How much do you know about the ever-growing European CBD flower market?
CBD flowers have been rapidly gaining popularity across Europe over the last couple of years. In this feature we take a look at a few of the different types in circulation. Also known as cannabis light, many of these varieties are grown in Switzerland, where any cannabis plant below 1% THC is considered legal as hemp. Varieties that are not on the approved EU hemp variety list can be grown on private or industrial property, but not on land registered for agricultural use. Switzerland raised the 0.2 – 0.3% European THC limit up to 1% several years earlier. This wasn’t to accommodate new CBD varieties but to make it simpler for farmers, as common varieties such as Finola can reach 0.6% THC under certain growing conditions, especially if the flowers go unpollinated. Italy has likewise increased its hemp growing limit to 0.6% THC.
New strains have emerged from this change in Swiss regulation, most are attempts to refine hemp x cannabis hybrids over several generations, to improve the terpene profile and CBD level while keeping THC low. Swiss growers have also imported new varieties from the USA as seeds or clones
European hemp suppliers, wanting to join in on the CBD flower market but restricted to using EU hemp genetics have come up with a way, causing great confusion amongst consumers and potentially damaging the reputation of otherwise quality CBD strains in the process. Farms are doing pheno hunts through EU hemp seed varieties for unique characteristics to clone, re-name, and sell as a new strain. A shop could buy in Strawberry, Harlequin, Cannatonic and Silver haze CBD flowers to sell, but they may just be different phenotypes of the same strain of hemp, so the farmer and supplier are in compliance with EU hemp regulations.
EU hemp varieties which are being given cannabis strain names at point of sale are also now being grown in Switzerland, which means they can be grown on agricultural land and exported to Europe with paperwork as approved EU hemp varieties. This causes serious disappointment among consumers. Genuine CBD cannabis strains grown in Switzerland are also available on the EU market and are notably superior in quality.
The 4 main categories of CBD flowers currently in European distribution:
- – CBD dominant cannabis flowers, usually grown in Switzerland. ‘Genuine’ cannabis strains such as Harlequin, Cannatonic and Charlottes Web, with up to 1% THC. Seeds or clones have often been imported from the USA. CBD:THC ratio is usually around 20:1
- – CBD dominant EU industrial hemp flowers such as Felina or Finola, grown mainly in Italy and Switzerland. Certified hemp varieties with selected phenotypes being cloned for a particular characteristic. Maybe sold under a newly created strain name, or, labelled as familiar strains such as Harlequin, Cannatonic, Cheese etc. CBD:THC ratio is usually around 30:1 or 40:1. These flowers can sometimes also be sprayed with extra terpenes in an attempt to further differentiate the ‘new varieties’ they have been named as.
- “Re-assembled” flowers, often a CBD dominant cannabis variety grown in Switzerland, with good ‘bag appeal’ on the visuals. However the flowers have been stripped of their naturally occurring contents, usually by solvent, then re-assembled with extra CBD and added terpenes. The aim is usually to increase the CBD level and improve the terpene profile. This production technique is likely to be similar to the one used for placebo cannabis flowers that are used in clinical trials, where ‘cannabinoid-free’ versions of cannabis flowers are used for the double-blind, as a taste-free cannabis flower would be a clear giveaway and ruin the trial. Another variation to re-assemble flowers is using UV light to reduce the THC level and damage most of the cannabinoids and terpenes present, then the flowers are sprayed with a mixture of new terpenes and CBD isolate.
- Experimentation with EU hemp seeds, which have been subjected to techniques like “scraping radioactive material over the seed”, in an attempt to create mutations to find new traits and grow, as a ‘EU approved hemp variety’.
When a customer is planning to purchase CBD flowers, the idea of spraying terpenes onto the plant, or using a solvent to change its contents, or using radioactive material in an attempt to create new phenotypes of a ‘EU registered hemp variety’, is a long way from what they had in mind.
Many would call for extra regulation in an attempt to solve this, but this situation has actually been created by the very regulation that is in place. There is a strong and moreover steadily increasing consumer demand for CBD flowers, which often outsell CBD oil wherever they are available.
Until more countries in Europe allow access to them, we can only expect the current CBD strain name confusion to continue.