Anandia Labs CEO Dr. Jonathan Page tests ACMPR Cannabis for pesticides
Anandia Labs CEO Dr. Jonathan Page has been testing the product of ACMPR growers for pesticides, mildews, moulds, and many other harmful elements for patients who depend on Canada’s medical marijuana regime for daily medication. He joins us to outline his process and service.
James West: Jon, thanks for joining us today.
Dr. Jonathan Page: Thanks, James. Thanks for being here.
James West: Jon, why don’t you give us an overview: what is the business of Anandia Labs?
Dr. Jonathan Page: Well, Anandia Labs is in sort of two parts at this point. We have an analytical chemistry division that’s doing quality control testing for medical cannabis that Canadian either licensed producers or patients. So that’s a lot of, you know, the kind of hard core chemistry testing that’s required for batch release under the ACMPR, and it’s also some of the sort of other aspects, like terpene analysis, which is the kind of smell and flavour of cannabis that people are interested in testing.
So we’re doing that. And then our other side of the company is our genetics division, where we’re actually we’re cultivating plants and doing research on the cannabis plant towards creating new cannabis strains and new varieties for the medical market, and potentially for the sort of adult-use or recreational market in the future.
James West: Interesting. So you’re a Doctor of Pharmacology?
Dr. Jonathan Page: No. I actually have a PhD in Botany. So I got an undergraduate degree in Biology from UBC and then I went on to do a PhD and get a doctorate in the botany department where I worked, mainly on biochemistry of medicinal plants. That sort of research career trajectory led me to start working on cannabis way back in 1999, and as an academic researcher, I spent many years investigating cannabis from the perspective of how cannabinoids are made. So, how the active drugs like THC are made by the plant, and you know, we did get a sort of high-profile project around 2011 where my lab was part of the sequencing of the first genome of cannabis. It was like a sort of high impact publication.
You know, I sort of built up a lot of body of work in the area of cannabis science, and then in 2013 I saw an opportunity when the MMPR was first published and the new regulations were coming out in Canada, that there was a possibility of building a science-focused company that would both serve the needs of a growing industry in the testing space, but also exploit some of this knowledge I had around the genetics and the genomics of cannabis towards more of a biotech or a genetics company.
James West: Right. Okay. So you’re certified by the Canadian government to test the cannabis of the ACMPR growers before it heads to clients?
Dr. Jonathan Page: That’s right. So what we have in Anandia Labs, we have a Health Canada dealers’ license; this would be under their narcotic control regulations, that allows us to bring in materials from licensed producers or from patients – it’s a legal transfer capability affair. And so in the sense that we have that license that allows us to operate. But you know, a lot of the analytics around medical cannabis are really applying methods that are used in other areas, like pharmaceutical production or herbal medicine. So we’re really applying methods that are developed and validated in other contexts like bringing in herbal medicine-type analyses and then applying those methods to cannabis.
James West: Fascinating. I could talk to you for hours on just the cannabinoid plant anatomy, however, in the interest of brevity for the sake of our listeners, I wanted to talk to you about the recent incident where two ACMPR growers were discovered to have chemical pesticide traces in the product that they had shipped to customers. Is your service, is part of that service testing for pesticides?
Dr. Jonathan Page: Yeah. So we are now testing for 51 different pesticides and plant growth regulators, so these would also be, you know, chemicals that would be applied to the cannabis plant that shouldn’t be there. And we have validated those methods now for a range of pesticides, including things like myclobutanil, which is the molecule, the pesticide that ended up in the news in some of those recall samples, and bisenivate is another one. So we’re doing that, we’re actively testing for licensed producers such as Cannimed, who press released the work we had done with them yesterday.
So we’re, you know, it’s really ramping up rapidly because of renewed focus. I think the focus should have always been there, on worrying about pesticide contamination, but there’s a renewed focus now with Health Canada putting a spotlight on those problems.
James West: Okay. So I’m a ACMPR patient and my grower has sent me some cannabis, and I want to double-check. So is there a retail sort of storefront where I can bring my product to you and if so, how much does it cost me as an individual to have a sample of my product tested?
Dr. Jonathan Page: There’s no storefront; our samples are transmitted, sent to licensed labs generally by a courier. So there’s obviously a mail order system where we receive the paperwork. If the patient has the appropriate paperwork, we take those licenses on file and then we receive the material once all the boxes are ticked and we’ve got the license is straight.
In terms of actual pesticide analysis, we’re charging $425 per sample, so it’s quite a costly analysis to perform in the lab. Sample workup is fairly elaborate for pesticides; the actual analytical instrument that we use to do that is the highest end, the most sensitive unit that we have in the lab, is called an LCMSNS, so it’s actually about $300,000 worth of fancy tubes and circuits to do that analysis, so it’s fairly expensive.
I guess what I would say, though, is that one of the things that might, is concerning more for ACMPR patients is that there’s this kind of belief that licensed producers or you know, maybe the pesticide problem is quite widespread. I don’t think there’s really evidence for that; I think it’s probably a fairly isolated issue with the LPs that had the recalls late last year and early in January, and that the renewed scrutiny… I mean, to begin with, I think most LPs were making sure they were growing cannabis correctly. There was very significant quality assurance processes in place, there was oversight by labs all along, because there were licensed producers who were testing for pesticides back before these recalls.
So I don’t think we can really start to say patients should all be sending their own samples in from LPs, especially now when we know that Health Canada is doing spot checks on the production facilities. It’s kind of even a greater level of scrutiny.
James West: Sure. Right. I was formerly involved in growing cannabis in a large commercial environment, and it was our experience that upon the infestation of certain types of pests, in particular the spider mite, that once you had an outbreak of spider mites it was almost impossible to eliminate without actually shutting down the entire operation and completely disinfecting the entire premises from the edge of the road right up to the back door. So in those cases, we actually used a pesticide that was non-chemical called Pokon, and it was derived from chrysanthemum essence.
I always wondered, but at that time there was no way to know – I always wondered, is that kind of stuff, is it actually inert or un-harmful to the end use in human beings? Or is that something that…what I’m trying to get at here is, if somebody used a pesticide or an agent that was not necessarily a pesticide that you recognize, would your process be able to identify that agent and say okay, there’s something here that shouldn’t be here, and yes we can tell it’s harmful and therefore this does not pass?
Dr. Jonathan Page: Right. So I guess there’s two answers to your question. One, the fact that pesticide or insecticide in this case would be from a natural source like chrysanthemums, these are sort of biologically derived pesticides in the sense that the molecules, the chemicals from the chrysanthemum plants are called pyrethrins, and they’re sort of non-toxic in general, but they would still be classified as a pesticide even though they’re from a natural source and not a chemical synthesis source. That’s still something that, it’s not just that you can, for example, the neem plant is a tree that grows in India. It produces a widely used natural insecticide, and in some places like in the US it’s been licensed for use by consumers, not necessarily on cannabis but on plants in general, but it’s still a potent molecule and there are restrictions on its use in Canada.
So just because it’s a natural derived chemical doesn’t mean it’s necessarily non-toxic, I guess is what I’m saying.
But in terms of our lab, what we do is, we have that list of 51 that’s hitting the most relevant and the most commonly used pesticides and fine growth regulators that do end up being applied to cannabis. We can also, we can extend the list with sort of a broader screen where can start to see other things that people might be using, but we don’t sort of routinely do that.
And you know, it’s a bit of a cat and mouse game, because people can – you might always find something that’s outside of the commonly tested molecules and apply them, and at the lab, you’re really just looking for the chemical signatures of the known substances. You’re not looking for things that are sort of off our radar, I guess you’d say. So there is the possibility that you miss things, but the major things are known: the myclobutanils and the bicenivates and the potributrysols and all these fancy names for things that are showing up as problem chemicals in Oregon, in California, in Colorado, and then now the ACMPR system in Canada. We look for those ones because they’re the ones that are really of concern and are likely to be used.
James West: Okay. So besides pesticides, you also test for things like molds, mildews, other harmful bio-agents?
Dr. Jonathan Page: Right. So what we – under ACMPR, the batch release tests are in five areas. So there’s potency, which would be THC and CBD levels; mycotoxins, which are sort of a class of toxins that are produced if there’s a mold issue, let’s say a moldy foodstuff or in this case, cannabis; heavy metals, which might be things like arsenic or cadmium which could come in via some fertilizer or soil; bacteria and molds, including salmonella, which is something you can sometimes hear about in terms of a very harmful bacterial introduced disease; and then pesticides would be the fifth area, which up until this point has been, and still is, optional as a testing area.
I mean, I think it’s a little, it’s worth just commenting on that in that right now, Health Canada regulations or guidelines don’t make pesticide analysis mandatory, but they’re starting to tighten the screws, I guess, on LPs to make sure that with spot testing and greater scrutiny of the growing practices, that most of the time they’ll be able to catch if there’s any, say, a rogue grower applying a molecule that the management doesn’t know about, or there’s contamination via inadvertent contamination via soil, they’ll be able to find it using those approaches.
James West: Okay. So going forward, I guess the process of testing cannabis is going to grow in popularity? I mean, it sounds like it really has to be part of the supply chain between the growers and the patients, because there is such a risk that some of these harmful agents could find their way into something that is ultimately consumed internally?
Dr. Jonathan Page: Right. I mean, I was just going to say, I mean cannabis, it was a special kind of case in the sense that unlike a foodstuff that might have some pesticide applied using regular agricultural practices, you eat food, you eat salad, you eat a fruit or something and it’s absorbed to your gut and then detoxified by your liver after that absorption. Well, cannabis is generally smoked or vaporized, often in a concentrated form if it’s an oil or something like that, if there’s not under ACMPR but lots of things that you vape tend to be concentrates. That means that whatever chemicals might be contaminating the product will also rapidly be absorbed through your lungs and right into your bloodstream that way. So I think we have to apply a fair amount of extra attention to the issue of pesticides in cannabis as a crop, which is different from your sort of regular food crops.
James West: Okay, Jon. That’s a fascinating introduction. We are going to come back to you and have another conversation in due course. Thank you so much for your time today.
Dr. Jonathan Page: Thanks for having me on, James.
James West: Bye for now.
Dr. Jonathan Page: Bye-bye.