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International research shows: No genetic distinction between ‘Sativa’ and ‘Indica’ cannabis

The cannabis industry needs to look more critically at its own disclosures. According to researchers at Canada’s Dalhousie University and the Wageningen University & Research, the Indica and Sativa labels on cannabis are often wrong and misleading. Patients and consumers would benefit from a more scientific approach. The researchers analysed hundreds of cannabis samples. The study shows that the genetic and chemical composition of the cannabis tested often does not correspond to the typical cannabis label Indica or Sativa.

Cannabis labels are often wrong and misleading

The results were recently published in the leading international journal Nature Plants. Robin van Velzen, plant expert scientist at Wageningen University and also affiliated with Bedrocan, contributed to the research.

The terms Indica and Sativa are often used to categorise cannabis. These different strains are generally believed to be associated with certain psychoactive effects. Often the effect of a Sativa strain is described as mentally stimulating and energising, while that of an Indica strain is described as relaxing and soothing. In addition, it is often suggested that the labels say something about the genetic background.

However, the research shows that plants with the Sativa label are no more genetically similar than plants with an Indica label. Also, chemically there is mainly overlap between these two labels.

“Growers worldwide label their cannabis strains quite subjectively with the terms ‘Indica’ and ‘Sativa’. There’s nothing scientific about that. Unfortunately, retailers and consumers cannot rely on the labels that are stuck to the jars,” says Dr Sean Myles, Associate Professor at Dalhousie University‘s Faculty of Agriculture and lead author of the study.

“There is now a broad scientific consensus that the current use of the Indica and Sativa labelling is misleading: these labels do not provide reliable information about the genetic or chemical makeup of the plant,” Myles continues.

Terpenes

The research shows that genetically it is impossible to prove whether a cannabis plant is an Indica or Sativa. There is no difference in the genes. “What our study mainly shows is that you should not just rely on those labels, but that you should look at the specific terpene profile,” says Van Velzen. “For example, cannabis labelled as Sativa often contains higher concentrations of single terpenes with tea-like and fruity aromas, while Indica samples generally contain higher concentrations of terpenes with an earthy smell such as myrcene, guaiol, gamma-elemene and gamma-eudesmol.”

But the distinction that the researchers found is not convincing: “It really is about these specific, individual terpenes that make the difference. The overall chemical profile, like the genetics, shows no apparent difference between the labels. We also found only a small number of regions in the cannabis genome that likely contribute to the earthy aroma associated with the Indica label,” said Van Velzen.

It is also striking that different cannabis samples sold under the same name such as ‘Lemon Haze’ or ‘OG Kush’ could be genetically just as different from each other as samples with different names.

Van Velzen: ‘Unlike other valuable plant species, the labeling of cannabis is very unreliable. This is particularly undesirable for patients who use cannabis as a medicinal product”.

Indica variant Bedica

Bedrocan shows the terpene profiles per product on the website and makes a distinction between Indica and Sativa per cannabis product because many patients need this information. The product Bedica is marketed as an Indica variant. Van Velzen: “The typical terpenes such as myrcene and gamma-eudesmol are also found in Bedica. In that respect, the labelling is therefore in line with our findings.”

According to the researchers, the industry should be more open about the chemical composition. “Show the terpene profiles for real instead of an unreliable name like Indica or Sativa. Fortunately, a number of companies already do this, but a standardised measurement and naming convention is still lacking. Reliable information is of great importance; certainly for medicinal applications,” concludes Van Velzen.

Sean Myles and Sophie Watts at Bedrocan Series

On Friday, November 5, Sean Myles and Sophie Watts of the Dalhousie University research team will be guests at Bedrocan Series. During this webinar they will explain more about the research and its results.
Do you want to know more? Or already reserve a spot at the webinar? Click here.

Cannabidiol, the popular component of cannabis

Cannabidiol, abbreviated as CBD, is getting a lot of attention these days, and everyone knows someone who uses it. But what is CBD, and how does it compare to THC?

CBD is a cannabinoid and is only found in the cannabis plant. There are currently more than 100 different identified cannabinoids, of which THC is the best known. These two substances are very similar in their chemical structure but have very different effects.

CBD has medicinal properties but cannot make the user feel ‘high’. THC can. Some studies suggest that CBD may be effective in treating symptoms of rheumatoid arthritisdiabetes, PTSD, anxiety disorder, and antibiotic-resistant infections, among others.

CBD and epilepsy

More recently, CBD has been used in children with treatment-resistant epilepsy, and a subsidy has been made available by the Dutch government for further research. This study will not only look at CBD, but cannabis products in general, including THC.

CBD molecuul

THC is more likely to be used to reduce nausea, vomiting, pain and muscle spasms and improve sleep and appetite and the scientific evidence for its effectiveness in these conditions is more sound than the one available for CBD.

Ideal THC:CBD ratio

It has been shown that CBD can influence the effects of THC. However, it is still difficult to say which THC:CBD ratio is the most ideal for a specific medical condition. As an example, a study into the pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients showed that the combination of CBD and THC had a better effect on pain reduction than a product with THC alone. Conversly, CBD alone had no effect on pain. In a follow-up study, the researchers are now looking if a THC:CBD balanced ratio cannabis is better than opiates in reducing  fibromyalgia pain.

However, the ultimate medicinal effect of cannabis does not depend solely on CBD or THC.

CBD and driving

When using CBD and driving it is important to avoid combining CBD with THC. A study of the effects of THC on driving ability showed that cannabis containing both THC and CBD had a worse effect on driving performance than cannabis with only THC. Further, when participants received both THC and CBD, they had slightly higher levels of THC in their blood compared with when they had just received THC. CBD alone and driving, on the other hand, do go together. No evidence has been found that CBD negatively affects driving behaviour on its own.

Terpenes refine the therapeutic effect

Terpenes are the substances that give cannabis its characteristic smell and taste. So far, over 120 different terpenes have been found in cannabis, with unusual names such as myrcene, alpha-pinene and beta-caryophyllene.

Unlike cannabinoids, terpenes can be found everywhere in nature. For example, they are present in lavender, roses and pine trees. Some studies suggest that terpenes may counteract certain undesirable effects of THC, such as feelings of restlessness or loss of short-term memory, although thorough research on this topic is still lacking.

Certain terpenes may also have medicinal properties of their own: some are antibiotics, while others have analgesic or anti-inflammatory effects. Terpenes are therefore often used in aromatherapy.

Because there are many different terpenes, there are also many different combinations in which they can occur in a cannabis plant. As with cannabinoids, each specific mix of terpenes can lead to a unique medicinal effect. The terpenes are suspected to work with cannabinoids to modify or amplify their effects. This is known as the ‘entourage effect’.

Trichomes

CBD, like other ingredients, is produced by tiny glandular hairs that are present all over the cannabis plant. Also known as trichomes, these hairs produce a sticky resin that accumulates as tiny droplets at the end of each glandular hair. Trichomes are so small that you can only see them with a magnifying glass.

CBD zit als CBD-zuur in trichoom

Trichomes are found on both male and female plants, but they are particularly concentrated in the tips of the female flower.

Acidic and neutral cannabinoids

THC and CBD are not present in the cannabis plant in ready-to-use form but must first be heated to a temperature of at least 180°C.

The plant only contains ‘acidic’ cannabinoids. THC is, therefore, primarily THC acid (THCA), and CBD from the plant is CBD acid (CBDA, also known as cannabidiolic acid). When these substances are sufficiently heated, the cannabinoid acids are converted into a neutral form known as THC and CBD. This chemical process is called decarboxylation.

Decarboxylation also occurs spontaneously in cannabis as a result of exposure to light and room temperature, although at a slower pace. However, cannabis can be kept for a very long time in the freezer.

CBD acid

Until recently, scientists thought that the acidic cannabinoids had no medicinal properties. However, these substances can indeed be interesting as medicines. For example, it appears that CBDA bactericidal properties and seems promising as an anti-inflammatory substance. Additionally, THC acid seems to have a strong effect on the human immune system.

 

 

Renger Witkamp: “Cannabis is constantly making fun of us”

Biologist and pharmacologist Renger Witkamp is a professor of Nutritional Biology at Wageningen University & Research (WUR). Since 2005, he has also been professionally interested in the (im)possibilities of cannabis as a medicine. He has been involved in research into the medicinal effect of cannabis for over twenty years and also chairs the Institute for Medicinal Cannabis (IMC) in the Netherlands since spring 2021. As he notes, “the development and sharing of scientific knowledge about cannabis is a priority.”

Renger Witkamp constantly balances his work at the intersection of food and pharmaceuticals. He once described his field as ‘the field of science concerned with studying the effects of biologically active substances in food, with the aim of achieving a health-promoting or curative effect.’ According to Witkamp, ​​the key to a good and healthy life is a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and it is now generally known that nutrition plays a crucial role in this. But sometimes adjustments are necessary and pharmacology can offer a solution. And Witkamp and his team look further than just regular medication, because the department also focuses on herbs with a proven or alleged medicinal effect. Cannabis is one of them.

No panacea

Witkamp’s interest in the medicinal use of cannabis does not come out of the blue. “I was trained as a pharmacist, I studied biology, and I have always been interested in medicinal herbs. Precisely because the medicinal use of some herbs has been known worldwide for centuries, but often no scientific explanation has yet been found. Cannabis is definitely one of the most interesting plants, especially when you look back in history. The plant has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries and since the late last century, when the endocannabinoid system (“ECS”) was discovered, interest has been rekindled – and rightly so. But cannabis is certainly not a panacea and we still need a lot of scientific evidence to make well-founded statements about how it works.

Renger Witkamp

The problem is that cannabis – with all its different substances – is not an easy ‘product’ to research scientifically. The plant is constantly making fun of us. Cannabis is full of all kinds of substances, of which we only know a small part of what they do. And if we want to conduct research, which condition should we choose? In addition, we are not yet sure which formulation, which dosage form, and which dosage is best. In short, there is still a lot of scientific work to be done.”

Research

Witkamp has certainly contributed to scientific research. Since 2005, when he worked at TNO Pharma, he was involved in the analysis of THC in preparations and research into cannabinoids as a painkiller and appetite-stimulating or – inversely –inhibiting substance. “We already knew that there are cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) in the plant, but now we also knew that similar substances (endocannabinoids) exist in the human body. Incidentally, also in many other organisms; we even found them in worms…

Like other researchers, we want to know how these phytocannabinoids affect the ECS. I remember that around 2006 all eyes were on the function of CB1 receptors in the body, which are involved in, amongst other things, the regulation of appetite and the development of diabetes. Many researchers – including Big Pharma – went in search of a suitable new CB1 blocker in cannabis, because that would mean a breakthrough in the search for the ‘new generation of drugs’. The idea behind such a synthetic blocker of the CB1 receptor was that it seemed to not only inhibit appetite, but such drugs also seemed to work in other ways against diabetes and its associated complications (collectively referred to as ‘metabolic syndrome’).

Ultimately, this was not successful, because such substances turned out to have serious side effects, precisely because the ECS is so complex and plays a role in so many processes in the body. Interestingly, the cannabis plant also contains a CB1 blocker, in amounts depending on the variety, which may seem more interesting in this regard. This is THCV. Big Pharma subsequently dropped out, but the indications that the ECS offers in the field of appetite and pain and other disorders are still there. Meanwhile, research in the field of phytocannabinoids in many different disorders continues, so that has not stopped. We are also continuing research at WUR, as we recently started in collaboration with the National MS Fund. Together with them, and a number of other parties, we will investigate what CBD can do for MS patients with sleeping problems. But we also see interesting research programs in, for example, Leiden (chronic pain, replacement of supplemental opioids) and Groningen (liver cancer).”

Dutch program

Renger Witkamp also witnessed first-hand the introduction of the Dutch medicinal cannabis programme, which, from 2003, has provided patients with medical prescription cannabis that has been standardised and produced to pharmaceutical grade. “That was an important step, which has also been taken in several other countries. Especially because strict demands were placed on the product from the start. In addition, the way in which patients can obtain it is well regulated. The route via prescriber and pharmacy is the most appropriate for patients, because both the doctor and pharmacist are watching, while the quality of the medicinal cannabis is guaranteed. This brings me to another important point of attention, and that is pharmacovigilance. It is extremely important that any side effects are documented, because we now know that cannabis is not necessarily harmless. For top fit people that may not matter that much, but for people with a reduced resistance – patients, that is – vigilance is required. In addition, priority will have to be given to smart formulations of cannabis-based medicines and, as mentioned, we must continue with scientific research.”

The right route

In the past plus twenty years, Witkamp has seen the world of medicinal cannabis constantly change, but in 2021 he can draw up a balance. “Cannabis is still loaded. Governments are cautious, and so are prescribers. There is still a lot of activism and often the dividing line between medicinal and recreational use is razor thin. All kinds of things are said about the plant, without there being any evidence for it. That’s fine, because traditionally a lot of knowledge comes from the ‘recreational’ angle. But sometimes things are said that could be dangerous for patients, because cannabis, as I said, is not necessarily harmless. I want patients to choose the right route; that they do not start ‘doing’ themselves, but get information and help in the right place; with their doctor, specialist, and pharmacist. But I also want to focus on prescribers because we know that knowledge about medicinal cannabis is sometimes lacking and patients are referred to the coffee shop.”

Share knowledge

With that in mind, Witkamp said ‘yes’ earlier this year when he was asked to become chairman of the IMC, a Dutch foundation that combines all scientific, medical, and production technical knowledge and experience in the field of medicinal cannabis. The foundation, which officially started on 1 March, consists of various organisations, including pharmacists, scientific institutions, universities, and manufacturers. And all affiliated organizations have a common DNA, according to Witkamp: “We are all legally active with medicinal cannabis. All participating organizations have an exemption to work with or conduct research on medicinal cannabis. In addition, we put the patient and the prescriber at the center of all our activities. Combining and expanding the knowledge about medicinal cannabis, and good scientifically based information and discussion about it are matters that are close to my heart and that is exactly what we want to do with the IMC.”

Renger Witkamp

Renger Witkamp (1959) studied Biology and Pharmacy at Utrecht University. After his pharmacy exam and PhD, he continued his work at Utrecht University as an associate professor of pharmacology. In 1996 he transferred to TNO Pharma, where he held various scientific and managerial positions. In 2006, he was appointed professor at WUR, where he currently leads the Nutritional Biology group. This group mainly focuses on the role of nutrition, whether or not in combination with other lifestyle factors and medicines, in aging and (recovery after) chronic diseases.

Since 2005, he has also been involved in research in the field of cannabis and the functioning of the ECS. In addition to his role in education and research, and as chairman of the IMC, he is also active at the Nutrition Lives Foundation, where he is involved in the application of lifestyle intervention as therapy. He is also a board member of the Alliantie Voeding in de Zorg and of the European Nutrition Leadership Platform.
Renger Witkamp was the first guest at Bedrocan Series (see picture). You can view the half hour webinar here.

source: Instituut Medicinale Cannabis

Social Visual Bedrocan Series Renger Witkamp 300x251

Medicinal cannabis or medical marijuana?

The way of referring to cannabis for medicinal use varies across the globe. Is it better to use the word medical or medicinal for cannabis? And what about medical marijuana? Bedrocan has a clear preference for what the correct term is, i.e. which is suitable and which is not. We are quite outspoken about that. In this article, we explain why.

Medical or medicinal

Let’s start with the terms medical or medicinal cannabis. Both are used, but are these two terms interchangeable? Is there a difference in meaning? At Bedrocan, we think so.

We avoid using the term medical next to cannabis. Medical is more applicable to a location or a practice such as a hospital or a dispensary. Its use is also better suited when referred to a condition, problem or treatment.

On the other hand, medicinal is defined, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, as “tending or used to cure disease or relieve pain.” Unfortunately, cannabis cannot cure any disease, but it can definitely relieve pain and help treat several other medical conditions.

Medicinal cannabis or medical marijuana
Medicinal cannabis or medical marijuana

Bedrocan’s glossary

Medicinal cannabis, n: cannabis, or a product derived from cannabis, that is intended for medicinal use. Also, likely is: (i) prescribed by a trained medical professional; (ii) for a known medical condition or a set of conditions where it has proven to be an effective treatment; (iii) for which there is research demonstrating its efficacy as a treatment and/or where other treatments have been ineffective.

What about the term medical marijuana or weed?

Medical marijuana or marihuana is also being used to refer to medicinal use. In some countries, patients are forced to turn to products meant for the adult recreational market, often from the same outlet or delivered by post. Whereas in the Netherlands and in many other countries where Bedrocan is available, patients can access pharmaceutical-grade medicinal cannabis, not marijuana, through their pharmacy on prescription.

We avoid the term medical marijuana or weed as much as we can because it is linked to recreational use. Bedrocan believes in the strict separation between medicinal cannabis and cannabis for recreational use. We are committed to providing a pharmaceutical product that is only available on prescription for patients who benefit from it. We are entirely focused on this assignment. Besides that, the word cannabis is directly linked to the plant name: Cannabis sativa L. So why look for another term when one is already available. A nice side effect is that this scientific name fits a science driven company like us perfectly.

Cannabis, marijuana or weed?

Cannabis goes by many names. Marijuana, gañjā and hemp being the most well-known. Other less salubrious names include weed, pot or smoke.

Hemp is associated with the fibre-type cannabis plant, low in THC. Marijuana is most used in the Americas, while gañjā and derivations of the word are used in India and South-East Asia. Another well-known word is hash or hashish – a THC-rich resin extracted from the cannabis plant.

Regardless of all these terms and their differentiation by type (Indica, Sativa, Ruderalis), the term is now commonly accepted as simply Cannabis sativa L., or just cannabis. However, when produced pharmaceutically and used for medicinal purposes, the term medicinal cannabis is most appropriate.

Science is shaping how we talk about medicinal cannabis

Today, science shapes how we think and talk about medicinal cannabis. Along with like-minded companies, science is at the heart of Bedrocan. Our research programme focuses on advanced cultivation techniques and the development of unique, standardised cannabis strains for use by patients and the pharmaceutical industry. Other companies are taking steps toward registering cannabis-based medicines and medical devices (e.g. Epidiolex, Syqe). While, at a global level, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is currently preparing a guideline of good practices. Driven by scientific evaluation, this global regulatory framework aims to achieve greater uniformity in good practices around cultivation, manufacture, distribution and global trade of cannabis for medicinal and scientific use.

All these actions are helping shape the future – including how we talk about cannabis for medicinal use and a broader acceptance of its use in more countries around the world.

Bedrocan proud partner of Institute Medicinal Cannabis

Reliable information about medicinal cannabis and it effects is not always easy to find. For that reason, Dutch pharmacists, doctors, companies and researchers have joined forces and set up a new partnership: the Institute Medicinal Cannabis Netherlands (IMC). Bedrocan is one of the proud partners of this new institute. The IMC aims to improve the provision of information about medicinal cannabis to patients and prescribers and strengthen collaboration in scientific research. Professor Dr. Renger Witkamp, professor of Nutrition and Pharmacology at Wageningen University, is the chairman of the IMC. Ole Heil, director Communications & Government Affairs at Bedrocan, is treasurer.

Thousands of patients

In the Netherlands, medicinal cannabis has been available to patients on a doctor’s prescription through pharmacies since 2003. Currently, about 10,000 people, with various conditions, make use of it every year. It is used, among other things, as a painkiller and as a symptom reliever in certain forms of epilepsy, MS and palliative care. Nevertheless, it appears to be difficult to find good and reliable information about the use and application of medicinal cannabis.

logo Institute of Medicinal Cannabis

Renger Witkamp: “Unfortunately, we see a lot of incorrect information about medicinal cannabis. Many patients who may benefit from the product end up unnecessarily in the coffee shop or with illegal providers. Or worse, some doctors even actively refer their patients to this. The IMC aims to change this through good information. The IMC promotes that the treatment of patients who may benefit from medicinal cannabis takes place under the medical supervision of a doctor and pharmacist.”

Coordination of research

In recent years, more and more research has been conducted into the effect and application of medicinal cannabis. This is also the case in the Netherlands. Researchers are working on this at almost every university in our country. Because the research area is still in its infancy, there is still little collaboration and coordination. The IMC provides a platform to bring researchers together and join forces where possible.

Dr. Monique van Velzen, research manager of the Anesthesiology department of the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), is a board member of the IMC, in charge of research: “I notice that there is a great need for collaboration in the field of medicinal cannabis scientific research. Many studies, sometimes even within the same institution, overlap. And it is also difficult for researchers to find out what is and what is not allowed when it comes to cannabis, with many delays as a result. That is a shame, and we will soon change that with the IMC. By connecting researchers, we can learn from each other and streamline, coordinate and structure research.”

Substantive experts

The IMC is a foundation to which various partners and substantive experts have joined. In addition to a number of companies from the medicinal cannabis chain in the Netherlands, including pharmacies, these are doctors and researchers from the LUMC, UMC Utrecht, University Medical Center Groningen and Wageningen University & Research.

More information and contact details are available on the IMC website.

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Renger Witkamp
Indica and Sativa - how the industry classifies