It's been over 4 years since my first (and only) AMA garnered a lot of attention and some really good questions:

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/zh2wq/iama_chemist_at_a_cannabis_analysis_laboratory_in/

Now that some of the state programs voted-upon in 2012 have been implemented and new ballot measures are emerging for 2016, I thought it appropriate to do another AMA for anybody that would like to get up to speed on the current state of the US cannabis industry. During the last 4 years I've built a consulting firm Digamma Consulting, developed a swath of new analytical methods, and advised representatives from several US states on drafting and implementing laws regarding cannabis quality control.

So go ahead; AMA!

Comments: 96 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

roguespectre679 karma

How much is known about the effects on the respiratory system due to smoking marijuana (lung, throat, mouth, etc.)? For instance, are there any carcinogens or harmful compounds found in marijuana smoke that aren't present in smoke from, say, a campfire?

hoovervillain13 karma

There aren't any compounds produced from combustion of cannabis that are much different from those produced by combustion of any other similar plant matter (tobacco, leaves, sage bundle, etc). Unless you add pesticides to the mix; myclobutanil (Eagle 20), for example, produces cyanide gas when burned. But, no studies have linked cannabis smoking with lung or any other form of cancer, as of yet.

love2go3 karma

Has there been a long-term study on this?

Spaceface42O4 karma

A study covering 20 years of daily cannabis consumption found no adverse effects to lung function:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25521349

hoovervillain3 karma

Not a proper one. There have been a few reviews here and there that claim a slight increase in cancer or slight decrease in cancer or no effect at all. Without the federal government allowing clinical trials, we are relegated to these exercises in statistical analysis of prior data.

brodster1118 karma

Looking to invest in a business or start my own. Have any resources, communities, or news streams I can research to get started?

hoovervillain9 karma

Most of the resources I have seen are not very useful. I've seen MANY people enter this industry money-first, eager to get in on the rising tide and assuming it will work like the average small business, and then fail to thrive. The truth is you have to know what you are doing inside-and-out, from the local, state, and federal laws that apply to your location, to the chemistry involved in your product/process, to the fluctuating demand for products in your market. The need for good information to avoid losing money is why I started consulting in the first place. You would do good to do some serious background research on your state and local laws and whether you will be eligible for a business permit (they are very difficult and expensive to obtain) or to become an investor/owner in another licenced business. Most all cannabis business are not publicly traded, and the few that are have performed very poorly.

brodie25111 karma

Yes , GWP has performed very poorly , /s.

hoovervillain6 karma

That isn't a US company, and their scope is very limited. But yes, as one of the only pharmaceutical companies in the world permitted to produce a cannabis-related product they have cornered the market right now. But they will not follow any industry booms having to do with state programs.

hoovervillain2 karma

Feel free to PM me for more information!

IAMEPICAL17 karma

What is the most intriguing thing about cannabis?

hoovervillain11 karma

What intrigues me most about cannabis is that as its physiological effects are studied more closely, we learn more and more about human biochemistry in general: neuromodulation, receptor/ligand interactions, hippocampal function, balance, eyesight, and on and on have all benefited from the scientific study of cannabinoids/terpenes and their interactions with cellular life. And as we continue to increase our understanding, the boundaries we have as a society set between drug and medicine become more and more blurred.

jonloovox3 karma

Are there any studies about how rectal administration of cannabis affects users differently?

hoovervillain5 karma

Although formal studies on rectal administration are very few, many patients have used suppositories to administer cannabis, especially men suffering from prostate cancer (Most famously, the story circulating of Tommy Chong combating prostate cancer by direct administration of Hash Oil to the prostate) as well as patients with compromised digestive systems.

As with smoking and sublingual, the cannabinoids will not pass through the liver before reaching the brain, and therefore will not be metabolized as we see with edibles. For this reason a delayed effect will be shorter than ingesting edibles, and the psychological effects will be more mild and similar to smoking than the more sedating effects of edibles.

JLa2645 karma

Can you tell me more about the ways states are addressing driving while under the influence of cannabis, as well as the types of tests administered?

hoovervillain7 karma

This is a tricky area. There are breathalyzer and swab tests available to give an instant reading of cannabinoids/metabolites. These tests give false positives ALL the time by their very nature of their design. Then there are blood/urine/hair analyses by chromatography, and those can be very precise as long as the analyst isn't falsifying data. Unlike alcohol, though, we do not have data to correlate detected levels of cannabinoids/metabolites with cognitive or physical impairment. We do know that these chemicals, being lipophilic and accumulating in fatty tissue, are detectable in body fluids for many weeks after any kind of impairment would have worn off. So even if these devices detect cannabis, this does not scientifically mean that the driver was impaired or even consumed cannabis within the last week. Unfortunately, this kind of complication is beyond the comprehension of most lawmakers and law enforcement in my experience.

dirtyrango5 karma

Thanks for doing this. What is a good time frame I can look at to be able to smoke a joint after work in any of the 50 states without getting fired from work/arrested? Decade? 15 years?

hoovervillain5 karma

The cynic in me doesn't believe that the prison/industrial/medical complex would ever let it become that acceptable, but I must say that the current acceleration in public acceptability has come much further than I would have expected 4 years ago, so there's a good chance I'm way off. In the next decade the federal government is going to have to drastically change the way that cannabis is handled. I foresee something like low-moderate THC/ high CBD flower/products being available for recreational consumption with high THC products reserved for medical patients, especially in more conservative jurisdictions. My guess is that the amount of THC available for recreation will be kept to a minimum by the federal government, with some states going their own route until they are no longer supported by judicial ruling.

dirtyrango6 karma

I live in the regressive south I'm not holding my breath. Lol thanks for the insight!

hoovervillain3 karma

Anytime! Another aspect to think about is whether or not private companies will still bar employees from consuming cannabis; right now legal precedent gives them the right to do so.

MUNKEEDEW5 karma

My question is two-fold. How does one become a "weed scientist"? Background in chemistry? Biology? Personally I have a degree in Psychology but want to move into your field, and is the market for weed scientists saturated?

hoovervillain8 karma

I happened to enter the industry at a time when there was a vacuum of scientific pursuits into cannabis in the US. My background is in biomedical engineering, but I was able to apply those principles to chromatographic analysis and method development fairly quickly. I see psychology entering the picture once more clinical trials get approved here.

MUNKEEDEW3 karma

Interesting, thanks for the AMA! Would you mind if I PM'd you to go a little more in depth in the process of entering the industry? (Specifically for someone who lives on the East Coast where its not legal frowned upon)

hoovervillain2 karma

Surely!

sonnycoates5 karma

Have you ever come across any studies linking THC to heart attack/palpitations/ circulatory issues?

hoovervillain2 karma

Absolutely.

Check out Thomas G et al, 2014 "Adverse cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and peripheral vascular effects of marijuana inhalation: what cardiologists need to know." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24176069

heliotrope3n4 karma

How do you think the eventual legalization of marijuana will change the way we think about drugs?

hoovervillain5 karma

I'd like to think that the US and by extension most of the world will treat drug use as more of a health issue than a law-and-order issue. I think it will open medical science to study the clinical benefits of cannabinoids as well as other Schedule I substances, including tryptamines and phenethylamines. Sovereignty over one's personal use of drugs and by extension their conscious state, however, will probably be a long long way down the road.

dadlergold1 karma

As a cluster headache sufferer (thank goodness for 2-bromo-lsd research), I hope this leads to realization of the immense value of previously disregarded "dangerous" drugs.

hoovervillain3 karma

Precisely. In banning research on Schedule I substances, Congress essentially throttled the rate of neuroscientific discovery.

forava73 karma

How do you see the new ballot measures playing out for cannabis?

hoovervillain3 karma

California, Mass., and Nevada seem pretty poised to pass for recreation. The others I am not as informed about current polls (Arizona and Maine). Out of the medical bills (Florida, N. Dakota, Montana, Arkansas) Florida seems the most likely to pass.

redditmunchers3 karma

Do you acknowledge that there are any adverse effects from ganja consumption?

hoovervillain2 karma

As with anything, there are adverse effects from overconsumption. With cannabis, none of those effects seems to be permanent.

redditmunchers2 karma

None? Really? Not even damage to the lungs after smoking?

hoovervillain3 karma

Those are effects from smoke, specifically, and not from cannabis. They are completely dependent on combustion happening (unlike vaporization). That being said, the change in lung function from cannabis smoking is a great deal less than that of tobacco smoking, most likely due to the bronchiodilation effects of the cannabinoids and terpenes.

redditmunchers1 karma

I have personally experienced cannabis users stating their mind is blanker, they are more forgetful, more easily agitated after using the drug for a prolonged period of time. They have also stated to me that it does not seem to alleviate. Also I have been told by users they find it harder to learn new things. My grandparents also come from the Caribbean and have too many stories of ones who have as they say have "lost their minds" because of marijuana. They absolutely refuse to touch the plant because of their experiences. Placebo? Or permanent affect of too many doobies?

hoovervillain7 karma

I think what everybody is describing are the effects that come from growing older. Chances are they started smoking young and after stopping realized that they weren't going to get their original, pre-cannabis brain back. Measurable motor and cognitive function are usually fully restored in a manner of months.

As for your grandparents' stories, there is some truth to that. High levels of THC have been shown to induce a schizophrenic state in adolescents and young adults already pre-disposed to schizophrenia, but even these effects were shown to be alleviated after administration of high doses of cannabidiol (CBD).

see:

Zuardi 2006 Long 2005 Leweke 2012

Arsenault 2004 Large 2011 Caspi 2005 Henquet 2005 Moore 2007

juggilinjnuggala3 karma

How do you see the CBD and Hemp industry changing after tomorrow?

hoovervillain8 karma

The recreational ballot measures being considered tomorrow (California, Arizona, Mass., Nevada, Maine) will open up CBD and hemp to industrial growth by allowing hemp and cannabis cultivation; none of the medical ballot measures are CBD-specific. One thing to note is that the UK just declared CBD a medicine; should the FDA follow suit, it will mean that CBD would no longer be sold online and shipped across the US (legally, anyway).

jonathanappleweed2 karma

Have you heard anything about the FDA following suit?

hoovervillain3 karma

I haven't heard anything about that, HOWEVER the FDA was ordered to put together a report recently with their reasoning for keeping cannabis illegal and, among other things, it did recommend possibly moving non-psychoactive cannabinoids into a separate category. No moves have been made between the FDA and DEA to actually do so.

theflamingskull3 karma

What would you say to those who think growing quality is both easy, and low cost?

hoovervillain8 karma

I've never heard that from a cultivator before. If you replace "quality" with "quantity" then I'd say yes, it is possible.

Razorshins2 karma

I remember you

My question is, if Question 1 passes in Maine, when will the police stop ticketing/arresting people for marijuana? Is it Nov. 9th since they assume the law will be on the books, or do we wait until it's actually written into law?

hoovervillain3 karma

Hey there! Props on the good memory.

The ballot in Maine only allows for nonpublic use of cannabis (private residence and licenced social clubs only). For transport and possession you would be allowed up to 2.5oz flower, up to 6 flowering plants and 12 total plants in a residence.

It isn't immediately clear from the text of the bill exactly WHEN it will take effect if it passes. I would clarify that before any serious celebration; law enforcement will try to get all the ticket money out of you that they possibly can before this is enacted (Mass. is seeing that already)

BabyBingBong2 karma

Would you say weed is on its way to be legalized in every state? And if so how close, would you say, is New Jersey being to fully legalizing weed? Cuz it'd be nice for that to happen. In my opinion.

hoovervillain2 karma

Don't hold your breath for NY, NJ and pretty much anywhere between the two coasts to make that happen any time soon

Manky3212 karma

Thoughts on prop 64 in cali?

hoovervillain1 karma

It's certainly not ideal. The good: elimination of arrests for small amounts of cannabis and distribution, and resentencing of individuals currently in prison. Regulation of quality control.

The bad: taxes for medical patients, possible elimination of outdoor growing. large financial roadblocks for small business to participate

The_Withheld_Name2 karma

Many seeds companies & analyses used by major retailers list some strains as having THC over 20%. Scott Blakey however says that pot doesn't have THC over 20% & that some people are doing questionable lab procedures to come to such figures. What do you think of that?

hoovervillain2 karma

Having personally analyzed over 10,000 strains by multiple chromatography methods, I can safely say that buds will sometimes exceed 20% THCA by weight. This was once rare, but is becoming more and more common as genetics which produce high THC are selectively bred. The upper limit right now seems to be at about 30% (high 20's, realistically, with the best genetics and even better growers). Scott is right in that many labs are performing questionable procedures/reporting to boost numbers to please clients; I spoke at the American Chemical Society meeting in August about this exact topic.

As for genetics, the only guarantee that 2 things will produce similar results would be if one were a clone of the other. Seeds, even if feminized, are still subject to the rules of genetic mixing and by no means identical to each other or the parent plant. Even with exact genetics, the outcome will still be determined by the skill of the cultivator.

class_act132 karma

What do you believe is the next big step in Cannabis research?

hoovervillain3 karma

In the short-term, a big step would be for laboratories across the country to share their data and create a larger body of cannabis knowledge as observed through analytical testing for medical/recreational markets. Next would be for federal restrictions on research to be lifted, after which specific biochemical mechanisms involved in cannabis pharmacodynamics/pharmacokinetics can be studied on a large scale. Understanding the relationship between physiological effect, chemical constituents, and patient-specific biochemistry will lead to the development of personalized treatments for each patient, and aid in extending that principal to other areas of medicine.

Mikrocosm1 karma

Can you comment on the testing standards that you guys follow, and do you follow the American Herbal Pharmacopia when following procedures? Are these standards being adopted by others? Michigan does not seem to follow any sort of consistent standard so there is a huge lack of consistency across labs.

hoovervillain1 karma

The AHP guide is far from ideal; the methods are vague in some spots and overly-specific in others to the point as to be impractical. As well, most of the methods detailed have not yet been validated. As a chemist, I would only conduct an analysis using methods that I had personally validated and corroborated results with other laboratories. The AHP guide is intended for lawmakers and others not well versed in science that require a quick overview of how analysis works.

Nevada, for example, follows the AHP guide but inconsistencies still exist. There are a few groups, including FOCUS, attempting to set a standard for cannabis analysis. Unfortunately, most cannabis laboratories will only adopt a standard if forced to do so and if it is enforced across the board.

Mikrocosm1 karma

Thanks for your response!

I find the current climate for cannabis testing standards to be unacceptable. Without consistent testing standards across the board, what do the numbers really mean? Do you have any further insight? And do you think I am over critical?

I appreciate the conversation!

hoovervillain1 karma

Even in its current form, testing is still useful and necessary. It is becoming less and less likely that labs will completely pull results out of nowhere for fear of public reprimand and loss of business (as long as they have competition). What I see more is nudging numbers slightly one way or another to make the THC look over 20%, or to pass a mold or pesticide test. It is done entirely to please clients and prevent them from going to a competing lab; but it goes against the scientific method and is a detriment to the credibility of the industry as a whole.

vaclavhavelsmustache1 karma

Are there any ways you know of for a homegrower without access to lots of lab equipment to have their bud tested? It would be nice to not have to worry about any hidden molds or contaminants without paying dispensary prices.

hoovervillain1 karma

It depends on what state you are in

Brutus-the-Pug1 karma

Is the majority of cannabis research performed in academia or industry? I'm a graduate fellow (in virology) and after graduation I'm interested in entering this field, but avoid academia.

hoovervillain1 karma

Right now, a majority of research is in industry, as academic institutions do not want to risk future federal grants by allowing cannabis research to happen against the wishes of the FDA/DEA/NIDA. Industry has its own drawbacks compared with academia, not the least of which is lack of scientific integrity (although my friends in academia often complain of the same thing, there is no real check for that in industry)

forlooptheloop1 karma

what do you think the timeline is for an ent in massachusetts to be able to roll a legal joint if question 4 passes?

hoovervillain1 karma

The law will take effect 12/15/16

GreenWithENVE1 karma

What environmental regulations currently serve as barriers to entering the industry? Do future regulations cater to larger or smaller growing operations?

hoovervillain2 karma

Environmental regulations are not currently the main barrier to entry. The high costs are imposed by state and local governments for application, licencing and inspection fees. Add to that the cost of real estate, building codes, supplies, etc. it builds up quickly.

The biggest environmental concerns right now regarding cannabis are 1) water usage and 2) pesticide use / runoff