The Day the Scientists Took Over: The Death of Hyperbole and the Anecdote

Occasionally, the planets align. The world makes sense again, even if the path to the sensible is still crag-rooted. For a brief moment, it’s possible to forget the madness of the day, and get down to something a little cooler. It’s for the very fact that you’re doing something cool again that causes you to pause, suddenly jerk, and throw your fists into the air. Hallelujah! These times, you thought, were extinct.

While this certainly describes my euphoria at the last Ministry concert, or my perhaps ravenous excitement to be able to have a private bacchanal at my favorite local brewery, I felt it again during my candid discussion with Dr. Mark Lewis, creator of NaPro Research.

Mark created NaPro because there was a void of dependable labs. Dispensaries were spending lots of money to get their products tested. In the early days, it was valuable for dispensaries to have their THC percentages on Weed Maps. Times have changed, though, haven’t they? We’ve migrated or, at least, are migrating away from anecdotal information, in our pursuit for a deeper knowledge. Don’t think so? Next time you are wondering something, anything, see how long you can go without searching the World Wide Web. Perhaps with the exception of things like secrets, and government documents, knowledge is just a few clicks away…always.

Words strung together like “more THC is better” or “hold your hit as long as you can” …are they really relevant? Or, now that we know more, are we over it? Or will we continue to believe over-simplified stereotypes? Mark had an opinion on holding one’s hit longer: “Do you really want to freak out over how you treated the bus driver?” While you may be in the minority, and think holding your breath to the point of asphyxiation is a wise way to “extract” the medicine, businesses in the cannabis industry need to exhume the pearls of wisdom, and they often need someone possessing the appropriate scientific acumen to ask the right questions on their behalf. Dispensaries needed someone knowledgeable to work with cannabis testing labs on their behalf. Enter Mark…

Mark was trying to provide the conduit between the lab and dispensary, but some labs were just not as receptive to his questions as others. So, in true Sinatra fashion, Mark did it his way, and started a laboratory to provide the answers to his clients, people who didn’t share his scientific rigor. What makes him an expert? Remember Dr Dre’s The Chronic? That historic moment also pinpoints the genesis of Mark’s cannabis breeding experience.

A firm believer in the scientific method, Mark noticed that some breeders were not just changing one variable at a time to accurately quantify how each change affected their harvest. This desire to bring a stronger analytical regimen into the cannabis industry did not stop at the grow house. Like all seekers, Mark wanted more. He wanted to help construct the foundation for quality control when a dispensary is selecting which products they wanted to vend. How did they know, though, if a product was good or bad? A smoke test? Again, what about something quantifiable?

An analytical lab provides a Certificate of Analysis to their clients. While some get crafty, and provide pie charts, most provide a dossier on the sample’s analytics. You’ll find entries regarding cannabinoid potency, the terpene profile, and if the cannabis product is safe for consumption (residual solvents, pesticides, mycotoxins, and microbiological tests). For some, this is understandable data; for others, it might be gibberish, as they may not see the bigger picture. Again, Mark was up to the task to fill the void, and behold: PhytoFacts was created.

PhytoFacts provides a quantifiable quality control measure for the dispensary. “We wanted to put numbers behind indigenous knowledge, and let our clients visualize the rainbows”, Mark explained, in regards to the color-coding system PhytoFacts utilizes to make specific attributes more obvious. “There’s no such thing as indica or sativa, since we can breed any chemistry we want.” This is important for consumers and vendors alike, since often, anecdotal information is transferred between people, and while it may sound reasonable, is it actually true? Mark’s goal was to remove hyperbole and the anecdote, and replace them with a system that could be intuitive to seed-to-sale personnel.

PhytoFacts uses a class system that sorts plants by their chemistry. Sophisticated algorithms generate correlations between different varieties, to help elucidate which plants have similar chemistries. If the characteristics indigenous to Golden Goat work well for you, and the dispensary sold out of that flower, what other flower will have a similar chemistry, and produce a comparable effect to Golden Goat? Stories abound regarding the rebranding of specific cannabis varieties. Say White Widow is selling fast.Nefarious entities might then rebrand something that is sitting on the shelf as White Widow to increase sales. PhytoFacts can help police this type of underhanded deed, and help consumers grasp a hold of their experience, rather than ending up in the fetal position because what they ingested isn’t what they expected.

This talk of the classification of cannabis chemistry got me thinking of a series of papers published by Arno Hazekamp, Ph.D., regarding the evolution to categorizing cannabis flowers based off of their measured chemistry. Mark had attended Arno’s Masterclass in 2011, and was intrigued by his work. “Arno developed a good method for a research lab, but it wasn’t applicable to run in a service lab.” For Mark, the developed method needed to be high-throughput, meaning capable of measuring many things in a shorter time.

The conversation shifted at this point, as we began to pontificate on the future of the cannabis industry, and the wormhole running the length of its history. While some breeders have chosen to hunt for a specific phenotype (think attributes like color or smell), NaPro has been more interested in creating more chemically stable seeds. That’s right, not clones, but seeds. “No one has taken the time to inbred lines that create parental lines. This is why everyone grows from clones,” Mark explained. NaPro was one of the first groups to create homozygous seeds. Homozygous seeds can result in a more predictable lineage. “Our main clients want to create parental lines to have stable seed in the future. And with seed, you can just store it in the refrigerator. Clones need to be taken care of.”

Traveling through that wormhole, Mark knew that the cannabis industry would migrate to extracts. While many extract producers have used the “garbage” provided to create great extracts, NaPro’s focus has been on the raw material. “Our aim has been to get terpenes above 6-7% and cannabinoids into high 20’s.”

“This isn’t ego. If I had to identify my number one skill, it would be creating specific chemistries,” Mark mused.“If you grow it, and are intimate with it, you trust it.” Well said. Lately, Mark’s been giving continuing education seminars to MDs. He’s discussed the recent FDA approval of GW Pharmaceuticals Epidiolex™. During the clinical trials, there were some adverse events, like most clinical trials. In this one, though, something perhaps veiled stood out to Mark. It was the finding that anger and aggression went up when the patient ingested the product. This wasn’t a “through the rafters” difference, but, still, it was there. “The endocannabinoid system shapes who you are. CBD alone, an increase in anger and aggression; THC only causes anxiety, hippocampus problems, loss of ego. Rats won’t voluntarily re-dose THC. Neither should be administered alone. THC and CBD go together like chocolate and peanut butter”, Mark jokingly explained.

“Cannabis is one of the most plastic and dynamic plants on the earth. It’s like a dog. We can select for whatever we want, and breed for specific traits.” And with that, we parted, for now, as a conversation this good must continue in perpetuity.

About the author

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

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