By Fred Gardner
Project CBD has just sent out its introductory pitch to California dispensaries. ProjectCBD.org is the medical marijuana movement living up to its name,” explains outreach coordinator Sarah Russo, optimistically, as she asks the dispensaries to participate in a “collective research effort.” But what are the chances that the dispensary owners, intent on building their own brands, will support a venture aimed at advancing the movement as a whole?
CBD, in case you’re just joining us, is Cannabidiol —a component of the Cannabis plant known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and other beneficial medical effects. CBD is not psychoactive and actually counters the psychoactive effects of THC. It is the predominant cannabinoid in hemp —plants grown to produce fiber or growing wild. CBD levels go down and THC levels go up when plants are bred to maximize psychoactive effect, as they have been in the U.S. for many generations of plants and people.
It was widely assumed for a long time that CBD had been almost entirely bred out of the Cannabis being grown in California for medical/commercial purposes. And because no analytic chemistry labs were testing Cannabis samples before the winter of 2008-09, there was no way to assess cannabinoid content. Overseas things were different. For many years researchers have been exploring the medical potential of CBD, and G.W. Pharmaceuticals conducted successful clinical trials and got U.K. government approval to market Sativex, a whole-plant extract with equal amounts of CBD and THC, for use by MS patients. Canada and Spain have also issued approvals for Sativex.
The situation in California changed in 2008 when Steve DeAngelo arranged for a lab to test the Cannabis he was providing at Oakland’s Harborside Health Center. DeAngelo had to fund a start-up to accomplish this. When Harborside opened in 2006 he had phoned every analytic lab in the Bay Area and been turned down when he mentioned the C word. In the spring of ’08 he decided to back two entrepreneurs who were launching a lab —the aptly named “Steep Hill”— and to supply them with a large, steady stream of samples to test for mold and cannabinoid content (THC, CBD and CBN, a breakdown product indicative of freshness). At least eight more labs have started testing Cannabis in California since then, and there are labs in Montana and Colorado. ProjectCBD’s Russo says, “We seem to hear from a new lab every week.”
It turns out that CBD is not all that rare —about one in every 600 samples tested by the labs is found to be high in CBD. Evidently, that’s the rate at which a mutation occurs resulting in an excess of the enzyme that transforms a precursor molecule of CBD and THC into one or the other. More than 25 CBD-rich strains have been identified, and Russo says, “We seem to hear about a new strain every week, too”
The prospect of CBD-rich cannabis becoming available prompted the Society of Cannabis Clinicians to plan a data collection effort. Jeffrey Hergenrather, MD, President of the SCC, had spent years listening to talks about CBD at meetings of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, wishing he could observe its effects on real patients. Hergenrather and co-worker Stacey Kerr, MD have now drafted a survey aimed at documenting patients’ answers to some basic questions about the effects of CBD-rich Cannabis. (For purposes of data collection, “CBD-rich” has been defined as 4% or more CBD, regardless of THC content. The amount of CBD that a given strain contains isn’t the only factor influencing the effects it will exert when ingested. The ratio of CBD to THC may be as or more important. Terpenoid and flavonoid content also appear to be very important.)
Project CBD was launched to publicize and promote the SCC survey(s). Martin A. Lee, the author of Acid Dreams, had been writing about CBD for O’Shaughnessy’s and convinced your correspondent that its re(introduction) into the grassroots supply was going to be a huge, ongoing story and would warrant its own journal of sorts. Over the past year we put a lot of effort into encouraging production by plant breeders and growers who had strains testing high in CBD. Many dispensary owners have been reluctant to stock CBD-rich strains because their present customers are seeking —or are not adverse to— Cannabis that causes euphoria or sedation. In other words, THC content sells, it’s a sure thing. Why should a dispensary spend money and devote shelf space to a type of Cannabis that most medical users haven’t heard of and whose effects are unproven?
Growers, in turn, have to anticipate the wants of dispensary buyers, and are reluctant to devote valuable garden space to plants for which there is no established market. ?Demand at the dispensary level might not take off until effectiveness is established. Which might not happen until significant numbers of patients have tried CBD-rich Cannabis and taken the SCC survey to report their results. Or, as Martin says, “there could be a tsunami of interest any day now.”
ProjectCBD.org provides the whole story to date and a “CBDiary” noting recent developments. The big news as of March 1: for the first time, a California grower has “stabilized” a CBD-rich strain. Lawrence Ringo of the Southern Humboldt Seed Collective is now offering seeds of “Sour Tsunami” that have a one-in-four chance of containing 10-11% CBD (and 6-7% THC).
Read all about it here.
Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s, the journal of cannabis in clinical practice. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORML’s updated primer on existing and potential cannabinoid and cannabis therapies is found here.
By Fred Gardner