CBD and Contamination – the dangers and how you can you stay safe
The reality today is that much of our soil and air is polluted to some degree with heavy metals and it is a growing problem. Whether as a consequence of industrial waste, traffic fumes, nuclear fallout, agricultural pesticides, artificial fertilisers, fungicides, pharmaceutical residue from human waste, waste disposal, mining run off, or the toxic stuff that is trailed out of the back of aircraft we are forced to live in an increasingly toxic environment. Yet Hemp or Cannabis is a plant which seems to thrive in most soils and climate conditions and the pollutants that are toxic to us humans do not seem to affect it at all. Hemp is a great phytomediator, it absorbs a variety of heavy metals and toxins from the soil without apparent ill effects to itself and it does so to a greater degree than practically any other plant out there. For this reason it is often planted in contaminated areas to clean up the soil. This means that we have to be careful when we ingest it as a food or in vape form, right? But not all Hemp is created equal. Just as different strains of hemp absorb different concentrations of beneficial minerals, like iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium, different strains of Hemp absorb different levels and kinds of toxic chemicals more than others. For example, certain strains are particularly good at absorbing cadmium, a toxin that can lead to bone deformities, respiratory illness, anaemia and kidney failure in humans. So where Cannabis is used as a food supplement, Hemp with poor Cadmium intake is therefore better to grow in Cadmium polluted areas.
Another common soil and airborne toxin is Lead. Lead is especially dangerous to children from 0 to 5 but the greatest danger comes from airborne lead as the dust from Lead polluted soil can be easily ingested. Airborne lead can also be absorbed through the leaves of Hemp and most other plants. Lead affects nervous, renal (kidney) hematopoietic (blood forming) systems and may also harm the reproductive (endocrine), hormonal, hepatic (liver), cardiovascular, immune and gastrointestinal systems. Because the molecules in toxic heavy metals closely resemble beneficial minerals the body does not recognise them for the toxins they are and so stores them instead of eliminating them. This toxic build-up is responsible for many distressing symptoms and illnesses that result from heavy metal absorption. However, most plants do not readily absorb lead from the soil and it is generally slow to move in a plant. Lead absorption from the soil accumulates mainly in the fine roots and the leaves, not so much in the stems, seeds and flowers. Hemp can absorb a lot of lead. However, in an article published in July 2002, entitled “Industrial Hemp (Cannabis Sativa) growing on heavy metal contaminated soil, fibre quality and Phytomediation potential” Vol 16, P33-42, the following findings were reported: Examination carried out on the seeds, leaves, fibres and hurds by atomic spectroscopy found that accumulations in these parts are very different, the highest concentrations of heavy metals being in the leaves.
So when it comes to medicinal Hemp extract, like CBD, one might ask: just how safe is it for human consumption? Can it transfer toxicity from heavy metals to users?
In a February 2015 edition of “High Times”, Daryl Hudson Phd, president of DOCSolutions, agricultural consultants on speciality fertilisers showed by tests that the extraction process (to produce Hemp paste from which CBD oils can be made) does indeed transfer toxins, both biological (fungal) and heavy metal in contaminated hemp plants.
One might expect anything contained in a Hemp plant to also be in any extract from that plant but owing to the fact that contaminants are not stored equally around the parts of the plant, it is frustrating that the article does not tell us which parts of the hemp were used to extract the CBD or what kind of Hemp was used. If it was Industrial hemp, the extract would have been sourced from the absorbent leaves. This is because Industrial Hemp is usually male and the sparse male flowers contain little CBD if any. In fact the leaves of even high grade cannabinoid rich Cannabis plants typically contain little CBD in the shade leaves so you would need a lot of processing and a lot of leaves to obtain a useful amount of CBD. If copious quantities of highly absorbent leaves of Industrial hemp were used, then very likely the results would show significant amounts of toxic contamination. So, was the CBD from the leaves of low quality Industrial Hemp or high quality, high resin Cannabis buds used in this experiment? Clearly this is an area that would benefit from a great deal more published research. It would be useful to know just how much, if any, heavy metal contamination is typically in the resin of the buds of contaminated plants. Unfortunately, I could find nothing on that subject. One also becomes aware that these types of articles by accredited companies and researchers always seem to promote the argument, directly or indirectly, that CBD should become the exclusive property of the pharmaceutical industry so that any inherent dangers, real or otherwise, might be eliminated. This one proved to be no exception. The other responsible path to take would be to educate the consumer who can then make rational choices based on solid research. That is, research that includes the examination of obvious, albeit inconvenient variables.
As mentioned, the cannabinoids THC and CBD in hemp are found mainly in the sticky resin that is exuded from the female buds of Hemp/Cannabis. These and other important cannabinoids, terpenes and flavinoids vary greatly in their ratios and quantities from strain to strain. Growing conditions are also a very important factor in determining the ratios of CBD and THC in any given plant. THC (the stuff that makes you high) is present to some degree in all female Cannabis flowers but some strains are specially developed so that THC content remains low but the CBD content is high. The strains that produce a higher concentration of THC than 0.3% in their raw state have been exotically dubbed “Marijuana” by federal law in the United States, such, “Marijuana” is illegal to grow or use in the UK. Also the parts of the plant containing the highest concentrations of THC like the flowers and trim leaves in a female plant can be grouped as “Marijuana” even if the rest of the plant is classed as common, legally permitted, “Hemp”.
There are strains of hemp that are low in THC and high in CBD but the species that produce the best amounts of CBD also contain a little too much THC to be legal. In the UK, the legal limit of THC was only 0.2% and currently there is a storm of contention over legislation to outlaw any part of a hemp plant or extract containing more than 1mg of THC. Thankfully for many growers and suppliers this new law is not presently being enforced and may hopefully be revoked. The problem that the constantly changing legal goal posts and rigorous limiting of a naturally occurring and ineradicable substance gives for all in the CBD supply chain can be understood in terms of the very limited amount of hemp available that actually satisfies the legal restrictions while providing enough CBD to be viable. Plain industrial hemp contains neither cannabinoid in appreciable quantities which is why it can be grown without the restrictions of “Marijuana” but a great deal of industrial hemp would have to be processed to produce a little CBD.
You may now be realising the implications of this situation. If suppliers of whole plant CBD have to use a great amount of highly processed leaves (where most of the toxins get stored) to comply with the law, the chances of contamination is much greater. The most crudely extracted CBD paste taken from (so-called) “industrial hemp” leaves is truly an inferior starter material for formulating CBD rich oil products.
In order to play safely within the bounds of the law and be competitive on price, many companies are now turning to so-called CBD “Isolate”, sometimes from high resin Cannabis, but sometimes also from Industrial Hemp. Isolate is CBD in its pure one molecule form. However, heavily processed “pure” CBD or “Isolate” lacks the full spectrum of aromatic terpenes and other cannabinoids found in Cannabis paste extract from high resin plants. These compounds act synergistically with CBD to enhance its therapeutic effects. Scientific research shows that whole plant CBD rich cannabis oil has a broader range of therapeutic attributes and greater therapeutic efficacy than single molecule CBD.
To try to balance up the Isolate, other companies infuse their CBD preparations with terpenes and other cannabinoids which does go part of the way to balance the Isolate. However, the great majority of CBD aficionados swear by the organically produced whole plant paste and much prefer it to the highly processed Isolate, even with the addition of whole plant extracts. The problem is that companies are often not transparent concerning their product labels and online descriptions. While not lying, they will not directly tell you that their CBD products are from Isolate. They will also not tell you if they are manufacturing isolate or paste from Industrial Hemp. If they are not doing these things then they will certainly advertise the fact. It is important to know where and how products are sourced, not just the types of Cannabis used, in order to get a full picture of what is involved. CBD sourced from China has been flagged up as potentially dangerous because a lot of their hemp is grown in fields irrigated by run-off from local mines. This may or may not be a problem for all we know. But the consumer is wise to exercise caution.
There are still companies out there who passionately believe in the unadulterated whole plant product and strive to provide high quality organic CBD oil from whole plant extract, sourced from clean locations. They are a minority and have to be carefully sifted from the rest. At face value, they are unlikely to be companies with a huge, exhaustive array of products (which they have likely sourced from other companies and stuck their own labels on) and sell for suspiciously low prices. They are likely not making huge profits and are having to walk a tight line to stay within the precincts of the law so they do not tend to be the lowest priced (quality costs), nor do they sell at the highest prices. They do not tend to plough their hard earned profit into the most beautiful packaging. These companies are in the CBD business for altruistic reasons and only count on achieving realistic profits. The industry may have attracted its fair share of profit hungry charletons. For instance: In recent years the FDA rounded up no fewer than 8 online companies claiming to sell CBD oil which was proved to have no CBD content in it at all! An increasingly rigorous transparency and code of conduct is being enforced by Trading Standards now but that does not completely protect the consumer against sub standard products. On the positive side, all things Hemp does also tend to attract individuals with a genuine commitment to the health and welfare of mankind and the planet and a passionate belief in supplying a safe, high quality product. Look for companies you can actually talk to and don’t be afraid to ask questions until you get all the answers you need. A good CBD supplier should be able to tell you about the Cannabis and where it comes from, how it is prepared and be able to show you comprehensive lab reports detailing the contents of their products, what they are actually made up of and the amounts. Reliable companies will often show these reports plainly on their web sites. Don’t be fooled by marketing hype. Be aware of what is not said as well as what is stated with respect to the products advertised. When you find a company with high moral objectives and selling products that work for you, you will be glad you made the effort!