Learning From Experts: New Considerations For the Cannabis Industry
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To explore, some of the unique aspects of the cannabis industry, Mike May (MM) talked with Christina Marrongelli (CM), who earned her BS in pharmaceutical sciences and Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Mississippi, School of Pharmacy. She has advanced training in pharmacognosy—developing medicines from natural materials—and has researched drug discovery and drug development of natural products. Dr Marrongelli is a private consultant and assistant adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences.
MM: How would you describe the experience level of people working in the cannabis industry?
CM: The diversity of people in the marijuana industry is as diverse as the plant itself. It is important to understand that unlike traditional drugs, consumers have used marijuana for decades without the intervention of healthcare providers or pharmaceutical scientists. This historical background gives rise to numerous different voices and experiences in the industry. Therefore, I am acutely and keenly committed to listening and learning the experiences of those diverse people in the industry—such as CannaMoms, a group of mothers of children that utilize medical marijuana for their conditions.
For instance, as a clinical pharmacist, I often discuss drug education and safety with many people. On one such occasion, I shared a conversation with a fantastic and attentive CannaMom, who told me of her national group’s concerns of unknown allergens contained in their children’s tinctures. If this was true, she described a significant potentially life threating issue.
The FDA reports that food allergies affect 2 percent of the adult population and 4 to 8 percent of children in the United States. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network estimates that appropriately 200 Americans die each year because of allergic reactions to food. With the steady increase in consumption of medical marijuana products and a constant increase from a decade ago of the number of people with food allergies, it should be a priority for the industry.
MM: Have you looked into this?
CM: Yes! And unexpectedly so! The opportunity to explore this issue further came about as a result of my invitation to participate in a cannabis laboratory testing meeting with regulatory authorities. After several minutes with each presenter describing their programs and updates of extensive pesticide testing, I asked the speaker: Are you testing for allergens? The speaker was quite surprised by my question and said no. I explained the high-risk of allergens—such as eggs, nuts and certain dyes—could subject the population to adverse medical events from irritating hives to even death. I further explained that these allergens would be simple to screen against product labeling to identify and should be a priority for laboratories and regulators.
MM: Why hadn’t this been considered?
CM: In my opinion, the states have been asked an impossible job of duplicating work by federal organizations, such as the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration, without the resources of those agencies. The state officials might not have been aware that consumers had an inherent expectation of similar quality control from the state agencies as they do of FDA-approved drugs. More often than not, people in high levels of regulatory authority do not have the knowledge of the pharmaceutical-botanical process to apply to medical marijuana regulations.
Additionally, this experience just comes from the advanced training any pharmacist should have. However, most pharmacist’s do not have training for laboratory analysis of botanicals.
And lastly, quite frankly, this was a regulatory body from the 'outside' system, and they may not realize something they took for granted was not occurring. This was the case for myself as well, the difference being I make a big effort to connect on all sides and I still request people let me know of anonymous problems they experience just to keep it in the back of my head when opportunity knocks.
There is often a big disconnect, and advocates and 'new persons' to the industry shouldn’t make assumptions. Having multiple regulations from state to state makes it quite hard for anybody to keep up with all the nuisances of the industry on top of everything else.
MM: What was the outcome?
CM: I cannot say for sure what happened in its entirety from that call, but a few days later I asked a chemist who was not at the meeting if her state was testing for allergens. She replied, 'Yes!' Then she added, 'My boss just told me we were going to start.'
So now, I am cautiously optimistic that this state and others will implement comprehensive allergen testing in the future, but it is far from a done deal. My hope is to continually bring it to the forefront with articles like yours, Mike.
MM: What can we learn from this?
CM: In this case, I was fortunate enough to be invited to this meeting due to my experience with botanical drug–laboratory analysis. However, I utilized my clinical knowledge and interaction with this amazing CannaMom to bring up the important issue of allergens. Together we were both able to contribute to greater public safety than either of us could have accomplished alone.
Finding the correct people to exchange information with at the right time is perhaps the most difficult task in this crowded environment.
MM: If you could make one suggestion, what would it be?
CM: A successful advocate should balance a commitment to understanding the cannabis plant, equally with that of learning the unusual framework of the state-sponsored manufacturing and distribution process, including giving respect to people who historically and currently contribute to the industry. To be of service, you must first be a continually dedicated learner, open to understanding the diverse persons in this environment and its history.