He throws open an industrial door, and my eyeballs are scalded by a halo of plasma bulbs. We step into an immense, warm room that smells like a hundred Yes concerts. Once my eyes adjust, I can see the crop in all its rippling glory—close to a thousand female plants standing six feet tall, their roots bathed in a soup of nutrients, their spiky leaves nodding in the breeze of the oscillating fans. Here in a sweep of the eye is more than a half million dollars’ worth of artisanal pot.
The 44,000-square-foot building hulks across from a police station in an industrial part of Denver, along a gritty stretch of converted warehouses that’s come to be known as the Green Mile. There’s nothing to indicate the nature of the enterprise. The door buzzes open, and I’m met by the chief horticulturist of Mindful, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world. A druidlike 38-year-old with keen blue eyes, Phillip Hague wears fatigues, hiking boots, and the incredulous grin of someone who—through a confluence of events he never imagined possible—has found his exact life’s calling.
Even as the research proceeds, thousands of people are using CBD as medicine. A British pharmaceutical company, GW Pharma, has developed two CBD drugs: Sativex, which contains a 1-to-1 ratio of CBD and THC, and Epidiolex, which is pure CBD. The former is prescribed for the painful muscle spasms that occur in multiple sclerosis, while the latter is aimed at childhood seizures. Sativex is not available in the United States, but it is approved in 29 other countries, including Canada, England and Israel.
Hash oil is consumed usually by smoking, ingestion, or vaporization. Smoking or vaporizing hash oil is known colloquially as "dabbing", from the English verb to daub (Dutch dabben, French dauber), "to smear with something adhesive". Dabbing devices include special kinds of water pipes ("oil rigs"), and vaporizers similar in design to electronic cigarettes. Oil rigs include a glass water pipe and a hollow tube (called a "nail"), with an indentation on the side which is sometimes covered with a dome. The pipe is often heated with a blowtorch rather than a cigarette lighter.
Cannabis has been used for millennia as a pain-relieving substance. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids may prove useful in pain modulation by inhibiting neuronal transmission in pain pathways. The oil has the ability to relieve chronic pain and inflammation, which is why cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often turn to cannabis oil for relief. It’s also why it can be a part of natural fibromyalgia treatment.
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If he had his way, what Mechoulam regards as the often irresponsible silliness of recreational pot culture would give way to an earnest and enthusiastic embrace of cannabis—but only as a medical substance to be strictly regulated and relentlessly researched. “Right now,” he complains, “people don’t know what they’re getting. For it to work in the medical world, it has to be quantitative. If you can’t count it, it’s not science.”
So far, though, there’s scant clinical evidence for the claimed benefits of CBD. In June, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first CBD drug, Epidiolex, for treating seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy. Otherwise, the FDA doesn’t consider CBD products to be dietary supplements—manufacturers can’t claim the products will diagnose, treat, or cure any diseases. Instead, CBD product literature contains phrases like “restore vitality,” “relax and recover,” and “may keep healthy people healthy.”
Two cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs, manufactured in the UK, are licensed for prescription but only for very specific uses. Sativex has been available in the UK since 2010 and uses THC and CBD to treat spasticity in multiple sclerosis. And a new CBD-only drug, Epidiolex, was approved in June in the US to treat rare childhood epilepsies, with a similar decision expected imminently for Europe and the UK.
When I meet the Patricks in late 2014, they’ve settled into their new home on the north side of Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak looms in their living room window. Addy is thriving. Since first taking CBD oil, she hasn’t been hospitalized. She still has occasional seizures—one or two a day—but they’re less intense. Her eyes wander less. She listens more. She laughs. She’s learned how to hug and has discovered the power of her vocal cords.
Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved treatment in the U.S. that contains a purified drug substance derived from marijuana -- CBD -- and the first treatment for Dravet syndrome. In September 2018 the FDA rescheduled cannabidiol from a C-I controlled substance to a C-V controlled substance, meaning it has a proven medical use but a low risk of abuse. This change allows Epidiolex to be marketed in the U.S.
Still, as the saying goes, absence of evidence isn’t necessarily evidence of absence, and there’s a reason we don’t have a ton of solid research on CBDs yet — “to study it, we need a good source, ” said Ziva Cooper, who is an associate professor at Columbia University and was on the National Academies committee. CBD is hard to get because it’s still technically a Schedule I drug, which limits its availability, Cooper said.
THC, an intoxicating and illegal substance, is responsible for causing marijuana users to get “high.” Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive because it does not act on the same pathways as THC. Thus, it is impossible to get “high” by smoking or ingesting CBD or CBD oil extracted from industrial hemp plants, as they only have minuscule traces of THC (<0.3%).
I lean over to sniff one of the powdery, tightly clustered flower buds, purple-brown and coursing with white wisps. These tiny trichomes fairly ooze with cannabinoid-rich resin. This strain is called Highway Man, after a Willie Nelson song. Hybridized by Hague, it’s a variety loaded with THC. The best parts will be trimmed by hand, dried, cured, and packaged for sale at one of Mindful’s dispensaries. “This whole room will be ready for harvest in just a few days,” Hague notes with the subtle smirk of a competitive breeder who’s won international awards for his strains.
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