Although its use was once shrouded by taboo and prohibition, the tide is now changing for medicinal cannabis. The increase in the legalisation of cannabis throughout the world has piqued consumer interest, and driven growth in research and development.
Indeed, such research has enabled consumers to look beyond the assumption that all forms of cannabis will make them “high” – an assumption attributed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound within the cannabis plant. Now, non-psychoactive compounds such as Cannabidiol (CBD) are starting to enter consumer markets in a variety of products such as vapes, edibles, and dietary supplements.
However, the cannabis plant (Cannabis Sativa), has not solely been used for recreational purposes. For thousands of years, cannabis has been used in ancient medicine for its pain-relieving qualities. At the present time, medical research has suggested that cannabinoids can be used by a large number of patients worldwide to lessen the symptoms of conditions as wide-ranging as anxiety and Parkinson’s disease, to migraines and multiple sclerosis.
With the prevalence of medicinal cannabis on the up, the cannabis industry is changing, which begs the question – how is it produced, and what should we as an industry be doing to ensure that the manufacture of medicinal cannabis is always of the highest possible quality?
Creating the perfect conditions for cultivation
Many would point towards cultivation as an important factor in the production of high-quality medicinal cannabis.
In order for medical cannabis to thrive, certain environmental conditions are required for optimal growth; these include overall air quality, genetics, adequate light, temperature, humidity, soil and water quality.
There is a reason that California in particular is hailed as a hub for the medical cannabis industry; its greatest asset is its warm climate, rich soil and abundant sunlight all which make the outdoor production of high-quality cannabis a viable prospect. This of course is a very similar climate to Portugal, where Symtomax have started the development of their medical cannabis cultivation facility, an enormous 105-hectare site in the Alentejo region of the country.
Of course, similar conditions can be replicated using greenhouses, where ventilation then becomes the most crucial factor. The right ventilation prevents the growth of mildew, or mould, and overheating, so an intake and outtake fan on the ceiling or the top of the grow room are required for adequate ventilation.
Likewise, temperature is also a crucial factor. The ideal temperature for a medical cannabis plant to grow tends to be between 20 and -30 degrees Celsius; such conditions mean they are able to grow stronger and thicker stems, with denser buds. At temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius, plant growth begins to slow, so it is crucial that this is monitored closely.
Indeed, more and more companies are understanding the benefits in investing in state-of-the-art greenhouses, to create the best conditions for cannabis growth. For example, Symtomax has recently begun work on new greenhouses with advanced engineering work to ensure all cannabis plants receive optimal growing conditions.
However, producing the highest quality medicinal cannabis doesn’t stop at the growing stage. Indeed, given the vast array of potential health benefits, experts are always in the process of conducting new studies into the cannabis plant itself, so that manufacturers and health professionals alike can better understand its properties. In particular, research into lesser known cannabinoids and the qualities they possess are key drivers in the improvement of medicinal cannabis quality.
CBD (cannabidiol) is one of the most common compounds (also known as a cannabinoid), and has been found to possess anti-inflammatory, calming and pain-relieving properties due to its interactions with the serotonin receptors on the brain. As it stands, there is insufficient evidence for CBD to be formally recognised as medicine; that said new studies are emerging every day and consequently, more consumers are experimenting with various CBD products, including oil or edible supplements to relieve ailments.
However, there is more to the cannabis plant than CBD. In recent years, the focus of research is shifting towards other compounds, such as CBG (cannabigerol) and TCHV (tetrahydrocannabivarin). CBG in particular has shown promise as an antibacterial agent and its anti-inflammatory properties. Known widely as the ‘stem cell’ of cannabis, but despite its vast medical appeal and health benefits, the compound is notoriously expensive to produce.
Consequently, CBG is not readily available for the consumer market, meaning that the majority are largely unaware of its potential benefits. That said, with more research being conducted into this cannabinoid, the tides could change over the coming years.
Formulation technologies and innovations
Increasingly, formulation technologies, which act as a bridge between the active components (such as CBD or THC) and the finished products (like CBD oil), are playing an important role in the development of cannabinoid products. Proper formulation strategies lead to products with increased efficacy, better dose control, decreased variability, and increased patient acceptance.
So, knowing the best extraction processes for the right cannabinoids is vital in ensuring the high quality of a product. Likewise, a solid grounding in how different combinations of compounds will most benefit consumers is fundamental to new innovations and discoveries within the industry.
Already, expertise surrounding different formulation technologies have resulted in some exciting innovations. For example, the Symtomax CBD oral tab, which is built on a thin film and adheres to the inside of the cheek. The proprietary technology releases cannabinoids in a controlled, timed manner through the lining of the mouth. Oral Tab can be developed to release doses at different times, so that this method is a practical option for both those needing an instant dose, and those requiring a slower release, over a longer timeframe. The flexibility of time release is therefore improved, as is the quantity of CBD available to enter the blood stream, therefore contributing to better efficiency and systemic absorption rate than any other delivery methods available at present.
All in all, although medicinal cannabis is still a young industry in the western world, and naturally, there is still much research to be done in order to dispel pre-existing taboos and prove its efficacy, there is a lot to be said for its increasing popularity. I look forward to seeing how the industry, and indeed the products, advance over the coming years.
Paul Segal is the Chairman & co-founder of Symtomax. Symtomax have been approved by Infarmed to start the development of Europe’s largest medical cannabis facility. The organisation is dedicated to the production, research, cultivation, processing and distribution of medicinal cannabis oil to pharmaceutical companies worldwide.