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Naturally-Derived vs Synthetically-Derived: What’s The Difference?

natural vs synthetic
Written by Sarah Friedman

Product sellers use all kinds of ways to market products, down to inflated descriptions of the product itself. However, these terms are not always what we think they are, and sometimes have legal definitions that make what’s said, sound contradictory to the product’s contents. Here’s a little on what to expect when you see ‘naturally-derived’ or ‘synthetically-derived’ on product labeling.

It’s a confusing world of product marketing, with terms like ‘naturally-derived’ and ‘synthetically-derived’ thrown all around. But what do these words actually mean in terms of what we buy? This is a completely independent publication covering the cannabis and psychedelics fields of today. Check out the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter for important updates, and get access to offers on tons of products from smoking devices to cannabinoid compounds, like HHC-O, Delta 8Delta 9 THCDelta-10 THCTHCOTHCVTHCP HHC. Head over to our ‘best of’ lists, and make sure to only buy products you are comfortable with using.


Though this term is used a lot, and is on tons of products, its meaning is not as obvious as one might think. In fact, products often blare out messages to confuse consumers into buying them, and this is one of those examples. Guidelines for what is considered ‘naturally-derived’ are found through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 16128, which states the following for ‘natural’ products, as well as ‘synthetic’ products:

100% natural ingredients – when you see this on a product, it means the product is made 100% of something natural, which includes plants, animals, microbiological elements, or minerals. Allowed processes include things like grinding, drying, or distilling; fermentation; or the use of solvents, so long as there’s no chemical change to the original compound. Petrochemical ingredients are not allowed.

Naturally-derived – We are now no longer dealing with a completely natural product. The term ‘naturally-derived’ means that at least 50% of ingredients are from natural origins, leaving 50% that don’t have to be. In this case, chemical or biological practices are often meant to specifically chemically modify the product, and there is no limit on this end. Final products can include synthetic components under this definition, up to 50%.


The difference between the two above definitions is quite extreme when it comes to a final product, yet the terms themselves sound very similar. Peddlers of lower-class products often use this confusion to make it look like a lower quality synthetic product, is actually the same as the real thing. When looking for ‘natural’ products, it’s best to read the fine print. Look for that ‘100% natural ingredients’ seal, or an organic certification, and remember that in this context, the word ‘derived’ essentially translates to ‘has only some natural ingredients, and that’s all’.

An example of how far-out this definition gets, consider that Dimethicone is a product used in many cosmetics. Dimethicone starts as a sand called silicon, and is then processed to extreme measures to create the Dimethicone used in products. It’s not only used a lot, but its used in ‘natural’ products because of its natural origin. While Dimethicone is not the worst ingredient in terms of health concerns, it does highlight how something that no longer resembles its original natural form, and which has undergone extreme chemical processing, can still be considered okay for ‘naturally-derived’ products.

The organization that made these definitions – ISO (International Organization for Standardization) – is a non-governmental body made up of members from 160 countries. Together they “collaborate in the development and promotion of international standards for technology, scientific testing processes, working conditions, societal issues and more. ISO and its members then sell documents detailing these standards.”


If ‘100% natural ingredients’ relates to products that only use natural sources, and ‘naturally-derived’ means the product has some amount of natural ingredients, along with synthetic ingredients and processing, what does ‘synthetically-derived’ mean?

Synthetically-derived indicates that the product is formulated with ingredients that come from petrochemical sources. These ingredients are generally lower cost than natural ingredients, and always in abundance, as they come from the same oil we drill for gasoline, plastics, and tons of other things. These chemicals are damaging to both the environment and human health, yet have become the basics for most product production in the past century.

Technically, the designation for this term is when over 50% of ingredients are from a synthetic source. Since the line is very thin, ‘naturally-derived’ and ‘synthetically-derived’ products are sometimes nearly the same in composition, despite the different terminology. Anyone looking for the actual natural product, should know to avoid products that use either term.


What about ‘plant-derived’ and ‘hemp-derived’?

When it comes to wanting a natural product, the word ‘derived’ is the enemy. In the context of ‘natural’, the word ‘derived’ indicates that it’s not all natural materials or processes, and that only a percentage is, which is sometimes no greater than 50%. So how does this then relate to other terms we see, like ‘plant-derived’ or ‘hemp-derived’?

‘Plant-derived’ is essentially the same as ‘naturally-derived’, as ‘naturally-derived’ covers products made from plants. When using the term ‘plant-derived’, we’re simply excluding animals, microbiological elements, and minerals. It therefore allows for the same amount of non-natural ingredients and processing, meaning something that is plant-derived, doesn’t have to come just from plants, and can have up to 50% synthetic ingredients.

This is the same for ‘hemp-derived’ as well, a term made ubiquitous with the 2018 US Farm Bill and the legalization of industrial hemp. The FDA gives a definition for hemp, and uses the term ‘hemp-derived’ a lot, but never set a specific definition. I assume in this case, ‘hemp’ is like saying ‘plant’ or ‘naturally’, in which case, ISO guidelines dictate that at least half the ingredients come from hemp, and the other half, from wherever. It also doesn’t rule out synthetic processing as ‘derived’ products can undergo any processing techniques.

If a product claims that its ‘made from 100% hemp’, then that indicates the product is (at least supposed to be) 100% natural. If it says its ‘hemp-derived’, then you can know there’s a lot more going on with your product, than just hemp. Buyers should always be aware of how these terms are used, to ensure they don’t fall prey to marketing schemes.

The term ‘hemp-derived’ is frequently used by the cannabinoid industry for cannabinoid compounds like delta-8 THC. Technically, as long as standards are met in terms of the original product origins and amounts, they aren’t wrong to say ‘hemp-derived’. However, the bigger issue in the industry is with bogus testing facilities, and an inability to know anything for sure about a product. Yeah, maybe hemp-derived is enough, but when we can’t verify that the minimum standards are met for that definition, we can’t know it’s true. This is a good example of why real regulation is necessary, to ensure a business lives up to its claims, and doesn’t ‘t incorporate non-legit testing as part of a marketing scheme.

What about organic and non-GMO?

If a company has ISO approval, it means it should be selling what it’s saying, and a ‘100% natural ingredients’ product is actually pretty close to organic. ‘Organic’ is yet another term that denotes all natural ingredients, however, it goes farther than ‘100% natural.’ 100% natural speaks only of ingredients coming from natural places. Organic speaks of natural ingredients, as well as natural cultivation of plants and raising of animals.


If a product has ‘USDA certified organic’ on its packaging, this means the product was grown without pesticides or other prohibitive substances, if its a plant. According to regulation, soil must not have had restricted compounds put in it for three years prior to an organic grow. When it comes to animals, certified organic means the animals were not treated with hormones or antibiotics, and that they were also fed 100% organic food. Organic products can’t have artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and must be made of natural ingredients only, with a few exceptions, like enzymes in yogurt.

Similar to the difference between ‘100% natural ingredients’ and ‘naturally-derived’, ‘USDA certified organic’ is different from ‘made with organic.’ If you see the latter, the labeling indicates that at least 70% of ingredients come from organic sources. All other ingredients must still be created without using prohibitive substances, but do allow for non-organic ingredients. In both cases, the use of GMOs is not allowed.

You might have also seen labeling that says ‘Non-GMO Project’. If you see that stamp on a product, it means that no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are in the final product. The nonprofit organization has a strict policy for 3rd party testing, but doesn’t concern itself with other factors. The main thing for this organization is that crops aren’t genetically engineered, nor produced with such practices. A Non-GMO Project approved product does not have to be organic, and much of the time is not.


So there you have it, product labeling can sure be confusing. If you don’t care as much about what your products are made of, you probably don’t care much about this article. If, on the other hand, quality and cleanliness in product production is important to you, its good to know these definitions. In the end, though they don’t have to be, ‘naturally-derived’ and ‘synthetically-derived’ are often virtually the same thing. Go for the ‘100% natural ingredient’ products, or if possible, just buy certified organic.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.