For the last five years, Dr. Hornby has been helping the Vancouver Compassion Club better understand how cannabis aids their patients. He has been identifying cannabis profiles that help specific ailments, and this means that one day patients will be able to get the cannabis that works best for them.
Cannabis Culture: What type of doctor are you?
Dr. Hornby: I have a PhD in Human Pathology. During my masters degree in Biochemis try, I worked with compounds that altered human physiology; and in my masters degree I worked with anaesthetics.
CC: How did you come to be as deeply involved in marijuana as you are?
DH: Through industrial hemp. Years ago, a fellow called me at a lab that I was working in, and asked me if I could measure THC in hemp. So, that kind of struck me, for reasons of my own, because I?ve known for years how useful the cannabis plant is. After a lot of hassle, I got a license to analyse hemp for its THC level. So I started analysing hemp and looking at the profi les, and I just got more and more involved in it. I ran into Hilary Black of the Vancouver Compassion Club and she was telling me about strains and specific symptom relief. That is, people with certain ailments will keep going back to the same strain over and over again.
CC: When did that research start?
DH: That was 6 years ago. But at the same time as I was looking at these hemp samples and noticing the profiles from them, I was talking to Hilary and realizing that these profiles could give an explanation to why people went back to the same strain over and over again. I was noting the difference with the cannabanoid profile in different strains, and it didn?t surprise me that she was observing this.
CC: What strains have you seen that keeping popping to the top of the list?
DH: Well, I?ve looked at many different strains over the years; I?ve been looking at the ones that can be effective at the Compassionate Club. So if they get people smoking a specific strain for relief from epileptic seizures, then I will look at the cannabanoid profi le of that strain.
CC: And you?ve been able to narrow it down to?
DH: Well we?re building data on it, you know. This is all brand new; no one has done it before. Now, years ago when I started getting interested in the medicinal aspect of cannabinoids, I went on my research network and searched all my databases for any valid scientific work that?s been done on cannabis ? done in clinical trials on natural product cannabis, not synthetic Dronabinol or Marinol made by the pharmaceutical companies.
CC: I didn?t know that most clinical trials used synthetic forms.
DH: Look at the research. Look at the data that is out there. It?s not done on natural product cannabis. There hasn?t been a lot of research results in smoking experiments done on natural product cannabis, but in clinical trials done on synthetic dronabanol, the results are sort of scattered. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn?t.
CC: Do you have a certain case where there?s a patient with a particular problem, and a particular strain works well for them?
DH: No. I need to get more tests to get a better idea as to which cannabanoids are relieving symptoms. Nobody knows yet. We?re not allowed to do this research, but we have to reach for it and we have to do it kind of clandestinely, so we move slowly. We?re learning. What?s exciting about it is there is so much stuff on this topic, so much to learn.
CC: Is higher THC always the goal?
DH: No. Ratios of CBD and THC are what?s very important.
CC: I recently heard about a sample that was at 36.8% THC. Do you know anything else about that profile?
DH: Yeah, I did the analysis.
CC: What plant was that?
DH: I watched the thing come out. My mouth was hanging down around my knees. I couldn?t believe it. It was amazing. It was just incredible!
CC: And was it mature?
DH: It peaks?I don?t know if I should be talking about this? well, I guess it?s okay. We?ve recently discovered a phenomenon in growing an eight week plant. The THC peaks between weeks six and seven and it?s about two or three points less at week eight as it is at week seven.
DH: Well that?s because you?re flushing. And when you flush, you stop your nutrient flow into your plant; it quits producing resinous cannabinoids, your leaf weight increases into the last week, but you don?t see the cannabinoids increase. You?re diluting your cannabinoids in the leaf weight. But if you cut it at week seven, you?re going to get the nutrients in your bud. There?s a catch-22 there. We?re trying to sort out which nutrients are required to keep the THC coming while the flush is continuing, if that?s possible. So, this is news for all growers. We discovered this phenomenon about a month ago. We?ve seen it before ? it just hadn?t really come clear in our minds.
CC: The strain with the 30% plus THC: what was that?
DH: As far as I know, a Northern Lights strain number 1 and it?s grown in Calgary.
CC: I know that Advanced Nutrients has a lot of medical patients with exemptions, and that?s how they get their data. Over the years, have you recognized a certain strain that just keeps on coming out in front, that meets most people?s requirements and needs?
DH: I?ve seen magic strains from time to time. A fellow brought me a strain with two names, called Salmon Creek and Big Bud. It was 21% cannabidiol (CBD). Now, getting 21% THC is fair enough, but this was 21% CBD, and 8% THC. That could be a very useful strain medicinally because CBD is important. It?s things like that that blow me away, rather than the strain that I?m focused on for medicinal value.
CC: And have you reached any conclusions about strains and any particular disease?
DH: I?ve seen the more wild, natural type of strain to have a more balanced cannabinoid ratio. With lots of British Columbia?s bud, the THC is through the roof and all the other cannabinoids have more or less been suppressed. The true medicine, I believe, has more cannabinoids in it than just THC. THC does one job, and the other cannabinoids are important for modulating the effect of the Delta 9 (THC).
CC: Is there a particular direction that you are going with the breeders, a certain type of strain? Is there a goal?
DH: In my own research, most definitely. We?re looking for ? like I just told you ? the right profile, the most medicinal benefit. I know what will help epileptics, what will help a person with multiple sclerosis, what will help a person with glaucoma ? what the right THC Delta 9, CBN, and CBD ratios are.
CC: Have you chosen any strains yet?
DH: Yeah, we?ve got them lined up.
CC: But you?re not telling us any specifics in that regard, is that right?
DH: I?ll tell you that for an epileptic, you want a lot of CBD there. A higher CBD to Delta 9 ratio is better for epileptics as a general rule. So, if I find a strain with a high CBD level to a Delta 9 ratio, then I?ll put that into my epileptic group as a potential for epileptic treatment.
CC: But you still haven?t told us anything.
DH: I haven?t told which strains are specifically working on certain ailments?
DH: No, because those things will change. The cannabinoid profiles don?t. I?m looking for specific cannabinoid profiles rather than specific strains. These strains we?ve chosen may have the same profiles that I want.
CC: But of them all, you must be able to know that one fits the profile the closest, and does so time after time. Can you tell us?
DH: I told you the profile for epilepsy had a higher CBD to Delta 9 ratio. That?s the epileptic profile, but strain names, I really don?t know. Actually, one called Hero goes to 25% Delta 9, and has 2% CBD. It?s very effective in treating people with pain, and it?s a Sativa-like strain. Cannabinol (CBN) is an interesting thing. I understand that CBNs are destroyed when you smoke, but not when you eat.
CC: Could you clear this up a little bit? What is Delta 9, how many compounds are you talking about?
DH: Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol is a psychoactive cannabinoid. It?s what gets you high. In B.C. bud, there are only five compounds in any great quantity. There?s tetrahydrocannabitriol acid ? THCA abbreviated. Then there?s Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), there?s cannabinol (CBN), then cannabidiolic acid, and then there?s cannabidiol (CBD). Those are the five compounds you see in any sort of quantity in B.C. bud. This is the way they have been bred and environmentally manipulated by the breeders to produce these five compounds over the years, to push up the THC level. Now, when I look at a B.C. sample, the compound that you see in the most abundance is THCA, because when you heat THCA it converts directly one-to-one to Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound that gets you high. The way I analyse cannabis is by high pressure liquid chromatography, or HPLC. Ninety-nine percent of the analyses done on cannabinoids use gas chromatins. But liquid chromatography works at near room temperature; with gas chromatography, you have to heat the sample to vaporize it, to put it in the gaseous state. When you heat cannabis, you change its whole structure, you change its properties. You can heat the sample and stop it anywhere you want to get the Delta 9 concentration that you want, so gas chromotography can be manipulated to give a wide range of results. Because I?m not heating it, I see the way it is in nature, with the THCA unconverted to the Delta 9. When you see the way it is naturally, you get an idea of how to make the medicine. If you burn or heat the sample ? if you do a gas chromatography ? you miss all that, because the THCA is not psychoactive, and you?re converting it one to one to a compound that is (Delta 9). You shouldn?t do that to analyze it in its original state.
CC: Is there already Delta 9 in a sample?
DH: There?s a little bit of Delta 9 in cannabis, about one percent. Then I?ll see 20% THCA. When you heat the sample, that 20% THCA will become 20% Delta 9. If you?re making muffins or brownies, you heat it at 300˚ C for, say, 40 minutes. When the temperature is about 60˚ C, the THCA medical marijuana starts to convert to Delta 9. When you get above 200˚ C the THCA starts to evaporate, to blow off, to go skyward. You?ve got to keep your temperature somewhere in between, because you want to convert the THCA to the Delta 9, so you get your psychoactive compound when you eat it ? but you don?t want to evaporate it all. I?ve looked at baked cannabis products and they?re maybe putting out 10% THCA with no Delta 9 at all, because they haven?t converted it. They haven?t heated it long enough, or they?ve heated it too much and blown it all off. When you?re baking pot products, you?ve got to be really careful to convert your THCA to your Delta 9 without blowing it off.
CC: Do you have a temperature schedule for cooking cannabis?
DH: That?s something I?d like to publish. I think it would be really useful to a lot of people trying to make edible cannabis products. I prefer eating it myself.
CC: Anything that you would like to share that we haven?t covered yet?
DH: Just that my driving force behind all of this is really discovery. It?s such an opportunity for exploration. It?s like being in the mouth of the Amazon in the 1900s. You?ve got a canoe and a paddle, and a whole river up ahead for you to explore. That?s what natural product cannabis is like for me. It?s unexplored territory, and it?s a lot of fun. Any fool can see that there?s money to be made from this, but it?s not my driving force. More in my interest is the unexplored properties of these compounds called cannabanoids, particular only to the cannabis plant. My driving force with cannabis is discovery, because there?s really nothing that?s been done on it. Nothing credible is done on natural product cannabis in terms of medicinal value, and that?s been my objective since day one.