Under new laws, medical marijuana producers in Canada can now sell cannabis-based oils to those with a prescription.
Canada’s medical marijuana program (MMPR) underwent a significant change last summer when the Supreme Court ruled that patients should not be restricted to using only dried marijuana to treat their ailments. As a result, Health Canada announced that they would allow licensed producers to make and sell cannabis-based extracts for the very first time.
It was a landmark ruling, but only a handful of companies so far have obtained the necessary licenses to begin producing cannabis oils. The first one was awarded to Peace Naturals Project Inc., a Stayner, Ontario-based operation, in December.
Mettrum, a Toronto-based licensed producer, was the second one to acquire a license, and this year it started rolling out its premium lineup of marijuana extracts.
Colour coded in red, yellow, and blue in what the company calls the “Mettrum Spectrum”, the three different blends offer three different balances between THC and CBD, the two chief medicinal ingredients present in marijuana.
“We got our license to sell the oils on December 24, and since then we’ve had to get our products tested, packaged, and released,” says Michael Haines, CEO of Mettrum, over the phone.
“Based on our initial sell-through, we believe the demand is very high. We’ve released four batches so far, we’re increasing the size of the batches every week, and we’ll be at our planned production numbers by the end of the month.”
The most common way of producing cannabis oil is through solvent extraction. The dried buds are ground up and the mixed into a fluid that dissolves the medicinal compounds. The fluid is then separated and evaporated, leaving just the extracts, which are then diluted in a plant-based oil.
Mettrum, on the other hand, uses a supercritical CO2 extraction. Their process makes a cleaner product since there are no solvents, and it’s better for the environment as well.
“We only use whole flowers, not shake. We do this to preserve the terpene profile in the flower. We also use the most up to date, state of the art technology to do the extraction,” says Haines.
“We dilute the oil in MCT oil. That is the purest food based oil that is produced, so it has no flavour or aroma. What people are getting is a pure cannabis extract. The only flavour or aroma is what comes from the cannabis itself.”
One of the concerns about these oils, however, is their cost. At Mettrum, one 40mL bottle of oil goes for $90. Haines insists that this is justified by the quality of their product, and the amount of medical content.
“Our 40mL bottles contain about 1000 mg of THC and CBD. At $90, our products cost about $.09 per mg. That’s the highest concentration and most affordable we’ve seen,” notes Haines. Other companies, he says, charge more for similar products.
Why Patients Prefer Oils
Marcel Gignac would disagree about the cost. He has a long and fascinating story to tell about how he used marijuana to treat his rare form of MS which doctors said should have ended his life.
Through his own research he discovered the healing properties of marijuana and began to consume large quantities of the plant; 30 grams a day to be exact. Of course it’s impossible to smoke that much, so he relies on consuming extracts to get the amount of medicine he needs.
Gignac, who resides in Amherst, Nova Scotia, doesn’t buy from licensed producers though. He makes it himself at home with a solvent extraction.
“Cannabis helped me recover from my fatal form of MS, but my body did all the work by having enough fuel to do it,” he says. That fuel was the highly concentrated oil that he learned how to make.
“For someone that needs a lot, like I did with 30 grams a day, it’s nearly impossible to smoke that much. Converting it to an oil and ingesting it means instead of getting just 3 per cent, you’re getting 95 per cent, so it’s much more efficient for treating ailments,” he says.
That is precisely one of the main advantages of taking marijuana as an oil, rather than smoking or vaping. The higher concentration of medicinal ingredients makes them significantly more potent.
There is also something to be said for consistency. When smoking or vaping, you can’t be sure exactly how much of a dose you’re getting, but with oil you can be sure that you’re getting the same dose in every drop.
Cannabis oils also present more options in ways of consumption. Oils can be mixed in drinks, added to foods, or placed on the tongue with an eye dropper.
These options make it more discrete than smoking a joint or vaping, since there’s no smell. Also, since you aren’t smoking, you aren’t inhaling any of the harmful byproducts that come with smoking the plant material, like tar and carbon monoxide.
Drawbacks of Oils
But cannabis oils aren’t perfect, and there is still some work to be done in developing them.
According to Ronan Levy, spokesperson for Canadian Cannabis Clinics, a group of Ontario clinics that specialize in prescribing medical marijuana, it’s still too early to tell if oils are better for any particular condition than dried buds.
There simply hasn’t been enough research done into the topic yet, he says, and oils aren’t without their problems too.
“There are a couple disadvantages to oils right now. One is that Health Canada has put strict limits on how much THC there can be in an oil,” explains Levy.
“A lot of people talk about the ‘entourage effect’, meaning that it’s not just the THC or CBD, but it’s also the relative ratios of all the other cannabinoids that actually produce the effect. You can’t accurately replicate that in cannabis oils right now.”
“The other one is that, because it is typically consumed orally, you might need to have a ‘first pass effect’, which means it has to be digested by your liver. Therefore, even though the dosing can be precise, you don’t know when onset is going to kick in,” Levy adds.
One thing we can all be certain of, though, is that marijuana extracts are becoming more popular. Now that licensed producers can acquire the license to make and sell them, we can expect them to become more common in the coming years.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand,” says Levy. “We see a lot of our patients asking for it, and a lot of our doctors being supportive of it.”