Embracing Synthesized Ingredients

The future will be shaped by cost-efficient, scalable, consistent, and safe rare cannabinoids that are bioidentical to those in the plant.

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Photo: Africa-Studio / Shutterstock

The cannabis industry stands at a pivotal juncture. Echoing the transformative strides made by consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries including food and beverages, cannabinoid manufacturing has begun to embrace synthesized ingredients. This evolution—which addresses the pragmatic utilization of chemistry and biosynthesis to harness the full potential of the plant, particularly in the context of rare cannabinoids—is not just about expanding product lines or entering new markets. Instead, we are witnessing a fundamental shift in how certain cannabinoids are produced, with manufacturers embracing synthesized ingredients for enhanced cost-efficiency, scalability, availability, quality, and consistency.

Historically, manufacturers—and ultimately consumers—focused on only two cannabinoids: THC and CBD. The Cannabis sativa L. plant makes these really efficiently, so they are the most readily available. In recent years, however, research has illuminated other cannabinoids among the more than 100 found in the plant may offer unique, differentiated effects when incorporated into products. But the plant doesn’t make all the other cannabinoids efficiently in amounts that can be extracted and purified cost-competitively. This has led to the adoption of chemical or biological synthesis and related manufacturing techniques to supplement what the plant does on its own. By adopting synthetic approaches, manufacturers can unlock the vast potential of rare (sometimes called minor) cannabinoids like cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV).


In order to make these compounds efficiently and incorporate them into products with a unit cost that is acceptable in the market, manufacturers employ organic chemistry to create rare cannabinoids from raw materials found in cannabis, hemp, or elsewhere in nature. A good example is CBN, which is purported to support healthy sleep. CBN is produced by chemically converting CBD extracted from hemp.

Manufacturers also have begun to leverage biosynthesis, a fermentation process using enzymes from “reprogrammed” yeast or bacteria to catalyze the conversion of simple substrates into complex products like rare cannabinoids. As an example, scientists might modify a yeast that normally makes beer to produce THCV instead.

Employing organic chemistry and fermentation to synthesize rare cannabinoids is not unique to our industry. In fact, synthesizing insulin eliminates the need to harvest the animal pancreases that produce insulin naturally, and synthesizing vanillin addresses the scarcity of natural vanilla beans. These examples not only illustrate the feasibility of synthesizing complex organic compounds, but also highlight the potential to significantly reduce production costs, increase scale, and improve accessibility. Furthermore, the ubiquity of synthesized ingredients from vanillin to citric acid and vitamins A and D in mainstream CPG illustrates the way such processes make it possible for brands to incorporate rare cannabinoids into products and formulations without incurring prohibitive per-unit costs. Synthesized products can be made to high quality standards and be completely safe for consumption, as CPG products have demonstrated for decades.

Synthesized rare cannabinoids promise a future where the quality and consistency of a broader array of infused products can be controlled with precision. In the food industry, synthesized caffeine has become the norm due to its reliability and uniformity. In the nutrition world, most vitamins are synthesized to exploit cost, quality, and production advantages—benefits our industry seeks to emulate. By synthesizing and isolating rare cannabinoids that are bioidentical to those found in the plant, producers can ensure a consistent product in terms of both taste and effect, addressing one of the most significant challenges in the market: consumer satisfaction.

The shift toward synthesizing rare cannabinoids raises important questions regarding regulation, consumer perception, and environmental impact, though. The cannabis industry must navigate these challenges thoughtfully, ensuring the pursuit of innovation does not compromise safety, transparency, or sustainability. Regulatory frameworks need to evolve to accommodate new technologies, ensuring synthesized cannabinoids meet stringent safety standards. Similarly, consumer education will play a critical role in addressing potential concerns about synthesized ingredients, highlighting their benefits and dispelling myths. Thankfully, the way has been paved by the many examples of synthesized ingredients that already are part of our daily lives.

The journey toward embracing synthesized ingredients is not just a testament to scientific advancement but also a reflection of our industry’s resilience and adaptability. As the cannabis sector continues to mature, its alignment with practices established in the CPG food and beverage industries underscores a commitment to innovation, consistency, and overall product quality and safety.  

Shane Johnson MD

Dr. Shane Johnson is senior vice president and general manager at BayMedica, a leading manufacturer and developer of rare cannabinoids. Previously a principal at venture capital firm Hamilton BioVentures, he has helped guide regulatory strategy, product portfolio assessment and valuations, and product development and launch strategies for companies including Biogen Idec, Amgen, and Genentech.