In this new interview series, we sit down with several speakers from 2023 Cannabis Science Conference events to learn about their expertise and backgrounds in the cannabis industry. Join us to learn more about Dr. Peter Grinspoon, Jini Glaros, Dr. Miyabe Shields, and Adam Jacques.
Cannabis Science Conference (CSC) Fall took place in Providence, Rhode Island on September 20-22nd. The conference featured several exciting tracks: analytical science, cultivation, medical cannabis, and psychedelics. Here we share some interview highlights with Dr. Peter Grinspoon, Jini Glaros, Dr. Miyabe Shields, and Adam Jacques to learn how they are each helping move the cannabis industry forward.
Dr. Peter Grinspoon is a primary care doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a 25-year cannabis specialist. He was a keynote speaker at Cannabis Science Conference Fall on September 22, 2023. Here, Dr. Grinspoon shares his background and interest in medical cannabis as well some policies he’d like to see changed in the future.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in the cannabis industry?
A: Dr. Peter Grinspoon: Well, it goes back a long time and there are several reasons that sparked my interest. The first thing is that my brother Danny, in the early 1970s, was fighting an unsuccessful battle with childhood leukemia. My parents saw him suffering so much from the chemotherapy that they illegally procured him cannabis in the early 1970s, right when Richard Nixon was just embarking on his war on cannabis. It was just amazing to see my brother when he didn’t use cannabis, he’d just be lying in his bed with a towel over his head barfing. But when he used cannabis, he was able to eat, hold down food, maintain his weight, strum on his Fender Stratocaster (which he loved to do), and, most importantly to us, play with his little brothers. So, I saw at a very early age how impactful medical cannabis can be and that really stuck with me for my entire medical education and my entire medical career.
The other thing I should mention is that my father, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, was a legendary psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, and he wrote a pioneering book in 1971 called Marijuana Reconsidered, which was actually reviewed on the front page of The New York Times Book Review in glowing terms. At that time, when only 12% of Americans supported full legalization of cannabis, my dad called for the legalization of cannabis, saying, “Sure, there are some harms associated with it. Teens, pregnancy, certain people shouldn’t use it. But the harms of criminalization are much worse than the harms of actually using cannabis.” So, growing up, I had all kinds of cannabis advocates and activists and proponents in my living room, sort of smoking and talking, and these were people that were actually changing the world. I started to associate cannabis not only with healing because of my brother Danny, but with sort of an intellectual lubricant because all these super motivated people were using it in my home. So, I’ve been interested in it my entire medical career.
Q: Can you explain the top two biggest misconceptions about cannabis that you encounter frequently?
A: Dr. Grinspoon: Sure. Well, number one, medical marijuana doesn’t mean smoking. No doctor recommends smoking. I mean, if you’re dying of cancer or you have chemotherapy and you need to take something really quickly so you don’t throw up, maybe there’s certain exceptions. But I had a friend huffily say to me, “How can burning smoke be medicine?” So, I explained that you could use a tincture under your tongue, one of these old fashioned medicinal tinctures. You can take a small dose of an edible very carefully. You can actually use a skin patch, an inhaler, a suppository, or a topical. There are many different delivery methods. So, one misconception is that to use medical cannabis is to be smoking cannabis. There are many different delivery options.
Another misconception is that there’s no such thing as medical marijuana and people are just trying to get high. In fact, the doses of medical marijuana are often much lower than the doses of adult use or recreational marijuana. Also, using cannabidiol (CBD) and other medicinal cannabinoids besides tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) often people get comfortable with no high effect or a minimum of the high that people associate it with. So, it doesn’t mean you’re stoned all the time. It just means you’re getting effective symptom relief. So those are a couple of misconceptions.
Jini Glaros is the Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) at Modern Canna Labs in Lakeland, Florida. She received her bachelor’s degree with honors in Biochemistry from the University of West Florida. In May of 2022, Glaros earned a Master’s degree in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Glaros gave a presentation at CSC Fall in an analytical-focused general session titled “Sample Preparation, Compound Error, and Potency Inflation.” Here, Glaros shares how she got her start in cannabis testing and more.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got involved with cannabis testing?
A: Jini Glaros: Of course. So, if you had asked me 10 years ago if I would be doing cannabis testing, like probably a lot of people in the industry, I would have said, ’No, there’s no way.’ My original plan was I wanted to get a medical degree and be a doctor. I worked in a lab during my undergraduate education and fell in love with it. I ended up taking a gap year after graduation, which was when I worked at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Maryland. During that time, I realized that it was lab life for me; I wanted to be in the lab. There was no doubt about it. So, I thought maybe I’ll pursue my MD and PhD. I’ll still get to be in a lab and still get to be a doctor—kind of the best of both worlds. Of course, sometimes life happens and that didn’t work out, but everything happens for a reason. I ended up working at the University of Florida for a while in one of their labs, before moving back to my hometown of Lakeland, Florida, which is where the Modern Canna Labs’ headquarters is located and where I’m working currently. This opportunity really just fell into my lap, and I couldn’t be happier about my role and thrilled that I was given such an opportunity. I got in the industry when things were very fresh and new in Florida. I started working for Modern Canna back in 2017, so I’ve been with them for quite some time now, and really have been able to watch the company grow.
Q: Can you share what your talk at CSC Fall focused on?
A: Glaros: Potency is a highly scrutinized analysis, whether that be from cultivators, producers, or even consumers, right? You hear all the time that consumers want the most “fire” weed, or they want cannabis with the highest THC. It’s great that they want high THC flower, but that’s not the only thing that matters. When it comes to high THC flower, by the industry pushing for higher and higher potencies, it’s led some laboratories to maliciously manipulate their data. However, the reality is that, in most cases, I really don’t think that’s the intention of all laboratories. I think, ultimately, that some of these labs just don’t have the tools and the techniques to know when they’re doing something that could be leading to potency inflation or could be leading to results that are skewed in one way or another. So, the goal of my talk was to uncover some of those things that lead to compound error, which may in turn lead to potency inflation. We’re dove into sampling bias, sample weighing, sample extraction, sample dilutions—the whole nine yards—and how each step of that process impacts the final result. I also discussed how laboratories can improve their processes and what cultivators, producers, and regulators can look for when they’re looking to a lab to produce accurate data.
Miyabe Shields, PhD, is a queer and neurodivergent stoner scientist and avid psychonaut with more than 13 years of experience in academic and industrial research. Dr. Shields has dedicated their life to understanding the inner workings of the neurodivergent brain on drugs. Now, a beginner farmer, they aim to address health equity through natural medicines. Dr. Shields organized an exciting panel discussion in the psychedelics track at CSC Fall titled “Barriers to and Learnings from Psychedelics Research.” Here, Dr. Shields shares their background in cannabis and psychedelics research and more.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got involved with cannabis and psychedelics?
A: Dr. Miyabe Shields: Yes, absolutely. My background is in pharmaceutical sciences. I have my PhD in drug discovery, and I studied the endocannabinoid system. The reason why I originally went into drug discovery in the endocannabinoid system and in pharmaceuticals is because cannabis is the medicine of my life. But, previously, I had so much guilt and shame around using cannabis as medicine that I was really interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of how cannabis works, and if it was possible (ideally) to create a synthetic version that would be able to be given to me in a pill. Halfway along the track of doing my PhD, I had a more rounded understanding of why certain medicines are stigmatized over others. That really affected the progression of where I saw my research going and where my career went. So, after I finished my PhD, that’s why I transitioned into doing research in the cannabis industry. I co-founded a company that researched heat transformation of cannabinoids.
In terms of my interest and research into psychedelics, that was more recently introduced by my wife, Lane, and there’s always been a synergy there between the serotonin system and the endocannabinoid system that has just fascinated me. I always liken it to our marriage because Lane has a lot of serotonergic things—migraine disorders are serotonergic. I see it as a balance and a mixture of a balance and a synergy. That’s sort of how I got interested in this space, and it’s how I’ve been singularly obsessed with being in the space for most of my life. I started using cannabis when I was 15, so it’s been a long journey for me. Cannabis is a lifelong medicine and something that I’m very certain I want to dedicate my life to and be able to give back to the community. I also want to add some information and add some interesting context and perspective, I think, that can sometimes get lost even though we’re doing our best, but research can be difficult. It can be a difficult vacuum.
Q: Can you share a summary of your panel presentation at CSC Fall?
A: Dr. Shields: Sure. So the team that I did the panel with was myself and my two colleagues, Dr. Riley Kirk, who also has her PhD in pharmaceutical sciences, but studied secondary metabolites, which are the molecules that are in natural products like plants and fungi that cause the effects, and Marné Garretson, who is a real-world evidence data scientist and is focused on using real world data versussay, clinical settings. Our panel “Barriers to and Learnings from Psychedelic Research” was about how we have come together as a multidisciplinary team and as a group—our team also has medical doctors and other professionals—that are in the industry. All of us have come across some challenges in the space and challenges within ourselves too, so we discussed how we are going to frame this research, interpret the research, conduct the research, publish the research, and make everything accessible while at the same time highlighting the need for more research and the benefits of it. So, I think it was a really great discussion, and a back and forth that we have, every time that we meet about the intersection of all of our different areas and also how our studies are a representation of that intersection.
Adam Jacques is a world-renowned expert with more than 20 years of experience cultivating unique strains of cannabis. Having developed more than 300 high-CBD strains of cannabis, Adam has established himself as the foremost expert on CBD genetics and was recognized as the most influential person in the Northwest and Canadian cannabis industry in 2016 by CannAwards. Adam participated as a CSC Fall speaker on an exciting fireside chat in the Cultivation Track General Session titled “Industry Answers with Adam Jacques.” Here, Adam shares his background in cannabis cultivation, his passion for learning, and more.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got involved with cannabis cultivation?
A: Adam Jacques: I started, kind of, my love affair with cannabis as a teenager. When I was a teenager, it was a much different time, right? So, like 1994 is probably when I used cannabis for the first time. I’m a neurodiverse individual, and back then, there wasn’t a lot of knowledge surrounding that, you were either a kid that was a troublemaker or you weren’t. I found, when I used cannabis, it really dialed in my brain and allowed me to focus. I was using cannabis for medical purposes without understanding that I was using it for medical purposes, and that went on through college. I did quite well.
What really started it all was that college was expensive and I was poor, so I started growing cannabis for myself at home. It was very difficult to get any new varieties of cannabis because it wasn’t necessarily legal, and they just weren’t around. So, I taught myself that you can breed cannabis. When I was around 23 or 24, I started breeding my own cannabis strains, looking to make them in a specific way or to make a strain in a way that I needed for me, personally, medically. I would say that’s kind of where I started. It started from a place of trying to treat my own illness, slowly over time. My educational background was not in biology or horticulture. This is all self-taught. After about 30 years, I’m okay at it now. But it started from a point of necessity. There wasn’t really anybody serving medical patients. There was no real good information out there, everything was hearsay and pseudoscience and things of that nature. So, it was difficult to find any real help or answers. After I was working with myself for a while, I found a group here in Eugene, Oregon that was kind of clandestine, but they were doing work with medical patients, specifically cancer patients at that time. I got involved with them, donating my time, knowledge, and cannabis and genetics to them, and that kind of started my road down this medical cannabis track that I’ve been on.
I enjoy learning a lot. I would say that the majority of my free time is spent teaching myself things. It was a lot harder back in the day. There was not as much information as there is now, like online and things like that, but libraries existed, and they had a lot of good books on plants. I like to think that I kind of grew up with the industry. I came in at a very interesting time in the industry. Marijuana had just become medically legal in Oregon, which opened up a huge opportunity for me where I wasn’t worried about getting arrested for growing plants in my house. I kind of just hit all the timing perfectly.
There were some people with DEA licenses in Kentucky growing cannabis, but there weren’t really any universities doing major studies on cannabis or looking at molecules. The most important thing to me with cannabis was that I know that it works, right? I knew that it worked, I knew it was working, I knew it was doing what I needed, but I didn’t know why. And that drove me crazy. So, I spent, and I have been spending the past 20-30 years trying to answer that why. Why does cannabis affect people in the way that it does? Why does it affect everybody differently? What are the important constituents? If you do, let’s say a delta-9-THC isolate, you’re going to get a really generic effect. But it is pretty normal between everyone. Now you start adding in different cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, things of that nature, and it seems like every addition creates a dynamic to the medicine that we’re using that changes the effect or what we use it for. So, trying to understand the whole picture of cannabis instead of breaking it down to THC is the drug and everything else is a waste product, which I think is terrible. Whole plant medicine has been kind of my focus. I’ve had a lot of help through the university systems, at this point, specifically working with Dr. Zac Hildenbrand, who I presented with at the conference. I met him in 2015 at a science conference and we instantly connected— we’re like brothers now. But we’ve been working with the University of Texas system, looking at a lot of different things and flavonoids and terpenes, and what we would call lesser cannabinoids. It’s been great—very interesting journey I’ve been on.
Q: What interested you in working with CBD genetics, and do you work with other cannabinoids and terpenes?
A: Jacques: I started working with CBD genetics because of a gentleman named Frank, who is a close personal friend of mine. Frank had cancer, and he was getting some oil made for him that was just high THC and he could not focus during the day. It was just this constant usage of THC that was making his life uncomfortable. In 2014, I started doing some research. This was pre-Stanley Brothers, so CBD genetics really weren’t being talked about. I started doing some research and found some old research from a group in Brazil in the 1970s that was looking at CBD as a treatment for epileptic seizures. I found out that hemp was the highest carrier of CBD. So, by finding hemp genetics and breeding those with higher percentage things then I was able to create—I won’t go into the science of how breeding works because we will be here forever—but I found that I could create genetics that were rich in both THC and CBD. While doing that, I also found out how CBD and THC work with the CB connectors and how you actually are going to get less of a psychological effect if you mix the two. THC fits perfectly in that receptor, CBD gums it up a little bit. We were having this effect where I was able to push more and more THC into a system as long as I was tempering that with CBD. I created a genetic then called “Frank’s Gift,” which was a 3 to 1, test it out at like 30% total cannabinoids, it was huge at the time, and we used that with him.
We started working on extraction methodologies at that point. This was right at the infancy of CO2 extraction. We got one of the Waters machines. I was working with Frank and trying to get him less high by developing these genetics. He started using them and we used them thoroughly and he went into complete remission from cancer. I was like, “Wow, this seems great.” Frank was a fairly well-off individual and he said, “I want to fund anything that you want to do to help people like you helped me.” At that point, I kind of had a ticket to create and learn, so then I just started going down this rabbit hole of CBD breeding. But it was another case of kind of trying to figure out something through necessity that ended up helping lots of people in the long term.
Watch the full interviews with these thought leaders at: https://www.cannabissciencetech.com/videos/editorial-videos.
Megan L’Heureux is the Group Editorial Director, Madeline Colli is the Editor, and Erin McEvoy is the Assistant Editor for Cannabis Science and Technology and Cannabis Patient Care magazines.
Direct correspondence to: MLheureux@mjhlifesciences.com.
L’Heureux, M., Colli, M., McEvoy, E., Industry Thought Leaders: Meet the People Driving the Cannabis Industry Forward, Cannabis Science and Technology, 2023, 6(7), 26-29.