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

NDP pushing for 10 days of paid sick days for all working Canadians

NDP has made the issue a requirement for their support of the Liberal government

No plans to rebuild Hardy Bay Industrial Centre after fire, owner says

A massive fire burnt down the old building in April

Port Hardy Fire Rescue adapts to new realities amidst COVID-19

Don’t forget to follow Port Hardy Fire Rescue on Facebook.

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Alert Bay: COVID-19 cases go from 30 to zero thanks to health and emergency planning

Dr. Cutfeet says community leadership set Alert Bay up for success

Island Health signs working agreement to turn former Comox hospital into a ‘dementia village’

Island Health has signed a project development agreement with Providence Living to… Continue reading

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

CVRD testing Shawnigan water after complaints of metallic taste, odour

“This type of problem has come up a number of times in summers in the past”

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Most Read