By James Collins
Right now there are a number of people and organizations who are pushing forms of cannabis medicine. Some are legit, some are complete nonsense. Some of them are outright dangerous, and put sick people who are desperate to get better at serious risk.
This is going to change in the foreseeable future, because we are seeing legalization around the globe. Legalization is going to mean standardization, and we should think about what that will look like.
I submit to you a bottle of pills. We’ve all seen a similar bottle of little white or coloured pills. If you look on the side of that bottle you will find a label with all kinds of information about the contents. It tells you the chemical composition of those tablets, as tested in a lab, and various tidbits of information about potential side-effects, and what you should do in the event your child thinks they’re candy and eats them all. These labels are regulated in every developed nation, and there are consequences for lying on that label about what is in the bottle.
It isn’t perfect, but think back to the last time a bottle of Paracetamol killed someone because of contamination. You probably can’t think of one. In fact, with the exception of the Tylenol Murders in America, there is very little to speak of in that way. Regulation is pretty effective; I bet you don’t experience even a brief glimmer of anxiety before popping a couple of Aspirin for a headache.
I now submit a container of cannabis oil. What’s in it? Ultimately, unless the person who produced this actually submitted samples for lab testing to determine the exact chemical composition of this compound, your guess about its precise contents at a glance is as good as anybody. You don’t know something until you test it; that’s basic scientific method. Test, test, and then have somebody else repeat the test using your methodology to make sure you aren’t fudging the process to make yourself look right.
With legalization coming, regulation is going to be an element of that. Medicine is a word with a particular power and weight in our modern era. People think of gleaming stainless steel instruments, sterilized plastic tubing, and chemical compounds manufactured by a lot of people in clean suits. There is very little margin of error allowed in the manufacture of medical products and technologies, because lives are literally hanging in the balance. If you get a bad iPod you can take it back for a replacement. If you get a bad pacemaker then you’re a corpse. Higher stakes call for higher standards.
The science is coming in more and more that confirms what a few avant garde individuals have been preaching from the mountain tops for years. Cannabis compounds fight cancer. The trouble is that not all cannabis compounds are created equally. Obviously if you have to make concentrated oil instead of just smoking some bud, there are minimum standards of purity required to meet the cancer-fighting goal. The same is true of all cannabis products; a plant can have many chemical properties.
We’ve all had weak, crappy weed.
It’s not just cannabis oil, either. For the most part, even in medical circles, nobody is doing chromatograph testing to determine the balance of compounds and ensure a standard of quality. If cannabis is high in THC but not high in CBD it may not work for many conditions from a medical perspective. CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and that could be very important for some people dealing with conditions like arthritis. It is also an important factor in the treatment of cancer, so the mere assumption of the presence of sufficient quantities of this compound in a substance cooked up in somebodies garage doesn’t meet a medical standard. There has to be more to this than rice-cookers and grain alcohol.
To pretend otherwise is frankly to play roulette with people’s lives. There are a growing number of “oil producers” who are distributing sketchy and even dangerous products all with the promise of curing cancer. How many have died as a result? Nobody knows, it isn’t like there is some kind of regulatory body I could approach to seek figures. There isn’t even an oil producer’s trade organization that attempts to self-regulate a growing industry.
So how do we separate wheat from chaff when we want to help our dear Aunt Edna with her fibroid tumors with that nifty new cannabis oil stuff we heard about? We need to ask questions. We need to ask for more. We need to ask for test results, and the better people in the business already have their homework done, so they’re perfectly happy to submit it for a gold star.
Anyone who tells you they can’t be sure what was in the oil, and who is manufacturing for the purpose of selling, or even just giving away to strangers, must be held to a higher standard. Hound them about it. How do I know your product is safe? Don’t accept some vacant testimonial from some person who may or may not exist; ask to see the paperwork. Any responsible high-volume producer, particularly if they are selling the oil, has access to laboratory results and they will be eager to ease your concerns by showing you these documents.
Even worse are the “brokers”, who are accepting untested product from unaudited sources and passing them on to unwitting patients with a lot of false promises and parrot talk about cannabis oil they heard on a YouTube video. This is a dangerous practice, the patient is several stages removed from the producer, and in an unregulated market there is no course of action to take when people remain sick and die, or suffer worse because of dangerous product. I’m not really fond of salesmen; I can research my own products and see absolutely no need for them in the medical field. You should take your health into your own hands, do your own research, and deal with your producer one-on-one. Many hands create many opportunities for error, and we need to work assiduously to remove any potential mistakes or questionable practices.
You can be damn sure the state will bring the hammer down on this activity at some point. There is no way that pharmaceutical lobbyists are not pounding down the doors of representatives to put the kibosh on this black market trade in cannabis oil, and many things masquerading as such which are not. The good oil producers, the ones who have their product lab tested and ensure quality and efficacy, are ahead of the curve. When regulation comes they will already be meeting the expected standards, and they will get licensing easily. The hucksters and slackers are going to get nailed to the wall, and I for one won’t be terribly upset, because I see nothing worse than people trying to halfass the path of good health with lives other than their own.
James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.