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Pot Patients Need Their Meds

Medical marijuana patients are “desperate” for high-CBD pot, the president and chief scientist of a cannabis-testing lab told a packed audience of marijuana growers at the Long Valley Garden Club in Laytonville on Mother’s Day.

Samantha Miller of Pure Analytics in Santa Rosa said high-CBD marijuana, or cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating form of cannabis, can be effective in treating inflammation, convulsions, and other neuro-muscular symptoms related to epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS and MS. It can also impact autism and learning disabilities.

The supply of high-CBD cannabis is so limited in the United States and around the world that “People are rushing to profit from it. They are charging excessive prices as industry moguls attempt to get rich.”

Miller, a former National Institutes for Health fellow, who has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Beckman Foundation, was the fourth speaker in the garden club’s Cannabis Renaissance series.

The club will present Jeffrey Hergenrather, M.D., president of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, on Sunday, June 15, at 4 p.m.

Miller’s comprehensive, two-and-a-half hour talk covered everything from the location of cannabinoids on plants (the resin glands on the surface of the flower), to the effect of heat on cannabinoids (activates THC) to measuring the ratio of CBD to THC in a plant (send it to her lab), to the growing demand for high CBD plants.

There are “increasing opportunities for growers with unique CBD-strains that are commercially appealing,” Miller said.

Since the Seventies, most pot growers have sought to produce high-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) strains that are psychoactive, affecting the mind and mental processes --because that’s what most users wanted.

Nearly all high-CBD plants contain some THC, but they are less psychoactive and their flowers don’t usually “look as pretty,” Miller said. “They aren’t a wow flower.” She suggested that growers who can produce vigorous, disease-resistant, pesticide-free, high-CBD plants with good-looking buds could do well in today’s medical marijuana market.

Miller, a biochemist, said Pure Analytics can test for CBD to THC ratios as well as pesticides, mold, mildew and potency.

For ratio testing, samples must be cut at the right developmental stage, following very specific guidelines. Seedlings can be accurately tested as early as two weeks, but testing at four to six weeks is better for the plant. The lab accepts samples at member club drop-off locations in Garberville, Santa Rosa, Corte Madera, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

Knowing a plant's CBD to THC ratio can help growers decide which plants they want to grow to maturity or to breed. Growing conditions affect a plant’s total output, but genetics determine its ratio of CBD to THC. “You can’t turn one type into another,” she said.

Testing cannabis samples can also help patients, who may be seeking a very specific ratio of CBD to THC to ease their symptoms or disease.

Miller said some of the most promising research on the clinical use of high-CBD cannabis is being conducted by Sean D. McAllister, Ph.D., at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. His lab focuses on the body’s endocannabinoid system and the impact of CBD on metastatic cancers of the breast and brain.

With his collaborator, Pierre Desprez, PhD, McAllister has found that CBD inhibits human cancer cell proliferation and invasion.

Miller referred several times to one of the pioneers in the breeding of high-CBD plants --Lawrence Ringo, an iconic Emerald Triangle grower who founded Southern Humboldt Seed Collective and was a member of Lost Coast Botanical Cooperative. Ringo died April 3 of cancer. He developed one of the first high-CBD strains of cannabis -- Sour Tsunami. More recently he’d bred high-CBD Harle-Tsu and Canna-Tsu.

Asked how her lab operates amid the conflicting net of federal, state and county laws regulating marijuana, Miller said her approach is to be responsible, operate in the county of Sonoma not the city of Santa Rosa, and avoid doing any “wild stuff.” She said the local government seems “happy we’re there.” The lab has received requests for assistance from local as well as federal agencies.

“We’re living in interesting times,” Miller said. “It’s hard to say what’s going on.”

Audience members, including one who came from Fortuna, appreciated Miller’s detailed presentation.

“I thought it was fabulous -- informative and well organized,” said Chanti Husband of Laytonville. “Very appropriate for Laytonville.”

(Jane Futcher is the author of Women Gone Wild, a memoir about moving to northern Mendocino County.)

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