Turning Pot into Medicine 

Marijuana strains that provide medicinal relief without getting you stoned are rising in popularity, thanks to the groundbreaking work of cannabis testing labs.

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Skeptics questioned Analytical Labs' in-house methodology and credentials, yet the lab added other Bay Area dispensaries as customers. One of the few economic growth industries during the height of the Great Recession, dispensaries bloomed in 2009, and so did labs. The Green Rush was on. And Analytical Labs moved out of the Emeryville apartment and into a proper lab space in East Oakland, with a new name, Steep Hill, and a new CEO, AnnaRae Grabstein.

By the summer of 2010, High Times had tapped DeMoura and Lampach to test herb for the magazine's first San Francisco Medical Cannabis Cup, but it wasn't part of judging scores yet. A number of new local competitors entered the market as well, including CW Analytical and Pure Analytics, and, later, Halent Laboratories in Davis.

DeMoura had become the salesperson and Lampach the scientist, and they added technicians with degrees in chemistry, along with new equipment, including a high-pressure liquid chromatograph. Even more sensitive than a gas chromatograph, it could detect the presence of THC acids, which were undetectable with the older technology. In short, Steep Hill had gotten much better at testing cannabis flowers, brownies, hash, and even tinctures.

With Steep Hill's help, Jason David discovered that the first tincture he had given Jayden didn't have the same CBD potency as the second one. It was much higher. Lack of CBD appeared to explain why his son's seizures had returned. From then on, Andrew DeAngelo personally worked with David and Steep Hill to find, test, and supply Jayden with a tincture not only high in CBD, but also high in its ratio to THC.

The molecule CBD never appears alone. It's just one of dozens of molecules made by cannabis that are called cannabinoids. CBD actually works in concert with THC on the human brain. Scientists call it the "entourage effect." A high CBD ratio to THC indicates high CBD potency. Jayden needs a tincture with at least a 10:1 ratio of CBD to THC, but 12:1 or 17:1 is even better, David said. "I've gotten as good as 20:1, or 95 percent CBD, five percent THC," David said. "It's amazing."

With a steady supply of high-CBD tincture, Jayden is almost completely seizure-free, and he has begun to normally interact with others. He can go in a bounce house without seizing. He can laugh without seizing.

David also is slowly cutting back on Jayden's daily pill intake, down from 22 pills per day to five. The prescription drugs were stunting his learning and making him a zombie, David said. But weaning Jayden off pills hasn't been easy; the boy has suffered from withdrawal. "Ever seen someone on crack coming off crack?" David asked. "That's what it looks like right now. If you read the medication labels you'll shit your pants. Read about Topamax. It's nicknamed Dopamax. They were giving my one-year-old ten pills of that a day."

It's been a little more than one year since David came to Harborside; he keeps track. Jayden is now comprehending things, making eye contact, and has learned more in the last month at school than he did in two years. "I used to ask him one hundred times to kiss me or hug me; he wouldn't even make eye contact," David said. "Now, he kisses and hugs me. He wants to talk. My goal is to get him to say, 'I love you.'"

David personally knows about forty parents who have their kids on CBD after they saw Jason and Jayden appear on the Discovery Channel documentary Weed Wars, which was filmed at Harborside and aired last year. One parent in Colorado found him via Facebook, and said her daughter had Dravet Syndrome and that she was going to die within a week from the seizures. The mother of three was ready to commit suicide out of despair. "Her daughter had the most aggressive seizures I've ever seen a four-year-old have," David said. "It looked like her limbs were going to break. She said, 'Listen, I'm going to commit suicide today. I'm worn out. I'm going to kill myself. I'm going to give up on life. I need CBD right now.'"

David tried contacting a Colorado dispensary, but the woman lacked a mandatory state ID card for medical cannabis, and the dispensary refused to help her. David then contacted the dispensary's tincture vendor directly, who agreed to help in any way possible. The next day, David received an email. "She wrote, 'It's the first time I've slept in forty days,'" David said.

The woman's daughter is now on CBD, and is part of a growing support group in Colorado that mirrors one in California. David has seen CBD help kids with autism, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. David gets calls from parents in non-medical marijuana states and in foreign countries. Some are moving to California.

When he was young, David had tried smoking pot. And before coming to Harborside, he was ambivalent about marijuana. But the ravages of Dravet Syndrome and the relief that CBD tinctures provide for his son have made him an activist. He wants pot to be treated like the medicine it clearly is. Federal marijuana policy, as well as the policies of some states and counties — even in California — is depriving kids and parents of treatment that works, he said. "Parents are going crazy," he said of those who have children with illnesses that don't respond to prescription drugs. "It wears out your body and your brain. You don't want to go on."

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