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Cannabidiol (CBD) is typically linked to the legality and the political landscape surrounding cannabis. But if CBD is derived from something other than cannabis, is the CBD still illegal?

To those in Canada who have, for years, enjoyed ready access to mail-order medical cannabis and local walk-in dispensaries featuring menus with 50+ strains, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that only about 10 percent of the world’s governments have elected to institute legal medical cannabis programs in their respective countries.

While cannabis remains illegal in much of the world, a new product developed by phytoceutical manufacturer Isodiol could put an end to the controversy surrounding CBD-based medicine in jurisdictions where cannabis is prohibited. Removing cannabis from the equation, ImmunAG is a CBD product that contains cannabidiol extracted from hops, a plant that is legal in every country.

“We think this will change the conversation,” said Isodiol Director of Communications Christopher Hussey, “and will start us down the path to a conversation where we don’t think of CBD as something that is derived from cannabis, but where CBD is simply something that is derived from plants.”

Hussey hopes that by moving the conversation away from cannabis politics and broadening the view to other, less divisive plants, Isodiol may be able to bring these products to more people in markets like the USA, where cannabis is still prohibited by federal law.

Beyond the bud: a natural phytocopeia

The hop vine is among dozens of plant species that produce phytocannabinoids and other compounds that interact similarly with the human endocannabinoid system. One strain of liverwort that grows naturally in New Zealand, Radula marginata, produces a range of cannabinoids including perrottetinene and perrottetinenic acid. Helichrysum umbraculigerum, a strain of daisy plant native to South Africa, contains large amounts of cannabigerol (CBG), a cannabinoid associated with antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects. Meanwhile echinacea, black pepper, and even chocolate all produce compounds that interact with the human endocannabinoid system. Some critics have expressed concern that sourcing phytocannabinoids like CBD from plants other than cannabis would result in a loss of the whole-plant aspect of the medicine (the entourage effect that comes as a result of the combination of all the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes working in concert). But Hussey says hops is an ideal source for CBD due to the hops plant also producing a number of the terpenes responsible for that whole-plant entourage effect, such as caryophyllene and humulene. Currently, Isodiol has developed two patented strains, one derived from Humulus kriya and one from the Humulus ooty hops plants. “The conversation shouldn’t be focused on cannabis,” Hussey emphasized, “it should be focused on bioactive phytoceuticals. It should be focused on how plants in general can help us feel better, and be better.”

Terpenes are a group of essential oils secreted alongside cannabinoids like THC and CBD that are generally responsible for many of the distinguishing characteristics of different strains of medical cannabis. Humulene, one such terpene, is an isomer of β-caryophyllene, meaning that they share the same chemical formula but differ in structure. 

Like caryophyllene, it is found in many plants that are of value to humanity such as herbs and spices, but also including fruits, vegetables and some plants that are used in the brewing of beer. It is also found in cannabis, although generally in lower concentrations than terpenes such as myrcene or caryophyllene. In addition, it has also been the subject of much medical research. Below we present a small sample of current, peer-reviewed investigations of the medical potential of this terpene.