A hint of weed, without the leaf
April 6, 2014
EAGLE-VAIL — Most of the time when people talk about marijuana, they're referring to the sticky green stuff they've smoked as a joint during their youth (or yesterday). But weed doesn't just come in leaf form. Although recreational marijuana has only recently been legalized in the state of Colorado, those in the business of growing and selling the cannabis plant have already begun to think beyond the bong. Marijuana-infused products offer an alternative to smoking, appealing to those who enjoy the high and healing effects, but prefer not to light up.
cannabis content IS COMPLEX
The most common types of marijuana-infused products are edibles, tinctures and topicals. Edibles range from everything from brownies to carbonated sodas. You might think making edibles is as easy as mixing some leaves into the batter then sliding the pan into the oven in order to get "baked," but it's a bit more complicated than that. Murphy Murri is the co-owner of Treeline Premiere Dispensary in Eagle-Vail, which also sells two of its own lines of edibles. Treeline is currently a medicinal marijuana shop, but it plans on opening a separate retail shop for recreational marijuana this spring. Murri said the first step in making edibles is creating a cannabis concentrate that results in a high potency of THC (tetrahydrocannabinoil, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). From there, a lot of testing is required in order to ensure that every brownie, cookie or candy contains the exact same amount of THC as the others.
"When you're trying to cater a single product to literally thousands and thousands of consumers, it's very difficult to find that kind of consistency," Murri said. "There are some food safety and health regulations (that are) important to consider."
Last month, The Denver Post investigated the THC content of edibles sold in Colorado, testing different brands and comparing their actual THC content with what they claimed to contain on the label. One brand in particular, Dr. J's, listed two of their chocolate bars as containing 100 milligrams of THC, but The Denver Post found they only contained 0.28 and 0.37 milligrams, respectively. Other brands tested higher levels of THC than listed. While Dr. J's had the highest discrepancy between the claimed amount and the actual THC content, many brands had a noticeable difference between the two.
Treeline's products were not a part of the investigation. Murri said it's required for her products to be tested for potency, and the results must fall within 15 percent of the listed amount. Murri said because the state was not previously allowing testing facilities, certain companies were able to eschew the rules.
"For so long it hasn't been required," Murri said. "People got comfortable and got lazy with their standards and quality control. Testing for potency is the only way to truly be sure you're doing it right and doing it consistently."
Colorado has now mandated the testing of all products, and beginning in October companies that don't meet that 15 percent requirement will have their business licenses revoked.
Slathering on the THC
Tinctures and topicals are also made from cannabis concentrate. Tinctures tend to be used more among the medical marijuana community because it's a direct dose of THC that immediately hits the blood stream. Murri said tinctures can also be used for mixed drinks, like creating your own cannabis cocktail.
Topicals primarily come in the form of lotions, lip balm, bath oils and salves. Those who use topicals claim the non-psychoactive cannabinoids such as CBD (cannabidiol) found in marijuana can relieve a variety of medical issues.
Katie Thomas is a manager at New Hope Wellness Center in Edwards, a medical marijuana facility that's also transitioning into recreational sales. Thomas uses a topical cannabis lotion to alleviate back spasms she has due to sciatic nerve damage.
"I have very sensitive skin," Thomas said. "I've had allergic reactions or side affects to a lot of (other medicated products) prescribed in the past. It's very nourishing. (With cannabis topicals) I don't have to worry about the side affects because (they're) 100 percent natural."
Thomas often recommends that patients experiencing pain use a product that is high in CBD and low in THC. There are also topicals that don't contain any THC.
Selling a 'pot'-ular product
Mary Jane's Medicinals is one of the most popular topical brands sold locally. Dahlia Merten, of Telluride, started her company in 2010 when she made her own cannabis-infused massage oil and tried it on her clients.
"I was overwhelmed with how effective it was," Merten said. "The more feedback (from my clients) I got, the more I realized I was onto something."
Merten said THC is a powerful anti-inflammatory and claims her products have helped people heal skin conditions such as burns and acne.
Some question whether or not cannabis-infused products actually work better than other medicated lotions. One could argue that cannabis is merely used as a sales tool, as an attempt to cash in on the hash hoopla. Merten said testimonials from her customers is proof enough that her products work.
"There haven't been a lot of American studies done (on cannabis-infused products) because the government (hasn't allowed them)," Merten said. "Topicals are just a non-toxic alternative to harsh pharmaceuticals. Everybody's skin is different, (but) 99.9 percent of people who try these products don't have adverse effects."
Although she primarily sells Mary Jane's Medicinals at medical marijuana shops, Merten has seen a dramatic increase in sales at those shops who've gone recreational as well.
"The stores in Telluride have sold more products in January than they did the whole year previous," Merten said.
Those who make and sell marijuana-infused products point out that while the cannabis business is booming, it's not necessarily easy to turn a profit or start your own operation.
"There (are many) regulations," Merten said. "You have to be a resident of Colorado for two years to even start the licensing process. You can't just move to Colorado and open up shop. It takes a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of foresight."
According to these owners, they see a less hazy future. As more people are exposed to marijuana-infused products, they'll choose to drink up, eat up or lather up instead of light up.
"Smoking, no matter how you try to spell it out, is not healthy," Murri said. "Plenty of people smoke, but the people who have never tried cannabis…are more likely to try a small candy or a small tincture in your soda."