Dr. Jeffrey Raber received his PhD in organic chemistry from The University of Southern California with an emphasis on developing new synthetic methodologies useful in scientific drug discovery and development efforts. In 2010 Dr. Raber founded The Werc Shop and independent laboratory focused on botanical analysis with a focus on serving the cannabis community.
In this interview Matthew Kind and Dr Raber discuss the best practices of cannabis testing as go over why understanding the cannabis plant’s terpene profile is key to creating a successful harvest and infused cannabis products.
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. Are you an accredited investor looking to get access to the best cannabis investing opportunities? Join me at the next ArcView Group event. The ArcView Group is the premier angel investor network focused exclusively on the cannabis industry. There is simply no other place where you can find this quality and diversity of cannabis industry investment opportunities months or even years before the general public. If that’s not enough, you will also be networking with the top investors, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the cannabis space. I have personally made many of my best connections and lifelong friendships at ArcView events. If you are an accredited investor and would like to join me as an ArcView member, please email me at feedback at cannainsider.com to get started. Now here’s your program.
As the market for cannabis grows savvy companies are looking for interesting ways to differentiate themselves including publicly showing testing results of their cannabis and also creating unique terpene aroma profiles that make their cannabis more desirable. To help explore these subjects I’ve invited Dr. Jeff Raber from the Werc Shop to the show today. Welcome to CannaInsider Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you Matt.
Matthew: To give listeners a sense of geography can you tell us where you are in the world today?
Jeff: I am in Pasadena, California.
Matthew: Okay. How did you get started in the cannabis industry? What’s your background?
Jeff: Yeah my background I’m a trained Chemist, Bachelor’s in Bio-Chemistry, a PhD in Synthetic Organic Chemistry from USC in Southern California here. The way I got into it my brother was actually working at a construction company at the end of 2008 and he was approached too build out a store front dispensary in Southern California. When he came home and he said we were asked to build out a dispensary and of course the questions start to begin from there. What’s a dispensary and how does that all work and how can that be legal.
Jeff: And that was kind of where we started. I don’t know if you should do that that doesn’t sound right, but then I did understand that there was Prop 215 and SB420 and looked into the Civics class again and there state’s rights and there should be a way to go ahead and do something of that type and help improve and change society in a better way. And in the beginning of 2009 when President Obama said we’re not going to prosecute individual patients we’re focusing on drug trafficking organizations, I thought that was a good chance that he was kind of speaking to patients like myself and others as well and saying if you guys want to do this the right way we’re going to see what happens with the experiments and that was kind of how we got started.
Matthew: And what’s the Werc Shop?
Jeff: It is a scientific organization though we didn’t want to call it the Cannabis Company or the Cannabis Lab or anything like that. We’re solely based on sustainability and anything renewable. So it’s not just one plant. It’s any plants that are of interest to us. We’re really just a bunch of broad-based scientists with an interest in Chemistry and sustainability.
Matthew: Okay and how do you approach testing cannabis that’s perhaps different than conventional testing?
Jeff: It’s pretty similar. We use the same types of equipment. The same equipment you’d find in a dietary supplement house or a pharmaceutical company and its again just another plant. I think a lot of people asked us that when we first started. Oh really you guys can test this stuff. We don’t need a magic machine. These are machines that are bought right off of the shelf basically. They are technical machines. You got to know how to run them the right way and certainly testing cannabis is very challenging because there are so many active ingredients and it is so complex in many different ways. But really it’s the same way that you would approach any other plant for the most part just like if it was Hopps or other types of products like that; Ginseng, things like that.
Matthew: And how is the industry as a whole doing in terms of testing? Are they falling short in any areas or leaping ahead in any areas?
Jeff: Well it’s still an evolving process I would say for that one. They’ve certainly come a long way so far. They were significantly short in the beginning. There were not many of us. I think a lot of people didn’t understand what might be proper equipment to analyze cannabinoids. What’s the best approach for some of those things but I think we now see that most everyone accepts liquid Chromatographs and being able to see both the neutral in cannabinoid assets is very important for a large number of reasons but we’re still falling significantly short in Pesticides.
I think that’s a very big growing issue and literally a growing issue when they put them on during the cultivation cycle that can be a problem, and I think the industry still has yet to set standards in that respects looking to the regulators to try and guide what you should test for. When a testing lab hears the word Pesticide up to thousands of chemicals can arise inside of a Chemist’s head in that respect. That’s pretty much impossible to look for. You need to understand a narrow list, you need to understand the limits that are required, and that’s what we’re looking to state regulators to try and set so that we can understand how to configure the right equipment and go after that the right way.
Matthew: So if you could wave a magic wand and before you buy let’s say an eighth of cannabis you want to buy for yourself personally. What would you like to see on the side of that package? What variables we like to see measured? What chemicals measured? What tests done? What would be ideal?
Jeff: Well knowing that it just has a label I’d like to understand that it had microbiological screening and contaminant screening for Pesticides or residual solvents so that you’d know that there was nothing in there that could harm you. And then in terms of what information about the particular product would be useful. I’d certainly like three to five well I’d say four to six maybe cannabinoids at the very least. More is always better but sometimes it’s hard to get them in a good Font size. There’s a lot of info that needs to go on the label and what we have done with strains has been with terpenes as well.
We tried to put on the top five or seven of those so that that can help guide people to selecting which product is right for them and I think that would be most ideal. More information is better than none so if you have a way of linking that to electronic results or someone can share those results with you at the point of purchase that would be fantastic.
Matthew: So you mentioned residual solvents there. Is there an acceptable level of residual solvents or does it have to be none where do you weigh in on that?
Jeff: No I think most states have set it at 500 parts per million combined for all the solvents that they require you to test. I’d prefer to see that be a little bit lower. I think 50 is doable maybe a 100 would be better, 500 just feels like a little bit too much like they are on the side of leaving a little bit more in there. When you’re talking about in relation things can be more potent. Certainly those types of things can also irritate the airways. So I would say less is better in that respect but they; it’s not completely none. It was none in California for quite a while but with the laws changing here I think we’ll see that we have to set limits much like every other state has done.
Matthew: And you also touched on microbiological testing. Can you delve into that a little bit more? What that is and how we should be thinking about it?
Jeff: Sure there’s usually classes of pathogens. Total aerobic counts those bacteria that love oxygen and live in that fashion and Terrabacteria is a class that includes E Coli, Salmonella, Pseudamona. Some of the really bad players and combine yeast and molds. So when you look at those three classes in a broad sense it’s a general picture of cleanliness and sterility and how well the plants were taken care of. More specifically you’d want to look at certain pathogenic type things like Salmonella, Pseudomonas, Listeria, and E Coli so that you’re sure none of those gather there even in a very, very small amount because people could get extremely sick from that.
Matthew: Okay and in the lab is there any kind of results that come up more often than you would’ve guessed that just keep on coming up?
Jeff: We see the E Coli ones yeah in that class the Antero class there not always E Coli but that class of bacteria comes up more often than I thought it would. You kind of expect the yeast and mold failures. There’s certainly ubiquitous molds and everything around and sometimes they can really take hold and kind of exceed the allowable limits, but dirty ones from dirty hands and things that you just didn’t wash or contaminated nutrients. You might think that the manure is really good to put onto to your plants but it’s not very good when it’s all over the plant in the end. I think we were most surprised at some of those and then when you’ve got one that fails everything and there’s just an entire bacterial party that’s certainly alarming.
Matthew: So controlling the inputs into your cultivation facility and also making sure there’s the best practices around hygiene sound like two ways to mitigate that risk?
Jeff: Exactly, yep, yep knowing exactly what you’re putting on there and just general sterility, being clean, washing your hands, wearing gloves, washing your shoes before you go in, or wearing certainly only clothes like certain dedicated clothes to go in and out of the cultivation facility is another good practice as well.
Matthew: What is cannabinoid profiling?
Jeff: Well that’s taking an analytical look at the cannabinoids present inside of the plant or another product. So they call it a profile it’s probably a better word than chromatogram. It’s a little shorter, a little easier to say but that’s how you’re going to try and look at the different types of cannabinoids that are present in your product.
Matthew: I have a question about terpenes but before we go into that subject can you just talk about what terpenes are a little bit more so we can understand that for people that might be new to that term?
Jeff: Sure, yeah. Terpenes are the component that smell. They’re volatile and those are the ones that you can smell. We often use the term aromatic not to be confused with a type of chemical but it says that they have a smell and they smell good with the nose. On top of their smell in terms of cannabis they are physiologically exceptionally important. They’re the components that play along with the cannabinoids to form what’s called the ‘entourage effect.’
While terpenes are very small hydrocarbon based molecules they are key components and building blocks for many things of the plant the plant uses terpenes to ward off pests or molds or different types of signaling mechanisms between themselves that we don’t quite understand fully today but they’re meant for protection purposes for the most part for themselves. When we consume them they actually help elicit the different effects that are predominant between different strain varieties and different types of plant products like that.
Matthew: Are you starting to see businesses think about their terpene profile and how to get the best aroma, fragrance so their product is more desirable?
Jeff: Certainly have seen a great big interest in that much more recently. We first started testing for terpenes back in 2011. We were the first commercial lab to do that and when we did it most people were like why are you doing that are you just trying to charge me for some other tests? I have no idea why I would want any of that which is kind of funny today when you look back and you see today a lot of people are very excited about it. We’re obviously having a conversation about it.
I think people have really kind of awakened to the idea that these are key components within the ‘entourage effect’ though they are the critical pieces that make cannabis very different than single molecule THC like Marinol. So it’s not just is there THC or CBD around but what else goes along with that from the plant so that we can have a much better interaction with our endocannabinoid system and I do see a lot of people paying attention to them nowadays. There are certainly cultivators that are trying to select breeds based on their terpene profiles.
There’s some trying to breed for them and certainly within other derivative products I think more and more people have become aware that forming a concentrate really strips out a lot of the terpenes. It can be a very different product and when you’re done processing that into THC or CBD such that it’s no longer representative of what was in the plant to begin with and now you have to figure out how can I get those things back in there.
Matthew: Great point and how do I get those things back in there and do I even need to use the original terpenes that were part of that cannabis plant? Maybe I can create a designer terpene profile. Incorporate some plants that aren’t even cannabis that maybe we want the aroma from lemon or combined with a different terpene profile of a different plant entirely.
Jeff: I would say those things are certainly possible. From our perspective a molecule is a molecule so you mentioned lemon. One of the popular terpenes inside of citrus fruits is limamine. So if I captured limamine at very high purity from the orange industry, orange juice industry, that’s the same molecule as the limamine that cannabis produces. So a molecule is a molecule and if I have that limamine I understand the product purity of that type I could use that in the same fashion that the cannabis plant would to create my concentrate product.
Matthew: So people aren’t complaining? Your customers aren’t complaining about the terpene tests anymore but they’re just really getting started in terms of customizing that terpene profile or are there any leaders that are already pretty far ahead in this game that have already created kind of a custom terpene profile on a finished cannabis product whether it be edible, drink, or some other kind of infused product salve or capsule?
Jeff: Sure I think there are some that are recognizing they are important parts of effects and also could be imparted in flavor if it’s a tincture or something of that type. Certainly some epileptic patients their parents have seen benefits with the tincture products where terpenes have been infused and typically asked if it could taste a little better that would be great so that their children are more willing to consume their medicine as opposed to not.
There’s also I’d say a lot of people are recognizing that that can standardize effects can produce desirable product in terms of vaporizing with vapor cartridges and electronic cigarette cartridges and we have seen some people pick standardized products so that patients can rely on them and are starting to baste those based on well engineered strains that they’ve had for a long time that they may have cultivated or bread themselves and found that a lot of people were benefiting from as well.
Matthew: So aside from an aromatic effect or a fragrance with these terpenes do you think there is a medicinal benefit as well from the terpenes? They have more than one thing that they do. There not just fragrant they also.
Jeff: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I mean we definitely have a big interest in terpenes and provide those types of compositions for infusion into other products and our goal in doing that was for the effects. It was not for the flavors or the taste or anything of that type. It’s so that you can standardize the effects. People can understand what types of products are best for them when it’s made in a reproducible and standardized fashion it’s consistent so that as a patient you can rely on that same type of effect time and time again. And it’s almost like the taste is an afterthought. It’s a little bit extra add on to that but there is an element that the way your mind and your nose are connected there is a scent memory and if things taste good and you feel good you might just smell that scent again and really kind of elicit some of that same feeling. There is a very interesting connection there on how we associate things with smells. It’s a very powerful memory trigger.
Jeff: And if you are starting to feel better than that can be a really good thing and then there’s ways that you could play with putting that scent around in a lot of different fashions to just kind of elicit some of that mental I feel better effect which may be even advantageous in a number of ways, but terpenes themselves do have their own physiological impacts. There are a couple of different dietary supplement type products based solely on terpenes out of Europe and there’s certainly a number of components inside of a lot of different plants that we know are medicinal. Terpenes are definitely a very physiologically active class of compounds.
Matthew: You mentioned vape pens there. The market continues to spend a lot of money on this segment because vape pens are so convenient and discrete, but what about some of the solvents that are in vape pens and propylene glycol in particular. How do you feel about that and how do you feel the market might be turning away or to other alternatives?
Jeff: Yeah we’ve seen, yeah there’s definitely a concern there. I would say there has been studies done in the electronic cigarette market when you start to get heating elements they get really hot. Some of those diluting components they can turn into harmful components that you wouldn’t want to consume in any rate, let alone via inhalation. (PG) Peg we’ve seen the use of MCT which really kind of concerns us a great deal. Medium-chain triglycerides are fats and one thing that you can get from excessive fats is Lipid pneumonia where your lungs can’t clear them and you’re actually drowning in fat. So it typically happens with larger chain-fats but whether it could happen with large amounts of fats from cannabis or even MCT type oils remains to be seen.
So some of those are venturing into unknown territories and you might not know some things are not good until it’s too late. Others I think they’ve been around and been inhaled by many people for quite a while but things like PG can be irritants. They can irritate a lot of people’s airways. Some can develop allergies to those. Some people have no problems with them whatsoever and I’d say it’s a difficult choice to inform yourself with. There is a number of years worth of data in at least the E cigarette market about some of those but a lot of people are kind of trying to move away from that and understanding how they could utilize just the plant components to make sure that that would be a much more softer, I would say, approach. Things that you’ve already been haling being used is a much better approach as to adding things that you don’t know about.
Matthew: So it is becoming more popular to add medium-chain triglycerides or coconut oil and things like this as a way to make cannabis oil more viscous and easiest to vape but you’re saying that might not be the best solution?
Jeff: Correct. It would be less viscous, too viscous is why they don’t work in the cartridge so they want to thin them out. We can use the thinning out to make that standardized number so you can say every cartridge has a certain amount of cannabinoids in there which is certainly very advantageous from a standardization perspective but when you start to pick those types of pollutants you’re just not sure what the potential health affects maybe in that respect too.
Matthew: Okay so apart from propylene glycol which is used to cut cannabis oil or to make it less viscous and coconut oil or MCT oil is there anything else that appears like it might be safer or a better solvent to add to the cannabis oil?
Jeff: The other choice people use is Peg and I don’t know if one of those three is better than the other. I think the search is on to try and find other solutions that maybe be related to the plant and really figure out those types of components are a much better approach and solution to those who are concerned about what they’re inhaling. There may be no adverse effects from (PG) Peg or MCT at all we just don’t know so it’s kind of a hard one.
I don’t want to act like people should be scared of those we’re just not quite sure. I think what you are sure of is if you turn the battery power really high where you’ve got the voltages set high and using them for a while you can see those types of components start to break down and form other decomposition products that may be harmful like formaldehyde in a very trace amount. That is certainly a concern. I don’t think anybody wants to be inhaling that but you could also say even in an all natural cartridge if I do the same type of voltage am I turning the cannabinoids or other components into things that I don’t want either much like the combustion product.
So it’s a little marriage of kind of like software and hardware. So if the hardware works really well and it’s not getting too hot then I can use pretty much a broad based software and it’s going to work pretty well and I’m going to consume what I think I’m going to consume and not some sort of other derivative product that forms from overheating.
Matthew: Turning to CBD what are your feelings about extracting CBD from hemp versus cannabis I mean we’re talking about plants that are essentially under the same umbrella but there seems to be a big difference of opinion in terms of CBD coming from cannabis versus hemp. What are your thoughts there?
Jeff: I always find this one interesting. I mean hemp is cannabis.
Jeff: Right so we start from the same plant Cannabis sativa L and underneath that fortunately for us I guess you could say the law has defined two parts of the plant in two different ways. So the flowering props and the foliage are called marijuana and the rest of the plant the stalk, stems, roots, seeds, and oils pressed from those parts are determined to be hemp. When it’s from that part of the plant and it has less than 23% THC. You kind of need both and really there’s next to no cannabinoids in the hemp parts of the cannabis plant.
So those who are saying that deriving CBD from hemp I really questioning exactly which part of the plant they’re deriving CBD from. I think some of the arguments get a little bit confused when they say CBD from hemp is not the same as CBD from marijuana. CBD is still CBD. I think the point in that is what else is going along with it. So do I have other whole plant components are there things like terpenes? Are there other minor cannabinoids, other fat components that may be going along with it in terms of an extraction?
So we are not really good fully well characterizing all of the concentrate components or the derivative components when we go and process the plant material to see how similar that is to the actual flower material that we started with and how is that compared to what people have been inhaling before is the other question. So I think the confusion comes from if they have really high purity CBD, say it’s like 99% pure or greater, and we have seen some of these products around. Well now that’s a single molecule right type of therapeutic, very different than a whole plant or broad based botanical profile type product where you might add CBD at 50% purity with the whole bunch of other minor cannabinoids, fats and waxes and it’s from say a CO2 extract for example.
There have been studies that have shown the single molecule CBD has an exceptionally narrow therapeutic window and it can be very difficult to dose that properly and it’s not predictable, if you take more you don’t get more of a response you might actually get a very different response in that respect. Whole like broad based botanical profiled CBD, whole plant people typically call it which I should clarify as well, that type of CBD product seems to have a much more linear predictable profile. So if I take a small amount I get a response. If I take a larger amount I get that response for a longer period of time.
That’s demonstrating how unique a broader based profile concentrate can be in terms of interacting with the endocannabinoid system. One single molecule with that system does not seem to elicit the best response. That’s why people don’t enjoy or find relief from Marinol at the same rate that they do from consuming via vaporization or something with all the plant components, whole plant cannabis. When I say whole plant cannabis it’s not that I took the whole plant and threw it in my extractor, eliminated everything and got a high purity CBD or THC product it’s when you’re trying to keep as many of the components that you can understand are present on the flower inside of the derivative product as well.
Matthew: We had a really big crackdown going on right now in Colorado over the last few months in terms of cultivators getting busted for using certain pesticides and fungicides in particular Eagle 20. How can cultivators raise healthier plants so they don’t have to treat their plants with pesticides and fungicides in a way that might be dangerous for their customers?
Jeff: Sometimes that can come down to the strain selection. So some strains are just much more robust and resistant to certain types of pests that’s because of their terpene profile predominantly. Your cultivation methods and practices certainly how built your room, how clean you keep your room, how sterile it is going in and out of that. Integrated pest management is a pretty viable approach.
There are some nicer more natural softer approaches that you can use to mitigate pests and you can even cultivate with other plants around that would actually cause a synergistic terpene mesh basically that would keep other pests away as well like growing with garlic and other things can actually be beneficial in that respect as well.
Matthew: Interesting. So if you were to create a product and you really wanted the chemistry in the terpene profile and everything to be just right what would your starting point be? How would you be thinking about it because we have a lot of entrepreneurs out there who are creating infused products or they’ve already created some or they’re thinking about it? What would your suggestions be for them in terms of making sure that they have products that test well?
Jeff: I’d probably call those guys at the Werc Shop. Yeah I think you really need to understand that you’re going to work with a good competent analytical lab and that can be an exceptional challenge. So just producing numbers doesn’t mean that the numbers are always right or that they fully understand what’s going on in that respect and I think that you do have to drive towards lots and lots of testing when you’re going to manufacture or produce a product so that you can understand the composition that’s there and what’s present or not present.
And what you’ll find is that it’s exceptionally difficult to try and standardize your process when you start to look at more than one component. It can become a very big challenge and then there has to be other ways that you might want to try to approach how can you get that reproducible profile inside of a product?
Matthew: Jeff as we close can you tell listeners how they can learn more about the Werc Shop?
Jeff: Certainly you can visit our website at www.thewercshop.com. And I think that there’s a great deal of information there. We do plan on updating that website in the not too distant future but you can certainly contact us or learn more about us on my website.
Matthew: Jeff thanks for being on CannaInsider today we really appreciate it.
Jeff: You’re welcome. Thank you for the opportunity Matt. I appreciate that too.
Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com/itunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on www.cannainsider.com, simply send us an email at feedback at cannainsider.com. We would love to hear from you.
Some quick disclosures and disclaimers, me your host works with the ArcView Group and promotional consideration may or may not be given to CannaInsider for the ads placed in the show. Also please do not take any information from CannaInsider or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments. Lastly the host or guests on CannaInsider may or may not invest in the companies or entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial advisor before making any investment decisions.
What are the five trends that will disrupt the cannabis market in the next five years? Find out with your free guide at: http://www.cannainsider.com/trends
[1:42] – Jeff talks about how he got started in the cannabis industry
[3:06] – What is the WercShop
[3:37] – Jeff talks about testing cannabis
[4:32] – Jeff explains how the industry is doing in the testing space
[7:14] – Is there an acceptable level of residual solvents
[8:03] – Jeff explains microbiological testing
[10:09] – What is cannabinoid profiling
[10:41] – Jeff explains terpenes
[14:52] – Moving to creating terpene profiles
[16:07] – Do terpenes have a medicinal benefit
[18:09] – Jeff talks about vape pens
[22:46] – Jeff gives his thought on extracting CBD from cannabis vs. hemp
[26:36] – Jeff explains how cultivators can raise their plants without harmful pesticides
[28:51] – Contact details for the WercShop