheaper, purer and lack the legal headaches of the real deal.

October 06, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Everyone has heard of fake meat and faux eggs. Now, several companies are trying to produce artificial cannabinoids, reports Bloomberg.

As the popularity of CBD grows, innovative companies are attempting to synthetically engineer lesser-known cannabinoids, such as CBG and CBN. While these compounds are among the 100-plus chemical constituents that come from cannabis, making them in a lab appears to be an easier way to increase production and lower costs.

Willow Biosciences in Calgary, Alberta, is working with manufacturer Albany Molecular Research to achieve large-scale production of CBG by mid-2021. The first batch of the compound sold out, and about 17 more companies have said they want to buy the next samples when they’re available, according to Trevor Peters, CEO. “What we see from food and beverage, personal care and tobacco companies is they all want to find a new product that is safe and has high consumer demand,” he said.

Biomedican Inc. in Fremont, California, has announced that it has a strain of CBG ready for widescale production and plans to introduce another class of minor cannabinoids in the next two months. 

Alternative cannabinoids are likely to catch on since there’s already “a lot of stressed-out millennials embracing CBD,” said Laura Fuentes, CEO of Green Roads, a company that launched a coffee with CBD and CBG. “They don’t want to try the western medicine first.”

Sales of tinctures with CBN, CBG, THC-A or THC-V grew 11% in the third quarter over the second, according to Headset, which tracks cannabis trends. Some of these newly popular cannabinoids are already starting to pop up in vape pens and capsules, Headset said. While cannabinoids on the market now are derived from plants, the synthetic versions are coming.

Marlboro-maker Altria took a stake in Cronos Group in December 2018, a few months after the Canadian pot company made a deal with Ginkgo Bioworks to create cannabinoids from yeast. Cronos has reported that it will be producing fermented cannabinoids by next September.

Making fake cannabinoids is a lot like making imitation meat. The process relies on genetically engineered yeast, the same technology used to produce heme, the ingredient that gives Impossible Burgers their meat-like qualities.

“Right now, making CBD means you’re in the farming business. By the time you harvest and extract and factor in the purification, it’s expensive,” said Dennis O’Neill, chief investment officer, Biomedican. “And you can’t even produce the exact same product every time.”

Cronos said its target production cost for CBG is less than $1,000 per kilogram—or under $1 a gram. Biomedican says it will soon be able to produce multiple strains at a similar cost, far below CBG’s current wholesale price of $20 a gram.