Understanding the Science of Cannabis Product Development: Page 2 of 3

June 11, 2019
Figure 1: The human endocannabinoid system
(Click to enlarge) Figure 1: The human endocannabinoid system, an internal system of connected signaling mechanisms, regulates a huge variety of effects in our bodies: metabolism, homeostasis, restfulness and anxiety, pain, mood and more (12).
Abstract / Synopsis: 

The rapidly expanding global market for cannabis products should be based on the medical science of cannabis and how it interacts with the human endocannabinoid system. Companies that base their brands on the science of the entourage effect and develop products around plant genetics using cutting-edge extraction technology will rule global market share, reshape our medical system and recreate how we choose to find relaxation and stimulation. Current political and economic situations have created non-science-based markets and products that are not serving medical patients, and are not designed to fill the research gaps we desperately need to fill to legitimize the emerging anecdotal evidence. By understanding whole-plant extractions better, allowing for their medical use and removing restrictions on research and development, businesses will be able to better plan for long-term profitability and sustainability.

In 1889, an article by Dr. E. A. Birch in The Lancet, still one of the world’s leading medical journals, outlined the application of cannabis for the treatment of opium and chloral hydrate withdrawal symptoms—the mixture reduced the opium craving and acted as an anti-emetic, which is a drug that is effective against vomiting and nausea.

So how can we understand some of this history through the lens of extraction and formulation science? How do we avoid repeating history’s mistakes when we think about new product development? How can we incorporate modern scientific advancements with traditional knowledge? One of the most significant and recent scientific discoveries since that time is the endocannabinoid system (Figure 1) (12). This internal system of connected signaling mechanisms regulates a huge variety of effects in our bodies: metabolism, homeostasis, restfulness and anxiety, pain, sexual health, mood and more. Our bodies naturally have molecules that interact with our endocannabinoid system, and there are other molecules (such as THC and other cannabinoids) that also interact with the same receptors. Additionally, the evidence is accumulating that having more of the other naturally occurring biomolecules from the cannabis plant, such as terpenes and flavonoids, elicits very different effects that work far better than single molecule preparations alone. This theory has been named the entourage effect, and, given the complexity and number of different compounds in cannabis, it will take some time and careful research to fully understand the various important active compounds for treating specific ailments (13). There are clearly specific cultivars with specific chemical profiles that can be grown reproducibly that are useful for specific medical treatments, and not for others. But it’s only a matter of time before the analytical chemistry and big data analyses can begin to make the connections. This is where understanding the complexities of extractions, isolations and formulations will be useful to harness the full capability of the plant.

How we do plan science-based formulations in a constantly and rapidly changing regulatory environment? For a business plan to be of value in this growing industry, its 5- to 10-year plan must be considered in this mercurial and changing environment. As an example, many startups have moved from “cannabis” to “hemp” when creating CBD  product-based businesses (9). This migration hasn’t been based on science but simply because the regulations around cannabis-derived CBD are severely restrictive, legally punitive and financially unsupported by a federal banking system. In fact, the science shows over and over again that isolating and purifying the cannabinoids vastly reduces their medical efficacy. 

Cannabis is an extremely malleable plant that has the ability to be cultivated for high levels of certain cannabinoids. It seems strange that current regulations focus on one or maybe two specific molecules (THC and CBD) that don’t even naturally occur in a freshly harvested cannabis plant. Why is it that the legalization platform did not occur on cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) or cannabigerol (CBG)? As the mother of all cannabinoids (the molecular precursor for the enzymatic processes to synthesize the other naturally occurring cannabinoids), CBGA is not psychoactive and therefore could have been politically acceptable (8). With the growing ability to genetically modify plants, we have begun to breed for the end-product, which can improve processing and medical efficacy through more full spectrum profiles.

Because of political bias, we are growing an industry based on a single molecule—CBD—that has a medical Bell Curve. The Bell Curve refers to medical treatment and sustained efficacy. In a Bell Curve response, over time, an increase in the dosage does not correspond to an increase in efficacy. However, when a whole plant treatment is provided, efficacy increases—this is medicine (10). Unfortunately, legislators and regulators did not and largely still do not know this important fact when building a legal foundation for an industry based on medical use. Our challenge as scientists, and business professionals, is to inform legislators, regulators and the public that single-molecule products are being produced because of our political environment, not because it is rooted in medical science. Unless the medical science is based in research around the newly discovered endocannabinoid system, we have not progressed past the disinformation spread by prohibition and 19th century medical practices.

  1. https://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000026t... (2017).
  2. https://www.seniorstoner.com/education/anslinger-hearst-rockefeller-cann... (2015).
  3. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/news/2005/may/as-morphine-tur... (2005).
  4. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/etc/cron.html
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/can-genetic-testi... (March 2019).
  6. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/clinical-pharmacology/pharmaco... (2019).
  7. https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_215,_the_Medical_Marijuan...(1996)
  8. https://www.alchimiaweb.com/blogen/cannabigerol-cbg/ (2018).
  9. http://hemplogic.blogspot.com/2017/12/big-pharma-vs-hemp-based-cbds-and.... (2017).
  10. https://accugentix.com/blog/cannabis-using-scientific-or-slang-names/ (Jan. 30, 2019).
  11. https://rhizosciences.co/full-spectrum-cannabis-extracts-superior-cbd/ (2015).
  12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/endocannabinoid-system. Multiple abstracts (2009-2018).
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/ (2011).
  14. https://blog.edenlabs.com/hemp-extraction-and-the-versatility-of-the-col... (2018).
  15. https://blog.edenlabs.com/ethanol-vs-co2-which-method-is-best (2019).


Dr. Amber Wise is currently the Science Director at Medicine Creek Analytics, a certified cannabis testing laboratory in Washington state. She was previously the Science Director at Avitas, a licensed cannabis grower and processor in Washington and Oregon. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]

A.C. Braddock is CEO of Eden Labs, a 25-year-old extraction technology company and a career entrepreneur with extensive success in business development, product placement, brand development, business infrastructure and creating modern company cultures. Her mission is the furthering of whole plant medicines, healthy extraction methodologies and socially responsible business practices. She is Chair of BOD for NCIA, Vice Chair of Washington’s Cannabis Alliance and BOD of The Initiative. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]


How to Cite This Article
A. Wise and A.C. Braddock, Cannabis Science and Technology 2(3), 16-20 (2019)