Tag Archives: cannabis

amandarigdon
The Practical Chemist

Internal Standards– Turning Good Data Into Great Data

By Amanda Rigdon
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amandarigdon

Everyone likes to have a safety net, and scientists are no different. This month I will be discussing internal standards and how we can use them not only to improve the quality of our data, but also give us some ‘wiggle room’ when it comes to variation in sample preparation. Internal standards are widely used in every type of chromatographic analysis, so it is not surprising that their use also applies to common cannabis analyses. In my last article, I wrapped up our discussion of calibration and why it is absolutely necessary for generating valid data. If our calibration is not valid, then the label information that the cannabis consumer sees will not be valid either. These consumers are making decisions based on that data, and for the medical cannabis patient, valid data is absolutely critical. Internal standards work with calibration curves to further improve data quality, and luckily it is very easy to use them.

So what are internal standards? In a nutshell, they are non-analyte compounds used to compensate for method variations. An internal standard can be added either at the very beginning of our process to compensate for variations in sample prep and instrument variation, or at the very end to compensate only for instrument variation. Internal standards are also called ‘surrogates’, in some cases, however, for the purposes of this article, I will simply use the term ‘internal standard.’

Now that we know what internal standards are, lets look at how to use them. We use an internal standard by adding it to all samples, blanks, and calibrators at the same known concentration. By doing this, we now have a single reference concentration for all response values produced by our instrument. We can use this reference concentration to normalize variations in sample preparation and instrument response. This becomes very important for cannabis pesticide analyses that involve lots of sample prep and MS detectors. Figure 1 shows a calibration curve plotted as we saw in the last article (blue diamonds), as well as the response for an internal standard added to each calibrator at a level of 200ppm (green circles). Additionally, we have three sample results (red triangles) plotted against the calibration curve with their own internal standard responses (green Xs).

Figure 1: Calibration Curve with Internal Standard Responses and Three Sample Results
Figure 1: Calibration Curve with Internal Standard Responses and Three Sample Results

In this case, our calibration curve is beautiful and passes all of the criteria we discussed in the previous article. Lets assume that the results we calculate for our samples are valid – 41ppm, 303ppm, and 14ppm. Additionally, we can see that the responses for our internal standards make a flat line across the calibration range because they are present at the same concentration in each sample and calibrator. This illustrates what to expect when all of our calibrators and samples were prepared correctly and the instrument performed as expected. But lets assume we’re having one of those days where everything goes wrong, such as:

  • We unknowingly added only half the volume required for cleanup for one of the samples
  • The autosampler on the instrument was having problems and injected the incorrect amount for the other two samples

Figure 2 shows what our data would look like on our bad day.

Figure 2: Calibration Curve with Internal Standard Responses and Three Sample Results after Method Errors
Figure 2: Calibration Curve with Internal Standard Responses and Three Sample Results after Method Errors

We experienced no problems with our calibration curve (which is common when using solvent standard curves), therefore based on what we’ve learned so far, we would simply move on and calculate our sample results. The sample results this time are quite different: 26ppm, 120ppm, and 19ppm. What if these results are for a pesticide with a regulatory cutoff of 200ppm? When measured accurately, the concentration of sample 2 is 303ppm. In this example, we may have unknowingly passed a contaminated product on to consumers.

In the first two examples, we haven’t been using our internal standard – we’ve only been plotting its response. In order to use the internal standard, we need to change our calibration method. Instead of plotting the response of our analyte of interest versus its concentration, we plot our response ratio (analyte response/internal standard response) versus our concentration ratio (analyte concentration/internal standard concentration). Table 1 shows the analyte and internal standard response values for our calibrators and samples from Figure 2.

 

Table 1: Values for Calibration Curve and Samples Using Internal Standard
Table 1: Values for Calibration Curve and Samples Using Internal Standard

The values highlighted in green are what we will use to build our calibration curve, and the values in blue are what we will use to calculate our sample concentration. Figure 3 shows what the resulting calibration curve and sample points will look like using an internal standard.

Figure 3: Calibration Curve and Sample Results Calculated Using Internal Standard Correction
Figure 3: Calibration Curve and Sample Results Calculated Using Internal Standard Correction

We can see that our axes have changed for our calibration curve, so the results that we calculate from the curve will be in terms of concentration ratio. We calculate these results the same way we did in the previous article, but instead of concentrations, we end up with concentration ratios. To calculate the sample concentration, simply multiply by the internal standard amount (200ppm). Figure 4 shows an example calculation for our lowest concentration sample.

Figure 4: Example Calculation for Sample Results for Internal-Standard Corrected Curve
Figure 4: Example Calculation for Sample Results for Internal-Standard Corrected Curve

Using the calculation shown in Figure 4, our sample results come out to be 41ppm, 302ppm, and 14ppm, which are accurate based on the example in Figure 1. Our internal standards have corrected the variation in our method because they are subjected to that same variation.

As always, there’s a lot more I can talk about on this topic, but I hope this was a good introduction to the use of internal standards. I’ve listed couple of resources below with some good information on the use of internal standards. If you have any questions on this topic, please feel free to contact me at amanda.rigdon@restek.com.


Resources:

When to use an internal standard: http://www.chromatographyonline.com/when-should-internal-standard-be-used-0

Choosing an internal standard: http://blog.restek.com/?p=17050

Going Beyond the Strain Names with PotBot

By Aaron G. Biros
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PotBot kioskDavid Goldstein, co-founder and chief executive officer of PotBotics, launched a medical cannabis recommendation engine called PotBot with the goal to better inform patients to target their conditions with more accurate recommendations based on scientific research. “This is a tool to help move the market away from the thousands of strain names that are mainly just marketing or branding indicators,” says Goldstein. The medical application is designed to inform patients on peer-reviewed data, research on the treatment of their ailments with cannabis and the specific cannabinoids that are necessary for treating their condition. They began development on PotBot in October of 2014, launching the beta version to 400 users in November of 2015. On April 20th, 2016, Goldstein launched officially in the Apple Store, and the program will be available on Android in July.

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David Goldstein (left) alongside co-founder, Baruch Goldstein (right)

Rather than focusing on strain names, PotBot focuses on the cannabinoid values to help patients gain an understanding of the correlation between which compounds might best target their condition. “This is a great tool for patients trying to familiarize themselves with what strains might work best,” says Goldstein. “For example, insomnia patients generally need cannabis with higher CBN levels, so we first educate the patient on cannabinoid ranges to shoot for and what strains might help. PotBot would recommend the strain Purple Urple because it is an indica found to have higher CBN values,” adds Goldstein. The program goes into great detail with the patient’s preferences including everything down to consumption methods so they know why it might recommend certain strains.

A screenshot showing a recommended cannabinoid ratio for a patient
A screenshot showing a recommended cannabinoid ratio for a patient

The recommendation tool is accessible via kiosks at dispensaries, on a desktop version for the computer as well as on the Apple Store for iPads and iPhones. “I do not see it as a way of replacing budtenders, rather supplementing them with knowledge,” says Goldstein. PotBot is designed as a tool to supplement the budtender’s understanding of cannabis, so the budtender does not need to know everything off the top of their head or recommend strains based on anecdotal information, according to Goldstein.rsz_potbot_kiosk

Goldstein’s team at PotBotics performed extensive research prior to launching PotBot, spending two years doing strain testing to develop the program. “There is currently no regulatory body [for strain classification] so we took it upon ourselves to work with the best testing laboratories for truly robust analyses and properly vetted growers to get the most valid data,” says Goldstein. “The current strain classification system and nomenclature is rather unscientific so we focus on cannabinoid values and soon we will be able to incorporate terpene profiles in the recommendation.” Moving away from the common focus on taste, smell and other qualitative values, they focus on medical attributes of cannabinoid profiles because they have the most peer-reviewed research available today.

As an OEM, the company designed the tool to work with each dispensary’s inventory, to provide recommendations for strains that a patient can access on site, however anyone can access the recommendation tool for free at PotBot.com. Goldstein’s company and their mission represent an important development in the cannabis industry; this could begin a key transition from thousands of understudied strain names to a more scientific and calculated method to treating patients’ conditions with cannabis.

NCIA Brings Cannabis Business Summit to Oakland

By Aaron G. Biros
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The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) with their California affiliate, California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), hosted over 3,000 business professionals at this week’s Cannabis Business Summit in Oakland, CA. According to Aaron Smith, executive director of the NCIA, this event drew their largest-ever gathering of attendees and well over 100 sponsors on the expo floor. In an exclusive interview prior to the event, Smith expected this would be a wildly successful year. “Last year we had just over 2,000 attendees in Colorado and we are expecting over 3,000 this year in California,” says Smith. “There is tremendous interest in the California market and it is so great to be here with all of the excitement leading up to the ballot initiatives in November.”

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Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA

The theme of the conference was set early on from industry progress to sustainable growth. “I am really proud that NCIA’s events always bring out the best and brightest in the industry,” says Smith. “It is mostly members of NCIA attending, which are the folks invested in the future of the industry and not just in it to make a quick buck; they are here to build a new business sector.” On Tuesday morning, Smith gave his opening remarks and introduced the first keynote delivered by Ahmed Rahim, co-founder and chief executive officer of Numi Organic Tea alongside Kayvan Khalatbari, founding partner of Denver Relief Consulting, to discuss the triple bottom line in business, emphasizing the need for social responsibility, which includes environmental stewardship, fair labor and trade laws and community integration among cannabis businesses. California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom also delivered a keynote address that was received with a standing ovation after discussing the November ballot initiative, which would legalize, regulate and tax the adult use of cannabis in the state.

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The first keynote panel of the Cannabis Business Summit

Newsom’s speech highlighted the state’s opportunity to make considerable progress in the cannabis legalization arena this November. The substance of his speech echoed that of many attendees focused on moving the industry forward sustainably. “We need to right the wrong of the failed war on drugs in America,” says Newsom. Boisterous cheers and applause followed almost every sentence as he continued to emphasize the need for social and criminal justice reform. “We are not doing this to be the next California gold rush or to make tax revenue; our purpose and focus is social justice,” adds Newsom.

Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, delivering the keynote
Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California, delivering the keynote

The Lieutenant Governor also mentioned the sheer massive size of California’s market opportunity and their pragmatic regulatory framework in development. “The entire retail of recreational and medical [cannabis sales] in Colorado was just shy of $1 billion last year; we are talking about our 58 counties up in the northern part of this state that produce anywhere from $9-13 billion [sic] of wholesale cannabis- it’s a game changer,” says Newsom. “We have had the benefit of seeing where other states have fallen short or struggled [in regulatory frameworks] and will present that to voters this November.” Newsom also mentioned that members of the cannabis industry need to act as stewards of the environment and protect the small farmers.

Panel discussions throughout the afternoon and following day deliberated a wide variety of topics from laboratory testing standards to the state of affairs in education, training and certification across the country. John MacKay, senior director of strategic technologies at Waters Corporation, led a panel titled Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods with Cynthia Ludwig, director of technical services at the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS), Shawn Kassner, senior scientist at Neptune and Company, Inc. and David Egerton, vice president of technical services at CW Analytical Laboratories.

The panel: Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods
The panel: Validation of Analytical Methods, Lab Certifications and Standard Methods

The panel addressed many of the current problems facing the cannabis testing space. “It is a very difficult plant to work with and labs are doing their best to provide reproducible results,” says Mackay. Cynthia Ludwig emphasized the need for collaborative studies and method validation in cannabis labs. “We [AOCS] provide official, validated laboratory testing methods, but the cannabis industry really has no official methods to work with,” says Ludwig. Egerton echoed Mackay’s concerns over difficult sample preparation and the difficulty of working with cannabis in the lab. “The problem is the matrix of the cannabis sample; the matrix is a critical aspect of method validation- ensuring we find the signal through the noise,” says David. “In the absence of official methods, cannabis labs need to perform method validation in-house for each type of sample, ranging from dry flower to different types of infused products and concentrates.” In addition to those difficulties of providing robust and reproducible lab tests, the panel emphasized that there is currently no laboratory accreditation program required by California regulators.

The cannabis industry in California is still rather unregulated and lacks consistency in safety standards across the market in almost every sector. Attendees seemed to look forward to the November 8th vote on the ballot initiative in California as a solution for the state’s current problems, hoping consumers and patients alike will find solace in a more regulated, standardized and safe market. The NCIA will be hosting a “Seed To Sale Show” focused on best practices and case studies January 31st and February 1st, 2017 in Denver. The next Cannabis Business Summit will be held from June 12th to the 14th of 2017 in Oakland, CA.

Microsoft Enters Cannabis Compliance Software Market; Industry Outlooks

By Aaron G. Biros
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In a New York Times article published yesterday, news broke of Microsoft’s entry into the cannabis marketplace, teaming up with KIND Financial to launch its Microsoft Health and Human Services Pod for Managed Service Providers, which is essentially a seed-to-sale tracking technology. Their goal is to provide local and state governments with software solutions for traceability in the burgeoning cannabis industry.kind-financial-cannabis-government-solutions

In a press release yesterday, Kimberly Nelson, executive director of state and local government solutions from Microsoft said, “KIND’s strategic industry positioning, experienced team and top-notch-technology running in the Microsoft Azure Government cloud, made for an easy decision to align efforts.” According to KIND Financial founder and chief executive officer, David Dinenberg, the cannabis marketplace will continue to have strict oversight and government regulations. “I am delighted that Microsoft supports KIND’s mission to build the backbone for cannabis compliance,” says Dinenberg.MSFT_logo_rgb_C-Gray

This move could represent an opening of the floodgates for corporate interest in the space. According to Matt Karnes, founder of GreenWave Advisors, a cannabis financial data analysis firm, this could potentially result in an increase in capital flow into the cannabis industry. “This signals a wider acceptance of cannabis and perhaps that changes to national policies are more likely now that we see a large corporation stepping in,” says Karnes. “This could certainly mean an inflow of capital from larger, mainstream enterprises that were previously unwilling to take the risk.” Microsoft also made news recently for the acquisition of LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. The move to get into the cannabis space could represent a diminishing stigma associated with the market and a wider mainstream acceptance in business.

According to Nic Easley, chief executive officer at Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), this is another legitimizing factor for the cannabis industry. “It shows that cannabis is here to stay, and the fact that Microsoft is now spending resources on software, further validates that,” says Easley. “Many of the first mover seed-to-sale companies, entered the industry too early, had problems with their technology and lacked quality customer service, which created opportunities for new companies to emerge to dominate and capitalize upon the first ‘Netscapes’ of the cannabis industry’s failures.” Additionally, this could rationalize the market for other quality software companies such as Compliant Cannabis, according to Easley.

While Microsoft publicly announced their entrance into the cannabis marketplace,  one can speculate that other large companies are planning their entrance as well. “We are fielding inquiries from Fortune 500 companies, Wall Street investors and even major foreign investors on a weekly basis,” says Easley. “In the past week alone, we received calls from three different Fortune 500 companies asking us how they can get into the industry.” It appears that because Microsoft is in the cloud business and they are offering this ancillary service that not only does this further legitimize the industry, but it could be quelling the dated stigma associated with cannabis.

Marijuana Matters

Patent Options Available for Breeding Cannabis

By David C. Kotler, Esq.
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Patent No.: 909554. Date of patent: August 4, 2015. Years from now, historians and academics may look back on this patent number and date as a watershed mark in the evolution of legal cannabis. Feel free to read the 147 pages of the patent documents but, in short, it “leads to many innovations, provides compositions and methods for breeding, production, processing and use of specialty cannabis.” It was the first time that the U.S. Patent Office (USPTO) had issued a patent for a plant containing significant amounts of THC. One USPTO spokesman recently discussed with a journalist that “there are no special statutory requirements or restrictions applied to marijuana plants.” The following is a broad, and I mean really broad, overview of the options available to protect intellectual property within the cannabis species and strain realm.

Generally speaking, to be patent eligible, an invention must be useful, it must be new, it cannot be obvious and it must be described in a manner so that people of skill in the relevant specialty can understand what the invention is, make it and use it without engaging in undue experimentation. In terms of cannabis, essentially the breeder must have created a new and non-obvious strain over what already exists that is useful such as being highly resistant to molds or having a specific concentration of CBD.

Breeders potentially have a number of options available to them, despite the common belief otherwise. In the U.S. there are five types of intellectual property protection that breeders can obtain for new plant varieties or their use of clones:

One may seek protection for seeds and tubers, known as Plant Variety Protection. A tuber is essentially a swelled root that forms a storage organ. The Plant Variety Protection Office provides this protection. To apply for Plant Variety Protection, the applicant submits information to show that the variety is new, distinct, uniform and stable.

For asexually propagated plants except for tubers, a Plant Patent may be sought. These are sought through the USPTO. This is relatively inexpensive compared with a Utility Patent covering the genetics.

Trade secrets are often used to protect inventions that will not be commercially available or cannot be reverse engineered. For example, if a new strain is invented but is only commercially available in its final form, trade secret protection may be the best form. The most important thing to remember is that a company must follow a strict set of requirements to keep the trade secret confidential.

The last patent type protection could be through a Utility Patent. A Utility Patent can be issued for any type of plant showing its utility. These are issued by the USPTO. Seeking and obtaining a Utility Patent is expensive and complex.

In addition to Patent Protection, breeders may seek Contractual Agreements restricting the use of the clones (i.e. a material use agreement). The parameters that a breeder wishes to craft can essentially be crafted into the language of any type of agreement that is drafted to memorialize the relationship and terms between the parties.

A few broad-stroke items to keep in mind with regard to patents particularly relative to the patenting of cannabis strains and the like: First, is the passage of the America Invents Act which among other changes allowed for the U.S. to transition from a First-to-Invent patent system to a system where priority is given to the first inventor to file a patent application. Second, there are the potential bars based on different types of prior use.

Any discussion about the foregoing topic should necessarily include the question: Is it really good for the cannabis industry and its evolution? The dialogue moves out of one steeped in tradition, lure of trips through mountain passages, and potentially patient benefit or in search of higher quality and into connotations of business law and big businesses sweeping in to take over. It is an expensive process. It may be inevitable. In the meantime, protect yourself as best you can and as you see fit.

Soapbox

A Case To Not Reschedule Cannabis

By Tyler Dautrich
4 Comments

As many probably already know, last month the DEA announced that the organization was going to reconsider its position on cannabis and would come to a decision about whether or not to reschedule cannabis on The Controlled Substance Act (CSA) by June of this year. Many would say this is long overdue, considering the DEA has cannabis listed as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and LSD.

Rescheduling cannabis to Schedule II would place it in the same category as Vicodin, cocaine, methamphetamine, Adderall, oxycodone, and many more. These substances are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. However, they are recognized as having some potential medical benefits.

If cannabis were to become a Schedule II drug, it would allow further research on the plant. This could be beneficial to the industry because further medical research would finally provide the scientific validation that cannabis does have medical benefits and that it should be accepted as a form of medicine.

Those benefits come with a steep cost.

If cannabis becomes Schedule II it means the federal government finally sees cannabis as a plant (drug) that can provide some medical value. Which, at face value, is good because that is what many advocates have been fighting for. On the other hand, the only reason that larger pharmaceutical companies have largely kept out of the industry so far is because it is a Schedule I drug and the government did not officially recognize that it had any medical value. If this were to change, there is no reason for those pharmaceutical companies to continue watching from the sidelines. There is also no industry better fit than the pharmaceutical industry to run, manufacture, control, and profit from medical cannabis. The infrastructure is already in place.

There is also not another industry that has the money and the historical relationship with the FDA like the pharmaceutical industry. If the FDA were to regulate cannabis, it would have to regulate every single product on the shelf of every single dispensary, which would require more stringent lab testing guidelines. Just because one of your brownies made it through the FDA regulation process, does not mean the cookie next to it will. Entering into this process would take companies years to complete and cost more than $1 billion per product. Think about how many products some dispensaries have. Think about the number of different strains that dispensaries carry. That requires years of testing and multiple billions of dollars, just for the strains.

Big Pharma is positioned perfectly to come in and take control of the entire process if this happens. It will be a mad rush from all pharmaceutical companies to come in and quickly obtain market share. I know that as an industry we think we are seeing a lot of money in sales and profit, but compared to the pharmaceutical industry, it is merely a drop in the bucket. These companies will easily, and willingly, out-spend every company currently in the industry to the point where we can no longer compete. All the work that advocates and business professionals have put in to get the industry to where it is today could be lost.

Schedule II status would also turn the adult-use industry into utter chaos. The only reason we are able to have an adult-use market right now without the interference of the FDA is because cannabis is federally illegal. If cannabis is moved to Schedule II it will be recognized by the government, which means the FDA will have to come in and start the approval process for every product on the shelf. How smoothly do you think that will go for the adult-use retail centers in the industry? The cost alone will force shops to close. There is also not another substance that has a Schedule II classification that we have an adult-use industry for. Could cannabis be the first? I would not want to take that chance with the government or have to go through that process as an adult-use cannabis business owner.

When discussing this matter with several colleagues, some would ask “But what about now? We are in direct violation of the federal law right now, and they are leaving us be.”

Yes, that is for the most part true, but it is true because cannabis is now a Schedule I, federally illegal drug. Meaning the government does not even recognize it. The FDA will not regulate anything that is not recognized by the federal government because they are a federal agency. If the FDA were to implement regulations and an approval process, that would mean that a federal agency is recognizing cannabis as a consumer product. Right now that goes directly against the government’s public stance on the issue. And pharmaceutical companies cannot start selling a drug that is federally illegal and has been classified by the government as having no medical value. But as soon as the government recognizes cannabis as a form of medicine, it opens the doors for these organizations to get involved because it is justifiable now.

If that were to happen all the money that has been generated in this industry, and has made several people very wealthy and successful, will slowly, but surely get stuffed into the pockets of Big Pharma, the FDA and the government.

That is a lot of individuals that stand to lose a very significant amount of money. This could be devastating for Colorado. Colorado’s entire economy is booming right now largely because of the cannabis industry. Colorado’s Real Estate market has seen tremendous growth since legal cannabis took effect with home values going up 13%, which is nothing compared to commercial properties. Cannabis is the driver behind half of Colorado’s tourism, and provided the state with $35 million to put into schools.

In my mind, rescheduling cannabis to a Schedule II substance will create more issues for the industry than it will benefits.

If the government were to take any stance on cannabis, it should completely declassify it. It should not be listed on any type of controlled substance list by the government. It is a natural plant, not a man-made substance. If the government will not declassify cannabis, I would rather them keep it as a Schedule I substance. At least this way it protects the industry and keeps it as is, belonging to the people.

Opportunities like the cannabis industry are once in a lifetime. It would be a shame to see it taken by Big Pharma, or controlled by the government.

For those that have made it this far down on this post, please understand that this is a worst-case scenario. A very drastic, but realistic outcome down one of the many paths the industry could go. But the motto in this industry since the beginning was, “prepare for the worst, and pray for the best.” I think we should follow those instructions now more than ever.


Editor’s Note: This article represents the opinion of the author, not necessarily that of Cannabis Industry Journal. We invite all readers who agree or disagree with the author’s opinion to join the conversation in the comments section below the article.

pleabnicrop
Soapbox

Cannabis, Soil Science and Sustainability

By Drew Plebani
5 Comments
pleabnicrop

The average commercial cannabis cultivator seems to be following the modern agricultural paradigm. That model is based on questionable and, one might say, ineffective soil systems management.

In the high-yield cannabis world, amidst decades of prohibition, following the lead of the modern agricultural model has resulted in the adoption of cultural practices that go something like this: Use and destroy the soil, then dispose of it once it is rendered lifeless and useless due to repeated heavy applications of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other poisons.

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(Left) unimproved site soil next to (right) improved site soil. Notice the root mass developing on the right

Certainly conventional agricultural food production and the soil management systems underpinning them are faltering, evidenced by soil systems deteriorating many times faster than they are being improved. This qualifies as a failure in my book.

What will be the fate of profit margins, sustainability and medicine in the cannabis industry if we continue to follow blindly in the footsteps of chemical agriculture? Perhaps it is time to turn over a new leaf.

A little context for the discussion: scientists say the Earth has lost a third of arable land in the past 40 years, and some say soil erosion is the number one challenge facing the world today. Why? How?

Well…world agricultural production accounts for about three-quarters of the soil erosion worldwide. This steep decline in arable soil is occurring during a time when the world’s demand for food is rapidly increasing. It is estimated that the world will need to grow 50% more food by 2050, and it is important to note that, the total volume of food necessary, remains relative to the nutrient density of the food.

Time for a radical solution, and cannabis can lead the way.

Currently, cannabis is the most profitable crop per land area and very likely the most resource-consumptive crop grown (due to the current legal and regulatory climate and thus limited supply vs. demand).

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, now more than ever we have the opportunity, and I believe the responsibility, to cultivate in ecologically mindful ways, improve the end product and it’s positive impacts, increase both short-term and long-term profits, decrease or eliminate waste and lower the carbon footprint of cannabis cultivation operations.

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A cover crop under trellis’ with cannabis plants

Most importantly, we have the opportunity to fund, implement and lead the way in research and development of sustainable, medical, phytonutrient-dense crop production methodologies.

Only by implementing more rigorous scientific methods to cannabis cultivation can we hope to provide truly meaningful improvements in and contributions to the fields of agriculture, science, medicine and human health.

While dumpsters of potting soil continue to roll off to the landfill, complex health and human science and the cultivators truly engaged in science will continue to provide meaningful data regarding plant compounds and what factors influence the best outcome for the desired end product.

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The same crop pictured above, now two weeks into flowering, using cover crops

I am willing to bet that what is best will not be coming from the business models employing antiquated, wasteful and destructive cultivation strategies, and that in due time these models will fade into distant memories.

This is the first in a series of articles, in which we will explore topics related to the pursuit of high yield, phytonutrient-dense “high brix” cannabis production.

The next article will provide a historical and geologic context to the cannabis plant, as viewed from the scope of soil biology and the progression of ecosystems and soil types, and how maximized genetic expression, through maximized soil and plant health influence the production of high quality cannabis.

Building or Converting to a Greenhouse? Four Considerations for Commercial Growers

By Taylor Engert
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Successful cannabis cultivation practices leverage commercial agricultural industry practices for the most efficient and cost-effective production of the crop. Since the 1990s, the cannabis industry has cultivated primarily in indoor warehouses and outdoor farms, however the industry is experiencing a significant shift toward greenhouses.

Shelly Peterson, vice president of light product solutions at urban-gro, joined a recent panel of industry experts including Shivawn Brady, chief executive officer and founder of Seva Crop Consulting, and Karl Keich, executive director at Canna Consulting Group, at the Marijuana Business Conference in Orlando, Florida, to discuss how to transition from an indoor or outdoor grow to a greenhouse facility.

What are the considerations when deciding between a warehouse and greenhouse? The panel shares four factors around the costs and operational challenges, and the benefits of a greenhouse.

panel
The panel at the Marijuana Business Conference.

Maximize Efficiency in Every Process

Why are cannabis cultivators looking toward greenhouses? Peterson says it is all about efficiency. “In a warehouse, electricity costs can run up to 50 percent of the total cost of goods sold, which is a tremendous amount that can be decreased by switching to a greenhouse,” says Peterson. “In a greenhouse, you can add supplemental lighting to augment what the plant is receiving from the sun.”

For cultivators, Peterson noted that it is critical to ensure growers have experienced vendors and advisors on the team to help maximize the efficiency of the greenhouse. “As the cost of this product comes down, the efficient growers will be the ones in it for the long haul,” added Peterson.

Construction vs. Operating Costs

A greenhouse facility that urban-gro helped bring to operation.
A greenhouse facility that urban-gro helped bring to operation.

The panel identified upfront cost as one of the biggest challenges faced when building out a greenhouse. “The cost of retrofitting a warehouse and building a greenhouse are similar, but where you will save is in the operational costs,” says Peterson. “Lighting can be up to one third of your total cost in indoor facilities, when you switch to a greenhouse that cost can be reduced by 50 to 70 percent.”

Brady acknowledged that some traditional greenhouses have challenges in controlling the environment, but automated greenhouses offer retractable roofs and siding. “If you have the resources to invest in your greenhouse system upfront, that is generally a better way to save money in the long run,” says Brady. “Managing pests in greenhouses can also become very challenging if you don’t have the proper climate regulations.”

Lighting for Your Greenhouse

One of the greatest benefits of growing in a greenhouse is the ability to source natural light. But what about the required light levels? Peterson pointed out that light levels change throughout the year and the plants have different light needs in different stage. Supplement with a lighting system that can read the natural light levels received over any given period of time and be adjusted accordingly. “Greenhouse facilities also need to be outfitted to meet the needs of the cannabis plant, which differ in some ways from other agricultural crops,” says Peterson.

Peterson explained that every light is designed with a different purpose in mind. “There are different lights for indoor warehouse facilities where the lighting system provides 100 percent of the available light for cannabis growth versus supplemental lighting for greenhouses,” Peterson adds. “The key is to measure how much light is actually delivered by the sun on a daily basis, which changes throughout the year; at urban-gro, we supplement the facility with light fixtures that will not create shadowing during hours of sunlight and adjust to reach the optimal collective light levels.”

With LED lighting a hot button topic, Peterson explained that the most important consideration for any light fixture, whether LED or HPS, is it’s efficiency capacity. “It all depends on the budget and payback period and a lot of numbers need to be crunched,” says Peterson. “Yield is directly correlated to light; planning properly, sealing your environment, making sure you have the right target DLI, and buying good light meters, are all key.”

Make a Positive Impact and Quality Product

Brady noted that industry leaders are conscious of positive impact towards human health and environmental stewardship when moving to a greenhouse. Cultivators may find the process challenging initially, however the facilities are quite easy to operate and manage, and allow stress-free cultivation of commercial-scale crops.

Keich added that the cannabis industry is becoming more like commercial agriculture. By utilizing the correct technologies and regulators, greenhouse cultivation makes the crop smell, taste and look that much better. “Let’s use natural sunlight to minimize costs and be environmentally friendly to produce a superior product,” says Keich.

Peterson wrapped up by stressing that cultivators should evaluate the greenhouse environment and lighting to improve their bottom line. “Look at the most efficient way to lower your cost of goods sold. Lighting is a very big component to that,” she continued. “Make sure you evaluate the efficiency of the fixture and ask the questions: Why are we targeting this light level? Is the color spectrum correct? Are you measuring in micromoles per watt? These are all different questions, however figure out how much light is coming out of the fixture and verify it for yourself, and you will be successful,” says Peterson.

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Solutions for Cannabis Cultivation: Integrated Pest Management

By Aaron G. Biros
3 Comments
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Pest problems in cultivating cannabis such as spider mites and powdery mildew are major concerns facing growers on a daily basis. Colorado’s ongoing recalls for cannabis products containing pesticides serve as a reminder that pest problems continue to plague growers. Utilizing integrated pest management (IPM) can help reduce the need to use any pesticides, as well as mitigate the risk of unwanted pests wreaking havoc on a cannabis harvest. urban-gro, a solutions provider for commercial cannabis cultivation, builds IPM plans for large-scale cannabis growers tailored to meet specific needs in regulatory compliance for different states.

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urban-gro helped design this facility in Durango, Colorado.

Biological controls are essential to any proper IPM solution for growers. Beneficial living organisms such as insects, mites, nematodes or entomopathogenic fungi can all be applied as a method for controlling pests. Biological controls like those can reduce the need to use pesticides on cannabis. John Chandler, vice president of cultivation technologies at urban-gro, believes IPM requires a broad, systematic approach to eliminate the need for pesticides. “IPM is a combination of cultural, chemical and biological control,” says Chandler. “We start by evaluating the air flow of the facility, how plants are transported, any exclusion barriers and air filtration.” A robust IPM plan begins in the design phase of a new facility. “We can make key adjustments in floor plans, layouts and mechanical systems to optimize that first line of defense that is critical to mitigating the risk of pest issues.” Incorporating good agricultural practices can also help mitigate those risks.

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A close-up of a plant entering flowering at the Durango facility

“We help develop standard operating procedures with good agricultural practices in mind, including preventing cross contamination, which is the biggest pest issue facing cannabis growers,” says Chandler. “I encourage clients to set up harvest and vegetative rooms so that the plants are moving in one specific direction between rooms rather than back and forth.” Using positive air pressure with proper ventilation can further prevent cross contamination. Chandler also recommends scrubbing air coming into the building with gaseous hydrogen peroxide to keep filtering air in ventilation.

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IPM plans require thinking in terms of systems to find the right balance of biological controls.

According to Mark Doherty, director of sales at urban-gro, their IPM plans are customized to meet different states’ rules and regulations, including each list of approved pesticides. “We work to design a system that meets each individual grower’s needs, while helping them navigate regulations in any given state,” says Doherty. “It is important to make cannabis safe for patients and IPM is critical in building a healthy ecosystem for plants to be grown in a safe, yet cost-effective manner.” Proper use of IPM can reduce the need to use pesticides, which could impact a cultivator’s bottom line, but ultimately protect patients’ wellbeing by providing safe and pesticide-free cannabis.

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Procidic works on contact and with residual action.

When all else fails and pests still find their way onto cannabis, there is a solution to address major losses. urban-gro distributes a product called Procidic2®, a broad-spectrum bactericide and fungicide compound, manufactured by Greenspire Global. The advanced commercial formula is designed to eliminate pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Procidic2® can be applied as a preventive and a curative. WSDA Organic Program has approved Procidic2® for use in organic agriculture production and handling. According to Steve Knauss, president of Greenspire Global, “Procidic2® works in sync with the plant through two modes of action: First it controls powdery mildew and gray mold on contact, and secondly it is absorbed systemically into the plant to control disease infection such as root rot,” says Knauss.

Implementing a comprehensive IPM system requires making key changes in cultural, biological and chemical controls. In doing so, growers can successfully mitigate the risk of pest problems, thus reducing the need for potentially harmful pesticides.

The Great LED Debate

By Aaron G. Biros
4 Comments

The preferred choice for indoor cannabis growing has long been high-pressure sodium (HPS) 1000-watt light bulbs during flowering. Light-emitting diodes (LED) are quickly changing the indoor farming landscape with innovative technologies and promising energy savings. Many think the technology still needs time to develop. There are certainly many pros and cons to switching an indoor cultivation facility from HPS to LED lighting systems.

Steve Kruss, president of Light-Waves Electronics, Inc., gave a comprehensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of various light sources at the CannaGrow Conference and Expo. “The first adopters [of LED light technology] more than two years ago did not get the results they wanted, so many growers gave them a bad rap very early on,” says Kruss. His discussion delved into the pros and cons of both LED and HPS lights in growing cannabis.

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Light-Waves Electronics Inc. LED fixtures being installed in a cultivation facility.

It is important to highlight the weaknesses in many common HPS systems and the possible solutions that LED technology could offer. According to Kruss, HPS lights do not match the light spectrum’s photosynthesis curve that plants need to absorb energy. HPS lights give off a tremendous amount of heat that requires more energy to cool a facility down with an HVAC system, increasing energy costs for growers. Since LED’s use 50% less wattage, they produce approximately 50% less heat, significantly reducing cooling costs. HPS light bulbs need to be replaced multiple times per year. Quality LED fixtures can last more than 50,000 hours, or roughly eleven years. “The reality is HPS is putting a lot of light out but that energy is wasted because so much of it is in a light spectrum that plants do not absorb,” says Kruss. Perhaps most important is the lack of ability to vary the light spectrum; any light that HPS bulbs produce that the plant does not absorb is essentially wasted energy.

LED light bulbs provide a solution to the wasted light in HPS by targeting the particular spectrum that plants need for photosynthesis. By targeting the photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), roughly 400-700nm, LEDs can effectively mimic the sun’s ability to produce the wavelength of light specifically needed in a certain stage of cultivation. The absorption spectra and action spectra are wavelengths of light preferable for harvest as well as plant growth and metabolism, respectively. LED manufacturers and growers commonly try to harness the Emerson Effect, which uses red (670nm) and far red (700nm) to increase the rate of photosynthesis.

A plant in flowering under a Light-Waves Electronics LED fixture
A plant in flowering under a Light-Waves Electronics LED fixture

The benefits of LED lights in growing cannabis are numerous. The primary benefit is that it provides light at the specific wavelengths chosen to match the specific needs of plants. When finely tuned, LEDs can influence the growth process by slowing down vegetative plant growth and inducing flowering when appropriate. LEDs are more energy efficient than their counterparts partially because they give off substantially less heat in the beam itself, reducing cooling costs. Some growers use LEDs together with HPS lights, some use LEDs with natural sunlight in a greenhouse setting and some use strictly LEDs for the entire growth cycle. Each cultivation operation has its own budgetary restraints and structural limitations, but energy efficiency is one area that all growers should look to improve. According to Adam Koh, chief cultivation officer of Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), indoor growers can get away with T5 fluorescent lamps (which do not consume much energy) throughout the vegetative process.

For some, the debate is over and growers recognize the added benefits that LEDs bring to growing cannabis. According to Kruss, LED technology is almost there. “In terms of yields, LED lights are providing around 75% of the weight that HPS produces, but on the vegetative side, the growth is considerably faster which could make up for that weight loss with faster grow cycles and an extra harvest,” says Kruss.

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An LED cultivation operation set up by Tall Trees LED Company

Adam Jacques, award-winning grower and founder of Growers’ Guild Gardens, has used LEDs in tandem with sunlight. Him and his team have bred and grown cannabis in indoor, greenhouse and outdoor operations. “I love the huge steps that some LED manufacturers have made in the past year,” says Jacques. “When I utilize them within a greenhouse setting I really like the product it grows.” Jacques’ findings in the field echo Kruss’ statements that LED lights have made considerable progress very recently. “It does take a little dialing in due to the plants’ increased feeding regiment, but it is a small price to pay for all of the benefits we see,” adds Jacques. His success with the new technology is representative of a larger trend; more and more growers are beginning to implement LEDs in some form.

Some claim the yield is less from LED lights during flowering.
Some claim the yield is less from LED lights during flowering.

Maxx Wiley and Robert Manes, co-founders of Tall Trees LED Company based in Arizona, believe their technology is on par with the yields other growers are getting with different light sources. “We conducted heads-up tests with our 500-watt LEDs versus other 1000-watt HPS bulbs and have seen very impressive results,” says Wiley. “The plants under our lights were consistently getting more weight and more flowers; the flowers appeared smaller but were actually denser and heavier in reality.” Wiley’s company makes commercial LED luminaires that are IP 65 waterproof rated and he claims they never had any issues with failures. The technology uses no moving parts to cool the lights, just metal clad circuit boards, heat sinks and conductive thermal-bonding materials. “We have had customers run potency analyses and have found tremendous variation in plants grown with HPS,” says Wiley. “We see more compound production and more consistency crop-to-crop with our LED technology.” There are currently a handful of manufacturers bringing innovative designs to market.

A cultivation operation in Maine using GS Thermal Solution liquid-cooled LED fixtures
A cultivation operation in Maine using GS Thermal Solution liquid-cooled LED fixtures

GS Thermal Solutions, based in Connecticut, manufactures 1000-watt LED fixtures that are liquid-cooled. The company makes lights that are fully adjustable, so growers can dial in each spectrum of light intensity independently and tailor to specific strains as well as stages of growth. According to Rick Rhyins, vice president of sales at GS Thermal Solutions, the liquid cooling technology allows for a much longer lifetime of the LED and a much more efficient energy consumption. “Our technology addresses the shortcomings and previous problems with early generation LED models,” says Rhyins. Coupled with facility automation, GS Thermal Solutions uses a central control system to monitor cooling, light intensity and spectra, nutrient monitoring and feed control.

Yet some are still skeptical of the LED lighting in today’s market and feel the technology is not there yet. Nic Easley, chief executive officer of Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), has brought over sixty cultivation operations to market and is hesitant to endorse the technology at this point. “I will never be an early adopter when it comes to new lighting technology and I feel we are at least a year out from seeing consistently efficient LED lighting,” says Easley. “There are still a lot of false claims out there and I want to wait until I see repeatable results on a small scale before I feel comfortable endorsing LED lights for cannabis cultivation.” While companies will continue to innovate lighting solutions for indoor cultivation, in many cases (but not all) it seems using the sun to grow cannabis would be more energy efficient.