(Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Cannabist Q&A: medical research; honey oil, background checks

Welcome to our Ask The Cannabist column. Clearly you have questions about marijuana, be it a legal concern, a health curiosity, a Colorado-centric inquiry or something more far-reaching. Check out our expansive, 64-question Colorado marijuana FAQ first, and if you’re still curious, email your question to Ask The Cannabist at askthecannabist@gmail.com.

Hey, Cannabist!
What’s the latest information on medical marijuana studies?–Motivated Marty on Monaco Parkway

Hey, Motivated Marty!
Here’s a brief rundown. For a comprehensive view of medical marijuana studies in California, check the University of California-San Diego Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research website. The purpose of the Center is “to coordinate rigorous scientific studies to assess the safety and efficacy of cannabis and cannabis compounds for treating medical conditions.”

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML and NORML Foundation, was recently recognized by the Drug Policy Alliance with the Alfred R. Lindesmith award for achievement in the field of scholarship. Armentano has reviewed hundreds of academic papers on cannabis use and its impact on the human body or behavior. Here is Armentano’s recent recap of medical marijuana studies including research related to rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Globally, Israel has been leading the world in medical cannabis research right now, thanks to the scientific contributions of Raphael Mechoulam, the first person to synthesize THC (in 1964).

On a federal level, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has recently requested a lot more marijuana for research in the U.S. In the past, NIDA has only funded research that studied the negative impacts of marijuana, so we’ll see if the new studies are similarly biased. The marijuana being grown for NIDA is on the University of Mississippi pot farm that has grown marijuana for federal patients in the limited Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program since the late 1970s. With the recent research requests, the farm needs to supply 650,000 grams (1,430 pounds) of marijuana for 2014, up from the previous request of 21,000 grams.

In Colorado, a bill was signed into law last month that allots a bulk of the surplus from the state Medical Marijuana Registry, up to $10 million, for research grants to study medical marijuana. According to the bill, the grant money can be used for studies that could “add new debilitating medical conditions to Colorado’s medical marijuana law; and help physicians better understand the biochemical effects of prescribed medical marijuana” — for example, research on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or seizure treatments.

Also, just this week clinical trials in New York were announced for a cannabidiol treatment for children with certain types of epilepsy.

That’s a wrap on current medical marijuana studies.  XO

Medical views: Why three high-profile physicians — Drs. Gupta, Oz and Besser — changed their stance on marijuana

Hey, Cannabist!
In honey oil cartridges, how do the butane/propane extraction chemicals affect those with health (immune system) issues? Are there more organic mixtures available? I have done some research but cannot find any definitive information. I have a friend with cancer and I worry about toxins, if any, that might be ingested.–Caring Carrie off Colorado Boulevard

Hey, Caring Carrie!
Great question! Honey oil is a hash concentrate extracted using solvents. As the name implies, honey oil is amber colored with a thick consistency. One example, butane honey oil, is extracted with butane and more commonly known as BHO. I spoke with Fritz Chess of Eden Labs, a Washington state company that pioneered coldfinger botanical extractors nearly 20 years ago, and currently manufactures coldfinger, carbon dioxide (CO2) and mixed-solvent systems for cannabis extractions and other industries.

Plant extraction, in general, is a huge global industry totaling $600 billion dollars, according to Chess. Everyday foods, such as condiments, are manufactured with extracted ingredients and are safe to consume. Extraction solvents only become a health concern when residual solvents remain after processing the plant material. The health risks of consuming cannabis concentrates with residual solvents are not specifically known at this time, but according to Chess, when manufactured correctly the finished product is safe.

Chess said the most common chemical solvents used for cannabis extractions are propane, butane, ethanol and CO2. The safest solvents used in cannabis extractions are ethanol and CO2 because if residual solvents remain, they are relatively harmless. Chess adds, another reason ethanol and CO2 are the safest is that they are both disinfectants that would kill all bacteria, viruses and molds that might have been in the product. Again, when used properly, propane and butane are “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, Chess said.

Problems occur when concentrate makers don’t use food- or instrument-grade gases, which have the highest level of purity, and instead use cans of low-quality butane that contain contaminants. Chess said some of the harmful contaminants are hexane, pentane and heavy metals, and that pipeline lubricants can be a problem. Regulation testing for residual solvents and heavy metals for cannabis concentrates marked for recreational sales will start later this year in Colorado.

I also talked to Ralph Morgan, who manufactures O.penVape, a leading vape pen in the Colorado market, about the product ingredients. Morgan, who participates in the state Marijuana Enforcement Division working group for concentrates, developed O.penVape’s portable hash cartridges two years ago with safety as a paramount product goal.

The hash oil used for O.penVape cartridges is extracted with CO2 and mixed with a carrier, polyethylene glycol (PEG), to make it the proper viscosity. PEG is an FDA-approved carrier, and listed on GRAS. According to Morgan, it  is used  pharmaceutically for infant inhalers. PEG is also a carrier used in commercial e-cigs.

To determine what concentrate to purchase, ask your marijuana center what quality standards they have for concentrates. Some centers carry only water hash, which is mechanically separated using ice and water and is not a solvent extraction. Other stores, like Denver Relief, Evergreen Apothecary and Colorado Harvest Company only carry O.penVape. Ean Seeb, owner of Denver Relief, says all products available in his center must be fully MED compliant, and include a list of product ingredients. XO

Map: Colorado recreational marijuana shops and medical dispensaries

Hey, Cannabist!
I have been checking the Colorado Recreational Marijuana License application. I was shocked to see that an applicant is required to sign what appears to be a power of attorney and investigation authorization form. This form requires you to give up your constitutional rights to privacy and any information of any kind. I would just like to know how this could be legal for them to require anyone to sign over their constitutional rights? I’m sure it is designed to keep the cartels out, but this is rigid and over the top!–Dubious Dan on Dover Street

Hey, Dubious Dan!
Signing away your constitutional rights? Hold on now, that sounds pretty severe. I ran this past attorney Rachel Gillette. She says first, no one signs away their constitutional rights in a marijuana license application. A marijuana business application is a privilege license, and privilege licenses often require background checks. Lawyers and teachers undergo background checks for professional licenses, and marijuana business owners have to do the same.

Gillette says the power of attorney is a tax information authorization form necessary for a complete background check for the marijuana license. It’s not as invasive as it seems, it’s OK to calm down now. XO

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