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Three Gurus of Cannabis Analysis

Three Gurus of Cannabis Analysis

What’s holding the medical cannabis industry back? How can we keep it on the straight and narrow? And – most importantly – how can we ensure that consumers have access to high-quality, contaminant free products? Here, we ask three speakers from the 2016 Cannabis Science Conference – Scott Kuzdzal (Shimadzu Scientific Instruments), Julie Kowalski (Restek), and Sytze Elzinga (The Werc Shop) – to discuss how the worlds of analytical science and medical cannabis are colliding for the greater good.

Medical cannabis is an exploding market – what is your reaction to this phenomenon?

Scott Kuzdzal: I credit several groups of people, the true ‘gurus’ of the cannabis testing market, with the recent explosion in cannabis analytical testing. Firstly, there is an amazing group of pioneering cannabis testing lab directors that have embraced this market head-on, despite an unclear and ever-changing regulatory and legal landscape. Secondly, Shimadzu sales people, technical support specialists and applications scientists eagerly supported these laboratory visionaries by helping to develop more reliable and accurate methods for cannabis quality control testing.

About four years ago we saw a spike in instrument sales due to this new market, and Shimadzu staff began applying their vast experience in more established markets like environmental, food safety, clinical research and pharmaceuticals to help improve cannabis testing methods. At this time, only a handful of companies like Shimadzu, Fritsch Milling, SPEX SamplePrep, Restek, Golden West Biologicals and Advion stepped forward in support of improving instrumentation and testing methods to improve the safety of cannabis products. These products must be accurately labeled in terms of cannabinoid concentration, but they must also be free from contaminants such as pesticides, metals and solvents. It is this increased need for quality, safety and accurate labeling that drives our participation in the cannabis market.

Whether you are pro- or anti-cannabis, it is a complex plant that contains over 500 compounds that simply cannot be found anywhere else in nature. We must ensure safety to consumers, but we must also broaden our knowledge base regarding cannabis medicine and science.

Julie Kowalski: It is an exciting time for medical cannabis and cannabis in general. Ultimately for the benefit of everyone, cannabis – like other natural products – should be investigated for medicinal benefits. I am looking forward to seeing what we can learn as different scientific disciplines take on cannabis. We have gained invaluable experience already by collaborating with labs, institutions and conferences, and we hope to continue helping chemists and being part of the cannabis testing community.

Sytze Elzinga: I think that broader access to information has played an enormous role in the legalization of medical cannabis. People don’t just have to believe what they are told anymore, but can now directly look up facts online and form their own opinion on the topic. Many of the legalization actions have included mechanisms for further informing the public, driving the research needed. The comparison of risks between alcohol and cannabis use has been especially effective at opening minds.

The fact that cannabis is still federally illegal is both a blessing and curse. It is very challenging not having access to banking or better research understanding, but on the other side it has kept big monopolistic players out and prevented consolidation, where a few giant corporations control the industry. It is great to see so many small companies be successful and grow organically. Our efforts at The Werc Shop aim to help scientific backend cannabis entrepreneurs deliver top quality products to the market.

What are your opinions on the scientific value of cannabis?

JK: Progress in the scientific understanding of the medicinal properties of cannabis has been slow, primarily due to legal issues. Although there are peer-reviewed articles investigating various aspects of the medical use of cannabis, there is much work to be done. Understanding the relationship between natural products and the human biology – as well as disease states – is highly complex. I anticipate exponential growth of such research.

SK: Interestingly, medical cannabis dates back thousands of years. The Chinese term for “anesthesia” (麻醉) means “cannabis intoxication.” Ancient Greeks used cannabis to treat the wounds of their horses. Prior to 1937, cannabis was available for medical use in the US from hundreds of manufacturers as both dry product and tinctures.

There is an interesting campaign circulating social media where people supporting the cannabis industry are writing “#6630507” on their hands in a “talk to the 6630507 hand” campaign. US Patent #6630507, assigned to the United States of America as represented by the Department Of Health And Human Services in 2003, states:

“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new-found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation-associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention.”

For an informative view of medical professionals on this topic, see the clinical decisions article “Medical Use of Marijuana” in the New England Journal of Medicine as well as the corresponding posts/comments (1). Contributor J Michael Bostwick states, “A largely anecdotal but growing literature supports its efficacy, particularly for pain or nausea that is unresponsive to mainstream treatments,” referencing “Medical marijuana: clearing away the smoke” (2).

While cannabis research has been suppressed in the US, other countries, including Israel, are investigating the medical benefits of cannabis. I do not know whether cannabis is a “wonder drug” or not, but it is certainly a natural product that contains antioxidants and neuroprotectants – and it deserves further research.

It is interesting to note that Marinol, an FDA approved drug, is actually synthesized THC. So it is confusing that the natural form is a Class I Schedule Drug with “no medicinal use”...

SE: I always like to point out that synthetic THC (generically named dronabinol) is a DEA Schedule III narcotic and has been an FDA-approved medicine in the US since the 1980s. So even the federal government acknowledges the medicinal properties of THC. It gets a little weird, however, when you look at cannabis, which is basically a diluted form of the exact same compound but is considered a Schedule I narcotic, which means it has no accepted medical use and high potential for addiction. From this it appears like the question is not so much about a single compound but perhaps more about concerns regarding the delivery method as opposed to the compounds in the plant. There is no other pharmaceutical compound that is delivered through smoking, and I think this is what has mainly held back the development of cannabis as a medicine. It is interesting to point out that whole plant cannabis as a medicine has been shown to be preferred by patients over single molecule pharmaceutical THC products (3).

Legal status of cannabis for medical use. (Accuracy not guaranteed; only for visual reference). Courtesy of Trinitresque [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Could you describe the current regulatory landscape and its impact?

SE: As in any market, there are good players and bad players – and, as usual, it is more expensive to do it the ‘right’ way. From a business perspective, it is challenging to consider spending money on quality control if your competitor doesn’t need to do the same or simply isn’t doing it. While testing is required to protect your brand and make sure it is consistent, most are willing to cut this corner. And that’s why we need mandatory quality control laws and regulations. It levels the playing field and makes sure everyone puts quality first. There is no doubt that the FDA will be all over this industry once it becomes re- or de-scheduled at a federal level, so we’re doing everything we can to get ready for it.

JK: If cannabis is to be marketed and regulated as a medicine, it is critical that the highest standards of safety be applied. I anticipate stricter regulations will develop in the future, which will result in a safer product – especially important for those suffering from illness. A rapidly expanding recreational market will draw investment from private industry, requiring more government resources and less focus on medical cannabis. Consumer education will be required since less expensive recreational products may be purchased by patients instead of prescribed cannabis. For vendors, the industry is complicated by the fact that each state has a different set of testing requirements – and these requirements are rapidly changing.

SK: State laws and regulations, as well as qualifying conditions for medical cannabis patients, are extremely diverse. Cannabis is still illegal on a federal level, which complicates matters further.

What is the role of analytical science in the current world of medical cannabis – and how can analytical scientists help?

SK: Analytical scientists play a key role in ensuring that safe cannabis products are hitting the shelves. Some people argue that this is a plant, and so testing is not needed. But there are many forms of cannabis products – from “dry product” (or flower) to oils, topicals and edibles. Processing of cannabis material, and techniques like extractions, require analytical testing to ensure accurate labeling, as well as to detect contaminants.

Analytical scientists and engineers also play an important role in improving cannabis testing (and research) platforms. We need analyzers that are simple to operate, yet deliver accuracy and reliability. At the 2016 Cannabis Science Conference, we are previewing the Shimadzu Cannabis Analyzer for Potency Analysis,, which is a touchscreen analyzer (with all consumables required) that greatly simplifies and streamlines potency testing. This new platform was developed by brilliant engineers in the Shimadzu Scientific Instruments Innovation Center in Columbia, MD.

Quality control is paramount in many established markets, and we can and should apply quality control/assurance requirements and systems, proficiency testing, as well as good manufacturing processes to cannabis testing. Even in states like Washington that have established testing requirements, labs like Trace Analytics (Spokane, Washington) have gone above and beyond these requirements to develop additional quality standards and expanded testing panels, including pesticides.

JK: Many scientific disciplines will be needed to bring medical cannabis analysis to maturity – and analytical science will be critical to ensure effective and safe products. If we simply consider cannabis as a natural product, we can borrow methodologies used to test other natural products. The pharmaceutical industry is aware of the benefits of natural products and understands how to identify the biologically active components. Dietary supplements and food testing deals with matrices akin to cannabis on a regular basis, including everything from determination of active components, to authenticity and contaminants testing.

SE: Many states now have mandatory quality control requirements. Most often the level of various cannabinoids needs to be on the product label and various states have introduced requirements regarding microbiological and pesticide contamination. Natural products, like cannabis, are an exciting and challenging field for analytical chemistry. The average plant contains hundreds if not thousands of compounds that can interfere with your analysis. The challenges are similar to trace analysis in food – and many of the techniques can be converted over to be used for cannabis.

How serious is the threat of low quality/counterfeit/falsified medical-grade cannabis?

JK: Any unsafe product that is ingested has the potential to be incredibly dangerous. There are incidences of counterfeit pharmaceuticals as well as food safety issues that have sometimes resulted in death. These incidences should be used as cautionary tales to secure the resources needed to ensure safe medical cannabis products. The use of melamine in foods is just one example.

SE: The short term effects are apparently fairly minimal, as we do not see medicinal or recreation users with serious side effects. However, we do know that a large part of the current supply has pesticides and/or microbiological contamination. It is however the long-term side effects that concern me. After many years of cannabis prohibition, we finally get the right to use this plant. If, in 20 years, cannabis users are shown to have a higher frequency of cancer or other illnesses, I for one would like to know that this is caused by the cannabis and not by the residual pesticides or other toxins that are in the product. Let’s make sure we provide a clean product, so we can keep this plant legal for future generations.

SK: Since there is no universal definition of “medical grade cannabis,” the actual quality can vary from state to state. What I see in the market now is not so much falsification or intentional deceit, but more unintentional misinformation and confusing marketing strategies regarding strain nomenclature and products. For example, the term “Charlotte’s Web” refers to a Cannabis sativa L. strain with less than 0.3 percent THC that has been widely publicized and touted as a natural therapy for treating epileptic seizures (4).

The term – “Charlotte’s Web” – however, has been widely used in the industry, including with cannabis strains that contain much higher levels of THC. Even more confusing here is that the American Academy of Neurology has published reports stating that there is no compelling data to make any conclusions regarding the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids in the treatment of epilepsy. Consumers must make their own judgments regarding the potential benefits of various strains amid many non-FDA approved claims.

One positive note here is that the cannabis community is sharing information on cannabis benefits and experiences in dispensaries, cooperatives, social media and several information-rich websites. In many ways, the community is growing and maturing because of this information sharing. Medical professionals are also learning on the fly, as details regarding the endocannabinoid system are simply not taught in medical schools.

Are medical cannabis producers taking the threat seriously enough?

SE: It depends on the producer. Some producers take their role as medicinal providers very seriously, and would never use pesticides, for example. Others are purely driven by profit – and the costs of preventative pesticide spraying are relatively small compared to the cost of a failed harvest...

SK: As with any market, brand reputation and perception is very important. The cannabis cultivators I am aware of take great pride in their work, and also take analytical testing and accurate product labeling very seriously.

JK: I haven’t had much contact with medical cannabis producers, as I live in Pennsylvania and primarily deal with labs. I am glad to see patient advocacy groups taking an active role in the cannabis industry. Consumer pressure is powerful and holding producers accountable for a safe product will shape the best behaviors.  Regulation and rigorous testing will also keep producers honest, as it does in many industries.

How can high quality analytical science safeguard consumers and boost the profile of suppliers?

SK: High quality analytical testing ensures accurate dosing of cannabinoids and prevents exposure to toxic contaminants. Though analytical testing is important in both recreational and medical cannabis markets, the potential presence of pesticides, microorganisms, metals, mycotoxins, aflatoxins or solvents is especially dangerous to medical patients with compromised immune systems. Contaminants, such as metals, are known to rapidly deplete the immune system, and even induce auto-immune diseases. Mold can cause respiratory problems and flu-like symptoms, such as coughing, vomiting and diarrhea – symptoms that are exacerbated in medical patients with other health conditions or compromised immune systems. Good analytical testing is paramount in identifying such contamination and preventing these products from reaching consumers.

JK: Certainly, testing has to be of good quality and frequent, especially while the market is still young. There are expenses associated with proper testing, and suppliers need to understand the true benefits of testing. In addition to avoiding actual violations, testing can prevent negative publicity by identifying noncompliant products before reaching consumers. It is hard to recover from a recall or scandal. On the flip side, suppliers can market compliance to testing standards as a benefit to consumers.

SE: It is an integrated part of any other industry so why should it be different for cannabis? Numerous stories of companies in the food industry skimping on quality control can be found – and the consequences can be devastating, not only for the consumer but also for the company. A great example is the peanut butter CEO who is facing life in prison for releasing contaminated products on the market.

It is also interesting to note that cannabis QC labs were the first to find pesticides in plant treatment products that claimed to be pesticide free (6) – another example of how analytical science can contribute to a better product for the consumers.

Restek’s Jack Cochran illustrates the impact of selectivity and GC oven programming on elution order of CBC and CBD. And notes that Rxi-35Sil MS columns perform better anyway... For the full blog and more:

What are the analytical challenges associated with (medical) cannabis?

JK: I would say there are some challenges with simply physically handling cannabis because of its ‘sticky’ nature; it requires care and experimentation. Dry commodities like typical cannabis plant material are more challenging for trace level contaminant analysis, such as pesticide residue testing. The high percent level of THC and other cannabinoids that have been bred into the plant makes sample preparation even more challenging. Sample preparation is critical to obtaining quality data because cannabis is complex and has a high potential of matrix interferences. The variety of cannabis-based products – for example, edibles and concentrates – requires that methods must be adjusted or developed. In addition, as Sytze notes, the changing regulations and requirements are also a challenge for testing labs. Unlike the more mature food and pharmaceutical markets, the cannabis market has yet to “standardize” regulations, requirements and acceptable testing practices.

SK: There are many unique challenges associated with medical cannabis testing for analytical solution providers. If you attend one of the larger marijuana business conferences, you are quickly amazed at the incredible variety of cannabis products on the market – from THC-infused chocolate bars to beverages and foot creams. These various sample forms require different sample preparation techniques and can create inter-laboratory variability. The only advice that I can provide here is to work with proven sample preparation technologies like Fritsch milling and sizing instruments, SPEX SamplePrep homogenizers and cryomills, and Restek chromatography columns. These companies have vast experience in food safety and environmental samples.

Shimadzu Scientific Instruments is headquartered in Columbia, MD, where we have our Customer Training and Education Center, a state-of-the-art Solutions Center and our new Innovation Center. But because of federal and state laws, we cannot have cannabis samples onsite, so we can only work on new methods and platforms in our customer labs. Since 1970, marijuana has been designated a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, making it nearly impossible for academic labs to perform cannabis research. We simply do not have such restrictions in most markets, and therefore we have added hurdles in terms of method development, training and new product improvements.

Lastly, in addition to a bevy of sample prep options, there exists a wide variety of ionization techniques, chromatographic separations and analyzers that can be applied to cannabis samples. Even within a specific product line, like triple quadrupole mass spectrometers, it is important to select instrument models with the appropriate performance criteria (sensitivity, speed, and so on). There is great benefit in working with an industry leader like Shimadzu, as we can help deliver the exact instrumentation needed for cannabis QC testing, with proven applications and exceptional technical and service support.

Regulation and rigorous testing will keep producers honest, as it does in many industries.

SE: Actually, my feeling is that cannabis is really not that different from other products from an analytical perspective. It is mainly a regulatory challenge. Dealing with changing requirements and without a full understanding of what may be needed in the future makes staying on top of our evolving field a pretty unique challenge. Furthermore, no formally accepted and broad-based methods are available, which makes how exactly you approach a particular test type very competitive and subject to new research developments. Working with a federally illegal substance comes with its own challenges; some states now have very strict requirements regarding the tracking and tracing of every gram of material, which creates additional paperwork and handling requirements. It can make research and normal business operations quite cumbersome and complicated...

What analytical tools are required and how should they be used?

JK: Potency: LC-UV currently works well for labeling requirements. If quantitation of many more cannabinoids becomes required for labeling, then better chromatographic separation or detector specificity will be needed.

Residual solvents: This is a GC analysis and can be done with FID or MS detection. Many of the residual solvents need to be tested using headspace sample introduction. There are some solvents that are not volatile enough to work by headspace and so an additional liquid injection analysis is sometimes needed. Mass spectrometry has the benefit of specificity, which adds confidence to compound identification, but it is somewhat limited in linear dynamic range. This makes the use of MS for residual solvents a bit tricky when the required limits among analytes varies by more than a few orders of magnitude. FID is linear over a wider concentration range but does not have the specificity that MS offers. The best choice depends on compounds and allowable limits.

Pesticide residue analysis of cannabis plant material is challenging and is best accomplished by using sensitive and selective detection like tandem MS (MS/MS). GC and LC MS/MS are the workhorse techniques used by the food safety industry with a move towards more sophisticated MS-based detection. In most cases, both GC and LC will be needed because some pesticides are only reproducibly detected at low enough levels by one or the other, although many pesticides can be tested by both GC and LC.

Mycotoxins analysis is challenging right from sampling because fungal contamination can be localized in a field. Testing is challenging because of the low detection limits required, and affinity-based sample preparation with HPLC or LC-MS/MS is most often used. There are strip tests for mycotoxins, but these would have to be validated in cannabis matrices.

SE: The majority of the analyses that are performed are potency tests – usually with UHPLC. UHPLC is preferred over GC, as the cannabinoids are mainly present in their acidic form (THC = THCA, CBD = CBDA) in plant material. To distinguish the psychoactive neutral from their non-psychoactive acidic form, you need to use LC; the acidic cannabinoids convert to their neutral equivalent in GC.

Cannabis extracts (concentrates) are often analyzed for residual solvents. Headspace GC is typically used and detection is performed either with MS or FID.

Trace pesticide analysis requires high selectivity and MS/MS is typically used to counter the complex matrix. Sample preparation and cleanup is essential to minimize ion suppression.

There are various ways to test for microbiological contamination. PCR-based approaches are especially effective for proving absence of a specific organism like salmonella. Plating or rapid microbiological testing platforms are often used as well. Some states require colony forming unit counts and in those cases plating is almost unavoidable.

SK: I’ll offer a more commercial answer! After all, Shimadzu has a comprehensive portfolio of solutions for cannabis testing:

  • Potency/cannabinoids: Cannabis Analyzer (Integrated i-Series HPLC)
  • Pesticides & Mycotoxins: LCMS-8050 Triple Quadrupole MS
  • Terpene Profiling: GCMS-QP2020 (Gas Chromatograph MS)
  • Metals: ICPMS-2030 (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer)
  • Residual Solvents: GC-2010 Plus with HS-20 (GC with headspace)
  • Moisture Testing: MOC63U or MOC-120H Moisture Analyzer
  • Integrated Supercritical Fluid Extraction–Chromatography Mass Spectrometry: Nexera UC, “Unified Chromatography”

What about the diagnostic angle, for law enforcement, for example?

SE: Employers and law enforcement would love a quick test to show if someone is under the influence of cannabis and impaired. The difficulty right now is that most methods were designed to test for the use of cannabis at any point in time. Such tests fail to show that the individual is high/impaired at the moment of the test because they usually measure a long-lived non-psychoactive metabolite (THC-COOH). This proves use, not impairment – two very different things. It also appears that the actual THC plasma level does not directly correlate to the experienced intoxication of the individual, and that users become tolerant to its effects. We need to make sure we have an objective way to judge intoxication – and currently that is lacking.

SK: I have been following many of these devices and technologies, but interestingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report (DOT HS 812 117, published in February 2015) reported that analyses incorporating adjustments for age, gender, ethnicity, and alcohol concentration levels did not show a significant increase in levels of crash risk associated with the presence of THC. The report also stated that, “Understanding the effects of other drugs on driving is considerably more complicated than is the case for alcohol impairment.”

Additionally, several reports, including one by the Washington Post, claim that the number of highway fatalities in Colorado is down since the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 (“Since marijuana legalization, highway fatalities in Colorado are at near-historic lows” by Radley Balko, August 5, 2014). So much of the hysteria regarding drugged-driving concerns seems to be hype...

JK: I expect developments in this area as regulations and enforcement in the new legal landscape matures. As noted by Sytze, quick, cheap and accurate methods will need to distinguish between chronic use and immediate use, which is probably the most important challenge with respect to use at work or use while driving.

What are your views on ‘cannabinomics’?

SK: In brief, we need to screen beyond the 10-15 cannabinoids that are commonly tested for. To me, this is more research than QC testing. An interesting point here is that many of these cannabinoids are present at extremely low levels. Identifying and quantitating these more esoteric cannabinoids is fairly straightforward and a task that can be achieved using LC-MS/MS. Such investigations will remain as research (and not QC testing) until manufacturers begin to both increase these cannabinoid concentrations (which involves more complex breeding and purification techniques) and better understand their medical benefits. Understanding synergistic effects between cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids is an even greater challenge.

SE: Customized cannabis formulations with well-defined standardized chemical constituents are the future of cannabis. If different types of cannabis have different effects, some chemical compound or combination of chemical compounds must be responsible. Called the entourage effect, the variations are thought to largely be a result of interaction between terpenes and cannabinoids. In one of our recent papers, we have shown that strain names and even the sativa or indica designation often does not reflect what chemical constituents are present or being consumed (7). So if the chemical composition is not consistent, how can you predict the effect of the strain?  To solve this issue, we have designed a process that isolates the various major cannabinoids to high purity. We can then reintroduce specific strain properties by using our terpene-based formulation platform, allowing for standardization and careful control over product composition. Reproducible effects are critical for patients who need this medicine.

JK: As with any natural product, there is a complex web of interactions with human biology. Unraveling this web will take an enormous effort, including the need to identify activity at the molecular level – it would clearly benefit from an integrated “omics” approach. Large data sets will be needed to yield scientifically significant relationships between cannabis or active components and biological changes. And though the research needs to be extensive and time-consuming, the upside is that there are growing opportunities for researchers to work with cannabis.

Some analytical instrumentation vendors (and scientists) have stepped up to the challenge whereas other are holding back – why?

SK: This is a great question and one that has puzzled me. Many companies will NOT allow their logo anywhere near the words “cannabis” or “marijuana”. Instead they surreptitiously attend conferences or host symposia using the terms “hemp” and “natural products.” Some of these vendors have marching orders from the executive level, others feel like they may jeopardize existing government business. Shimadzu has embraced this market, as we see a clear need for quality control and consumer safety for the legal, medical cannabis market.

SE: Many equipment vendors have seen the pharmaceutical industry move their laboratories overseas and noticed a drop in equipment sales. They recognize the potential of our industry and see it as one of the few growing markets that can afford the expensive analytical tools they sell. Other vendors still do not feel comfortable with cannabis as it is a Schedule I substance and fear prosecution for assisting a potentially illegal business...

JK: Any new scientific challenge can be fun and exciting – and will draw attention. In addition to learning, it is great to help people who are taking on this challenge. I can only speculate as to what is holding back some vendors. There is the fear of backlash from other customers who may not agree with cannabis use. There is still a stigma associated with cannabis use. There is a stereotype that the industry is not quite legitimate and those involved aren’t necessarily ‘serious’ – conjuring images of ‘hippies’. All of this is changing as the industry grows, evolves and is more easily identifiable as a proper business. Finally, there are still legitimate legal concerns as well as some perceived legal risks.

How do you feel about the future of the medical cannabis industry?

JK: Federal regulation of cannabis for medical use will change the game. It will dictate the resources needed to meet federal drug regulations as well as open the door to large pharma. Regardless, I predict a large increase in investigations probing the biological and medicinal properties of cannabis.

SE: I do not foresee federal legalization within the next presidency, but depending on who will run in 2020, it could be a major topic. I agree with Julie, that once there is legalization on the federal level, things will change really fast. If and when cannabis moves into the jurisdiction of the FDA, it seem likely that only a couple of companies will be able to move into clinical trials and comply its requirements for drugs – probably in partnerships with existing pharmaceutical companies.

Many of the medicinal cannabis companies will switch to recreational operations where less stringent laws will most likely apply. Some major publicly traded companies will move quickly and buy up many of the current players today. The corn states will seed their fields and medium quality cannabis will be a commodity and prices will plummet. Consumers will probably keep paying high taxes and might not really see any effect of commercialization on prices. Specialized stores will disappear and it will become available either through liquor stores or pharmacies. It is interesting to note that Walgreens already has an information page on medical cannabis...

SK: Within two years I believe that all of Canada will be recreationally legal. My hope is that within five years we will be able to convince Congress that cannabis has positive economic and human health benefits, and that cannabis needs further research – but this can only be fully realized with de-scheduling.

As for the recent history of the cannabis industry, I’d like to thank pioneers like Raphael Mechoulam (Weizmann Institute of Science), Ed Rosenthal, Tracy Ryan (CannaKids), Ken Kovash (GI Grow) and Josh Crossney (jCanna, Inc.). Without these visionaries and the incredible spirit they bring to the cannabis industry, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

I hope this historic new magazine – The Cannabis Scientist – helps pave the way for a new generation of cannabis science!

Scott Kuzdzal

Scott received his PhD in analytical chemistry from the University of California at Riverside, and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he co-founded and directed the Johns Hopkins Center for Biomarker Discovery. Scott has a strong clinical chemistry background and has directed toxicology and therapeutic drug monitoring labs. He has co-authored several proteomics book chapters and has multiple patents. Scott currently serves as General Manager of Marketing for Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, where he continues to innovate, commercialize and market exciting new award-winning analytical platforms. Currently serving on the AOCS Cannabis Experts Panel, the Clinical Proteomics Editorial Board, and the Cannabis Science Conference’s Scientific Advisory Panel, Scott also hosts the Shimadzu microsite.

Julie Kowalski

Julie is a Senior Chemist who has been with Restek for eleven years. She has a BS in Chemistry, a PhD in Analytical Chemistry, and professional experience that includes troubleshooting and method development for GC, GC-MS, GCxGC, LC, and LC-MS/MS. Julie has served as the President of the North American Chemical Residue Workshop and serves on two AOAC Expert Review Panels. Her primary work for Restek is in food safety applications, especially pesticide residue analysis, QuEChERS and chromatography method development.

Sytze Elzinga

Before Sytze moved to the United States he worked at Farmalyse, a pharmaceutical contract laboratory that performs quality control and release of pharmaceutical products for the European market. At Farmalyse, he was responsible for the quality control of federally licensed medicinal cannabis. Research at Farmalyse was conducted on the extraction and purification of THC from medicinal cannabis – efforts that led to a spin-off company: Echo Pharmaceuticals. At Echo, Sytze produced THC under good manufacturing practices (GMP). A formulation that enhanced the bioavailability of THC was developed and, under supervision of the Dutch equivalent of the FDA, clinical trials were started. Sytze has been part of The Werc Shop team since 2011 where he oversees the development and validation of analytical methods and helps guide various R&D projects. As Chief Science Officer, he has been key to developing the intellectual property portfolio of The Werc Shop and has created customized product lines for various clients. He is the lead author of multiple papers published in scientific literature by The Werc Shop team regarding cannabis.


  1. “Medical use of marijuana”, N Engl J Med, 368, 866–868 (2013).
  2. I Grant et al, “Medical marijuana: clearing away the smoke”, Open Neurol J 2012;6:18-25.
  3. A Hazekamp et al, “The medicinal use of cannabis and cannabinoids – an international cross-sectional survey on administration forms”, J Psychoactive Drugs, 45 (3), 199–210 (2013).
  7. S Elzinga et al, “Cannabinoids and terpenes as chemotaxonomic markers in cannabis”, Nat Prod Chem Res, 3 (181), (2015). DOI:10.4172/2329-6836.1000181

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