Scientus Pharma claims that weed oils are extremely inconsistent. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Chris Young
A biopharmaceutical company hoping to disrupt the cannabis extraction market is claiming that some Canadian licensed producers are selling cannabis oils that are equivalent to placebos.
Cannabis oils have increased in popularity over the last two years, but for medical patients, many of whom do not want to smoke anything, they have become of particular importance.
Scientus Pharma is a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Whitby, Ontario, which will soon market cannabis oils and gel capsules strictly for medical patients. The company criticizes the way LPs currently decarboxylate their cannabis to make oils – decarboxylation is the process by which THC or CBD in raw marijuana is activated. If you smoke or vaping, heat causes decarboxylation. But with oils, this process must occur during the extraction process.
Recently, Scientus has patented its method of decarboxylation, which, according to him, will be a watershed in terms of standardization of the power of weed oils; says it can reach 99.9 percent decarboxylation at a time. In short, Scientus is saying that the industry standard – using a carbon dioxide extractor to decarboxylate weeds and turn them into oil – has many variables and as a result some oils do not have the amount of active THC or CBD has on the label. This means that a patient will not necessarily have the effects that he thinks he will have.
"[Patients] are paying from $ 300 to $ 500 a month for the product and are not doing anything for them, "said Har Grover, Scientus president and CEO.
However, both Health Canada and the organization representing Canadian LPs have stated that LPs are subject to the strictest regulations in the world.
Lakshmi Kotra, senior scientist at the Research Institute of Toronto General Hospital, and Hance Clarke, medical director of the Pain Research Unit at Toronto General Hospital, are both scientific advisors at Scientus. They are in the midst of conducting a company-funded clinical trial that is analyzing in part samples of marijuana oil given to them by pain patients – all of the oil samples come from licensed producers.
Their preliminary findings show that of the 14 THC oils that list total power, only two actually had full power. In one of the oils, less than 20% contained activated THC. Of the 10 CBD oil samples that claimed to be 100% potent, only three were totally potent. One of them had no CBD enabled.
"This is a placebo," Grover said.
Preliminary data from a study funded by Scientus Pharma show that not all cannabis oils are fully activated.
CBD oil samples from Canadian LPs, including one that does not have active CBD, in this slide a preliminary study.
Kotra noted that with any other remedy, you would take a pill and find out exactly what the remedy should contain, but with marijuana oils, there are patients "getting 80% of inactive substance."
"So it's totally unregulated and from a patient's point of view, they need to take five times as much oil to get the same effect. Next time they go to the store, if they pick up a fully active oil, now the same dosage is not working. "
But how is this possible?
Doctors have noted that the science of cannabis as a drug is not yet advanced and that it is not yet in a place where it can actually be considered medicine because it lacks standardization. They said that when it comes to labeling, LPs include THCA and THC like THC and CBDA and CBD as CBD – but THCA and CBDA are not activated. It does not matter when someone is smoking or smoking, but with oils that are simply ingested.
"We have reasonable doubts to say that what is stated on the label may not match what's inside the bottle," Kotra said.
Reached by VICE, Health Canada spokesman André Gagnon said he can not comment on the study because he does not know his methodology. However, Gagnon said the production of cannabis and cannabis oils are "subject to some of the world's strictest requirements to protect the health and safety of Canadians."
Part of these requirements, including power level tests before products can be approved for quality assurance.
LPs test their products internally or using third-party testing.
Kotra and Hance said the study is unique, and implied that they do not think Health Canada is committed to their research, thus not requiring tests on the level of decarboxylation in oils.
Allan Rewak, executive director of the Cannabis Council of Canada, a national licensed producer organization, said that VICE Scientus' claims about LP weed oil are "shockingly bold."
"It is quite surprising that an academic study is shared with the media before it is published in this way. It's very unusual and probably related to a corporate strategy, "he said.
He said the cannabis material often changes, and this results in THC and CBD banners in products, but he said THC content as tested by third-party laboratories is accurate on the label.
"Everyone is trying to build a better mousetrap and I suspect that this is what this company is trying to do … but it's worrying to be frank, because we really do believe in medical science and the medical industry.
He reiterated Health Canada's messages about how vigorous are the regulations for LPs, noting that "we have 300,000 Canadians who have found the benefits of medical cannabis in both dry and oil forms."
"We did all our research for the book," Clarke said.
Jordan Sinclair, vice president of communications for LP Canopy Growth, told VICE that it is difficult to comment without knowing the details of the study, which should be completed in the next two to three months. But he said the discrepancies found in the study could be caused by human error, that is, labeling errors, or a difference in test equipment being used in the study versus by LPs.
He said the Canopy tests both THC and THCA after the oils are packed to ensure accuracy and that people are getting what they pay for.
Patient advocate Tracy Curley told VICE that the researchers' claims are in line with what she heard.
"I've certainly heard of a discrepancy in dosage depending on the product the customer is using, although the label says they are very similar," she said.
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