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Medical Pot: Going Beyond the High

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Inside a small clinic in Bellevue, Klaas Hesselink hunches over a cannabis bud, examining it like a gem cutter eyeing a polished stone.

"This is a fairly standard profile," the Bainbridge Island resident tells James Lathrop, a longtime nurse practitioner who runs the clinic, where patients seek a practitioner's authorization for a medical marijuana card.

A plate of colored dots exposes the potencies of some of the compounds in the strain of marijuana, known by the cannabis dispensary that provided it as "granddaddy purple."

Not surprisingly, the compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol showed most prominently on Hesselink's chemical test. The compound is better known as THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives off the high in pot.

But, Hesselink points out, THC has an "entourage."

Compounds that make up the entourage – all known as cannabinoids – perform different functions in the brain and body. But while the effects of THC are widely understood, the effects of other compounds are only beginning to become known.

Marijuana growers have long focused on farming techniques that swell the THC content while ignoring the other cannabinoids, said Michelle Sexton, a naturopathic doctor and researcher at Seattle's Mosaic Natural Health Center.

"The basic trend has been 'Let's get more stoned,'" Sexton said. "But cannabis is a very powerful medicine, even when it's not psychoactive."

There are dozens of identified cannabinoids, and Hesselink's test identifies a half-dozen of them. There's THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, which has been found to suppress appetite. CBG, or cannabigerol, is said to induce sleep. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid gaining popularity for its effectiveness against anxiety and nausea and as an anti-inflammatory.

Hesselink's entry into this emerging, if risky, marketplace comes at a time when the most sweeping change to Washington's medical marijuana law, passed by voters in 1998, sits on Gov. Chris Gregoire's desk. The bill would create arrest protection for those authorized to have cannabis, establish a patient registry and regulate growers and dispensers of marijuana.

Gregoire, however, has expressed concern about running afoul of federal law, which dictates that marijuana is a highly abused drug with no medical use.

Regardless of the medical marijuana bill's success or failure, Hesselink, as well as those for whom he has conducted testing, sees a future in cannabinoid profiling.

"It's empowering for consumers to know what they have," said Sunil Aggarwal, a doctor in residency at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle who wrote his dissertation on medical marijuana.


Hesselink, a native of the Netherlands, came from a country more tolerant of marijuana. Last year, the stay-at-home dad became fascinated watching the growth of medical marijuana use in the state and around the country. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia now have laws that permit the use of medical cannabis.

He flew to Holland and sought out Alphanova, a Dutch company that makes marijuana testing kits.

A chef by trade, Hesselink admits he's not a chemist. He doesn't grow marijuana, and he's not a patient himself.

But he sees opportunity in the untapped demand for finding out what's inside marijuana for a growing number of people who rely on it for medicine. Most people have no idea what they're smoking or ingesting, making medical marijuana unlike a prescription at the pharmacy.

He started Cannatest to give patients, growers and dispensaries more information.

The test he conducts is known as "thin layer chromatography." He needs only a bud of cannabis, a clean table and an electrical outlet to conduct the work, which produces results in about 45 minutes.

The process begins by soaking a tenth of a gram of the sample in chloroform, which releases oil in the cannabis. From there, he heats it with a machine that mimics the action of a patient smoking or vaporizing it, which releases the cannabinoids.

The detached cannabinoids are blown onto paper. Hesselink then puts the paper onto a glass plate and submerges it into more chloroform in a small jar. After about 20 minutes, the paper is put into another solution of dyes. The presence of the varying cannabinoids is expressed through different colors.

The bigger the circles of dye, the more of that particular cannabinoid is present.

His test is free for now, while he tries out the waters and gauges the demand for his business. Each additional test runs about $40. The machine he uses to do the testing, which he sells, runs about $1,500.

A local Seattle dispensary worker who watched Hesselink perform his analysis earlier in April was thrilled with the idea of showing his patients the cannabinoid profile of what they're smoking or ingesting. He said numerous area analytical labs – which are regulated by the federal government – refuse to test cannabis.

One place that will test, he said, is the Washington State Patrol – but you have to get "a pair of silver bracelets" first, he cautioned.


Though marijuana is illegal federally, Marinol, a drug that contains a synthetic form of THC, has been around since the 1980s.

But Steve Elliott, a Kingston medical marijuana patient who suffers from hepatitis C, said Marinol is not as effective as herbal marijuana because it doesn't have other cannabinoids.These days, Elliott, who writes a column for Seattle Weekly and for the "Toke of the Town" blog, takes a few puffs of marijuana in the morning to zap nausea, he said. At night, he drips a tincture under his tongue or ingests marijuana in food to help him sleep.

He closely follows research about the different cannabinoids, and he believes they show promise for a variety of ailments. The more that is known about them, the more marijuana can be catered to patients' needs, he said.

Which is where Hesselink comes in.

The Bainbridge resident likens cannabis production to breeding dogs. Producers who know the cannabinoid makeup of the marijuana they are growing can begin to target certain cannabinoids for reproduction. Dispensaries and caregivers can then give specific strands to patients.

Hesselink sees the potential and created self-evaluation forms, where patients document their cannabis use. By tracking how they felt after taking marijuana, they can see which methods of ingestion best quell their symptoms, and what quantity is most effective.

Dispensaries, meanwhile, can cater to patients with Hesselink's "visual cannabinoid profile." They can promote pot that, for instance, helps get a good night's sleep, generates appetite, or targets pain in the body.

"By educating our partners, we'll get better, more targeted medicine," Hesselink said.

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: kitsapsun.com
Author: Josh Farley
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Copyright: Scripps Interactive Newspapers Group
Website: Medical pot: Going beyond the high
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