Retailers struggle to keep popular cannabis extract CBD on shelves in Canada

Shortage affects jurisdictions in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador

Retailers across Canada are struggling with a shortage of all cannabis, but there’s one product they’re especially desperate to keep on shelves: cannabidiol or CBD, a non-intoxicating extract vaunted for its purported health benefits.

The extract, most commonly sold as oil, has been promoted as a natural cure for pain, anxiety and insomnia, despite limited medical research. Many customers are coming in asking for it, especially first-time and older users, store owners say.

“I don’t think the licensed producers really realized how popular CBD was, so there’s none available, really,” said Krystian Wetulani, founder of City Cannabis Co. in Vancouver.

“When something becomes available on the cannabis wholesale ordering sheet, everybody tries to get all that’s available. It’s like a race. That’s one of the biggest opportunities we’re facing in the legalized market.”

READ MORE: Edibles legalization fraught with hurdles, lack of clarity, companies say

Companies are ramping up hemp growth to produce the trendy extract, but observers expect the shortage to persist until late this year. Meanwhile, scientists are working to separate the hype from reality when it comes to medical claims about the drug.

While licensed producers were preparing for legalization last year, they assumed most of the demand was going to be for cannabis high in THC, the intoxicating ingredient, said Khurram Malik, CEO of Biome Grow.

The buzz around CBD grew with the passage last year of a U.S. law known as the farm bill, which allows for the growing of hemp for the purposes of extracting cannabidiol, he said. Similar regulations came into effect in Canada in October.

But it was the U.S. law that drove up media coverage and social-media influencer chatter, Malik said. Kim Kardashian West recently posted on Instagram about her “CBD baby shower,” where she invited guests to make cannabidiol-infused salt scrubs and body oil.

“Because of the farm bill passing, the sexiness or the in-vogue profile of CBD went through the roof,” said Malik. “The demand side just blew up and caught everyone by surprise, on both sides of the border.”

Extracting CBD from hemp, which is low-THC and high-CBD, is more affordable because the crop can be grown outdoors on a large scale under Canadian rules that are less restrictive than those for producing high-THC marijuana, Malik said.

Biome Grow has partnered with CBD Acres, which Malik said will supply his company with up to 20,000 kilograms of cannabidiol concentrate annually in order to serve Canadian and international markets.

The CBD shortage affects jurisdictions across Canada, said provincial distributors in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“There has been a significant learning curve for licensed producers as they transition into supplying a new market,” said B.C.’s Liquor Distribution Branch in a statement. “Licensed producers are working towards becoming more efficient, however many of their expansion projects have not yet been fully ramped up.”

The branch added it expects supply to increase in the second half of 2019 as expansions come online and more producers receive licences to enter the marketplace.

Beverley Ware, a spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp., said while it has “CBD leaning” products, it has not been able to consistently carry pure CBD oil due to the national shortage.

Customers looking for CBD products would prefer not to smoke them and don’t want the added THC, said Darrell Smith, spokesman for the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp.

“It has been a challenge to source a steady supply of these products as they are often reserved for the medical cannabis community,” he said.

Ivan Ross Vrana, cannabis adviser at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, said he didn’t think that producers failed to anticipate the high demand for CBD.

“I think what the industry, given its newness, is grappling with — and a lot of companies are getting a good handle on — is about consistently growing the product that consumers want,” he said.

“It’s not easy. I know people think, ‘It’s just a weed. We can grow this no problem.’ It’s not. You’re still growing a plant and Mother Nature has a large say in that.”

The legalization of edibles, extracts and topicals later this year is likely to further ramp up demand, Ross Vrana said. CBD-infused creams, beverages, food and even pain-relief products for pets are expected to be growing market segments.

Despite the hype, research into the health benefits of cannabidiol has been fairly limited, said Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a psychiatrist at McGill University who has studied the drug.

Gobbi’s team published a study in the journal Pain last October that pinpointed the effective dose of CBD for safe relief of pain and anxiety. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also approved a CBD drug to treat children with severe epilepsy.

But more research is still needed, particularly on CBD’s effects on anxiety and insomnia, Gobbi said.

Some patients who try it experience no effects and studies have also indicated a placebo effect in some people with anxiety, depression and pain, she added.

“Today there is a dominant culture of cannabis, a dominant culture of everything that is natural is good. This is why … cannabidiol is so popular.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langford boy wakes up from surgery to find stuffed puppy wearing the same cast

Hospital staff outfitted ‘Eddy’ the puppy to match the young patient

VIDEO: Annual artist studio tour goes virtual on Saanich Peninsula

ArtSea converts popular event to online format with personalized artist videos

Local Flavour: Youth take the lead in Victoria’s Pollinator Leadership Team

Guest writer Thompson Hygge, summer intern with Pollinator Partnership Canada

Sewage installation to delay drivers along Sooke Road until early September

Construction starts Monday, August 10 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Flyover at B.C. Leg to commemorate National Peacekeepers’ Day

August 9 marks biggest single day loss of Canadian lives from peace operations

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

NHL playoffs: Canucks to meet St. Louis Blues in Round 1

Vancouver takes on defending champs beginning Wednesday

Simon Cowell breaks his back falling from electric bike

Incident happened at his home in California

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Missing teen visiting Courtenay found safe

She had last been seen going for a walk on Aug. 6

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Fitness non-profit challenges citizens to invent a game to be physically active

The campaign was launched after a study showed only 4.8 per cent of children and youths in Canada met required standards of the 24-hour movement guidelines

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

Most Read