For Jeffrey Raber, PhD, the road from chemist to one of California’s most prominent cannabis scientists began with his first purchase at a collective.
The year was 2009 and the state’s medical-cannabis boom was in full swing. Hoping to find relief for an intestinal disorder that would also increase his appetite, he paid a collective a visit. As a first-time customer, he got a free gram. But the scientist in him was appalled when the employee licked his free joint. It got him thinking of what else might be in that cannabis.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want that. I don’t know that guy and what kind of communicable things might come from that,’” Raber recalled. “It was a really eye-opening; cross-contamination, unsafe sterile practices and whatever else might be going on here.”
“. . . this is an amazing medicine. It has an efficacy versus toxicity profile that’s like almost no other substance we know. The potential to help so many people with so many different ailments seems to exist with this plant.”
“You don’t know who is the producer of these products. You don’t know if they’ve ever been tested before,” Raber said.
Raber would go on to found The Werc Shop, one of the first labs dedicated to analyzing cannabis. His team would develop groundbreaking methods of analysis and conduct research on edibles that shocked not only the cannabis industry but mainstream scientists as well. And if he ruffled some feathers along the way—particularly among the cannabis growers and edible makers—then so be it.
“If a patient says, ‘I think I’m getting 10mg(of THC) and they get 30mg and they have a bad experience, they may not go back to cannabis again when it is the most effective medicine they can find. If they thought they’re getting the 30mg and they actually had 10mg and the next time they go for 30mg and it really is 30mg they’re definitely going to have a bad experience.”
Born for chemistry
In fifth grade, growing up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, young Jeffrey’s class filled out a questionnaire about what he wanted to be when he grew up. Seven years later, as seniors, students were asked the same question. His answer was the same: To become a scientist to help the sick of the world.
“I always wanted to help people and making pharmaceuticals or drug products is what I was always told was the best thing,” said Raber, 40. He moved to California in 1997 to pursue his PhD in organic chemistry.
He spent a few years after college working as a chemist for several start-up companies, some successful, others less so. But in 2008 his brother told him about a construction project he was working on, building a collective.
“What’s a dispensary?” he asked. The reply, “A place where they can sell marijuana.”
“The plant is known to make 400 different molecules, up to 500. We have a pretty decent understanding of maybe 50, or 100 at best.”
Like many young men, even those from a prohibition state like Pennsylvania, he was acquainted with cannabis. He spent a couple of weeks at the collective, talking with patients, trying it himself for his own condition, and was convinced.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is an amazing medicine. It has an efficacy versus toxicity profile that’s like almost no other substance we know. The potential to help so many people with so many different ailments seems to exist with this plant,’” he said.
After the aforementioned licked joint episode, he decided it was time to apply his science to cannabis industry. After newly elected President Obama indicated the feds wouldn’t go after medical marijuana users, he took that as a green light to launch his laboratory, which he did in 2010.
Keeping them honest
In those early days, visiting dispensaries or grow operations, he got the question a lot.
“You can test cannabis?” “Yes you can,” he would reply. And when available testing methods proved inadequate, he tried new ones. He says he was the first to apply high performance liquid chromatography to the science of cannabis. In 2011, his lab became the first to profile different strains of cannabis for their terpenes, which are the different flavors and aromas of the plants. The effort was to determine if strains being sold at dispensaries are what they claimed to be.
It turns out in many cases they weren’t. His team studied common strains like Train Wreck, OG Kush, Sour Diesel and Blue Dream from across California. They learned that these terpene profiles varied widely on samples of the supposedly same strain. For example, 30 percent of the Jack Herer they analyzed was definitely not Jack Herer.
Some of the problem may be human error, people misnaming strains. Another is the fickleness of the cannabis plant. In one study, two clones from the same mother went in very different directions, likely because of subtle environmental differences. Much of what The Werc Shop does is help cultivators understand what they’re growing.
“The goal is, how do I get a better label to put inside dispensaries to better inform the providers of that medicine and for the patients to make their selections?,” Raber asked.
The edibles problem
For commercial cannabis scientist to wind up in the prestigious pages of the Journal of The American Medical Association is a pretty big deal. But the results of a 2015 study conducted by Raber and experts from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine were that shocking.
Analyzing edibles from three dispensaries each in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the scientists found that only 13 percent of products were accurately labeled for THC content. Nearly one in four had more THC than advertised.
“That is so important to make sure that is correct, dosing in edible products, and to make sure your medical product is homogeneous and can be reproduced time and time again, not just making something that tastes good,” he said. “That was an eye opening experience to see how bad it was. We knew it wasn’t good but we didn’t know how bad it would be. When 87 percent of the products aren’t even close, that’s pretty alarming.”
The Werc Shop has opened a facility in Washington, where edible testing regulations are in place. As for California, where testing is voluntary, Raber hopes the state will adopt regulations soon. He has talked to officials in six different states as they grapple with the issue of cannabis testing. It’s not always easy for a chemist to talk about such things in a way non-scientists can understand, but Raber sees educating regulators as a key part of his mission.
As for the plant itself, Raber’s curiosity is nowhere near to being sated.
“Even today we’re just scratching the surface. We don’t know much about this plant at all or what it can really be useful for, how to handle it and develop it in the best ways,” he said. “The plant is known to make 400 different molecules, up to 500. We have a pretty decent understanding of maybe 50, or 100 at best.”
When the California Gold Rush broke out in 1848, the first millionaire didn’t get rich by mining or prospecting.
San Francisco businessman Samuel Brannan made the first million dollars selling equipment to the frenzied hordes who descended on California with gold in their dreams and money bursting out of their pockets. He went on to become one of the world’s richest men.
A different sort of rush is happening now in California and the other 10 states that have legalized cannabis. It’s been called the “Green Rush,” and like Brannan, one California company is proving you don’t need to grow, sell, extract or even touch the plant to be successful.
“We have a small part of more legal cannabis transactions than any other company in the world,” says Nick Kovacevich, 33, chairman and CEO of KushCo Holdings. “Maybe we provided them with the vaping pen. Maybe we provided them with the packaging. Maybe we provided them with branding services.”
In just five years the company has grown from practically nothing to $145 million in annual sales providing packaging, branding, vaping products and myriad other services to the burgeoning legal cannabis industry.
“One way or another, if you’re picking up a product, there’s a high likelihood we had something to do with it. Because we’re working with 6,000 cannabis businesses throughout the world, we’re getting our fingers and hands on a lot of these transactions. By being an ancillary company, we don’t actually touch the plant.”
A born entrepreneur, Kovacevich launched his first company in 2007 with a college friend. PackMyDorm provided college students at four California campuses with packing materials, scheduled movers, arranged storage between semesters and scheduled movers for the return to school.
He wasn’t lifting heavy boxes, though. The actual moving was contracted out. He sold the company in 2010.
Around that time, Kovacevich grew interested in the cannabis industry. He’d been raised by his district-attorney father to see it in a negative light and as an athlete in college he rarely partook.
It was while recovering from knee surgery he decided to try it again and “quickly realized a lot of the information I believed was false.” Ever the entrepreneur, he decided after selling PackMyDorm he would launch his own company in 2010.
“One way or another, if you’re picking up a product, there’s a high likelihood we had something to do with it.”
Medical cannabis was booming in places like California and Colorado, but he didn’t want to join with the rest of the herd and run a farm or store.
“When people were looking at growing and opening dispensaries, we were looking at how do we build a set of products to support those endeavors? What are they going to need on a daily basis that we can provide?” he recalled. So Kush Bottles was born, designing and selling packaging for cannabis products and helping to make childproof packages the industry standard.
He took over as CEO in 2014 and has since renamed the company KushCo Holdings, because these days, the company is about way more than just bottles.
Today, Kovacevich’s company is actually several smaller companies: Kush Supply Co. provides vaporizer products, packaging, supplies and accessories. Kush Energy sells ultra-pure hydrocarbon gases and solvents. The Hybrid Creative is a design agency for cannabis and non-cannabis brands. Koleto Innovations focuses on research and development.
From his humble beginnings, his companies have sold more than 1 billion units, with 220 employees spread across five facilities in five states with legal cannabis.
Never heard of these companies? Not surprising. They don’t sell a single product containing THC. That’s up to their customers.
He credits his success to foresight and customer service. KushCo Holdings had a warehouse in Colorado within a few months of legalization there. It had one in Washington years before legalization. It had one in Massachusetts three months before legal cannabis sales began there.
And having customers who are also growing exponentially helps too.
“All our customers, for the most part, have been growing. So, when our customers grow, they buy more from us, which means we grow.”
Taking on the Black Market
There are still threats to the industry, but Kovacevich sees none greater than the black market.
“The black market, especially in California, is very rampant. People in this industry are used to buying through informal sources like dealers, but they’re also used to going to pop-up medical shops, which are now servicing rec,” he says.
This year, the United Cannabis Business Association released an analysis that found there were 2,835 illegal stores and delivery services in California, more than three times the 873 legal sellers.
Kovacevich says these illicit operations often sell vaporizers and other products that are untested and potentially unsafe, contributing to the wave of vaping-related illnesses sweeping the nation.
He blames the fact that California doesn’t have enough retail cannabis stores to meet the needs of the state, and many cities have none at all, since the state left it up to municipalities to determine if they would have dispensaries.
“There are not enough stores from the convenience standpoint and because of the testing requirements and all the onerous red tapes, pricing is significantly higher, so the black market is winning on convenience and price,” he said. “The key to taking back the market is to make it more convenient, by allowing more retail stores, and driving the cost down by lowering taxes.”
He sees the need for the federal government to begin regulating the industry to ensure what’s in cannabis and vaping products is safe. Of course, that would involve removing it from the list of Schedule I drugs.
He pointed out that research has shown teen use decreases in states that establish legal, adults-only stores.
“Everyone is looking for a reason to say legalizing cannabis is a bad idea, but I think if we can create fair, strong regulation, we can make sure the integrity of these products is kept,” he said. “The question is, ‘Why would you not legalize?’ You’re reducing the likelihood that kids will get involved. You’re reducing the crime aspects and you’re making safer, more effective products available for adults who choose to use it.”
Drive around rural Colorado these days and you’re apt to see hemp—fields and fields of it, growing legally in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.
Industrial hemp is booming, fueled by nationwide demand for CBD products, legitimized by the federal government in the 2018 Farm Bill. But how can consumers be sure that a CBD tincture is really free of THC, the psychoactive ingredient of the cannabis plant?
Ask a chemical engineer.
At Kazmira LLC, there are several of them on staff, working out of a massive, 200,000-square-foot plant outside of Denver. It just might be the largest extracts company you’ve never heard of, though if you’re a CBD consumer, you’ve probably enjoyed its products.
“We’re still finding out about all of the uses for CBD oil, and there’s so much runway for industrial hemp, in terms of the fiber and all the ancillary uses of the plant,” says Co-founder Dr. Priyanka Sharma, a chemical engineer. “I think there’s so much that can be done with just the plant, there’s only more growth that we’re seeing.”
The name Kazmira comes from the Kashmir region of India, where hemp has been used for thousands of years. Dr. Sharma’s parents are from India, though she grew up in the Chicago, Illinois area. Her father is a chemical engineer, and she always saw herself following in his footsteps. She even married another chemical engineer.
After obtaining her doctorate from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Sharma went on to work in highly technical areas, such as “molecular modeling of functionalized gold nanoparticles with various ligands and their behavior in biological systems” and “developing a predictive model to understand chiral separations of orphan drugs.”
But she had been hearing about the growth of industrial hemp, and nowhere had more growing than Colorado. So, in 2017 she and her husband moved there and launched Kazmira. The goal was to use their scientific backgrounds in oil, gas and pharmaceuticals to build a company for extracting CBD from the plant using strict standards.
“The reason we decided to start Kazmira is there was a gap in technology companies in this space. We wanted to lend our expertise to making quality and safe extracts for industrial hemp. We wanted to continue our passion for engineering and apply it to the hemp space,” she said.
Other companies, she explained, were operating in “pretty unsafe environments,” using outmoded equipment, without the kind of quality control or manufacturing standards she was used to, without processes for keeping pesticides and other contaminants out of the finished product.
“We realized there were a lot safer and more efficient processes that we could apply to this industry to make these hemp extracts.”
“The reason we decided to start Kazmira is there was a gap in technology companies in this space. We wanted to lend our expertise to making quality and safe extracts for industrial hemp. We wanted to continue our passion for engineering and apply it to the hemp space.”
Kazmira’s “TruSpeKtrum technology platform” allows the company to produce hemp oil that is guaranteed to be free of THC. While many companies claim to do likewise, federal standards allow a CBD product to legally contain up to three parts of THC for every thousand parts of oil by weight.
The oil that comes out of Kazmira has no detectable level of THC, the company boasts. Among its 30 employees are eight scientists with PhDs, two with master’s degrees and two medical doctors.
The team works with farmers, mostly in Colorado, to get hemp plants that are free of pesticides and other contaminants, and Kazmira has the capacity to process thousands of pounds a day.
So, why have you never seen a Kazmira oil or tincture on a store shelf? The company only produces the oil, selling it to other companies, which sell the finished product.
Dr. Sharma explained, “We’re able to provide them with a product that meets specifications retailers care about—free of pesticides, toxins and microbials. We are able to guarantee their CBD source is safe.”
And given the booming popularity of CBD as treatment for a whole variety of ailments, from anxiety to inflammation, and given that these products can legally be sold anywhere in the U.S., Dr. Sharma expects Kazmira to continue growing and expanding what can be extracted from the hemp plant.
“The runway is a lot longer right now for hemp because anybody from a child to an adult can take a hemp extract and they can access it as well,” she said. “I think there’s so much that can be done with the plant that there’s only going to be more growth.”
For most people who enjoy cannabis edibles, taste is secondary to the buzz it packs. It’s on your lips for a few seconds, while the THC inside will hopefully keep you going for the whole Phish concert.
But trained pastry chef Rachel King asks why edibles can’t be delicious and THC-infused?
“If you’re going to eat an edible, you might as well make it enjoyable,” says King, co-founder and culinary director of Kaneh Co., a San Diego, California-based gourmet cannabis company.
Launched in 2016, the company has grown from three to 65 employees, with edibles sold in more than 200 stores across California, an explosive growth King attributes to meticulous dosing and the belief that edibles customers are looking for a wide variety of sweets that taste just as good as what you’d get in a fine restaurant or candy store.
“As our clientele widens and cannabis becomes more and more accepted by people in different walks of life, they will be looking for a product that is not just a vessel for medication.”
“I wanted to make sure people were getting a delicious, good product that would get them high, not just something they’re trying to choke down to get high.”
A Pastry Chef
King, 36, came into the cannabis industry in a roundabout way.
Her first experiences with cannabis—smoking whatever flower her friends had out of an aluminum can—were not positive.
“I would usually get way too high, so it was not that pleasant for me,” she said.
King was trained at the San Diego Culinary Institute and went on to work at some of the city’s finest restaurants. Pastries were always her specialty and focus; Food & Wine magazine named her one of the best new pastry chefs in 2013.
“Pastries hold a special place in peoples’ hearts. You’ll always remember that birthday cake or extra-extravagant dessert you’ve had,” King said.
But restaurant work can be demanding, so when her brother and some friends came to her with a proposition for an infused edibles company, she listened. So, in January of 2016, Kaneh was born.
From the beginning, King explained she would not sacrifice the quality of her desserts simply because they would be cannabis-infused.
“Considering my background was in pastries and not cannabis, it was really about the food product itself,” she said. “I wanted to make sure people were getting a delicious, good product that would get them high, not just something they’re trying to choke down to get high.”
“I didn’t compromise the quality that I was already used to working with in my cooking background.”
A New Ingredient
Still, adding a major new ingredient to the type of cooking she had long done presented a challenge. There were some hits and plenty of misses.
“Working with the product itself, figuring out when to add the medication, how it affects the overall product, was a bit of a learning curve,” she said.
Kaneh hit the market with a large array of products—cookies, brownies, snack bars, nuts, dates and cocoa powder. She was one of two kitchen employees.
“Now we have a huge professional kitchen staff with people who used to work in bakeries and restaurants,” she said. As of this writing, the company has 22 different products available, from cookies to jellies to caramels to that staple of stoner cooking for decades, brownies. Each is a 100mg product, divided into 5mg or 10mg doses.
Kaneh sells as many as 50,000 products a month, according to King. For now, they’re just in California, though the company is exploring licensing in other states. She attributes her company’s success to “the quality of the taste, and obviously the consistency of the medication.” Ingredients are the same she would use to make desserts in a fine restaurant.
When people get an edible, they expect the potency to be exact, and so does King. She’s found a way to finally enjoy cannabis—five milligrams at a time.
She believes the future of edibles is in diversity, offering consumers a wide variety of options.
“People are getting super creative. The consumer base is widening. People are going to want more things rather than just the same old things. Nothing to disparage the classics, a good chocolate chip cookie or brownie will never get old, but the more people that try edibles, more they will want something different.”
That said, she noted that a brownie is Kaneh’s best-seller.
“It’s the Best of Both Worlds, a classic fudgy brownie. We press in a piece of chocolate-chip cookie.”
“It’s so good.”
Europe Cannabis Testing Market Expected to Reach $770 Million By 2027
Retired Jamaican Sprinter Opens Medical Cannabis Dispensary
Nebraska Senator Introduces Medical Cannabis Bill
Colorado Cannabis Sales Top $2 Billion in 2020
Cannabis Consumption Could Affect Fertility Rates
Michigan Prosecutor Will No Longer Pursue Cannabis Cases
Strain of the Week: Midnite
DEA Could Issue More Cultivation Licenses Next Year
Cannabis Delivery Approved for Aurora, Colorado
Study Evaluates Cannabis Consumers’ Understanding of Smoking Risks
New Jersey Governor Seeks to Elevate Punishments for Youth Cannabis Consumption
Texas Officials Already Filing 2021 Cannabis Bills
Pre-Christmas Cannabis Sales Could Hit $400 Million
Rand Paul Brings up Edibles in Festivus Grievances
A Look at CULTURE’s 4/21 Party!
Happy Hanukkah !
Cannabis Use in the U.S. Doubled Over a Recent 12 Year Time Span | CULTUREtv
5 Things To Know about the New Canna-Friendly Travel Policy at Portland International
See the Cannabis Commercial Pulled from Denver Airwaves Before its Big Debut
China’s financial crisis is having an unexpected effect on the cannabis industry
Was cannabis the most popular legal inebriant in Colorado in 2014?
Strain Reviews2 years ago
Strain of the Week: Gushers
Strain Reviews10 months ago
Concentrate of the Week: Blueberry Kush CO2 Crumble
Strain Reviews4 years ago
Dirty Sprite by Blackleaf
Strain Reviews3 years ago
Strain Reviews4 years ago
Strain Reviews4 years ago
imported7 years ago
Featured Stories3 years ago
Cannabis-Infused Edibles Laws: A State-By-State Breakdown