Graywolf asked me to write an article describing the evolution of cannabis extraction technology as I witnessed it. I have a lifelong history with the technology; I wrote the book Cannabis Alchemy in 1971. The book was based on work I did in the late sixties in San Francisco.
Cannabis extractions had been around for at least a century, even way back in the sixties. Tincture of Cannabis U.S.P. was one of the most common medicines that the old-time country Doc carried in his medicine bag as he visited patients in his horse-drawn wagon. He used it to treat almost as many different illnesses and symptoms as medical marijuana treats today.
Although nobody (that I knew, at least) had tried it, many people in the Haight at that time knew about cannabis tincture. There was even a T-shirt that featured a picture of a bottle of old time Tincture of Cannabis medicine.
I kind of got into the cannabis chemistry by accident. I had a chance to buy a lab from a guy who lived in Topanga Canyon and was trying to make what he called “the philosopher’s stone.” He only wanted $300 (still a tidy sum at the time). It came with a Welch Duo-Seal, a Variac, a really good rotary evaporator, and a nice assortment of filtration glassware.
I didn’t know what I would do with it, but I knew I was supposed to have it and I would sure as hell do something of consequence with it.
I boxed it up and sent it home to SF on a Greyhound, and soon it was sitting in an apartment in the Haight-Ashbury. But I didn’t have anything to play with it with. A friend, who was, shall we say, an “associate” of the Grateful Dead, was going to help me procure some varied substances that would put the thing to good use, but it would be a while. At the time, nobody had even thought of doing anything with cannabis other than smoke it, make tea from the leftover stems, and occasionally eat it.
(San Francisco’s smoking community had only recently learned the difference between leaf and flowers. This happened when the farmers in Mexico discovered that unpressed, well-treated colas could bring $250 per pound, at a time when a kilo of pressed Mexican sold on Haight Street for about $80, regardless of quality.)
So I’m dying to put it to use and I realize that I happen to have a kilo or so of fairly good brick weed in the closet somewhere, and there is a liquor store down the block at Haight and Cole. I know that tincture is simply made by soaking the herb in drinking alcohol until some of the goodies therein dissolve in the alcohol. The herb is then filtered from the mixture and the clarified alcohol (which contains the goodies) is bottled as a medicine.
I really liked the rotary evaporator, having seen them in use before when friends were making other exotic substances, and wondered what you would get if Tincture of Cannabis were processed in it.
Didn’t take long for me to figure it out and there was probably a trail of smoke as I ran down to the store, bought some Smirnoff 101, and made it back to the apartment. Soon the kilo was soaking in a big RB flask full of vodka.
It became obvious what was happening as I watched the alcohol turn green. I let it sit for a while, anxiously watching the alcohol get darker and darker, realizing that the goodies were being slowly dissolved into the alcohol. I filtered and ran the sauce thru the rotary evaporator, resulting in a dark green, rather viscous oil.
But I had no idea of what to do with it. Pot and hash were the only things smoked at the time, and a lot of the smoking technology we have today was still many years in the future.
So I soaked the oil up with cotton and smoked it in a pipe. Pretty nasty but, for the time, new, strong and novel.
It didn’t take too long until we discovered that smoking dabs on tinfoil with a match and a straw (this was the era that might be called pre-Bic!) was a whole different type of high. Vaporized cannabinoids like modern dabbing. Yes! (Never smoke anything on tinfoil, even if you first heat it in a gas flame until it “turns.” Research on hard-drug addicts who smoke on foil has shown many bad effects from the practice. I believe that Parkinson’s is one of them.)
Right after this I got my hands on some powerful Afghani hash and did it again. Hash oil. The first I had ever tasted or even heard of it. Turned on many folks around the Bay and, soon thereafter, the counterculture had a new toy.
The first product to surface soon thereafter was Mexican oil mixed with powdered grass. It was about two parts oil to one part pot and came in a gram vial, complete with a tiny, one-hit glass pipe. It was called “The One” and was all over San Francisco and Marin for a few months.
Several other oils soon hit the market, and the paraphernalia manufacturers followed suit, offering glass oil pipes that vaporized the oil. They smoked as smoothly as tinfoil for the first three hits, but then you had to clean them between hits or the coughing would be so severe that it’s a wonder that nobody’s lungs ever popped out and landed on the coffee table. Hooray for modern vape devices and technology.
The University of California San Francisco Medical Center is located on a hill that’s about a mile southwest of the Haight-Ashbury. They had a fine medical library and, in these pre-internet years, technical libraries were the only source of knowledge.
I was up there some time in the late sixties, probably 1968 or ’69, reading about the experiments carried out by Dr. Roger Adams in 1947, the year I was born, and came across a process he did that utilized the extracts from a huge chunk of seized hashish. The hash had many times the CBD as it did THC, and the experiment was isomerization with sulfuric acid, which converted the CBD to THC.
The bottom line of the experiment was that the THC content of the oil was increased about six times by the isomerization process. I read over the experiment several times in amazement and had to stifle myself from shouting “Eureka!” in the library, realizing I had just discovered something that, in this case at least, increased the THC in a given and finite amount of cannabis by six times.
I spent the next six months working on testing and processing as many different kinds of cannabis as San Francisco had to offer and found that most of the Mexican cannabis, as well as the Asian hash that was around those days, had significant amounts of CBD, resulting in dramatic potency increases after isomerization.
The weed from commercial kilo bricks of so-called “regular” Mexican – eighty bucks “retail” on Haight Street – increased in potency more dramatically than the $250 pounds of Mexican “superweed” which were unpressed, well-cared-for, huge colas of cannabis that had received some love and attention from the growers … even though they were still about 50% seed by weight. However, when a strain of superweed reacted favorably with the isomerization process, the results were just incredible.
We heard rumors of the legendary stuff the Mexican growers smoked themselves, which were seedless and were called “sinsemilia”, a legendary and magic term that many smokers heard about long before they had the chance to experience it in some manner.
Then I met this guy, Djanandruman Baba, who published a series of counterculture pamphlets that he sold thru head shops. His pen name was Mary Jane Superweed and he had books such as the Supergrass Grower’s Guide, Drug Manufacture for Fun and Profit, and a few other choice titles. I asked him once how many books he had sold altogether and he told me about 200,000. It took me about 10 seconds to decide that I should write a book about my research.
Another event happened at this time that caused me to really consider changing my mode of operation from underground chemist to writer and publisher. An old science buddy of mine was shot and killed by federal agents at his lab in Humboldt. He is considered the first casualty in the war on drugs; his story made the cover of Rolling Stone for several issues.
The final event that led me to write Cannabis Alchemy was a lab explosion that put me in the hospital for several months. A friend was distilling some 30 to 60 degree pet ether and blew about a liter into the air. I was sleeping in the next room and went into the room he was working in after he woke me up yelling. I walked into the room and, all of a sudden. WHooooosh … boom. Blew out the front and back windows in a large Victorian flat, and actually jammed the doors shut. I was in the epicenter so there was no concussion, just a thorough frying. I reached into the flames and removed a 5 gallon can of pet ether. Good thing I did or it might have leveled the Haight Ashbury.
I came up with the safety methods that are in the book while I was in the hospital for a few months. The methods in the book were designed to give the operator the greatest degree of safety possible. I didn’t want anyone going thru what I did.
So I wrote the book and started a publishing company. The first edition was called Cannabis Alchemy – The Art of Modern Hashmaking: Preparation of Extremely Potent Cannabis Products. It came out in 1972. It was the first serious book on cannabis science that was published from a consumer’s point of view.
Level Press was started with several friends and we soon published a number of similar books. Among them was the first edition of Ed’s Marijuana Growers Guide, as well as a series of how-to books with High Times, and several by Dr. Leary.
Right around the time that the book came out, a wave of Afghani Honey Oil hit San Francisco. Made in Afghanistan from fresh charas and purified by fractional distillation, this wonderful product was the strongest cannabis preparation that anyone anywhere, up until that time, had probably ever smoked, in my opinion. It was probably around 80% or more cannabinoids, but was unlike similar oils available today. It had all the high of the THC that one would expect, but retained the powerful ass-kicking knock-you-down power of fine Afghani. It retailed for $50 a gram and was worth every cent to everyone who partook of the lung-crushing delight. Its acrid taste indicated that it probably was isomerized, but I don’t think it was acetylated. Many people attribute its import to the Brotherhood of Eternal Love in Laguna Beach, a courageous bunch of long-distance surfers!
For the next decade or so, many different extraction products were available in California. The original Honey Oil from The Brotherhood was the standard and very few offerings approached its intensity and quality.
One interesting late-sixties product that I liked was pre-rolled packs of 20 “reefers” called Bay Area Bombers. They were named after the local roller-derby team and consisted of several varieties of quality marijuana mixed with chunks of hash, and dipped in tincture and dried. The “reefers” were machine rolled and filtered and the packs looked as professional as a box of Marlboros. The main customer was the Jefferson Airplane and they smoked them down as fast as the folks making them could put them out. The Bombers were considered by many to be the best smoke out there at the time … at least until the Thai Stick reared its pretty little head in America. (I was recently told that the Hash Museum in Amsterdam has a package that was once displayed and may still be today.)
Edibles first came out at about this time. Several people were making candy bars and butter cookies, as well as a few oil caps here and there. Tincture was around as were small bottles of traditional bhang, made like it is in Nepal.
My favorite edible from the early Summer of Love days was a milkshake that turned into a ritual into which a number of people indulged. A fat ounce of sometimes bad, sometimes great pot sold for between five and ten bucks on Haight Street. A friend had a girlfriend who worked at the donut shop near the SW border of Golden Gate Park on Stanyan Street, a place renowned for its milkshakes. We would roll out the seeds and give her an ounce to put into each milkshake. Very strong, even by Haight-Ashbury standards.
Cannabis economics went thru some drastic changes soon after the summer of 1967. The $80 kilos of 1966 pressed Mexican regular went up to $100 a pound, and the hand-picked, high-quality Mexican colas were bringing about $250 a pound, even though they were up to half seeds by weight.
Panama Red came in about once a year and the whole city stopped for a week or two, or at least slowed down considerably. It was also half seed and cost about $250 per pound retail. While Panama only showed up occasionally, all of a sudden San Francisco was awash in really good Columbian red and gold buds. A guy named Bruce Perlowin tells of how he organized a major portion of the fishing fleet in Bodega Bay to go down to Columbia and bring it back. He even bought a pier, which is right beside the Richmond–San Rafael bridge to unload the bales into his trucks.
Columbian was king in SF until the first Thai Sticks made it to the mainland. An ounce of good Columbian sold for $50. An ounce of Thai sold for $200, establishing a new high in cannabis prices. Thai was also the first sensi, or seedless weed, that most San Francisco smokers experienced. It set the tone for the soon-to-come Humboldt and Mendo sinsemilla that so radically changed so many aspects of the cannabis scene.
Thai weed is greatly responsible for today’s huge industry in the Emerald Triangle. Prior to Thai, there was little incentive to grow weed, as the imported cannabis was so cheap. People even wrote rock songs about not growing weed. The lyrics went something like: “You know it’s well known … you don’t smoke homegrown.”
When Thai established the new top shelf of the market at $200 per ounce, it was soon followed by Hawaiian at the same price and, soon thereafter, folks in the woods discovered that some of those seeds they have been saving for so many years would produce incredible cannabis if grown with proper nutrients, love, and care. Once the cannabis culture discovered that a single plant could yield $10,000 or more in returns, a whole new industry, and lifestyle, was born in the hills of the North.
I recall the first time I saw cannabis for sale for $50 per eighth was about 1978 in North Hollywood. That guy named Jack that has the super sativa strain named after him and is famous for extolling the benefits of the fiber had it …
Traditional domestic hash was created around this time. I describe dry screening the resin heads from dry, spicy flowers in Cannabis Alchemy, and Ed makes the first mention of water hash in one of his early books describing “Sensi Sam’s Secret.”
Sensi Sam was the guy who took his super collection of California seeds to Holland and sold them to Neville for $1 each. Neville started the first seed company and made a fortune from the strains selling the offspring back to America. Back to Sam’s secret: Powder up some resinous weed and drop it in a glass of ice water. The plant material floats but the resin sinks. Viola! Ice hash.
In 1977 I made and marketed a machine called The Isomerizer. It made oils, isomerized CBD to THC, made hash concentrates, etc. I started a factory in El Segundo that made about a thousand of the original isomerizers, followed by about 20,000 of an upgraded model called the Iso-2. Sold them thru High Times, head shops and record stores. The feds sued us to stop after two years because we weren’t shy about saying what it was used for. It was patented as The Isomerizer, a do-it-yourself marijuana intensipurifier, tar and nicotine remover, perfume, incense, and essential oil making machine.
In 1979 or 1980 I became fascinated with a technology that was brand new at the time and I believed – still do – that the technology could be a powerful force against world hunger. I’d like to outline the technology here in hopes that it resonates with one of the young alchemists who follow this site, and he or she puts some effort to seeing if the technology still has a place in today’s socio-economic world.
The world was going thru regular gasoline shortages at this time. The shortages were blamed on enemies of the US withholding oil, instead of the fact that the average family car got about ten mpg … Now the US is actually pumping more petroleum than it is using domestically, but gas still sells for about ten times what it did back then.
The technology I liked was called “farmer’s alcohol.” It was basically traditional high-proof moonshine that could be burned in an easily-modified internal combustion engine. The fuel could be easily made on the farm, either from certain types of farm waste, or from crops like corn that are grown especially for that purpose.
As expected, even in a fuel crisis, big oil immediately negated the concept of alcohol fuel. They claimed that distilling the alcohol used more energy than the alcohol would produce when burned, a claim that has since been debunked on several levels.
I had just spent a decade or so studying different means of distillation, and knew that a vacuum can be used to lower the boiling temperature of alcohol down to what is essentially room temperature, temperatures that are easily reached with simple solar technology.
By utilizing a combination of solar and vacuum, I figured that alcohol could be distilled without burning any fossil fuel. The corn cobs that provided the grain being fermented and distilled presented a fine fuel source with plenty of BTUs to cause distillation when combined with solar and vacuum.
One of the coolest aspects of ethanol from corn is that the ethanol is created from the starch, leaving behind the protein. A powdered residue from this process contains 28% protein and can be cooked into a number of tasty food products. It is currently fed to livestock.
What fascinated me about this process was the fact that if most of the drivers in the US and Europe used this process for transport, the resulting high-protein by-product would be sufficient to end world hunger. A far better deal for the human race than oil provides.
So I built a 5,000 gallon solar/vacuum alcohol fuel still on a ranch that I had in the mountains above LA. The main tank was a 5,000 gallon butane tank with a 5/8” steel wall. The vacuum was supplied by a GMC 4-71 supercharger (roots blower) that was run backwards. A type of moonshine technology called “thumpers” purified the alcohol to about 175 to 180 proof. Passive solar heating was used to pre-heat the beer before distillation, and a trench under the tank facilitated the burning of the corncobs.
For a year or two, farmer’s alcohol was researched mostly by seat-of-the-pants experimenters, with good support from many agricultural colleges and universities. Big Oil continued to spout that ethanol was worthless as a fuel. Even so, the fears of gasoline shortages were so big that the government supported all forms of experimentation in alternative energy. I received some funding from Jimmy Carter’s so-called “superfund.“
Then politics came onto the scene. Carter was replaced by Reagan, who promptly cut funding to us independent researchers, and literally gave the billions in the superfund to Big Oil. Then lawmakers in agricultural states found that they could buy a lot of votes from farmers by pushing a subsidy on corn meant for alcohol production, and they assured the profitability of the venture for Big Oil and Big Ag by mandating that gasoline be blended with 10% corn ethanol, as it is to this day.
So the economically-sound concept of farmer’s alcohol was co-opted by corporate creeps, and now hundreds of thousands of tons of food, that could otherwise feed hungry people in other parts of the world, is used as motor fuel.
But the technology that I think most important is virtually unknown, and was actively suppressed and kept hidden for many years. What is the magic new plant? Cattails! Especially a variety that grows in Asia named, if I remember correctly, Typha Domingensis.
Cattails are the plant that is often seen lining roads in wet areas. Each cattail top looks like a cigar on a stick. The value lies in the roots. The plant forms a thick mat of roots that have a food value that is similar to corn. Except each crop can outyield corn five times. And a technique known as strip farming allows up to three harvests per year.
A 40-acre test crop was grown in Florida in the late seventies, which reported these figures. Then the venture that carried out the experiment dissolved and the reports on the project became impossible to locate, even though it was funded by the government and publishing the findings is required.
This was all pre-internet. A decade or so later, when the internet was just getting started, I found that the experiment had been uploaded. But all the important data did not scan well and was indecipherable.
It is a shame because, according to all the data that I had at the time, the protein by-product from a robust cattail for fuel industry would be sufficient to end world hunger many times over, if even a small portion of all gasoline was replaced by ethanol sourced from cattails.
So I apologize for diverging from the main theme of this writing. I just feel strongly that, as I said, some young alchemist may want to take this a few steps further. I worked on it for a few years, and came to the above conclusions. I never got the chance to put it into play.
I didn’t see a lot of new progress in the world of cannabis science in the eighties, as it pertains to extraction and chemistry. There was great progress on the agricultural side of the coin, as growers developed new strains by crossing California breeds with genetics imported from exotic countries, and as inventors developed equipment and techniques for indoor growing.
Cannabis science took a wonderful turn at about this time when the aforementioned Sensi Sam took seeds of California’s finest to Holland and sold them to Neville, who started a company called The Seed Bank. He sold the seeds to the US thru High Times, much to the annoyance of the regulators in America. The Dutch government had no laws against cannabis seed, and refused to shut Neville down.
One of Neville’s strains, Skunk No. 1, won the first High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and the cannabis world saw the first standardizations of the best strains that were available at the time, the ancestors of the thousand plus strains that make up today’s market.
Soon after the establishment of the Amsterdam coffee shops and the first Dutch seed companies (Neville’s competition billed itself as The Super Sativa Seed Club), new extraction technology began to hit the market, much of it coming from Amsterdam. Several different devices were marketed to automatically screen hash from intact buds, and the first devices and equipment for making water hash hit the market.
The next milestone in the cannabis world, as I saw it, was when Dennis Peron opened the first Cannabis Buyers Club in San Francisco circa 1990. AIDS was discovered a decade or so earlier and was ravaging San Francisco’s gay community. Doctors had no idea how to treat the disease; none of the lifesaving anti-AIDS drugs now common had been discovered or developed.
The end of the line for many patients was the advanced AIDS ward at SF General Hospital. When a new patient was admitted to the ward, the Docs knew that the patient’s bed would be emptyin four months or so; patients at this stage of the disease died like clockwork.
Suddenly the Docs were perplexed. Logjam. Patients suddenly stopped dying on schedule and some of the advanced patients even started eating, putting on a few pounds, and became able to walk up and down the halls.
After intense investigation, the Docs found what was different. A kindly old lady from Marin County named “Brownie” Mary Rathbun, had been bringing the patients her potent cannabis brownies for a short time, and the patients chose to keep it from the doctors. Only when they were pressured as to what was different, did the patients tell the Docs.
The doctors were amazed and went to the city fathers, who were all desperately seeking relief from the epidemic. The doctors suggested the supervisors pass a law permitting AIDS patients to use pot with a doctor’s recommendation. Dennis Peron volunteered to sell the medicine to the patients who qualified.
And thus were the humble beginnings of medical marijuana in California. It would still be a few years before Prop. 215 would legalize cannabis for all patients statewide. During this time four or five other dispensaries opened in San Francisco, Marin and Oakland.
Dennis’ club became the focal point for the movement. Dennis was given use of a five-story commercial building on downtown Market Street. Soon the building was full. Intake on the first floor, offices on the mezzanine, and the upper floors dedicated to growing, sales, and smoking.
California had a jerk of a governor then, Pete Wilson (whose buddies called him Six Pack Pedro). His Attorney General was even worse, a conservative political hack named Dan Lungren.
Wilson and Lungren busted the Cannabis Buyers Club several times. Jackbooted thugs busting dying folks in wheelchairs. Truly disgusting.
Dennis came up with a novel way to keep Lungren from busting him at every opportunity. Lungren was running for Governor. Dennis decided to run against him and mounted a campaign that got him 3% of the total vote in California. It was hard for Lungren to bust his political opponent, so he didn’t.
Dennis didn’t win, but, thankfully, neither did Lungren. Dennis did, however, win us one of our biggest victories ever in that election. Dennis was the driving force and organizer behind Prop 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California for anyone with a doctor’s recommendation in 1996.
Dennis reopened the Cannabis Buyers Club on Jan. 2. This time membership was open to anyone with a note from their doctor. I was in the line that day. It was a memorable occasion.
Over the next year or so, extraction products began to show up at the dispensaries. The quasi-legal environment was very conducive for the technology to progress. Butane extracts made their first appearance around this time.
Several friends and I opened the first new legal dispensary in San Francisco since the passage of Prop. 215 sometime around the middle of 1996. The dispensary was called Dharma Producers Group, and was located in the old Warfield Building at Sixth and Market.
I had the opportunity to test a preparation we called Dharmanol. It was a delta 8 THC isomerization and we gave it to many seriously ill patients to try, especially AIDS and HIV patients. The results were very encouraging. Nobody said it got them particularly high, but many praised its pain-relieving properties. I would like to see a good test on delta 8 as a pain treatment.
After a bit more than a year serving patients, we were sued by the feds and closed
. I kind of welcomed the change as I was able to withdraw from the daily rigors of running the dispensary, and I went back to producing for Dennis and occasional research.
As more dispensaries opened in San Francisco, more different products made it to the retail counters. Honey Oil was again available, this time made from modern Humboldt cannabis. It was good, and made with butane by a guy who called himself The King of Hash Oil, but I still don’t think it can compare with the original that was made from Brotherhood Afghani 25 years earlier.
Medical marijuana started to really take off soon after the turn of the millennium. More and more different extracts, edibles, and tinctures came on the market, and soon there were enough dispensaries in California that people began to form companies to vend cannabis products to the ever-growing network of dispensaries.
One of the first “brands” to come on the scene was a line of candy edibles called “Tainted.” They were professionally packaged, fairly strong, and made available thru dispensaries all over California. The company’s high profile quickly caught the attention of the feds, and the owner was soon in jail.
Butane extracts started to proliferate around this time. The first preparation I saw was called “earwax.” It was strong and fun to smoke, and the fact that it was a semi-solid instead of an oil made it a novel new thing to smoke.
Soon following the earwax, we saw “Shiva Crystals”, budder, and shatter. The processes, of course, were highly secret, until someone’s thirst for internet fame overcame their desire to keep a process secret. This usually takes about a month, and always pisses somebody off. I greatly prefer the free sharing of info here on the Skunk Pharm blog.
Along with the products themselves, we saw a quantum leap in smoking technology. When I was first introduced to shatter, I met one of the guys who supplied a number of local dispensaries with a fine product. When he traveled, he carried a medium-sized hard shell suitcase everywhere he went. It contained a large glass bong, a torch, various dental tools, etc. He told me that in order to get the perfect shatter hit, all this stuff was necessary. Thankfully, smoking and dabbing technology has come a long way, and now a small bong with a titanium “nail” and an electric heating unit can deliver the perfect dab hit with much less rigamarole.
In 2001 I moved to Florida for several years to work on an aquaculture project. It was an interesting change. The medical climate in California was one that felt like full legalization, with everyone having a myriad of new strains and products. Florida, on the other hand, was still an illegal state, and I had to go back to buying an eighth at a time from a local dealer. What a regression!
It was wonderful to get back to California. I returned at about the time Harborside Health Center, now the biggest dispensary in the world, was opening. I taught the D. Gold Sunday Afternoon Grow Class for many years … with many sabbaticals to attend to different projects. While a friend of mine teaches most of my classes these days, I still design the classes and teach them occasionally.
On my return to California, my wife and I started a non-profit supplying oils and edibles to various dispensaries. While I had been studying the work of Rick Simpson … admittedly with a bit of skepticism … I was relatively unaware of the recent work done in Spain testing the efficacy of cannabis as a direct anti-cancer, anti-tumor medicine. I knew that it had wonderful properties as a palliative, but was unaware that people were studying it as a direct anti-cancer medicine, and seeing very promising results.
Then one day a relative from Florida showed up at the door. He had received chemo and radiation twice before for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The disease came back and the Docs said that he needed another round or he would soon die. He chose the latter.
He looked like death walking. His skin was yellow, his eyes sunken, and he looked like hell. We didn’t know exactly what to do so we started studying Simpson. He said a gram a day of hash oil and the cancer often goes away. We tried it and within a few days his skin went from yellow to grey. Soon after that he regained a vibrant look and, after five weeks, had his cancer checked at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. They could find no cancer.
Well, as you might guess, we were struck pretty hard by this finding. For the first few days we had a lot of trouble assimilating the info, and then we dove into the research with a lot of vigor.
Over the next year or so we wrote a 300-page book entitled Cannabis Chemotherapy – The Art and Science of Treating and Preventing Cancer with Concentrated Marijuana Medicine. The theme of the book is basically explaining and outlining the most important published studies so that a non-scientist can easily understand the science.
At this time we also began supplying whole-plant cannabis oil and capsules to a number of dispensaries. We put the book on CD and gave away a copy with each gram of medicine. Thousands of copies were circulated. (The book is available as a free download today at cannabischemo.info).
We formulated the venture into a non-profit Care and Hospice Program. Our mission statement was simple and describes much of the work we did at the time: We provided cannabis medicine at no cost to every qualified Californian with cancer who asked us to and had no capacity to pay for the meds.
My extraction chemistry actually went the other direction during this period. Instead of making the strongest and purest oil possible, with the highest possible percentage of cannabinoids, we found that so-called whole-plant oil – containing every different substance that the plant had to offer – was superior in healing power to refined extracts. This has been referred to as the Entrouage Effect, and shows that all the 421 elements in the herb (I think they screwed up and counted one twice) seem to work together to provide the best healing. This was confirmed by the Harvard-trained Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who took our whole-plant capsules regularly and said there was something “different” about them.
We kept the Care and Hospice Program operating for over five years, treating many patients with cancer and other serious illnesses. We regretfully had to close the program this year when the State of California outlawed the making of extracts with volatile solvents.
It is easy to see why the state took this step. Too many Bhotards were blowing their asses up, burning down houses and setting the forests afire up in the Emerald Triangle. The problem with butane extraction is that any idiot can buy 4 bucks worth of pvc pipe at the hardware store, a couple of cases of butane lighter refill cans at the head shop, and easily and quickly fill his basement or spare room with butane fumes … which blows right up as soon as the water heater comes on.
I think that 90% of the problem comes from the fact that one can do a relatively efficient extraction with open tubes. If everyone blasting butane in this manner did so outside, away from any means of containing the fumes and away from any possible source of ignition, there would be no butane fires.
Or, if everyone utilized safe equipment and followed standard laboratory protocols, there would also be no problem. It seems to me that the biggest problem is developing a sense of confidence and familiarity with the process … usually because it did not blow up the first few times. One gets casual, one gets lax, and soon a mistake happens when all the conditions are ripe for disaster, and disaster happens.
Interestingly, I know of a guy who let familiarity get the best of him with a CO2 extractor rig. He removed a valve before relieving the 2000 lbs. pressure, and destroyed his hand.
I very much appreciate the safety inspections that Skunk Pharm carries out on new equipment, and the relating of any concerns to the extracting public. I am against most any form of government regulation, but keeping equipment safe that is offered for sale is a good thing in all ways.
I have been working a lot lately with ethanol extraction. Too many amateurs are frying themselves and their surroundings with butane, and guys using 5 bucks worth of extraction equipment certainly aren’t putting much care into purging. And we just had a big fire in Humboldt that was caused by two industrial butane extractors being operated by seemingly unqualified stoners.
I have been developing a safe, low cost, very easy to use machine that can utilize vodka as a starting material, and produce clear to translucent oils that, in my humble opinion, compare to or even exceed most of the concentrates I see that are made with butane, and even CO2. The machine is designed for extracting any manner of food, plant or herb, and will be marketed as such.
So this kind of brings us up to date. From shortly after the time that Skunk Pharm started up, they have, in my mind, been the leader in all forms of cannabis technology. I continue to play around with some of the new technologies (I’m starting to really like fractional distillation), but not with anywhere near the degree of science that Graywolf and Joe maintain in their work these days. These guys are the NASA or JPL of cannabis extraction technology today, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to contribute as best I can.
And as I have said before, what I love most about the Pharm is this blog. The free sharing of information in the two-way format that allows anyone to add their 2 cents worth is the tool that I believe will allow cannabis science to progress at its fastest possible rate. We all oughta be really thankful for this wonderful resource.
CANNABINOIDS OF THE FUTURE – BOON OR DISASTER?
About a month or so ago, Graywolf asked me to write an article on the history of cannabis extraction, as I witnessed it. He also asked me what I thought the future of cannabinoid chemistry might be. Well …. Thanks a bunch Graywolf! Keep me up thinking an extra hour every night for a month contemplating what the hell might be next. Not actually complaining, mind you. I do love it!
My first thoughts on the future was that the future is here, the future is now, we done done it all already. When the basement Alchemist can perform the same experiments and procedures that previously only happened in university laboratories, or were carried out by government-funded scientists in Israel or Spain or at Harvard, we have come a long way. There’s not much that our intrepid Alchemists have not figured out. (Note that I left out those so-called researchers at University of Mississippi government “farm”. They have been about as useful in advancing the science as … you supply the metaphor).
But then, something dawned on me that hit me pretty hard. There is a massive universe of unexplored cannabinoid chemistry out there that may eventually yield incredible medicines and euphoriants. It is likely a vast untapped mine of chemical wonders, and right now it is being abused, neglected, prostituted, besmirched, and possibly worse. In fact, the way that this vast potential resource of wonderfulness is currently being treated will most likely lead to disaster. Unless some young brave Alchemists step up and develop the research as it should be.
What the hell am I talking about? Synthetic cannabinoids! Spice! K-2! That horrible crap that the media has labeled as “synthetic marijuana” that makes big news as people freak out on unknown chemical mixtures that may or may not actually contain some synthetic cannabinoids.
When “herbal smoking mixtures” first began to be advertised in High Times, which was decades years ago, I laughed, figuring that they would be gone in a few months, when the novelty of smoking something that did nothing wore off. The fact that they lasted so long, and commanded such substantial advertising investments, caused me to wonder. When I found out that the herbal mixtures were being infused with synthetic cannabinoids, I finally understood why the mixtures had achieved commercial longevity.
The scientist behind synthetic cannabinoid analogues is named Dr. John W. Huffman. He has made a number of variations on the THC molecule that substantially change the effects from those of organic cannabis. He has developed about 450 different variations of the different cannabinoid molecules. Huffman is to be commended (somewhat) for publicly telling people to avoid all the compounds he is creating, and smoke organic cannabis instead. In other words, he is developing many different cannabis-derived compounds, but nobody is ever supposed to take them, and find out if they are any good.
When I first heard of Huffman, I had some hope. Put one little line across the top of the “u” in his last name, changing it to an “o”, and you have the name Hoffman. The same name as one of the greatest scientists ever to grace mankind with his work, the late, great Albert Hoffman. (Who lived to the age of 102!)
Dr. Hoffman believed in his work, partook of his creations regularly and often, and is a shining example of a scientist who holds the key to an invention which may be of immense benefit to mankind.
But the scientist who has provided the finest example of how an altruistic Alchemist with a possible world-changing discovery should conduct his or her life and affairs is one of my all-time heroes, Dr. Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin.
Dr. Shulgin started with the medicinal cactus that is sacred to Native Americans and synthesized over 200 different compounds by rearranging the molecule. Even though all of these compounds are of the same chemical family, the effects all differ … some slightly … some greatly.
But, instead of making the compounds, publishing the synthesis, and claiming no responsibility for the actual consumption of his creation, Sasha personally tested every compound he synthesized.
Sasha and his wife, Ann, worked out a well-defined set of protocols for testing all of Sasha’s new creations. Sasha would take it first. If he liked it and saw potential, Ann would then test it. If Ann agreed it was worthwhile, Sasha would test it on a group of friends who eventually became very experienced in assessing Sasha’s new creations. Everything was done according to scientific protocol and the results are to be found in two massive books which Sasha and Ann published – PIKAL and TIKAL.
There is a tremendous difference between how Sasha conducted his affairs and how Huffman is going at it today. I suppose we are fortunate that Huffman is exploring making the new cannabinoids, but what good is that when nobody is doing any actual testing? There are 450 brand new cannabinoids now in existence. Only a handful of which have been taken by humans, if that.
Instead of learning the possibilities and pitfalls of each new creation, all we see now as a result of Huffman’s work is international crooks trying to make a buck by peddling dangerous drugs under the guise of legal smoking herbs.
If the only way that synthetic cannabinoid chemistry goes forward is through the routes it has taken with Huffman and Spice, we may never learn of some potentially wonderful cannabinoid compounds. We need to know if there is some compound out there waiting to be synthesized and discovered … maybe a variation on the molecule that is even more powerful as an anti-cancer medicine than THC and CBD … or more euphoric than extracts from the natural plant.
With the remarkable medical benefits we have seen from the natural cannabinoids, it stands to reason that even more efficacious compounds may be created by tweaking our favorite molecule. If what Sasha did with the humble desert cactus is an example of what can be done with the natural array of cannabinoids we now know and love, there are hundreds of as-yet-undiscovered cannabinoid medicines and euphoriants waiting for us to discover them and put them to good use. Who knows how wonderful an undiscovered cannabis compound might be? Only one way to find out.
I would love to see some forward-thinking men and women in this new batch of upcoming young Alchemists address this situation, develop these new analogues of cannabinoids, and test them in the scientific manner that Sasha and Ann developed. The first step would be to re-create and test the synthetic creations Huffman has already developed, followed by development and testing of new analogues.
Synthesis is quite a step up from organic extraction. Huffman’s syntheses have been published, and an Alchemist who is experienced in process work can follow the instructions and duplicate the original work. Coming up with new variations on the molecule, however, requires a through knowledge of chemistry and much experimentation. A Ph. D. in chemistry is a good start.
Now, I would like to address those who may think I am full of shit with all this. You very well might be right. The organic molecule(s), as put into the plant by Mother Nature herself, may be the pinnacle of cannabinoid wonderfulness, and it could well be human folly to think that we can outdo her divine plans. In my experience comparing certain sacred organic and synthetic compounds, human intelligence has done a pretty remarkable job in approaching Mother Nature when it comes to synthetics, but has never exceeded, or even matched, her organic offerings.
However, we have seen so much amazing healing with natural cannabis that I can’t help but think that there may be great medicine in tweaking the molecule.
Maybe this is a good place for a cool quote from Art Kleps, founder of the Neo-American Church of the sixties: “If God wanted us to take synthetics, he would have invented them himself.”
Consider the fact that we have seen dramatic provable healing when treating cancer with a gram of oil daily. In medicine, great importance is put on the ratio between the dose where effects are realized, and the amount it takes to kill the patient. The New England Journal of the American Medical Assn. published a study that said one would have to smoke ¾ of a ton of marijuana in 15 minutes to receive a lethal dose. I don’t know what fraction of this a gram daily is, but it is damn infintisimal.
What intrigues me about this ratio is that one can, theoretically, take hundreds of grams of strong oil daily, and live thru it. I personally don’t think there is any strain of cancer that could survive in a human organism that was treated with 100 grams of strong hash oil daily.
I tried a personal study on this. Never got near 100 grams. I took up to 4 or 5 grams of strong whole-plant oil daily for about a year or so. Near the end of this experiment, I had elevated liver numbers, and cut way back. Next test my liver numbers were fine.
So I think that if we can find a way that a person could take 100 grams of oil daily, or some equivalent thereof, that could be the end of cancer. (Maybe even 10 grams). The problem is, I tried, and I don’t how a person could take giant doses regularly. All that supercharged, concentrated euphoria gets pretty rough to handle.
But this data causes me to think that maybe some human Alchemy, combined with Mother Nature’s guidance and support, may be the answer to bringing what we know about treating cancer with cannabis into the world of modern medicine, and modern Alchemists may even develop an analogue that western-trained physicians could prescribe as a single molecule cure for cancer. (To be honest, I don’t think the odds are actually in favor of this happening, but our data has shown that there is a pretty significant chance, and I would hate to lose it because of the absolutely convoluted nature of modern medicinal cannabis research today.)
And a last thought. There are a vast amount of organic elements present in our favorite plant that, when isolated and concentrated, may provide medicinal benefits that we haven’t even contemplated … let alone sought and discovered. For example, I have been taking 1 gram capsules of the terpene d-Limonene. Kind of like an organic Valium when needed, and a real fast way to convert a sativa high into an indica high. Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Institute has done 17 studies on d-Limonene as an anti-cancer drug. Could this terpene be at least partially responsible for the Rick Simpson effect of cannabis oil? We don’t know. But it sure is possible.
So, to sum it all up … we certainly don’t know what lurks in the cannabis molecules after tweaking, but we sure do have enough data to know that there is a damn good chance that it may be absolutely spectacular. And it would be a shame to lose the potential possibilities because those doing the studies have no interest in consuming and evaluating the compounds they make, in order to find out what needs to be known. Hopefully, as I have said earlier, those modern Alchemists who study, work with, and love this magical plant will follow Sasha and Ann’s example, and put some serious human science into creating and evaluating these fascinating new compounds.
I’ll close by saying if Sasha still had 20 years or so left in his lifespan when Huffman first started his work, Sasha would have grabbed the ball and run with it … and we would possibly have hundreds of brand new and different cannabinoids to play with today.