Possession or manufacture of cannabis and cannabis extracts is illegal in most jurisdictions. People caught with small amounts of extracts can face extremely harsh prison sentences. As of 2017 in some regions of the United States mandatory minimums of a year in jail still exist. However, it is widely produced in states where cannabis has been legalized.
“DEA will continue to support sound and scientific research that promotes legitimate therapeutic uses for FDA-approved constituent components of cannabis, consistent with federal law,” acting DEA administrator Uttam Dhillon said in a press release. “DEA is committed to continuing to work with our federal partners to seek ways to make the process for research more efficient and effective.”
They may not look threatening, but their very presence here, in the confines of a major university lab, represents years of wrangling to win federal and university approval. Right now, Kane’s allowed to grow only hemp strains. The rest of his research material is cannabis DNA, which is supplied by Colorado growers who extract it using methods he’s taught them.
Right now, there’s a good chance that you don’t really know what you’re getting from any source. Testing and labeling rules vary by state, but many states that allow legal cannabis also require some kind of testing to verify that the THC and CBD levels listed on the label are accurate. However, this testing is controversial, and results can vary widely between labs, Jikomes said. A study published in March found measurable variations in test results, with some labs consistently reporting higher or lower levels of cannabinoids than others. There are no guarantees that the label accurately reflects what’s in the product. For a 2015 study published in JAMA, researchers tested 75 products purchased in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle and found that only 17 percent were accurately labeled. More than half of the products contained significantly lower levels of cannabinoids than the label promised, and some of them contained only negligible amounts of the compounds. “We need to come up with ways to confidently verify the composition of cannabis products and make this information available to consumers,” Jikomes said.
A geneticist, Kane studies cannabis from a unique perspective—he probes its DNA. He’s an affable, outdoorsy guy with a bright face and eyes that wander and dart inquisitively when he talks. He has studied chocolate and for many years the sunflower, eventually mapping its genome, a sequence of more than three and a half billion nucleotides. Now he’s moved on to marijuana. Though its sequence is much shorter, roughly 800 million nucleotides, he considers it a far more intriguing plant.
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We would never sacrifice quality by providing a synthetic CBD or CBD isolate blend. We use a whole plant extract that is rich in cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial oils. The Hadassah Medical School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem sought to compare the effectiveness of a completely purified CBD extract versus a full-spectrum extract of cannabis flowers containing large quantities of CBD. The conclusion of the study was that the whole plant extract, which contained a large percentage of CBD but also contained traces of the other cannabinoids, proved far more effective than CBD-only solutions in alleviating inflammation and pain sensation.
Meanwhile, so-called wellness drinks infused with CBD are gaining traction. The UK’s first has been launched by Botanic Lab, promoted as “Dutch courage with a difference”. Drinks giants Coca-Cola, Molson Coors Brewing Company and Diageo are all considering launching their own versions, while UK craft breweries such as Cloud 9 Brewing and Stockton Brewing Company are offering cannabis-oil laced beers, and mixologists are spiking their cocktails with CBD mellowness. The fancy marshmallow maker, The Marshmallowist, has added CBD-oil flavour to its menu, promising that “you feel the effects immediately upon eating”, without specifying what those effects might be.
CBD interacts with the body through the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) or endocannabinoid system. First discovered in the late 1980’s, the endocannabinoid system regulates the body’s homeostasis, or general state of balance, impacting such functions as mood, sleep, appetite, hormone regulation, and pain and immune response. Like an acrobat on a highwire, as the environment around us impacts our normal balance, the endocannabinoid system “corrects” by mediating our body’s reaction to keep us level.
When Meagan’s in-laws suggested they look into medical marijuana, she recoiled. “This is a federally illegal drug we are talking about,” she recalls thinking. But she did her own research. A good deal of anecdotal evidence shows that high-CBD strains of cannabis can have a strong antiseizure effect. The medical literature, though scant, goes back surprisingly far. In 1843 a British doctor named William O’Shaughnessy published an article detailing how cannabis oil had arrested an infant’s relentless convulsions.
Hash oil is an extracted cannabis product that may utilize any part of the plant. Ideally, the final product will not contain any residual traces of solvents. It is generally thought to be indistinct from traditional hashish according to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (Schedule I and IV) as it is "the separated resin, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant".
A sketchy outline of the cannabis genome already exists, but it’s highly fragmented, scattered into about 60,000 pieces. Kane’s ambitious goal, which will take many years to achieve, is to assemble those fragments in the right order. “The analogy I use is, we have 60,000 pages of what promises to be an excellent book, but they’re strewn all over the floor,” he says. “We have no idea yet how those pages fit together to make a good story.”
The truth is that no one knows precisely what any of these molecules are doing to us. It is a case of finding the effects first and working backwards to understand the mechanisms. “There are a number of possible transmitter systems that CBD could act on,” says McGuire. “And it’s not 100% clear which ones are critical for anxiety, or psychosis or schizophrenia. But [the antipsychotic effect] is a different mechanism from existing treatments, which is a big deal because existing treatments aren’t working.”
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Once the map is complete, enterprising geneticists will be able to use it in myriad ways, such as breeding strains that contain much higher levels of one of the plant’s rare compounds with medically important properties. “It’s like discovering some hidden motif deep in a piece of music,” Kane says. “Through remixing, you can accentuate it and turn it up so that it becomes a prominent feature of the song.”
Zuardi, A. W., Crippa, J. A., Hallak, J. E., Bhattacharyya, S., Atakan, Z., Martin-Santos, R., … & Guimarães, F. S. (2012). A critical review of the antipsychotic effects of cannabidiol: 30 years of a translational investigation [Abstract]. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 18(32), 5,131–5,140. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22716160
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