Tech

THCP: A newly discovered, potentially more potent, cannabis compound

A recently published article in the journal Scientific Reports has described the remarkable discovery of a previously unknown cannabinoid. Dubbed THCP, the molecule has been shown to be significantly more potent that its well-known counterpart THC, however, it’s still unclear how psychoactive it is in humans or how present it is in popular cannabis varieties.

Exploring the latest industry developments and sharing the next high five at CannaCon Northwest

The cannabis industry had a busy week of expos, beginning with Lift & Co. in Vancouver leading into CannaCon's Northwest show. CannaCon Tacoma is CannaCon’s flagship expo that is now in its seventh year. Running from January 10-11, this two-day expo offers access to the featured exhibitor booths as well as educational seminars with topics from the future of cannabis marketing to need-to-know cannabis business operations.

5 Reasons Your Cannabis Company Needs a Top-Notch Website

A good company website is so much more than a digital brochure. It is the first impression for most of your customers, and a direct representation of your company. It is the method in which most people research products and services before buying. The cannabis industry is tech-savvy and demands a fast and efficient sales experience, which often starts with your website. Whether you're selling cannabis products or marketing to the industry, here are five key elements to consider before starting your website project.

The Unique Cyber Risks Facing the Cannabis Industry

All companies face cybersecurity threats, but the legalized cannabis industry’s storage of personally identifiable information and reliance on seed-to-sale tracking software can place it firmly within hackers’ crosshairs.

To be sure, despite currently being prohibited from storing cash in banks, some cannabis entities do process valuable personally identifiable information (PII).

Ontario is giving cannabis retailers an online sales entry point with click-and-collect plan

Ontario will allow private cannabis retailers to sell their products online or by phone for in-store pickup, in a significant move that chips away at the Ontario Cannabis Store’s monopoly on online cannabis sales. 

The province’s fall economic statement is proposing amendments to the current legislation around cannabis retail in order to “ensure consumers’ preferred cannabis products are available” and “wait times reduced” at the 25 retail stores that currently operate across the province. 

How Cannabis Technology Can Improve Industry Standards

New cannabis technologies have the potential to transform the industry as advanced cultivation techniques and testing practices improve.

New cannabis technologies, including quality control and contamination testing along with other health and safety practices, are key to building and maintaining consumer trust in the legal cannabis industry. 

Weed breathalyzer may reassure Policymakers

When New Jersey lawmakers debated earlier this year whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana, the Garden State’s police organizations were adamantly against it.

The cops said that legal weed might lead to an explosion in the numbers of impaired drivers operating under the influence. And the police would be caught flatfooted trying to tell whether drivers they pulled over were high or not.

“With alcohol, if you have over 0.08% in your blood, there’s the presumption that you’re intoxicated,” said Christopher Leusner, head of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.

“There hasn’t been a blood test or a breath test that can determine if you’re impaired by marijuana.”

Now there is.

It’s a breathalyzer device developed by Hound Labs in Northern California. It’s portable and can run tests for both alcohol and marijuana. It just may change the minds of many of those reluctant police officers, including in Pennsylvania as lawmakers consider several proposals to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Intrinsic Capital Partners, a Philadelphia growth equity fund, is so convinced of a “potential massive market” for the device that it led a $30 million Series D financing round to bring it to market in 2020.

Mike Lynn, a veteran emergency department physician from Oakland, Calif., developed the Hound in collaboration with researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco.

Lynn also happens to be a reserve deputy sheriff.

“It’s about creating a balance of public safety and fairness,” Lynn said. “I’ve seen the tragedies resulting from impaired driving up close. And I have a good idea how challenging it is at the roadside to know whether someone smoked pot recently. But I believe if someone is not stoned, they shouldn’t be arrested.”

Blood tests for marijuana can return a positive result even if someone has used cannabis within the last three weeks.

Lynn claims that his device can detect whether someone has smoked or ingested a marijuana edible within the last three hours.

A Canadian start-up, called SannTek, has a device in development with similar capabilities.

The Hound is comprised of a base station and a hand-held device that together will retail for about $5,000 a unit. The entire machine will be manufactured in the United States, Lynn said. Each test also will require a $20 onetime use cartridge.

“We have spoken with law enforcement agencies and large employers, and from our perspective, there’s a huge, untapped market and unmet needs for something like this,” said Howard Goodwin, principal at Intrinsic Capital Partners.

Dick Wolf, the creator of TV’s Law & Order, is also an enthusiastic Hound backer. So is Benchmark, the Silicon Valley venture capital powerhouse that put up seed funding to Dropbox, Snap, Uber, and WeWork.

“It’s a game changer,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively on marijuana legalization.

“I’ve been saying for years it’s only a matter of time before someone developed the technology and got the science right,” Hudak said. “That time apparently is now. And they’re going to make a hell of a lot of money selling it to law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada.”

Goodwin said about 50 million drug tests are conducted each year. He believes the market for a THC breathalyzer may be worth well above $10 billion annually.

About 30 states have legalized cannabis. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are among the dozens with medical marijuana programs. The governors of both states support legalizing it for recreational use. And polls in both states show the majority voters would support full legalization.

But traditionally, law enforcement has been resistant to legalization.

Leusner, the head of the New Jersey police chiefs group, said prosecuting marijuana DUIs is costly and time-consuming.

Marijuana DUI cases hinge on blood test results. Traces of THC metabolites, the drug’s byproducts, can remain in the body for up to a month. Proving impairment is notoriously difficult. There is no “per se” standard, or legal threshold, of what constitutes intoxication. Often, cases get thrown out of court.

Officers who are qualified drug recognition experts and trained to spot stoned drivers can spend up to two days in court on the stand. “That’s expensive,” Leusner said.

John Adams, Berks County’s district attorney, serves on Pennsylvania’s statewide medical marijuana advisory board.

“DUI under marijuana is a huge, huge problem. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been against legalization,” Adams said. “I’ve heard about the breathalyzers. If the technology is out there, it would be a great tool. It would alleviate some of our fears.”

Police have depended on the skunky stench of burnt marijuana to provide probable cause to search a car or conduct a field sobriety test on a driver. But a recent court ruling in Pennsylvania maintained that the smell alone isn’t sufficient reason to initiate an arrest.

In addition, cannabis consumers in many states are slowly trending toward edibles — from pot brownies to infused beverages and lozenges — and, until the recent scare, vaping.

So both the Hound and the SannTek breath analyzers appear to be arriving at the perfect moment.

The Hound breathalyzer, which is about a billion times more sensitive than a standard alcohol breath test, can detect the incredibly low concentrations of THC that are transported through the bloodstream and subsequently exhaled.

“We wanted to be able to detect THC in people who have recently used it — either eaten the stuff or smoked a joint,” said Lynn. “Those are the people we want to discourage before they go to the workplace or get behind the wheel.”

Lynn said he envisioned the device nearly eight years ago when a car drove past him trailing a cloud of weed smoke. But the technology did not exist to create an affordable device.

“I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be.”

In about eight months, Lynn’s team was able to detect THC in the breath of smokers. It took five more years to consistently and accurately measure levels with a machine with a cost in reach of most police departments and employers.

“We could measure small amounts quickly, but it took considerably longer to do the science and complete the clinical studies,” Lynn said.

Though Lynn envisions the nation’s police departments as his first customers, he believes that businesses will adopt the Hound.

“Employers have the same fundamental problems as law enforcement,” Lynn said. “They need to maintain a safe workplace, but not have to worry about what their employees do in their free time. Someone can go home, smoke pot just like I’d enjoy a glass of wine, and not test positive.”

“Employers are facing a workforce now that has close to full employment,” Lynn said. “They don’t want to be firing valuable workers, especially for something that’s legal in most states.”

Vaping trailblazer reportedly sold dangerous synthetic marijuana

Some of the people rushing to emergency rooms thought the CBD vape they inhaled would help like a gentle medicine. Others puffed it for fun.

What the vapors delivered instead was a jolt of synthetic marijuana, and with it an intense high of hallucinations and even seizures.

More than 50 people around Salt Lake City had been poisoned by the time the outbreak ended early last year, most by a vape called Yolo! — the acronym for “you only live once.”

In recent months, hundreds of vape users have developed mysterious lung illnesses, and more than 30 have died. Yolo was different. Users knew immediately something was wrong.

Who was responsible for Yolo? Public health officials and criminal investigators couldn’t figure that out. Just as it seemed to appear from nowhere, Yolo faded away with little trace.

As part of an investigation into the illegal spiking of CBD vapes that are not supposed to have any psychoactive effect at all, The Associated Press sought to understand the story behind Yolo.

The trail led to a Southern California beach town and an entrepreneur whose vaping habit prompted a career change that took her from Hollywood parties to federal court in Manhattan.

When Janell Thompson moved from Utah to the San Diego area in 2010, the roommate she found online also vaped. Thompson had a background in financial services and the two decided to turn their shared interest into a business, founding an e-cigarette company called Hookahzz.

There were early successes. Thompson and her partner handed out Hookahzz products at an Emmy Awards pre-party, and their CBD vapes were included in Oscar nominee gift bags in 2014. In a video shot at a trade show, an industry insider described the two women as “the divas of CBD.”

Indeed, Hookahzz was among the first companies to sell vapes that delivered CBD, as the cannabis extract cannabidiol is known. Now a popular ingredient in products from skin creams to gummy bears, cannabidiol was at that time little known and illegal in some states.

The partners started other brands that offered CBD capsules and edibles, as well as products for pets. Part of Thompson’s pitch was that CBD helped treat her dog’s tumors.

By autumn 2017, Thompson and her partner formed another company, Mathco Health Corporation. Within a few months, Yolo spiked with synthetic marijuana — commonly known as K2 or spice — began appearing on store shelves around Salt Lake City.

Yolo and Synthetic Cannabis

Synthetic marijuana is manmade and can be manufactured for a fraction of the price of CBD, which is typically extracted from industrial hemp that must be farmed.

Samples tested at Utah labs showed Yolo contained a synthetic marijuana blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe — and no CBD at all.

Authorities believed that some people sought out Yolo because they wanted to get high, while others unwittingly ingested a dangerous drug. What authorities didn’t understand was its source.

Investigators with Utah’s State Bureau of Investigation visited vape stores that sold Yolo, but nobody would talk. The packaging provided no contact information.

By May 2018, the case was cold. But it was not dead.

That summer, a former Mathco bookkeeper who was preparing to file a workplace retaliation complaint began collecting evidence of what she viewed as bad business practices.

During her research, Tatianna Gustafson saw online pictures showing that Yolo was the main culprit in the Utah poisonings, according to the complaint she filed against Mathco with California’s Department of Industrial Relations.

Gustafson wrote that while at Mathco she was concerned about how Yolo was produced, that it was excluded from Mathco’s promotional material and that the “labels had no ingredients or contact listing.”

Justin Davis, another former Mathco employee, told AP that “the profit margins were larger” for Yolo than other products.

Gustafson’s complaint asserted that Mathco or JK Wholesale, another of the companies that Thompson and her partner incorporated, mixed and distributed Yolo. Financial records in the complaint show Thompson’s initials as the main salesperson for Yolo transactions, including with a company in Utah. The records also show Yolo was sold in at least six other states, including to an address in South Carolina where a college student said he vaped a cartridge that sent him into a coma.

The former bookkeeper also tipped the Utah Poison Control Center about who she believed was behind Yolo, according to her complaint.

Barbara Crouch, the poison center’s executive director, recalled getting a tip in late 2018 and passing it along to the State Bureau of Investigation. SBI agent Christopher Elsholz talked to the tipster, who told him she believed the company she had worked for distributed Yolo. Elsholz said the company was in California and therefore out of his jurisdiction, so he passed the tip to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

The DEA offered to help but took no law enforcement action, spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger said. Spiked CBD is a low priority for an agency dealing with bigger problems such as the opioid epidemic, which has killed tens of thousands of people.

In the end, it wasn’t the synthetic marijuana compound in Yolo from Utah that caught up with Thompson. It was another kind of synthetic added to different brands.

By the time of the Utah poisonings, vapes labeled as Black Magic and Black Diamond had sickened more than 40 people in North Carolina, including high school students and military service members. Investigators were able to connect Thompson to that outbreak in part based on a guilty plea from the distributor of the spiked vapes, who said a woman that authorities identified as Thompson supplied the liquid that went into them.

Prosecutors also linked her to dealers charged in New York, where she pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to distribute synthetic marijuana and a money laundering charge. The only brand federal prosecutors cited was Yolo.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman called Thompson a “drug trafficker” who used JK Wholesale to distribute “massive quantities” of synthetic marijuana as far back as 2014. She faces up to 40 years in prison.

Reached by phone the week before she pleaded guilty, Thompson declined to discuss Yolo and then hung up. In a subsequent text message, Thompson said not to call her and referred questions to her lawyer, who did not respond to requests for comment.

While Yolo was Thompson’s project and she was the exclusive salesperson, her business partner and former roommate was involved in its production, according to the workplace retaliation complaint.

Thompson’s business partner and former roommate, Katarina Maloney, distanced herself from Thompson and Yolo during an August interview at Mathco’s headquarters in Carlsbad, California. Maloney has not been charged in the federal investigation.

“To tell you the truth, that was my business partner,” Maloney said of Yolo. She said Thompson was no longer her partner and she didn’t want to discuss it.

In a follow-up email, Maloney asserted the Yolo in Utah “was not purchased from us,” without elaborating.

“Mathco Health Corporation or any of its subsidiary companies do not engage in the manufacture or sale of illegal products,” she wrote. “When products leave our facility, they are 100% compliant with all laws.”

Maloney also said all products are lab tested. She did not respond to requests for Yolo lab results.