Mary Lou Smart www.medicalcannabisart.com
A s the science unfolds, patients seek Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THVC), Cannabichromene (CBC), Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabigerol (CBG) and Cannabinol (CBN) – cannabinoids shown in research to yield medicinal benefits – in combinations targeted to specific needs.
Lori Kent, volunteer / co-owner of Mari Meds in Belfair, Washington, is honing in on these compounds with the help of Cannatest’s alphaCAT.
The CAT, Cannabinoid Analytical Tool, is an inexpensive testing kit designed in the Netherlands to test strains for the presence and potency of cannabinoids.
In recent months, she’s found cannabinoid combinations that better serve patients needs. Frosty Lady features high THC, CBD, CBG and CBN. The combination spells super head high with the ability to reduce seizures, swelling and pain. For marijuana without the munchies, Quantum-X is high THC and THCV, which is thought to be an appetite suppressor. With thousands of strains on the market and the appetite for medical cannabis soaring, the desire to pinpoint therapeutic combinations is great.
“We’re working to standardize the business by dialing into the science of cannabis,” she said.
Klaas Hesselink, Cannatest founder, U.S. distributor and technician, discovered thin-layer testing while trying to fine-tune edible dosing. Shown on the website www.canna-test.com, the method is the collaborative effort of alphaCAT BV, California-based Bowtib Laboratories and Hesselink. The Cannatest Pro lab is a mobile laboratory catering to dispensaries, seed compa-nies and other businesses that want to meet the demand for a range of cannabinoids other than just THC. A smaller version, the alphaCAT testing kit, is a mini-chem-istry lab that costs $250, and can test up to four strains on one test plate in 45 minutes. Each test comes with 10 test plates, an easy-to-read manual, and additional expla-nation on a youtube demonstration. The quick-and-easy method can equate to tests as low as $6.50 per strain.
Thin-layer chromatography (TLC) is an extraction pro-tocol that has been around for years whereby a develop-er fluid is added to a sample as small as .1 gram and com-pounds are distinguished with brightly-colored spots on a glass plate. Profiles reveal the number of compounds and their relative concentrations. The cannabinoid-spe-cific method designed to separate and identify up to seven cannabinoids on impregnated TLC-plates was cre-ated by Ronald Glas in the Netherlands, and scientifical-ly validated by the University of Leiden. Glas studied molecular biology, microbiology, biochemistry and organic chemistry at Wageningen University, and estab-lished Maripharm BV, a pytochemistry medicinal cannabis laboratory for 1,500 Netherlands pharmacists, in Rotterdam. Along the way he came to understand the need for a cost-effective testing option.
The CAT’s simple, rapid and inexpensive method identi-fies the fingerprints of all cannabis strains and derivatives such as tinctures, oils, hash and edibles. In addition to determining the chemotype profile, the alphaCAT points to potency, strength and age of samples. Like any home-test kit, one of its greatest draws is that the end-user does not need a scientific background.
Over the past four years, cannabis laboratories opening around the U.S. have had an incredible impact on the rapidly emerging medical cannabis industry. No longer in search of a bag of weed, educated consumers want to know what they’re buying; newbies want an education. Entrusted with ensuring safe and effective medicine for licensed patients, dispensaries and wellness centers are coming to rely on cannabis testing, a science in its infan-cy.
In the absence of federal regulation or guidance, self-reg-ulated, lab-based research is setting up the protocols, defining the standards. Reputable laboratories feature expensive gas chromatography or high-performance liq-uid chromatography equipment, and employ highly-
experienced technicians with multiple degrees who test samples for dispensaries, growers and the occasional individual. Technicians report regularly calibrating equipment and comparing testing methods with peers.
Zack Jarou manages Cannalytics in Lancing, Michigan. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Michigan State, and continues on as a medical student. With easily $100,000 invested in equipment, Cannalytics is the only lab in Michigan conducting high-performance liquid chromatography, a process that does not require heat, which can interfere with whole-plant analysis and testing of already-cooked edibles. He became adept at using the equipment during several years in bio-fuel research.
Cannalytics strives for transparency. The information the lab uses to make calculations for each individual sample, including standards used to make comparisons, is shown on Cannalytics’ website, www.medicalcannabistest.com. The company charges $60 to test a sample and offers quantity discounts. Across the industry, costs vary wide-ly. A basic test at Steep Hill Cannabis Analysis Laboratory in Oakland, California, for instance, costs more than $100.
Not all laboratory work is cost
prohibitive to individuals. Full Spectrum Laboratories in Denver, Colorado
offers a basic test for $35 and bulk tests for less. Over the sum-mer, Full
Spectrum expanded its commitment to compas-sionate care, for a limited time,
two free tests to every patient in the state.
“The idea behind that is after all of the calls I get from people looking for high-CBD strains or hearing about this ailment or that ailment, we wanted to help,” said Buckie Minor, marketing director. “I can tell them where they can purchase, but for high-CBD clones, no Colorado center that I know of is selling them. Hopefully patients will be able to locate some of these plants them-selves and trade them amongst themselves to get the medicine that is needed out there.”
No fan of the home-test kit, Minor, who was not famil-iar with Cannatest’s alphaCat, referred to thin-layer chromatography as “kindergarten stuff.”
For a small business or home analysis, however, highly-exacting lab work might not be necessary.
“People want to know what’s in their medicine, but for what I’m doing I do not need forensics,” said Mari Meds’ Kent. “Cannatest’s testing kit shows me the combination of cannabinoids and their potency and that’s what we need.”
Cannalytics’ Jarou feels that in the wide-ranging medical cannabis realm, test kits have their place.
“The thin-layer chromatography tests are more qualitative,” he said. “They make comparisons between two
samples or let you identify that the compounds are indeed there. Gas chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography are more quantitative. When you want to put a definitive number on something, those are the methods that you want to use.”
Kent is a patient. She suffers from systemic masto-cytosis, a rare condition affecting internal and external areas of the body, an overproliferation of mast cells that release chemicals in a process known as degranulation, which leads to symp-toms similar to allergic reactions. Prior to cannabis, she was taking a boatload of medica-tions, including Neurotin, an anticonvulsant,1600 mg four times a day; Darvocet, a pain reliever; Soma, a muscle relaxant; and Hydroxyine pamoate, a multi-tasking med marketed for ten-sion, nervousness and allergy itching. She was also taking Effexor, an antidepressant, to cope with the roller coaster of emotions that comes with taking a boatload of medications.
Bob, her fiancé and co-owner of Mari Meds, has multiple sclerosis (MS). Prior to cannabis, he was taking eight different opiates and antidepressants including Trazodone.
“When we met each other we were both on a lot of different medicine and we decided to change it, and do something different,” said Kent.
With medical cannabis, Bob is off all of the opiates and antidepressants, and is taking only Copaxone, an MS drug. Kent is taking only Allegra, an over-the-counter allergy medication.
“We started treating ourselves with cannabis and got so much better,” she said.
Individuals have unique reactions to cannabis and require custom solutions.
“None of this is cookie cutter,” said Kent. “With Western medi-cine, we’ve been treated to cook-ie cutter medicine. No matter what you have, you’re shown the top six meds, patted on the head and sent on your way. With cannabis, we’re working to stan-dardize the dosages so that the individuals can customize treat-ments according to their condi-tions. With testing, we can tell you what is in your medicine. It’s not a Cheech and Chong party anymore.”