The Whole Plant Extraction Blog

Understanding the Science of Cannabis Product Development

Amber Wise and A.C. Braddock

Originally published in Cannabis Science and Technology

by Amber Wise and A.C. Braddock

The rapidly expanding global market for cannabis products should be based on the medical science of cannabis and how it interacts with the human endocannabinoid system. Companies that base their brands on the science of the entourage effect and develop products around plant genetics using cutting edge extraction technology will rule global market share, reshape our medical system and recreate how we choose to find relaxation and stimulation. Current political and economic situations have created non-science based markets and products that are not serving medical patients and not designed to fill the research gaps we desperately need to legitimize the emerging anecdotal evidence. By understanding whole-plant extractions better, allowing for their medical use and removing restrictions on research and development, businesses will be able to better plan for long-term profitability and sustainability.

Recorded history has been written by the victors, and the propagandizing of Cannabis sativa L. in the U.S. is an obvious and tragic example. We quickly forget the history on which we should be making decisions and worse, we sometimes base our future on a revised version of it. Less than 100 years ago, a handful of men took thousands of years of knowledge and successfully distorted it for their own financial and political gain. We allowed the copacetic relationship between cannabis and humans to be severely maligned by propaganda, and hundreds of thousands of lives have been medically, socially and financially destroyed to serve a few (1). While underground medical practitioners, caregivers, and scientists have made some progress in unraveling the last century of lies, we are still on the path that a small group of men devised (2).  Current progress to legalize cannabis will further our understanding of this important plant as medicine, but education and de-stigmatization on a larger scale needs to occur. 

Traditionally, medicines have been created from plants and were often whole-plant preparations or basic tinctures or extractions until science advanced and we understood how to better isolate the most active agent in plants. There were many known preparations of Cannabis sativa and it was used widely for treating a number of ailments, primarily pain management. One of the first medical isolations was the alkaloid morphine from opium poppies by Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner in 1805 (3). This was closely followed by other isolates as well as the invention of the hypodermic needle in the early 1850s. Since cannabis is not water soluble, it could not be directly injected into people, which contributed to its medical decline. Its use was completely decimated after its political damning in the early 1900s (4).  Morphine and other opiate-derived drugs quickly supplanted cannabis as the primary pain management tool. From there, chemists learned to synthesize morphine, and its derivatives have been developed into multiple products, many of which have now devastated millions of people’s lives. 

Aside from the water insolubility and political pressure, another issue facing cannabis was determining a “safe” dosage.  Once its use and research declined, however, it’s difficult to argue that the creation of the “one-pill-fits-all” system that developed in pharma has been safe or effective for everyone when one considers the addiction, side effects, and deaths associated with prescription drug use. We have also recently discovered that people have genetic predispositions, as well as metabolic differences, to drug toxicity and efficacy (5,6). This new area of research in individual reactions and efficacy is very complicated, and requires extensive testing, to pair an individual with a drug that will be effective and not have harmful side effects.  

Endocannabinoid System cannabis extraction

Above, areas impacted by the human endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Now, more than a century later, the pharmaceutical industry, based on isolation of single molecules, has created a clinical trial process that is not equipped to handle the multitude of compounds and natural variations of whole-plant preparations. This leaves us in a similar position as in years ago of having a lack of the “approved” type of data that other drugs were allowed to explore because of their federal scheduling. However, the rising tide of anecdotal evidence of overwhelmingly safe cannabis use as a medicine is piling up, and medical doctors and researchers are starting to piece together some of the important components for specific treatments and preparations.

The safety of using whole plant applications in anecdotal evidence, as well as its historical use, lends itself to researching chemovars to support more immediate access for medical treatments. Isolation is laborious and expensive in practicable terms for commercial production of products. The only way to procure a single pure molecule is by using preparatory chromatography after extraction. This process is not scalable for the production required to extract the low quantities of cannabinoids (CBD) found in hemp. One way to alleviate this issue is to grow cannabis for high levels of a specific cannabinoid and extract for its boiling point. If we do not find a way to approve whole plant research and use, this industry will be taken over by the usual synthesizing of the molecules to produce quantity.

Medical cannabis legalization in the U.S. began in 1996 when California legislatively passed Proposition 215 (7); from there Oregon, Washington and Alaska all became legal medical use states. They legalized on the medical use of Cannabis sativa L.—the whole plant and not a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) varietal recently defined as “hemp.” There were no restrictions on cannabis cultivars, and there were no recommended dosages.  A patient could simply grow and extract the medicine they needed from the plant and treat themselves like humans have done for thousands of years. To date, no death has occurred from cannabis consumption, no prevalent addiction exists and the plant has proven to help reduce the need to pile pharmaceutical drug on top of pharmaceutical drug to treat what are often debilitating side effects. We knew as early as the late 1880s that cannabis extracts could be successfully used to wean people off opiate addiction and yet we continue to ignore the science because of the politics.

  6. https://www.mercom/professional/clinical-pharmacology/pharmacokinetics/drug-metabolism
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  11. cannabis-extracts-superior-cbd/
August 14, 2019