CBD: Expensive, Very Expensive – or Free?

CANNABIS CULTURE – A company in Israel announced recently that it is the first to develop a strain of cannabis low in THC and high in cannabidiol (CBD) using the natural breeding process with no unnatural genetic modifications.

While this claim is misleading regarding the novelty of such a strain, I believe it was truthful regarding the process by which such a strain was created. But is the origin of high-CBD strains genetic, or is it a factor of the environment? Probably both.

The Announcement

From Public Radio International:

[A]n Israeli company claims it is the first to develop a strain of the cannabis plant that contains almost no THC at all. … The new cannabis strain took about 3 years to develop through cross-breeding, according to Zach Klein of Tikkun Olam. There was no genetic engineering involved, he said. The new strain is all natural. “Avidekel” is the nickname for the CBD strain, Klein said.”

I don’t believe this company is the “first to develop a strain of the cannabis plant that contains almost no THC at all.” This 2005 article from Cannabis Culture mentions GW Pharmaceutical growing “virtually mono-cannabinoidic plants that produce high percentages of these target cannabinoids: THC, CBD, THC-V, CBC, CBD-V, CBG or CBN.” 

This lab report indicates that “cannatonic #6” was high in CBD with hardly any THC, perhaps also indicating that the “cannatonic” strain is either unstable, genetically producing different cannabinoid results with each plant, or getting different results under different growing conditions.

17% of Harborside Healthcenter’s tested cannabis rated at or above 1% CBD, with three strains in the 14 to 16% range of CBD.

Not to mention that nearly every single industrial hemp variety ever created contains almost no THC at all. For example, this paper written in 1996 lists many industrial hemp varieties with next to no THC and 4% to 5% CBD.

Though Tikkun Olam’s claims of originality are false, I believe the company was correct in describing the breeding process as the method of designing high-CBD strains, but there is some debate as to whether the plant’s characteristics are due to genetics or the environment. I think it is probably both.

Famous breeder David Watson (AKA “Sam Skunkman”) said he doesn’t “believe that soil or light or anything else will increase the CBD level. CBD is controlled by the genetics of the plant, period.” Perhaps what he means to say is that the maximum levels of CBD are controlled by genetics, but according to Hillig and Mahlberg, the levels can dip when all kinds of factors are increased or decreased.

It’s possible these factors are also at play during the selection process, and have subtle or not-so-subtle effects on the breeding process itself. I’m not a geneticist, but what I do know is that there’s ample evidence of low-THC, high-CBD strains all over the place, some that have existed before the invention of genetic modification. That means, obviously, genetically modification is not required to produce these strains. It is as easy as grabbing some industrial hemp seeds, growing them out and selecting for high CBD. 

Dr. Frankel

Dr. Allan Frankel, a Santa Monica MD who works with Green Bridge Medical, wrote a series of blogs blasting activists concerned about GM cannabis, as a response to a discussion (including myself, Dr. Frankel, and lawyer Letitia Pepper) on an email list:

http://www.greenbridgemed.com/2012/07/07/highless-marijuana-or-rich-cbd/
http://www.greenbridgemed.com/2012/07/08/there-is-no-gmo-cannabis/
http://www.greenbridgemed.com/2012/07/08/highless-and-gmo-marijuana-nope-just-rich-cbd-cannabis/
http://www.greenbridgemed.com/2012/07/08/please-get-our-facts-straight-there-is-no-gmo-cannabis/

In his posts, Dr. Frankel argues that there “is no GMO cannabis”, and seems to confuse my opinion with Letitia Pepper’s. As stated above, I believe you can get low-THC, high-CBD from normal, non-GMO breeding methods, or from most industrial hemp. I do not think these strains are a threat or a conspiracy, or ineffective medicinally, and I don’t have a problem with what’s going on in Israel.

Though I don’t believe that GMO cannabis currently exists (as Letitia does), I believe there may be such a creation in the works, and that a ban on genetically modified cannabis would be a good thing.

Right now, there are projects ongoing to genetically modify all useful drug plants, and evidence that cannabis is a likely candidate – for proprietary reasons.

The first mention of the possibility of cannabis being genetically modified I could find was cited in a document leaked to Cannabis Culture back in 2000, which read, in part:

Cannabis seeds from Monsanto are almost definitely genetically engineered. Genetically engineered plants can be patented, and it is in Monsanto’s best interest to hold a patent on any seed they sell. Seed patents ensure that companies like Monsanto can continue to profit from seeds from year to year, as farmers are legally bound to buy patented seeds from the patent holder rather than simply store them from the last year’s crop.

In 2009, the University of Minnesota issued a news release suggesting that researchers were close to “engineering” a “recognizable, drug-free Cannabis plant”:

In a first step toward engineering a drug-free Cannabis plant for hemp fiber and oil, University of Minnesota researchers have identified genes producing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana. Studying the genes could also lead to new and better drugs for pain, nausea and other conditions.

And in 2010, one of the USA’s leading farming organizations “passed a bizarre new policy statement in support of industrial hemp farming, but only if it is genetically modified (GMO) and retains cannabis prohibition with very heavy law enforcement.” The National Grange of the Order of Patron of Husbandry, known simply as “The Grange”, stated:

The National Grange supports research, production, processing and marketing of industrial hemp as a viable agricultural activity. We do not in any way support or condone the growth or use of marijuana as a hallucinogen.

“We support strict enforcement of all laws that currently ban the production and sale of marijuana or that classify all species of cannabis as a Class 1 controlled substance in the US. We oppose amending these laws as the primary means of promoting industrial hemp production.
Instead we urge further research and application of existing biotechnology techniques to develop genetically modified industrial hemp that will be biologically incompatible with all other forms of cannabis or marijuana.

We further urge that genetically modified industrial hemp contain distinct chemical markers that will quickly and easily identify industrial hemp varieties using low cost and accurate on-site testing methods for the purpose of contract compliance, law enforcement and as evidence in court.”

While none of this is proof that GM cannabis exists, the fact that other drug plants are routinely subjected to GM, that cannabis is a major – if not the major – cash crop on planet earth, and that GM cannabis is being discussed repeatedly, is evidence that GM cannabis is likely in the future.

What Does CBD Do?

What exactly does CBD do? According to this paper from the International Hemp Association:

CBD shows no psychotropic effects, but some clinically relevant effects have been found. Among them are anticonvulsant effects in epileptics (Cunha 1980) and antidystonic effects in movement disorder patients (Consroe 1986). Some properties resemble those of THC, e.g., some effects on the immune system (Watzl 1991), other properties differ from THC, e.g., the electrophysiological properties (Turkanis 1981), others show distinct contrary effects, e.g. some effects on the heart (Nahas 1985). Of interest in this context is the action of CBD on the psyche. There are sleep-inducing (Carlini 1981), anxiolytic and anti-psychotic effects, as well as an antagonism of the psychotropic effects of THC. High doses of THC can induce anxiety, panic reactions and functional psychotic states. Zuardi et al. (1997) found a significant reduction of anxiety in a model of speech simulation, with 300 mg CBD comparable to 10 mg of the sedative diazepam. The same working group treated a young schizophrenic man who was admitted to a hospital because of aggressive behavior, self-injury, incoherent thoughts and hallucinations, for four weeks with doses up to 1,500 mg CBD. All symptoms improved impressively with CBD, so that the improvement could not solely be attributed to an anxiolytic effect. …  In a study of Zuardi et al. (1982), eight volunteers received high oral doses of THC (0.5 mg THC per kg body weight, about 35 mg), or this dose plus twice the dose of CBD in a double-blind design. The study demonstrated that CBD blocked the anxiety produced by THC. This inhibition was extended to the marijuana-like effects and other alterations caused by THC.

There is also data showing CBD’s effectiveness in helping those suffering from schizophrenia, though it may not be good for glaucoma patients.

Apparently CBD can be given in massive doses with no side effects and becomes very effective as an anti-psychotic when given in these doses.

Last, but certainly not least, CBD appears to shrink tumors.

It is of great value to have low-THC, high-CBD medicine, since many people don’t want to get high (or don’t want to get too high) but want to consume cannabinoids, so my hat is off to the Israelis of Tikkun Olam. Good job! Well done!

CBD in Industrial Hemp

According Tikkun Olam’s website, they do not charge for those who cannot afford their cannabis. Unfortunately, those in Canada and the United States who wish to buy high-CBD cannabis products are faced with high prices for the dried herb or the seeds. One eighth of “Cannatonic” can run as high as $60 and the seeds can cost around $94 per 10 seeds ($157 for feminized seeds), if they’re available at all.

Lucky for us Canadians, there is another option. Industrial hemp is growing all over Canada:

In 2003, over 2700 hectares (6700 acres) were grown across Canada , mostly concentrated on the Prairies. In 2010 it was estimated that 25,000 were grown. Hemp has been grown with success from coast–to–coast.

(See more here.) 

And this hemp is all rich in CBD, according to every source I can find. Industrial hemp THC to CBD ratios are usually 1/20.  

More here:

In industrial hemp, CBD is the predominant cannabinoid and often occurs in a CBD/THC ratio of more than 8:1.

And here:

Dr. Mahlberg went on to point out that an extraction from industrial hemp using a deceptive procedure found on the Internet will result in a sludge containing many noxious elements and very little THC. Of course the preponderant cannabinoid in this sludge will be CBD.

Canadian aren’t forced to order any special “cannatonic” high-CBD seeds to get lots of CBD medicine, they just have to wander into any industrial hemp field in the fall before harvest with some ice and some buckets and some water and walk out with a ball of high CBD hash the size of your head. Illegal? Yes. But free. There are even fallow hemp fields from the year before that the farmer probably wouldn’t mind (or wouldn’t notice) you doing this with. It matters not that industrial hemp is only 6% CBD and these Israeli strains (or the California high-CBD strains) are 15% or 20% CBD. You can only grow a few of those “medicinal” plants but you can get access to acres of industrial hemp, so you end up getting much more CBD with industrial hemp over-all. Like I said before, industrial hemp CBD is a waste product which is being thrown-out by the tonne every year when it could be harvested for tumor-shrinking (in this post Fukushima world). That’s the real story nobody is talking about, but everyone should be talking about.

If people wish to experiment with crossing their high THC varieties with viable high-CBD industrial hemp seeds, there are some available here for a very reasonable cost: $5 for what appears to be over 20 seeds.

This research paper says you can cross high-THC strains with high-CBD strains to get a mixture of both together.

Whatever you do, remember that even low-THC industrial hemp is illegal to grow in the US under almost all circumstances, and illegal to grow in Canada unless you have ten acres, no criminal record, and you fill out a whack of forms. If they catch you, the authorities will still treat you as if you were growing that nasty THC stuff.

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