Into the Weeds - Navigating Cannabis with David Kessler

 We are seriously up to our hairy, hippy armpits in information about cannabis these days. Now that Marijunan is legal in many states and Hemp is Federally legal, we're being educated on what they are, how they are different and the hundreds of chemicals cannabis produces, including what they can do FOR us, without getting us stoned.

TRUST Biologic talked to David Kessler, a renowned horticulturist, for his take on what's happening with cannabis and hemp and where they're headed scientifically and as an industry.

Kessler's passion for horticulture, while it may have begun with “pot”, was not born out of a fascination with smoking it. Coming from a family of nature-loving passionate growers, his interest in plants was already well-founded. What he couldn't figure out was why all of his friends were throwing away the seeds from their hard-won marijuana stash instead of trying to grow more! Initial experimentation with the cultivation of the smokable diva opened his eyes to the trials and tribulations of sustaining such a crop – and after, its myriad characteristics and techniques for cultivating them. 

Years later, his career as a horticulturist – with a focus on the rather more legal orchid – converged with a burgeoning cannabis industry, thanks to federal legalization of hemp alongside the state-by-state legalization of the intoxicating strain of cannabis we know as marijuana. 

He also quite charitably talks to folks like us, who are interested in the multitude of health benefits of cannabis derivatives such as cannabigerol (CBG). 

To address many people's concerns and confusion about the accessibility of cannabis products such as cannabidiol (CBD), now very common in consumer products and the lesser known, CBG, Kessler clarified that any compound deriving from a canabis plant that contains more than .03% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is considered "medicinal" marijuana and is regulated by that State’s regulatory board, available only from compliant dispensaries and with proof of age. Therefore, if you're buying your CBD or CBG products on the retail market, the cannabidiol or cannabigerol has been extracted from hemp. 

Kessler indicated that the formula on which the .03% is based is in flux, which will likely reduce the allowable threshold of THC, meaning that the majority of retail products will be coming from hemp. "This will steer the trend," Kessler explains, "toward the evolution of 'craft' and 'artisan' products," which will be distinguished from the mainstream products.  

"It's tied to the production process," Kessler elaborated. "You'll get cheaper and mass-produced isolates from countries where hemp is easily cultivated outdoors, say in China, South and Central America, where labor is also less expensive." They will actually use the cannabis plant as a factory for the cannabinoids it produces. He predicts for the industry, that in the U.S., where wildfires and unpredictable freezes have, in 2020, for example, destroyed thousands of acres of cannabis crops, that we would look to greenhouse cultivation which will be significantly more costly. Further, he suggests that global distribution to and from countries with higher production standards will require the greater quality-control better afforded by indoor cultivation. 

What will happen industry-wise is not all that different from other consumables, where some key ingredients are diluted or manufactured less expensively for different markets. In this case, much like the difference between say, a Budweiser and a micro-brewed beer, key compounds such as CBD or CBG will be produced as isolates, biosynthetically. This is to say through cellular agriculture. Large quantities of individual cells are grown and harvested. At this point all connection to the botanically extracted compounds ends. 

From here on out, it's a microorganism, not a plant, that is grown in aseptic fermentation containers, processed and purified. This would be growing plants as factories to get the chemicals in which we're most interested for the point of fermentation and mass production. 

The other offshoot of the derivatives industry will be more costly to produce and far more costly to purchase. These will be the strains cultivated for botanical extraction of chemicals for craft production of more elite products, perhaps only available in dispensaries, due to their origin. They will be grown meticulously and with higher quality precision indoor closed environmental agricultural (CEA) hydroponic facilities for their purity; free of ground and air contaminants, and protection from seasonal and regional natural disasters. 

The production process will have the ability to be truly transparent. These are the compounds that will end up in the high end health and wellness products, the elite healing elixirs for which people will spend more money for ensured quality. 

What's the real difference, though? It's all cannabis and CBG is CBG. Unless it's not. According to Kessler, the cheaper product will be an isolate – one component of the plant. "The benefits of that component," he says, "may be available from the isolate but at a reduced efficacy without the synergistic effects provided by the myriad of other naturally cooccurring phytochemicals." With biosynthesis you'll get the "diluted" benefit of the botanic chemical.

From plants grown indoors, with craft-level quality and controlled consistency, with chemical compounds extracted through exacting processes, "we're headed to a niche market of cannabis derivatives, bearing the full spectrum chemical composition of a high-end indoor grown cannabis. You will have the benefit of more than 550 phytochemicals, 100 plus cannabinoids and the accompanying terpenes, which also imbue health benefits. There is considerably more efficacy from the full spectrum product."

Kessler foresees the future of cannabis being not on the individual metabolites but the interactions between them. He envisions a future where we'll see combining phytochemicals based on the evolution of mixing cannabinoids and terpenes for maximum efficacy in the treatment of pain, anxiety, sleep disorders and possibly appetite suppressants – functions governed by our own endocannibinoid systems.  

At the same time, he admits, "It's hard to know what will happen given the relatively short life of cannabis research, due to the prolonged prohibition of its cultivation. It's a nascent industry and one I'm privileged to be involved in."

Whatever the industry brings, we're fortunate to know now that cannabis hosts a multitude of health benefits for humans and that science is now able to dive into the intricacies of the non-pharmaceutical edge this "weed" may hold.  



David Kessler is the VP of Horticulture and Customer Success for Agrify, a technology firm dedicated to the scientific evolution of indoor cannabis cultivation.