Treatment with CBD

The potency of CBD oils

We are reporting on a study that assessed the potency of CBD isolate and six types of CBD oils in a cell culture. The findings are very surprising: the color of your CBD oil is a giveaway for adulterants, and therefore how potent your CBD oil is. (Note: all figures are copied from the reference below)

We are discussing the following:

CBD as a therapy

The 2018 Farm Bill defined hemp as cannabis plants that have less than 0.3% THC content. Subsequently, the FDA approved Epidiolex, a cannabidiol (CBD) medication to treat severe childhood epilepsy.  As a direct result of these events, consumers have increasingly turned towards hemp derived products, such as CBD.

Labeling requirements and regulatory limits of THC levels somewhat regulate the CBD industry. Notwithstanding the increased demand and supply, there is no uniform and standardized regulation on the manufacturing and quality of CBD oil. Indeed, over two thirds of CBD oils tested in a study were mislabeled. As such, customers might be misinformed about the potency of the CBD oil they purchase.

Not only mislabeling, but also adulteration is a serious threat to CBD oil quality. For example, a number of CBD oils are diluted, blended with other oils, or have other ingredients added. While this practice is not illegal, it might in an unexpected way influence the therapeutic potential of the CBD oils because it may disrupt the natural entourage effects. Moreover, some additives turned out to be downright poisonous.

The science of assessing CBD oil potency

Scientists used a particular neuron cell line for this study, which is widely used in other nerve cell modelling research. On these cells, they used special laboratory techniques to measure signaling pathways between nerve cells.

The cannabidiol used in the study

The researchers purchased isolated CBD from Cayman Chemical, a company providing chemicals to universities and pharma companies for research purposes. In addition, researchers went online to the web sites of six different CBD vendors, and purchased full spectrum CBD oils directly from the vendors’ web stores. The scientist did not disclose the names of the vendors in their publication.

First, the scientists commissioned three different labs to test these CBD products for cannabinoid and terpene content, to make sure that:

  1. They know exactly what is in them in case the label is incorrect
  2. They wanted three independent measurements for quality control purposes

The quality of CBD oil

The CBD oils had very distinctive colors, which was associated with the dilution method and not with the extraction method:

  • The unadulterated CBD oil was green
  • The CBD oils that were diluted with hemp seed oil were dark brown
  • The CBD oils that were diluted with medium-chain triglycerides were light yellow
  • The CBD oils that were diluted with olive oil were dark yellow
The color of your CBD oil is a giveaway for adulterants, and therefore how potent your CBD oil is.
The color of your CBD oil is a giveaway for adulterants, and therefore how potent your CBD oil is.

CBD oils were extracted either by CO2 or by ethanol.

As you can see, only one was not adulterated, meaning it was neither diluted nor contained any added CBD isolates. All the other CBD oils were adulterated with both added CBD isolate and other oils. Other oil additives included hemp seed oil, medium chain triglycerides (e.g. grapeseed, sesame seed, avocado and coconut oils), and olive oil.

The CBD contents listed on the oils’ labels were consistent with the lab results (meaning the difference was less than 10%, thus negligible as per the authors). Furthermore, the THC content was in line with regulatory requirements, e.g. under 0.3%. The unadulterated CBD oil had the highest terpene content, which is due to the fact that it did not contain any added oils.

The laboratory confirmed that all CBD oils were indeed full spectrum, as advertised.

Here is a table summarizing the quality of the CBD oils in the study:

only one was not adulterated, meaning it was neither diluted nor contained any added CBD isolates. All the other CBD oils were adulterated with both added CBD isolate and other oils. Other oil additives included hemp seed oil, medium chain triglycerides (e.g. grapeseed, sesame seed, avocado and coconut oils), and olive oil.
Table summarizing the quality of the CBD oils in the study

The assessed potency of CBD oils

The potency of CBD oils depended on a number of factors. While isolated CBD was highly cytotoxic (meaning it killed the cells in the culture), the CBD oils did not kill any noticeable amounts of cells, even when their concentration was 30-times that of isolated CBD.

CBD isolate and the CBD oils reduced the signaling (communication) between cells to varying extents. The unadulterated natural CBD oil was the most efficient of all, while the other oils and the isolate had only small if any effect on cell signaling.

Furthermore, the unadulterated oil was more effective with higher vs lower doses and after longer vs shorter time periods. All in all, it was effective after a few hours, and most effective after 24 hours.

The researchers assessed the effect of the natural, unadulterated oil on nine different signaling pathways, and it was effective in seven.

These seven pathways that natural CBD oil effects, regulate the following:

  • metabolism,
  • differentiation,
  • immunity,
  • memory, and
  • cell death

Natural CBD oil had no effect on pathways that regulate:

  • proliferation
  • synaptic plasticity (meaning: how connection between cells changes)

Summary

The researchers assessed the potency of CBD oils based on how they killed cells and how they affected communication between cells.  They also assessed how dosing and time factors affected CBD oil potency.

  • Cell toxicity: CBD isolate kills cell readily, while CBD oil does not kill cells
  • Communication between cells: Natural, unadulterated CBD oil with no added oils or CBD isolate influences various communication pathways between cells, while CBD isolate or adulterated CBD oils have very little to no influence on cell signaling
  • Dose and time factors: natural CBD oil was effective after a few hours, and most effective after 24 hours
  • Not all biological activities are related to the main component of a product, meaning CBD in this case, but others also act in ways that might be difficult to measure (e.g. terpenes and flavonoids)
  • Adulteration (adding other oils or isolated CBD) changes the effect and potency of CBD oil

Interpretations

The differences in the potency of CBD isolate, unadulterated CBD oil and adulterated CBD oil may or may not be due to the “entourage effect – this study is too small to prove or disprove this.

CBD drug development is developing following two paths:

  1. treatment with CBD isolate: clinical studies, drug development, and regulatory approval are straight forward because there is only one ingredient
  2. treatment with CBD oil: this is very challenging because of all the other ingredients in CBD oil in addition to CBD itself. These challenges include:
    • farming practices and related issues
    • manufacturing precision
    • pharmacology
    • toxicology
    • efficacy in pre-clinical and clinical studies

However, treatment with CBD oil has tremendous potential over and beyond (and also different from) treatment with isolated CBD. One main reason is that CBD oil appears to be safer and has fewer side effects than isolated CBD.

More research is needed to address the different therapeutic potential of adulterated vs unadulterated CBD oils as it relates to their potency.

Reference

Urasaki Y, Beaumont C, Workman M, Talbot JN, Hill DK, Le TT. Potency Assessment of CBD Oils by Their Effects on Cell Signaling Pathways. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 30;12(2).

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