When CBD first exploded on the scene, THC’s non-intoxicating relative quickly became a sought-after compound for pain and anxiety sufferers across the country. Since the Farm Bill made all hemp-derived products federally legal in late 2018, startups have been looking to capitalize on new compounds and technologies that may just leave CBD in the dust.
Making Pricey Compounds Affordable
At Goodekind, a hemp-focused social enterprise launched in early 2020, co-owners Kayla Croft and Flip Croft-Caderao are intent on making CBG (cannabigerol), once dubbed “the Rolls Royce of cannabinoids,” accessible and affordable. The non-psychotropic cannabinoid generally appears in most cultivars in quantities of less than one percent, however some varieties contain up to 15 percent CBG, vastly reducing the amount of plant matter required to make products such as topicals and extracts.
According to the founders, who are brother and sister-in-law, clinical research around CBG “is still quite young” however early studies show that it holds promise as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.
“We made the topical for our moms,” says Croft-Caderao, adding that it can help with skin irritations and soreness.
“Everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different, and what works for someone might not work for someone else,” says Croft. “CBG is a great thing to try if those other topicals haven’t worked the way you want them to. Plus, our topical only has six ingredients in it, and you can pronounce them all.”
Goodekind, headquartered in Los Angeles, also produces a CBG crumble extract which Croft says is a great alternative to THC.
“When smoked, it’s a shorter-lived effect than THC, and helps to relieve stress and elevate mood,” she says. Goodekind’s CBG lineup is rounded out with a hemp flower aptly named “The Notorious CBG,” boasting 14 percent of the cannabinoid.
The firm has also released a vape cartridge high in delta-8-THC, a minor cannabinoid and analogue of THC that is thought to be less potent but more shelf-stable than its euphoria-inducing counterpart.
“I think delta-8-THC is going to be the breakout cannabinoid of the year as much as it can be in the middle of Covid-19,” says Croft-Caderao.
He and Croft donate an eighth of all profits to human rights initiatives in the U.S., and have committed to sourcing all hemp from farms owned by women and people of color by 2022.
“We really want to be that conscious alternative in the hemp industry,” he says. “Our ideals really supersede our desire to make tons of money.”
A Novel Compound for Combating Sleep Deprivation
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of adults in the United States do not get enough sleep. At Somnus, a Colorado-based firm specializing in products containing CBN (cannabinol), chief operating officer Guillaume Plante is eager to share the properties of the compound with sleep-deprived Americans.
“In my opinion, it’s no secret that sleep deprivation is a pandemic of its own,” says Plante. While he admits CBN “has barely scratched the consumer education phase,” feedback from internal test groups and new consumers who have tried Somnus’ products has been positive.
“We’ve penetrated the brick-and-mortar market in Colorado, and already the store owners who we consider to be educated consumers tell us we’re ahead of the curve,” he says. So what separates Somnus’ CBN-forward products (currently tinctures and gummies) from sleep aids containing THC or CBD?
Plante describes CBN as THC “but without the heavy psychoactive effects,” explaining that the compound is generated by the breakdown of the THC molecule, leading to effects that are relaxing but not intoxicating. While some people might experience a “hangover” after a heavy dose of THC, Plante says such effects can be mitigated with CBN.
“Everybody is different. Whether we’re talking about CBD or CBN or THC, some folks prefer to have the psychoactive effect, and for them, THC might work better,” he says, “but for someone that can’t afford that groggy morning, I think CBN is more appropriate.”
Currently, Plante is working on expanding Somnus’ line of hemp-based products, with the goal of reaching consumers well beyond Colorado. The Canadian-born executive says Somnus is also exploring the idea of white-labelling the company’s formulation north of the border, as Canada’s cannabis laws only permit importation for select medical and scientific purposes, and don’t differentiate between products derived from hemp or cannabis.
Rare Cannabinoid Production… Without The Plant
While Goodekind and Somnus work to bring lesser known cannabinoids to the market in their product lines, another says it has found a safer, faster, and more effective way of producing these rare compounds—but without the use of plants.
According to Dennis O’Neill, chief investment officer at Biomedican, when it comes to producing rare cannabinoids, the grow-harvest-extract method is not only costly; it’s unreliable. Instead, the firm uses biosynthesis, a natural process that O’Neill likens to brewing beer, to grow rare pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoids at scale.
“The only difference is that when you grow the plants, every plant is different so you never end up with the same product twice,” he says. “We end up with the same product each and every time, and we can do it without toxins or contaminants.”
Using a patented method and a strain of yeast called yarrowia lipolytica, scientists at the Fremont, California-based startup use biosynthesis to grow compounds including CBGA, CBG, THCVA, and THCV. Biosynthesis, widely used in the pharmaceutical industry, involves an organism (in this case, yeast) converting one compound to another through natural metabolic processes.
“THCV is increasing in popularity because it has been shown to have appetite reduction effects, so it can be used for weight management,” says Max Mikheev, Ph.D., the company’s CEO, founder, and chief science officer of another rare compound. “It may also have neuroprotective effects as there are some preclinical trials, not by us, to show that it is helping with Parkinson’s Disease.”
Mikheev heads up the company’s research projects with partners at Denmark Technical University, Clemson University, Imperial College of London, and Moscow State University, where he says new lab techniques are being developed and tested.
The goal is to see cannabinoids produced in Biomedican’s lab used in products such as pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, foods, topicals, and cosmetics. The opportunities, O’Neill says, “are virtually endless,” though he does caveat that by noting that the oil-based cannabinoids would need a slight modification to be used in beverages.
Without the time, materials, and space required for plants to produce these compounds, O’Neill predicts that firms using biosynthesis will drive the price of rare cannabinoids down significantly. Where wholesale prices for CBG derived from hemp are currently “around $20 per gram,” Biomedican can produce CBG at $5 per gram, with plans to reduce that to less than $1.
“We’re growing the same thing you find in the natural world, and in large quantities,” he says, “so the supply chain won’t have to worry whether or not we had a good grow season.”