Montel Williams, the former TV talk show host, has spent much of the past 15-plus years advocating for medical cannabis — and now he’s putting his practical knowledge as a patient into practice.
Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999; and through his search for effective treatments, he found that medical marijuana — notably the plant compound cannabidiol — helped him manage symptoms such as pain and tremors.
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In addition to founding a nonprofit for MS research and education, Williams became a vocal proponent for medical marijuana-related causes and traveled around the country in support of legalization efforts.
Those travels, his personal search and his research served as the impetus for LenitivLabs, a medical cannabis company Williams launched earlier this month.
Williams spoke with The Cannabist about his California-based company, how he’s in the lab developing the products, and the needs he’s hoping to serve in the medical cannabis market.
The following has been edited for length and clarity:
On what prompted the formation of a business in this space:
There’s 16 years of advocacy on my part. I’ve been involved openly with marijuana for medication advocacy, since really 2000. I was diagnosed with MS and (started investigating treatments). So now, over the course of 16 years, I have been pretty much a daily cannabinoid user. And as such, I’ve learned some things along the way that I think is now time to share with other people.
And as I’ve looked at the landscape across the country, we’re about to pass a series of voting issues across the country that are calling for more than just general recreational utilization.
And as such, I start to worry because there is a distinct difference in the people who are processing, growing and extracting and producing cannabinoid products under the guise of medication that really aren’t medications in any shape or form — because the processing techniques, the methods of extraction, the materials that are left behind, the residues are so high, you wouldn’t tolerate that in any medication.
But I just want to make sure and ensure that people who are medical cannabinoid users — like myself, who are doing so because we really get a benefit from it in some way — I want to make sure that we all have access to what would be the, I say, the best product that could be put on the marketplace, using some of the best techniques and practices that have been known for years in the normal medical community. So that’s what prompted me in my own search for cannabinoids for myself. Sometimes I go through (and) I would pick on one or another, I found products that clearly had residual … carcinogenic extraction material left aside.
That’s the kind of stuff that I don’t think we should be putting in any kind of medical (product).
The type of products LenitivLabs is developing:
I’m developing multiple different delivery systems, which will speed up the process of being able to absorb the cannabinoids. I don’t want to show my hand … I’m looking at multiple delivery systems, and I’m working on oils using extraction methods — I’m trying to ensure that we use the most efficacious extraction processes available.
So there are some (extraction methods) that are carcinogenic in their nature. They use accelerants and things that then have to be baked off, leached off. I believe that just like any other food-grade oils, there are chemicals in some places that are never, ever, ever used and don’t have to be (used).
There are different techniques that we can use. And so that’s what I’m trying to do, use those different techniques and make sure that the purity and the consistency is something that can be controlled, one, and two, (can be in) compliance with every single (state) statute.
Where LenitivLabs is in the development process:
We made our announcement on (Sept. 8, 2016), and we intend to have product in California, in dispensaries, by the first of December.
And I’m something a little different than a lot of other people who are in this space — the celebrity names with brands. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I have a degree in general engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, and I worked at a lot of high-tech businesses — in the medical device business, in the biofuel business, in the biofood business.
(And for LenitivLabs), I actually am personally standing in the laboratory. This week, I’ve been in the lab for four days and I’ll be in the lab for a couple more weeks in the only state-certified, municipality-certified cannabis production laboratory in the county. I’m not here to hang my name on something someone else has made. I’m literally going to produce this product.
About the team assembled for LenitivLabs:
On my advisory board right now, we have a former Congressman (Wilbert Tauzin), a former head of pharma. We have Lindy Snider (whose father founded the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers team). And that advisory board is a pretty powerful group of people from around the country.
We all had the same goal in mind. In another year or in another two years, with the next election cycle, we could have all 50 states having passed some form of medical marijuana initiative. … Those people who are patients need to be able to have a reliable source of cannabinoids that have been processed in a way that is (safe) for a patient to use.
How his personal experience with medical marijuana has evolved:
Long before it became vogue in the industry … I have been processing, finding and looking for CBDs as far back as 2001. I literally have been using a mixture of CBD and and THC. That has shifted over the course of the last 14 years from a higher CBD base to a 50-50 percentage.
I’m now using quite less (cannabis) than I used to four or five years ago. It’s the effectiveness of the oil, the extraction process is a higher quality.
What kind of effect it had on symptoms:
It has helped with my night tremors, my leg spasticity. I literally could kick my wife out of bed. This has almost brought that to a stop. It has given me a good night’s sleep. And from a pain perspective … I can’t stop the pain. I can keep it at bay.
What plans LenitivLabs has beyond California:
Our objective and our mandate as a company is to make this available as quickly as possible to as many people who need it. I don’t believe that our model is going to be that difficult to replicate in multiple states (through licensing deals). I can either process it for you, or I can come and train you on how to do it to our standards and test it.
… We’ve already began those (licensing and business relationship) conversations.
We’re close to completing a friends-and-family round. And I don’t believe that we’re going to be needing much more.