Cannabis Officially Enters the Craft Beer Craze

It should come as no surprise that cannabis has finally found its way into the the craft beer craze that has dominated world alcoholic beverage markets for the past decade or so.  Last week, LGC Capital, Cresco Pharma and Baltic Beer Company announced a joint venture company called CLV Frontier Brands with the goal of developing a full beverage portfolio using proprietary cannabis terpene blends and hemp ingredients.

According to reports, CLV plans on crafting four premium beers (that contain different terpene blends and other “innovative ingredients”) with a global release of the first batch of beer in Spring 2018.  While Humboldt Brewery and a partnership between Lagunitas Brewing and Absolute/Xtracts  already brew Hemp Ale with toasted hemp seeds and an IPA with terpenes respectively,  CLV joint venture represents the first aggressive effort to bring cannabis and hemp-based  craft beers  to the global stage.  CLV plans on building a pilot brewing facility in Tallinn, Estonia and has identified potential distribution partners in Europe, East Asia, Central and Latin America, Africa and Canada/Australia and New Zealand.

Noticeably absent from the distribution list of potential partners is the US.  Although terpenes, non-psychoactive cannabinoids that give different cannabis strains distinctive odors and flavors are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and classified as food additives, cannabis is a schedule 1 drug and anything derived from it is illegal at the federal level in the US.  Consequently, because  the beers will be brewed overseas and require shipping to the US they will not be legally available in the US (even in states where cannabis has been legalized) because interstate shipping is regulated by the federal government.  That said, I suspect that some of CLV’s products may make it into the heads of cannabis craft beer enthusiasts!

A Little Dab Will Do You: Or Maybe Not?

Inhalable, noncombustible cannabis products are playing a leading role in the use of the medical and recreational cannabis products. Specifically, the practice of “dabbing” has exponentially grown in popularity in states where medical and recreational cannabis consumption has been legalized.

Dabbing involves inhaling vapors produced by placing a small amount of cannabis extract (a “dab”) on a small heated surface (the “nail”), which is connected to a water pipe ( 1 ). The most popular dabs are known as butane hash oil (BHO) dabs mainly because the concentrate is produced by passing the solvent butane over cannabis buds and leaves ( 2 ). Butane is subsequently removed from the extract under vacuum at room temperature or by heating in an oven. Differences in processing can lead to different dab consistencies that are colloquially known as shatter, budder, crumble, pull-and-snap, wax, etc (3, 4).

BHO have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) concentrations ranging between 50 and 90% (2). Consumers consider dabbing to be a form of vaporization, and, therefore, view it as easier on the lungs than smoking ( 5).

While delivery of harmfully-large amounts of cannabinoids (Pierre) may represent a potential danger to consumers, little is known about the toxicants that the process may produce. According to a recent paper entitled “Toxicant formation in dabbing: the terpene story (4) by a group of Portland State University researchers the high heat commonly used to heat dabs (concentrated cannabis extracts) exposes users to high levels of methacrolein (lung, throat and eye irritant), benzene (carcinogen) and other potential toxic degradation products which are known to pose human health risks (4).

The authors determined that the source of the potentially harmful degradation products may be the terpenes (compounds that give cannabis its odor and flavor) that are routinely concentrated in BHO dabs (4).  Myrcene is the most abundant terpene in cannabis, followed by limonene, linalool, pinene, caryophyllene, and humulene (4). Also, cannabis can contain trace amounts of up to 68 other terpenic compounds (6). Terpene content in BHO can range from 0.1 to 34% (4).

Another potential health risk is residual butane (a known carcinogen) that can be left behind if BHO dabs are not processed correctly (1, 2). Because of this, CO2 oil (another extraction method for dabbing) and alcohol extracts are the only allowable medical extracts to be sold under medical cannabis regulations in New York, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania (4). While commercially prepared BHO is on the rise in mature markets like California and Denver, much HBO is still made via “backyard-chemist” style operations so users beware.

Finally, while the results of this study are intriguing, I believe that much more research will be required to determine whether or not high heat terpene breakdown products pose actual health risks to dabbers.

References

  1. Stogner JM, Miller BL. The dabbing dilemma: A call for research on butane hash oil and other alternate forms of Cannabis. Subst. Abuse 2015; 36:393– 395
  2. Stogner JM, Miller BL. Assessing the dangers of “dabbing”: mere marijuana or harmful new trend? Pediatrics 2015: 136: 1– 3
  3. Pierre JM, Gandal M, Son M. Cannabis-induced psychosis associated with high potency “wax dabs” Schizophr. Res. 2016; 172:211– 212
  4. Meehan-Atrash J, Luo W, Strongin RM. Toxicant formation in dabbing: the terpene story ACS Omega, 2017; 2:6112–6117
  5. Gieringer D, St. Laurent J, Goodrich S. Cannabis vaporizer combines efficient delivery of THC with effective suppression of pyrolytic compounds J. Cannabis Ther. 2004; 4:7 – 27
  6. Ross SA, ElSohly MA. The volatile oil composition of fresh and air-dried buds of Cannabis sativa J. Nat. Prod. 1996: 59:49– 51

Cannabis Extraction: Myths and Truths

There was an interesting article recently published by Markus Roggen PhD an organic chemist and cannabis expert, who reviewed the “dos” and “don’ts” when conducting Cannabis extractions.  DIY cannabis extractions are currently very popular because of the recent dabbing craze. Nevertheless, perhaps the most important point of the article concerns the need for quality control in the cannabis extraction industry to ensure that consumers “get what they are paying for” and that the products they use are safe.

We are in the early days of industrial scale cannabis extractions and like other industries, e.g. food and beverage, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology etc,  where production must be regulated and quality control measures enforced, similar quality standards that guide extractions and production must be created for the cannabis industry.  While this may not be viewed favorably by some current leaders of the cannabis industry, it will be necessary to establish the credibility of the industry and ensure the quality and safety of cannabis and its products as the industry continues to evolve and mature.

Cannabis Genomics, Terpenes and the “Entourage Effect”

In addition to pharmacologically active cannabinoids, cannabis resins also contain a variety of terpenes (monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes) that are responsible for the scent of cannabis flowers and contribute to the unique, characteristic flavor qualities of cannabis-derived products. (1)  Over 200 terpenes have been reported in Cannabis sativa (2)

Differences in the medicinal properties of different cannabis strains have been attributed to interactions (or entourage effect) between cannabinoids and various terpenes (2, 3). For example, several cannabis terpenes (most notably, β-Caryophyllene (BCP) have been reported to interact with human cannabinoid receptors (4).  Put simply, terpenes plus cannabinoids—not cannabinoids alone—may be responsible for some of the medicinal benefits attributed to cannabis.  Consequently, it has been proposed that blends of cannabinoids and terpenes could be used in medicinal cannabis preparations to maximize therapeutic benefits via the so-called entourage effect (5). Finally, other research shows that terpenes may contribute to the anxiolytic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and sedative effects of Cannabis (2).

While much is known about the phytochemical composition of terpenes for forensic analysis and cannabis breeding, little is know about the molecular biology of terpene biosynthesis in cannabis.  In a recent paper, Booth et al (1) successfully identified nine terpene genes that appear to be involved in all stages of cannabis terpene biosynthesis. The authors suggested that knowledge of the genomics and gene functions of terpene biosynthesis may allow genetic manipulation of cannabis for desirable terpene profiles.  Further, genetic manipulation of terpene biosynthesis may help to scientifically unravel the so-called entourage effect and maximize the medicinal benefits of individual cannabinoids and cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals.

References

  1. Booth JK, Page JE, Bohlmann J. Terpene synthases from Cannabis sativa. PLoSOne 2017; 12:e0173911
  2. Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2011; 163: 1344–64
  3. ElSohly MA, editor. Marijuana and the cannabinoids. Springer Science & Business Media; 2007. November 15.
  4. ElSohly MA, editor. Marijuana and the cannabinoids. Springer Science & Business Media; 2007. November 15.
  5. Wagner H, Ulrich-Merzenich G. Synergy research: approaching a new generation of phytopharmaceuticals. Phytomedicine. 2009; 16: 97–110