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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Ignorance also has compounded the problem. Earlier this year, cops arrested Jayden's tincture-maker and confiscated his supplies. "My main guy that makes my son's CBD got pulled over with it in a jar," David said. "The police thought it was hash oil and took it away from him. That was Jayden's CBD. That was $2,000 worth of CBD. They don't know a thing.

"If I don't have CBD, my son is going to go back to being a zombie again," he continued. "Not just a zombie, but being in pain all the time. I used to see my son cry for twelve to fourteen hours a day. He's already lost four years of his childhood. I don't know how else to say it — that fucking sucks. Now that I've had a year, it's been the best year of my life."

David said the dispensaries outside the Bay Area are "garbage" and "don't know shit" about medical marijuana. Federal policy is closing good clubs, and harming the professionalization of the lab industry as well as dispensaries. At the same time, kids are increasingly being given prescription drugs that not only don't work, but can often prove to be fatal. "We live in a country that gives methadone to children," David said. "I know parents that have kids on methadone — four-, five-, six-, seven-year-olds. They're on Oxycontin, they give out all these different medications to children. About 106,000 Americans died last year from pharmaceuticals. Zero died from marijuana. It's a plant. That's what's killing me."

The search by Jason David and other parents for high-CBD tincture also is affecting cultivation of the plant. Cannabis labs have led to the creation of the Berkeley-based Project CBD, which tries to identify strains high in CBD, and other cannabis plant molecules like cannabigerol and cannabivarin.

Lab research shows that over the years the black market had bred almost all CBD out of pot, precisely because it limits the euphoric effects — the feeling of being stoned — of THC. Now, plants that were once trashed for not getting people high enough are among the most-coveted medicinal strains. The High Times Medical Cannabis Cup 2012 has a "High CBD" award to highlight the best ones, said organizer David Bienenstock, who also is a senior editor of the magazine. "We're getting strains that test 10- and 11-percent CBD. It's great."

But there's still a long way to go. For example, Southern Humboldt County cultivation reporter Kym Kemp said that, in the Emerald Triangle, growers still view lab testing as nascent and not yet reliable. The same plant can yield wildly different results at different labs. "I know some growers who shop around to get the best results so they can give those to the dispensary buyers," Kemp said. "Nonetheless, some of the best breeders I know are using the information to choose which seeds to plant and breed to. Overall, I think we are in the early days of the science, and growers are still exploring how to use it to improve their product."

David Goldman, a medical cannabis patient in San Francisco who organizes for Americans for Safe Access, said the rise in labs has led to very smart patients who are embracing CBD and smoking lower-THC pot. Halent Laboratories, based in Davis, recently gave a lecture to San Francisco ASA members on the importance of other pot molecules like CBG, CBV, THC-V, as well as terpenes — the aromatic molecules in weed. All are thought to create an "entourage effect" responsible for pot's palliative properties. Halent Laboratories now tests for eight terpenes and fifteen cannabinoids. "I think CBD is the wave of the future," Goldman said. "They're finding THC-V is good for bone growth. It also provides a soaring high without paranoia or jitteriness. It's seen in Durban Poison, Dragon's Breath, and Jack Herer. I think all cannabis should be tested. More dispensaries need to do so."

But the federal crackdown has shut down many clubs that sent their cannabis to labs for testing, including the Divinity Tree in San Francisco, which was just starting to test. Robert Martin of CW Analytical Labs in Oakland and spokesman for Association of California Cannabis Labs said the feds have "rattled us," and the Green Rush of 2009 is clearly over. "The DOJ really hurt us, and the industry has not yet recovered," he said. "A lot of people lost a lot of business that hasn't come back. A lot of operators have gone into the dark and remained in the dark. A lot of growers I know are burying money again."

Closed bank accounts, lack of credit, high rent, landlord evictions, and murky dispensary laws are also slowing down lab progress, said Jeffrey Raber of the Southern California lab The Werc Shop. "The last few months have been tumultuous," he said.

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