synthetic cannabinoid

Avoid Synthetic Cannabinoids if You Are Buying CBD oil

Despite the promise of CBD oil being a cleaner, more convenient concentrated source of cannabinoids, there is growing concern surrounding this sector of the market/industry. There are genuine issues when it comes to fake and poor quality cannabis oil. In this article, we will explore how to avoid synthetic cannabinoids when buying CBD oil 

What Exactly is in CBD Oil Concentrate?

The first issue, especially when it comes to hemp oil and CBD concentrates, is if the oils contain the amounts of beneficial chemicals claimed. When using a substance that has no psychoactive effects, as is the case with hemp and CBD oil, it can be hard for an individual to tell if the concentrate is “working.” To complicate matters further, many companies have been selling CBD oil labeled as hemp oil to avoid getting in legal trouble.

A search on Amazon will turn up pages of results, with not a single one specifying the actual cannabinoids in their hemp oil. It’s understood that these are CBD oil, but with no actual labeling, and often no testing, purchasers have no idea what they are ingesting. Don’t expect this issue to persist as CBD cultivation and production become legal. A massive benefit of legalization is industry standards requiring laboratory testing for quality and purity of products coming to the consumer market.

The Dangers of Fake CBD Oil 

September 2019 began with reports of nearly 500 people, young and old, sickened by a mysterious lung disease linked to vaping. All types of vapor products–including nicotine, THC, and CBD–were causing trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and fevers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported at least 6 deaths since the first cases were reported in April. 

Imaging scans revealed a buildup of unnatural substances in the lungs of several cases. The symptoms were consistent with lipoid pneumonia, an infection from the accumulation of oil in the lungs and alveoli. Upon review of the cases, the Food and Drug Administration warned a chemical called vitamin E acetate found in some of the suspect products could be responsible. 

Vitamin E Acetate

Vitamin E acetate became a popular thinning agent used to improve the consistency of otherwise thick THC, CBD, and nicotine vaping liquids in 2019. The heating elements in pens specifically need the CBD they are vaporizing to maintain a “liquid-like” viscosity.  

Ironically, many manufacturers thought they were making products healthier by replacing thinning agents propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, carcinogenic chemicals they had been using in vape oil before receiving bad press for the practice in the previous year. Manufacturers touted vitamin E acetate as a natural replacement, one that had been used safely in foods and cosmetics for years. 

“Natural” was the keyword for vape companies after reports that synthetic cannabinoids, not just thinning agents, were contaminating CBD vapor pens, causing illness and psychosis. The bad press of being associated with synthetic cannabinoids was a wound to a CBD industry touted as safe, natural, and non-intoxicating. 

With CBD reclassified by the DEA, hemp oils now essentially exist in the same space as the health and sports supplement industry which uses standards like GMP to allow companies to produce higher standard products that give the consumer peace of mind. In the supplement industry, many companies still choose not to participate in these practices.

Cannabis oil is also mislabeled frequently boasting dishonestly high levels of THC. Other producers will claim their concentrate is derived from a popular strain or terpene profile when it is actually a different plant altogether.

Pesticides, Chemical Sprays, and Bug Killers

Cannabis does grow like a weed, reaching the size of real trees when grown outdoors, but they are still finicky plants no matter how big they get. As growers have manipulated the genetics to yield high concentrations of THC and CBD, they also increased some strains’ susceptibility to environmental stress. Moreover, many cultivators in regions around the country want to grow specific strains for their value and yield. These strains aren’t always ideal for those parts of the country.

For instance, the pacific northwest is an area of extremely high humidity, and many of the better yielding strains do better in drier climates. The moisture of Oregan can result in mold and root rot in growing marijuana. To compensate for these many environmental factors, some cultivators turn to artificial chemicals rather than risk a damaged or small crop. Sprays and plant growth regulators are used to force the plant to grow with unnatural size and strength but also aren’t safe for human consumption.

Marijuana has its share of predators like mites and aphids. Borrowing from traditional agricultural farmers, some cultivators turn to pesticides to eliminate these issues. While there are many natural approaches, they are often more labor-intensive and don’t guarantee results to the degree that laboratory-created pesticides boast. Pesticides can be harmful to humans, known carcinogens, or just plain bad for the environment. These chemicals remain on cannabis flowers and are absorbed into the plant, making their way into concentrated oil.

Mold and Bacteria Contamination

As mentioned before, cannabis can be prone to mold if not grown correctly. Improper harvesting techniques can also cause mold growth especially if the drying process is done incorrectly. Cannabis oil produced in a dirty lab, or much worse, a backyard can quickly become contaminated with outside bacteria. Mold and bacteria breakdown the oil and can be harmful to humans themselves.

Residual Solvents & Heavy Metals

With many oil and concentrate makers having roots in the black market, some facilities are not up to industry standards. The extraction process of certain oils involves using solvents, like butane, which should be removed entirely before the extraction is complete. Quality equipment coupled with proper technique ensures these solvents never reach the final product, but jerry-rigged setups or rushed removal can leave solvents in the final product. These solvents are dangerous for humans to be ingesting and are a detriment to the industry. Worse, dishonest cartridge manufacturers capitalizing on customers looking for the cheapest product often use cartridges manufactured out of inferior quality metals and plastic which leach chemicals and heavy metals into the oil they contain.

What are Synthetic Cannabinoids? 

Scientists invented the first synthetic cannabinoids in the 1940s shortly after isolating THC. Not knowing the human endocannabinoid system existed, they intended to develop compounds they could track in the body to study brain activity. Synthetic cannabinoids were produced for years in an unsuccessful effort to replicate natural cannabinoids. Then in 2004, Clemson University chemist John Huffman created the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-18 in his lab. 

“The chemistry to make these things is very simple and very old,” Huffman told The Washington Post in 2015, “You only have three starting materials and only two steps. In a few days, you could make 25 grams, which could be enough to make havoc.” 

He detailed JWH-18 synthesis, including potency, in a scientific paper published online in 2005. Prior reports by scientists hadn’t been freely available on the internet. Using his online formula, underground chemists began churning out tons of JWH-18, selling it on the street and adding it to potpourri sold in stores for buyers to smoke.

“These rogue chemists were taking the recipes of these synthetic cannabinoids right out of the journals,” says Barbara Carreno, a public affairs officer at the DEA. 

DEA officials first started to notice their prevalence in raids of shipping containers coming from Europe. When they tested the compounds found in the tanks, John Huffman’s JWH-18 showed up first, then JWH-250 and JWH-073. All were dangerous to humans. 

The DEA made it illegal to sell JWH-018 in 2011, but that did little to keep new synthetic cannabinoids from emerging on the illicit drug market. It’s easy to make a new derivative once one is banned by altering the molecule slightly. The game of cat and mouse can go on indefinitely.

Hospitalizations from synthetic marijuana rose for much of the decade. The synthetic cannabinoid 5F-ADB, known on the street as K2 or “Spice” caused 2,311 hospitalizations in 2014 and nearly 8,000 in 2015. At the time, the public considered 5F-ADB a fringe drug used by addicts and those who couldn’t afford or access real cannabis. Any reports of the chemical in vaping devices were attributed to users purchasing black market knock-off cartridges and not taken as a real threat to public health. 

Juul Ignites Teen Vape Use

Pax released Juul vape pens in 2017 with a $13 billion investment from Marlboro parent company Altria. Teen nicotine use, which had just declined for the first time in history, skyrocketed–so did hospitalizations. Hospitals found themselves admitting vape pen users for the same symptoms described by synthetic cannabinoid users, prompting a 2018 study by Forensic Science International. 

The researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University discovered 4 of 9 CBD e-liquids from Diamond Gold, one of the manufacturers of vape pens identified by victims, contained 5F-ADB. One also contained dextromethorphan, an ingredient in cough syrup. Diamond Gold was a mainstream company, not an underground lab. Now even purchasing from a legitimate source was a risk.

Dextromethorphan is used in cough syrups and can cause “agitation, ataxia, hypertonicity, sedation, and may produce dissociative hallucinations at high doses,” according to the report in Forensic Science International. Teens use it to get high, especially when they cannot access other substances. In large doses, dextromethorphan is abused to achieve similar highs as PCP and ketamine. It’s one of the most frequent over-the-counter causes of poisoning for people aged 13 to 18.

The FDA issued a caution to vape users of all kinds in September 2019 in response to the steadily growing bad press. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned flavored e-cigarettes. Whitmer accused nicotine vaping companies of using candy flavors and advertising to “hook children.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked for a similar ban. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a state-sponsored public awareness campaign about the dangers of vaping and a crackdown on counterfeit vaping products in mid-September. Newsome also instructed state health officials to develop signs warning against the hazards of vaping to be placed in stores and on advertising for e-cigarettes and accessories. Several labs had found heavy metals and contaminants in the inhaling units themselves.

Use Pure CBD Oil

In the last 365 days, vape cartridges marketed as a safer, cleaner way to consume cannabinoids and nicotine have tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids, carcinogens, and dangerous oils. With the practice of smoking hemp dating back thousands of years without these symptoms getting reported, additives and contaminants are to blame for the current problems we are seeing. High-quality products use CBD oil refined in such a way that they do not require a cutting agent. Vapes containing hemp oil, CBD oil, and natural terpenes as the only ingredients are the best to be using. 

It’s important when it comes to public health that the public actually takes accountability for their choices and what they put into their bodies. We might be waiting years before the federal government can come up with a scheme to ensure vaping products are “safe,” and keep in mind safe is a very relative word when it comes to government regulations. Look no further than the heavily regulated tobacco and alcohol industries which are mysteriously allowed to fill their products with chemicals, synthetic flavors, and preservatives without any public disclosure or labeling. Stick with pure organic CBD products that avoid fillers of all kinds. Purchasing from reputable, batch tested brands will help you avoid the risk of getting a product contaminated with synthetic cannabinoids and allow you to experience the true benefits of CBD oil.


The market for marijuana concentrates is already substantial enough that there is no need to deal with anything less than a reputable manufacturer. The majority of states have instituted mandatory laboratory testing on all cannabis oil brought to the market. Expect to see national regulation in the coming years as lawmakers push for full country-wide legalization. For now, don’t settle for dirty medicine. Only purchase from companies that choose to test.

Several internet groups have made it their mission to verify the quality of cannabis products on the market and expose crooked manufacturers. DabConnection.com posts lab results (both passing and failing) of many companies and their database is always growing. The Blacklist and CleanMedz are Instagram personalities who do the same as well as accept submissions from the public. They will review or test products that consumers buy and find suspicious. A common suggestion from both pages, don’t purchase cannabis oil that isn’t in sealed packaging. They frequently find counterfeit products that fail lab testing. When they go buy a sealed version of the product from a store themselves, that oil passes the test.

For now, avoid products with artificial flavors or other beneficial “ingredients” added. Remember CBD is for healing, it doesn’t need to taste like “Passionfruit Kiwi.” These additives are often being used to mask an inferior product even if they advertise a benefit.

Avoid products that aren’t labeled with a passing lab test that displays exactly what you are getting. The label will say how much of each cannabinoid is present as well as evidence that it is pesticide and contaminant free. Oil should display their lab testing seal of approval on their packaging. Concerning vapor pens, dodge buying knock-off batteries and refillable cartridges that may have been made with harmful materials that will leach into the product, even if they look the same as their name brand counterparts. A quality reusable battery or cartridge will last long enough to pay for itself.

Clean oil is one of the best ways to experience many cannabis benefits, whether you are eating, vaping, dabbing, or using tincture concentrates. By purchasing sealed, properly labeled cannabis concentrates from authorized LEGAL sources you are ensuring you won’t harm yourself with fake or poor quality garbage. Envision a public marijuana marketplace where consumers would never even consider buying untested concentrates and don’t have to. The United States is getting there.  As this article illustrates, there are ways to avoid synthetic cannabinoids and fake CBD. 




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CBDinside is an independent, New York based CBD comparison platform. Many of the CBD products that appear on this site are from companies from which CBDInside receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CBDinside does not include all CBD companies or all CBD products available in the marketplace.

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