A labeling system is designed to help communicate the contents of a product to an interested observer. This observer could be a prospective consumer about to make a purchase or a producer or broker who is negotiating industrial scale purchases and sales of product.
In other industries, labeling has been either well established, such as food and pharmaceutical, or poorly established, such as cleaning supplies. The FDA has specific guidelines for foods, showing the famous “Nutrition Facts” that show the three basic biomolecular categories: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Looking at this label, a consumer of food can get a general sense of what they are about to ingest. For example, butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado are all very high in fats. Wheat, potato, corn, rice, and sugarcane are all almost entirely carbohydrates. Meats and beans have a high protein content. Peanuts are considered a “superfood” because they contain an even balance of protein, carbs, and fats, which is something to keep in mind when packing your “End of the World” supply bag.
The drug industry, also regulated by the FDA, is different from the food industry when it comes to labeling. Whereas food is a living continuum of countless chemical diversity, drugs are designed to be the opposite, with one ideal active ingredient per pill;the rest of the constituentsare inactive fillers. Pharmaceuticals are easier to label because the dose in milligrams (mg) of the active compound is provided by the manufacturer, and the consumer knows all they need to know about a particular formulation of a medicine.
Cannabis, on the other hand, is crossing a new frontier in this era of human history– a fusion of the biological continuum of plants and the analytical and deductive approach of western pharmaceutical medicine. I say “in this era of human history” because before the modern age, plant medicines and folk wisdom were widespread among the cultures of humanity, and in many parts of the world, this style of medicine is still widely practiced. In modern western medicine, however, removing all “unnecessary” ingredients from the final product has long been the goal, following the philosophy of zeroing in with ever greater precision on the one “true” cause of its effects. This philosophy led to the pharmaceutical terms “active ingredient” and “inactive ingredients”. But as recent scientific interest in the entourage effect has picked up, western scientists are findings that combinations of compounds, especially ones that are co-present in naturally occurring organisms, may be greater than the sum of their parts.1, 2, 3, 4, 5
The implications of the entourage effect are far-reaching and often re-enforce the folk wisdom passed around the cannabis patient community. The specific amount of THC is not the only, and often not the most important, variable when considering cannabis as a medicine. Eating cooked vs. eating raw vs. smoking cannabis will generate three distinct medicines. A fourth method of administration, topically applied cannabinoids, does not reach the brain but cause beneficial changes in muscle and skin tissue.
One of the major roadblocks to the development of a cannabis-based labeling system is that it does not fit either FDA model. When we try to follow the pharmaceutical model, we get dispensaries with %THC and occasionally %CBD. Not including the cannabinoid acids, many states are now mandating other cannabinoids such as CBN, CBC, THCV, and CBDV be enumerated in labels as well. Thorough cannabis labeling is becoming more important as other cannabinoids are being bred into cultivars. Previously there was an increase in label interest in CBD, and more recently interest in THCV has increaded as well.
The needs of cannabinoid labeling are not the whole issue when labeling cannabis. Cannabinoid labeling does not factor in the terpenes, of which over 100 have been identified in cannabis. In 2018, any cannabis lab of quality can deliver at least about 20 terpenes to its clients on their lab reports. The issue is: what to do with 20 numbers? Show all 20 of them to the consumer? Show them to the producer? Unless you have a biochemist or biostatistician analyzing these numbers, they will most likely overwhelm and confuse the viewer. What this means to the current industry is that a lot of very valuable data on cannabis is basically discarded in the back rooms of dispensaries as expanding sales and increasing regulatory compliance anxieties take priority.
Enter the DiscOmic system. Many users want a way to know the details of their cannabis, but color-coding 30 numbers just isn’t going to work, as it is too confusing to be used intuitively. Because many cannabis businesses have a wealth of scientific data on their product that goes unused, the DiscOmic system hopes to utilize that resource. The software allows for an individual to enter the cannabinoid and terpene information into a browser or application and generate a simple, easy-to-use label that can represent any sample of cannabis in the world, real or imagined.
Part 2 of this three-part series will discuss how the DiscOmic system can be used.
- Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects.” British journal of pharmacology 163.7 (2011): 1344-1364.
- Russo, Ethan B., and John M. McPartland. “Cannabis is more than simply Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol.” Psychopharmacology 165.4 (2003): 431-432.
- What is Cannabidiol? | Project CBD https://www.projectcbd.org/science/terpenes/terpenes-and-entourage-effect
- CNN | Dr. SanjayGupta https://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/11/health/gupta-marijuana-entourage/
- McPartland, John M., and Ethan B. Russo. “Cannabis and cannabis extracts: greater than the sum of their parts?.” Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics 1.3-4 (2001): 103-132.