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Michael Backes is Perfectly Dedicated to the Terpene

UltraFresh process maximizes the retention of fragile monoterpenes.

This job has a lot of wonderful perks. One of the most rewarding is being able to chat with industry pioneers, innovators, educators, and long-time advocates. Recently, I spoke with Michael Backes, well-known author of Cannabis Pharmacy, a wonderful resource for anyone looking to get answers regarding cannabis medicine.

Michael’s new cannabis company, PERFECT, has innovated a process for maximizing the retention of delicate but vital monoterpenes in cannabis. Called UltraFresh, the patented process uses very cold temperatures throughout the processing and packaging paths following the harvest. Michael’s final products also require refrigeration, maintaining the integrity of his diligence to keep the terpene profile pristine.

The terpenes contained within trichomes, you already know, enable the ensemble effects that several researchers are currently proving with hard science. Any steps that can be taken to mitigate their annihilation into the atmosphere, instead of their voyage throughout your lungs and body, are paramount to truly premium products devoid of the one-dimensionality that some manufacturers have endeavored.

But enough of me talking. This is a story about Michael Backes dedication to the terpene.

JSL: How did you get started in cannabis?

MB: I began reading about plant medicines when I was very young but didn’t know much about cannabis until high-quality varieties from Thailand, Colombia and Hawaii showed up in the 70s. I was fascinated by their differences: the chocolate aroma of Thai, the intense peppery notes of Colombian and Panamanian cultivars, and the fresh Christmas tree smell of Kona Gold. After college, I drifted away from cannabis for over two decades, until a neurologist suggested I use it for my migraine headaches. Cannabis relieved my headaches, but nobody at the early California dispensaries could explain the mechanism by which it treated migraines. I became completely focused on the science of cannabis as a medicine. I opened my own dispensary dedicated to the science of cannabis in early 2007. When I read Dr. Ethan Russo’s papers on the history and pharmacology of cannabis, these really inspired me to dive much, much deeper.

JSL: When you were researching for Cannabis Pharmacy, what scientific or medical findings really bolstered your belief that cannabis was a viable therapeutic option? Was there something that you weren’t previously aware of that made you want to dedicate your resources to this industry?

MB: I’m only in this field because of the pioneers that preceded me. The early research conducted at Hortapharm in the Netherlands by Etienne De Meijer, Rob Clarke, David Watson, David Pate and Ethan Russo was a huge eyeopener for me. These folks created the template for modern cannabis breeding, extending back to Watson’s breeding work in California and his travel in Asia looking for landraces. Hortapharm was the first to explore cannabis terpenes and the minor cannabinoids. For my book, Vincenzo Di Marzo and Arno Hazekamp deeply impacted my thinking about the endocannabinoid system and cannabis analytics, respectively. One study conducted at UCSD on inhaled cannabis and pain, that demonstrated the bi-phasic nature of THC dose in the treatment of pain, opened my eyes to the complexity of using cannabis therapeutically. Of course, the seminal publications by Dr. Tod Mikuriya, Fred Gardner and Martin Lee on cannabis therapeutics for the treatment of a wide range of conditions created the foundation for Cannabis Pharmacy.

JSL: Obviously we at Terpenes & Testing regard terpenes in high esteem. We’ve recently sent a book to print that discusses the scientific and medical literature on an assortment of terpenes. So, preservation of the terpenes, to us, is vital. What can you tell us about the motivation to design the UltraFresh process to preserve them?

MB: UltraFresh introduces a new product category between flowers and concentrates. For over a decade, I’ve been trying to preserve cannabis terpenes through humidity and oxygen control, temperature regulation, and anything I could find. I was using Boveda packs in the early days that I purchased from a cigar shop in Pasadena. When I started to buy directly from Boveda, I had to tell them I was trying to preserve traditional Chinese herbs, because I was afraid they wouldn’t sell to a dispensary.

Protecting terpenes is a battle and I’ve been in the trenches for a very long time. In late 2018, I partnered with Dean Hollander to deliver cannabis blends with terpene profiles that individual cultivars could not produce. When I started testing these ground blends with Infinite Cal and SC Labs, I found the terpene levels were alarmingly low. Then I started testing commercial prerolls and found that their monoterpene content was nearly nonexistent. I was shocked by these findings. These test results inspired me to develop UltraFresh to preserve and restore the incredibly delicate monoterpene content found in living cannabis inflorescences.

Nothing tastes like cannabis at the moment it finishes curing after harvest. Unless you are a skilled and conscientious cultivator, you’ve never experienced the terpene entourage of fresh flower. The UltraFresh process delivers that experience. Basically, UltraFresh uses a sophisticated series of extraction steps to reconstitute and stabilize the monoterpene fraction on cold-processed, ground cannabis cultivars. It delivers the effects of certain terpenes that even the most jaded cannabis aficionados have never experienced, and it forms the basis of a new type of cannabis product.

JSL: Compared to your process, do you have a feel for what percentages of terpenes can be lost through traditional handling and curing?

MB: It’s the monoterpenes that bear the brunt handling and curing. Nearly half the myrcene content is lost in cannabis flowers within 45 days of harvest unless decisive steps are taken to slow that deterioration.

JSL: Your cold process also continues through packaging. What can go wrong in this stage that readers might not be aware of? Have you been able to compare chemical losses from traditional packaging methods to your process?

MB: In pre-roll manufacturing and packaging, monoterpenes get slaughtered. Most pre-rolls lose up to 95% of their monoterpene content in manufacturing. Myrcene and terpinolene are essentially nonexistent in prerolls. The essential problem is that cannabis is treated like cardboard throughout the supply chain, rather than highly perishable produce. Refrigeration is not an option if you want to protect terpene content, with the notable exception of beta-caryophyllene which is tough as nails.

Terpenes provide wonderful packets of fragrance, taste, and medicine, the latter of which continues to be demonstrated in the scientific literature. The perfect beauty of the terpenes is the dichotomy between their natural uses as protectors and destroyers versus how humankind therapeutically benefits from their ingestion. Lucky for us, though, the savvy cannabis product designers, like Michael, understand that products without terpenes limit the power of the formulation.

About the author

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

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