A Vancouver-based company specializing in pharmaceutical and wellness products is claiming to have discovered a method of extracting cannabidiol (CBD) from the hop plant — even though it typically comes from cannabis — through proprietary processes the company is unable to reveal.
Scientists, however, are questioning the authenticity of that discovery.
Isodiol International Inc., is currently selling a product called ImmunAG, marketed as a dietary supplement containing “bioactive CBD derived from humulus”, the scientific name of the hop plant. Hops, the flowers of the hop plant, are most commonly known for their use as a flavouring agent in beer.
“It’s a powerful product and it’s not associated with the cannabis plant, yet we have managed to proof that it has the same effect as CBD from cannabis,” said Christopher Hussey, Isodiol’s Director of Communications.
Cannabinoids — the class of chemical compounds that act on the body’s cannabinoid receptors — have long existed in other plants like liver wort, echinecea, the hop plant, and even black pepper. The most famous of cannabinoids are of course CBD and THC, the two main chemical components in the cannabis plant.
Isodiol is specifically claiming to have discovered a method of isolating CBD from a non-cannabis plant. To date, CBD has only been known to be derived from industrial hemp and the marijuana plant.
“Show us the evidence”
Jonathan Page, an adjunct professor at University of British Columbia’s Botany Department is skeptical about Isodiol’s professed discovery. “It’s really puzzling to me,” he said. “As far as scientific literature goes, there has been no reported case of CBD being isolated from the hop plant.”
In fact, Page adds, the hop plant itself doesn’t even contain CBD. “To Isodiol, I say show us the evidence. A corporate press release is not scientific evidence.”
Page is no stranger to the cannabis business. He runs Anandia Labs, a research centre licensed by Health Canada that focuses exclusively on the biochemistry and genomics of cannabis and acts as a testing hub of sorts for licensed weed producers across the country. In fact, Anandia’s most recent claim to fame was discovering the genes responsible for giving cannabis its flavour — an important innovation for weed producers as they vye to differentiate their products for branding and marketing purposes.
“You could synthesize CBD in a lab, though that’s generally not economical. I just simply do not know of anything other than cannabis and hemp that have CBD in them,” Page says.
Page’s doubts are echoed by Kevin Chen, founder of Hyasynth Bio, a Montreal-based startup that genetically engineers yeast to mimic the effects of cannabis. “The short answer is no, aside from our strains of yeast and chemical synthesis, I have never heard of any plants that make cannabidiol naturally. The consensus in the community is similar, people are skeptical of it.”
Chen does, however, add that since both cannabis and the hop plant are chemically related, one could theorize that producing CBD from hops is possible.
Isodiol, for its part, argues that the only reason so few people have heard of non-cannabis derived CBD is because the company is the first ever to have discovered a method of extracting it. In fact, Isodiol’s CEO Marcus Agramont is confident that the company’s new product line has in some cases, “demonstrated greater effectiveness than many cannabis-derived CBD products.”
CBD is big business
Hussey and his Isodiol colleagues are attempting to capture what they claim is a large swath of the wellness market that are “not cannabis-aware, and not cannabis-okay.”
“Stay-at-home moms, and many working professionals want nothing to do with cannabis… there’s a stigma of being associated with it. We have the ability to open up CBD to the entire market, and remove that stigma,” Hussey told VICE Money.
A recent report from the Hemp Business Journal predicts that the CBD industry could grow by 700 percent in just five years, bringing its value to over two billion dollars. In 2015, the combination of hemp-derived CBD products and CBD products from the cannabis plant generated over $200 million.
But as with cannabis, the growth of the CBD industry rests on whether the U.S. government changes its approach to CBD. The Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies CBD as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, regardless of whether it is derived from a legal plant like hops, or cannabis, which remains illegal federally.
That effectively means that the sale of CBD products like ImmunAG, at least in the United States, are limited to states which allow the use of CBD extracts, and states where medical marijuana is legal — 45 in total.
“I can’t invest in the CBD space because of the current legal ambiguity,” says Nic Easley of Multiverse Capital, a Colorado-based venture capital firm in the cannabis industry. “I’ve seen many companies come into the CBD industry making false health claims, getting shut down by the FDA and then also engaging in interstate commerce across state lines.”
Many cannabis investors, says Easley are under the misconception that CBD is legal in all 50 states. “That’s technically not true.”
Isodiol, though, takes a slightly different position on this, marketing its products as “globally legal.”
“The legal landscape tends to be focused on two things — does the product originate from any kind of cannabis, and does the product contact THC,” says Hussey. “That’s what makes hops-derived CBD so great, it is none of that.”
In an email on Monday afternoon, Isodiol’s communications team confirmed that while the company’s “strains of hops” are patented, their extraction methods are not.
Since Isodiol announced the launch of ImmunAG, the company’s stock has soared almost 500 percent — it is currently trading at just under $1.70 per share.