Cheese, Chocolate... and Cannabis?
When we think of Switzerland, it's common to conjure up an image of the alps, creamy chocolate, or even a suave luxury watch. Rarely do we equate Switzerland with swathes of perfect little hemp plants or luxurious little bottles of balancing CBD oil which you can slip into your morning latte. Yet, adding CBD to the list of commodities that the Swiss have perfected seems inevitable, more now than ever. Swiss industrial hemp is cultivated under excellent regulations, ensuring that the Swiss CBD market continues to expand and thrive with fewer restrictions and holdbacks.
So what exactly are these regulations?
Switzerland's Cannabis Laws
In 2011, an amendment of the Swiss Narcotics Act allowed the growth of cannabis as long as it had less than 1% THC. Why is this exceptional? Well, in most other EU countries, the THC content in cannabis is usually required to be under 0.2%. Yet, Switzerland, in allowing higher THC levels, has ensured that during farming and cultivation, the cannabis plant can grow to its fullest potential. This regulation was passed before CBD became a popular product in its own right. The amendment initially came about to allow for looser restrictions in the fabric and cosmetics industry, which primarily needed better quality hemp as a fabric source. But the main thing to glean from all this information is that 1% THC is a real-game changer when it comes to hemp quality.
Revenue statistics are helping us to really understand how much 1% of THC can really change the game: pegged as a 'CBD hub', Switzerland's CBD industry is rapidly rising by the minute, with reports showing that 7.3% of Swiss adults use home-grown CBD. By 2027, it's been predicted that the Swiss CBD market should reach 320 million dollars, and tax revenues from the legal consumption of CBD hit 15.1 million francs in 2019.
A History of Swiss Regulations
Pretty much every country has dealt in hemp at some point or another, dating back to the 13th century onwards (although research has shown us that it could even date back to the middle-ages). Exact dates notwithstanding, it's clear to see that hemp has been around for a long time, providing excellent products such as textiles, fibre, rope, clothing, and seeds (not to mention oil produced from hemp seeds- which has a fantastic range of skincare balancing effects).
Common knowledge has told us that most of Switzerland's hemp production was happening in the north - the canton of Jura- dating back for centuries. The Swiss would trade their hemp with one another, with successful hemp traders earning profit and becoming well-known.
Prior to the Narcotics Act in 1924, Switzerland was heavily cultivating industrial hemp for textiles and fabrics. However, by the 18th century, hemp production became significantly limited in the face of the industrial revolution. Hemp was mostly cultivated in slave plantations across the South of the USA- by the 1850s 8327 hemp plantations were documented in the US. Fewer countries were willing to pay the Swiss for their hemp. Those very hemp farms became transformed into plain farms and kept livestock instead.
Despite the Narcotics Act, many Swiss farmers continued to grow hemp, illegally, particularly in the 1940s and 50s. By 1955, the Swiss Federal Offices began to allow the cultivation of hemp under the condition it wasn't used for medical or recreational purposes. In 2001, the Swiss Federal Council became committed to decriminalising the recreational use and possession of cannabis, which fully came to light in 2012. Now, there's a flat fine for the possession of less than 10g of cannabis with no criminal charges attached. Now amendments and advancement have resulted in the industrial production of 1% THC hemp.
Clearly, with easing up CBD laws, the Swiss have generated some serious revenue; better yet, they're extending money and interest into CBD trials, which will help to advance global knowledge of CBD and its purported balancing effects. As it stands, the Swiss seem to be taking an active role in attempting to understand more about CBD.
So, what are the methods behind cultivating cannabis Sativa?
How Swiss Cannabis is Cultivated
Really, the only type of cannabis Sativa that most Swiss farmers and industries use is hemp. Hemp plants naturally contain less THC and more CBD. Hemp is also an easy plant to grow; it requires little to no pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers; and needs only a small amount of water to thrive. Environment-wise, there are two main ways that Swiss hemp can be cultivated.
This is when hemp is grown outside. Plants need light and carbon dioxide to photosynthesise and grow, which makes outside cultivation the way to go, since the plants can be exposed to a wealth of natural sunlight, air, and water. Profitable hemp farming requires nutrient-rich soil with plenty of humus (dead plant matter which decays in the soil where hemp is grown, densifying it and giving off nitrogen to make the earth super nutrient-rich). Hemp farmers also need to monitor a controlled water-flow to ensure that the hemp plants have just the right amount of hydration to grow optimally. Usually, the ground needs to be pretty low for great hemp to grow- no mountain-farming!
The tricky thing about cultivating hemp outside is the variable conditions. Switzerland isn't known for its temperate climate. Often, the winters are subject to snow and little sunlight. It's no surprise, then, that more often than not, outdoor cultivation is exchanged for growing the hemp indoors or in greenhouses.
Since hemp tends to enjoy a more humid atmosphere, the indoor cultivation of hemp is a common occurrence. In a greenhouse, natural light is used, but conditions like soil quality and hydration are artificially controlled.
In indoor settings with no greenhouse, LED lights are used to ensure the hemp plants get access to the correct amount of light. Since LED is a full-spectrum light source (it's got a pretty intense shine) growing hemp this way can be faster. Most indoor spaces use air conditioning to control temperature, as well as infuse the soil in which hemp is grown through artificial means- every factor is controlled to ensure the hemp turns out optimal. In some cases, the hemp roots are anchored using hydroponic methods. This is when an inert substance, such as coconut fibre, clay, and wool, is filtered into the soil. The soil becomes densely packed with nutrients, which help with quality growth.
As a result, indoor cultivation is pretty efficient (although LED lighting can be costly, the rate of hemp growth is way quicker). Cultivating hemp indoors allows for conditions to be optimal, targeted, and controlled at all times.
The extraction of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids from the hemp plant starts with drying the leaves, stalks, stems, and flowers of the matured hemp plant (although some places only utilise the bud of the plant, where most of the cannabinoids are).
A solvent-free extraction relies on the plant being mashed up into a fine plant powder and exposed to gentle heat and pressure. The extraction method must be carefully monitored, as it can produce lower yields of CBD, the product that we love the most!
There is also a solvent-based method of extraction. A liquid solvent (usually butane, ethanol, or hexane) runs through decarboxylated hemp, extracting the terpenes and all cannabinoids. Then that solvent is evaporated, leaving behind the cannabinoids.
There's also supercritical CO2 extraction, where the gas/liquid CO2 is pumped through the raw hemp material, under controlled conditions, extracting all the cannabinoids and terpenes. This extraction method renders higher yields than the first two methods of extracting the full-spectrum of cannabinoids from the hemp plant material, but can also be expensive, and requires specific, complicated conditions. However, it's the safest and purest method, and many websites suggest that this is the extraction method you should look out for when buying your CBD products.
THC, CBD and Other Cannabinoids
As iterated, all cannabis must have a THC content of 1% or lower for it to be legally sold in Switzerland. Once the plant has reached 1% THC level, the farmer can cut the plant. Usually, this is the point when the cannabis plant has reached its full cannabinoid capacity. This allows the plant to grow to its full potential or maturity. Alongside this, cannabis plants which are developed to their full potential provide a more standardised crop. Every plant is cultivated to the same standard, making it easier to extract a higher CBD yield.
THC, known as tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Smoking or ingesting a cannabis strain with above 10% of THC is usually enough to activate that infamous 'high' cannabis is known for. This is because THC has the potential to bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the Central Nervous System, which is responsible for controlling mood, appetite, anxiety and pretty much all perception. The psychoactive effects of THC can be inhibited when concentrations are lower.
As it stands a 1% THC product should have no effect on the body: you aren't likely to get that associated high. You are, however, likely to have increased amounts of other cannabinoids when you allow more THC to be produced. Since THC is the main active cannabinoid found in many cannabis plants, higher concentrations of THC mean higher concentrations of other cannabinoids.
1% THC: A Full-Spectrum Plant
In further detail, some CBD products created from a cannabis Sativa plant with higher levels of THC are called full-spectrum products. A full-spectrum CBD product contains all the cannabinoids, including trace amounts of THC. The cannabinoids all work together, in a synergistic manner, for a much stronger, more potent product. In many EU countries, full-spectrum CBD products can't be sold, as THC is entirely illegal. To substitute, broad-spectrum CBD is sold instead, which contains all the cannabinoids present in the plant except THC.
Typically, a full-spectrum CBD product will have more balancing and centring properties than a broad-spectrum CBD product, since the addition of THC to a CBD product (even in trace amounts) means a more potent product, overall. A quality CBD product should have as many cannabinoids packed in as possible.
When THC levels are higher (in this case, as high as 1% concentration) other cannabinoid levels increase too. This results in not just higher concentrations of CBD, but higher levels of terpenes, phytocannabinoids, and flavonoids, all produced by the cannabis plant (mostly in the trichomes of the plant- on the waxy surface of the leaves). Each different cannabinoid has its own special purpose.
In other words, a higher THC concentration results in the stronger potency of other valuable cannabinoids. A full-spectrum CBD product is pretty packed with the balancing, centring effects of nature.
Buying CBD in Switzerland
As long as a product has a THC concentration of 1% and below, it's legal for over 18s to purchase in Switzerland. This applies to CBD beauty products, oil, balm, lotion, e-liquid, or ingestibles. If it's under 1% THC, you're good to go.
When it comes to businesses, you don't need a special license to sell CBD products in Switzerland. Because Swiss regulations require the purchaser to be 18 and above, age permits are needed for a business to sell 1% THC products. For any cigarette products (the Swiss also sell CBD-laced cigarettes) there's a tobacco tax, as well as an age limit for purchase. But, for the most part, lacing CBD into everyday consumerism has worked out well for Swiss businesses. Since the market regulations relaxed significantly in 2017, there's been an annual growth of 39% in the Swiss CBD industry, which is only predicted to increase over the coming years.
Swiss CBD: The Way Forward?
Switzerland's thriving CBD industry accounts for huge amounts of money. The country's unique way of looking at CBD as a product to be normalised instead of speculated over, has resulted in the decriminalisation of cannabis (for specific purposes), more jobs in the farming industry, a more flexible approach to research, and, let's just admit it, higher-quality CBD products available for a discerning public. The Swiss seem to be experts at producing a wealth of high-quality products: perhaps there's a method to their marijuana.