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Perfecting cannabis with Michael Backes

Perfecting cannabis with Michael Backes

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A common issue that is present in the cannabis market is the inconsistency of products. As an agricultural crop, it can be tricky for suppliers to deliver the same product to consumers time and again, and this is one of the areas that Michael Backes, our guest for today’s episode, is tackling through his work at Perfect Blends! In our chat, Michael shares his personal journey into the cannabis space, and how his history of migraines aided him in discovering the powers of medical marijuana. From there, he talks about opening his first dispensary, and the basics of what we currently know about terpenes. We also get to grips with some important terminology, before Michael shares a few tips for healthier cannabis use. 

This is The Cannabis Enigma, cutting through the smoke to have informed serious conversations for regular people.

Elana Goldberg: Hi, I’m Elana Goldberg.

Codi Peterson: I’m Dr. Codi Petersen.

EG: What have you got for us today, Codi?

CP: This one was fun. It’s Michael Backes from Perfect Blends, in Southern California. Michael Backes has a background in writing about turbines and in Cannabis Pharmacy, a book he wrote. He’s also now concocting some cool stuff up in one of the biggest cannabis markets in the world.

EG: Right. I think we actually tried some of his concoctions from Perfect Blends when we were waiting in a line for an after-party at MJBizCon in Vegas last year, right?

CP: Oh, yeah. We were in the line. We were standing there, well, you’ll hear about this in the episode, but I heard this voice from Clubhouse and look at that, it was Michael Backes.

EG: Right. I think at that time what we tried that actually got three different product types, which I find really interesting, all flower-based. What we tried with that many pre-rolls, so they have these tiny little pre-rolls and waving around with my hands, which of course listeners cannot hear, but you all know what a mini pre-roll looks like. We’ve got mini pre-rolls, which are not this strong. They actually recommend that these pre-rolls at each three doses. Their beautiful packaging and marketing will put a link in the show notes. I highly recommend you all go and take a look at that. They’ve got these mini pre-rolled, they’ve got a little pot which I think is maybe one or two grams of ground flower, which comes with a one-hitter. It’s super easy, portable, discreet way to consume. Then the third, I think is probably the most innovative. They have these pre-rolled joints which have a filter or sometimes known as a crutch or a roach is what we say in Australia.

CP: Otherwise known as a crutch.

EG: Exactly. A crutch not to be confused with crotch. It has happened before with my Australian accent. Anyway, not only does it have one crutch, it has to crutches these pre-rolls, one on each end and they have a little pair of scissors that come in the pack. So you can choose what size joint you want, which is great if you’re sharing or if you want to just have like, I don’t know, a few hit as you’re walking the dog at night. So really, innovative product types. I think potentially, more interesting than that is they have an effect-based product. For example, one of their products is called Happy Camper, what I love about this is that the name actually gives you some indication of the effect you can expect. Unlike Alaskan Thunder Fuck for example.

CP: Well, I hope that doesn’t happen to me, but Happy Camper sounds pretty enjoyable, to be honest. What’s really cool about their Happy Camper is they’re using strange specific extraction processes. So yeah, they’re doing flower, like Elana had mentioned, but they’re also extracting that same strain or cultivar and then they’re re-infusing that extract into the blend, right? They’re blending it to be consistent with significantly higher terpene ratios because that’s Michael Backes’ jam, terpenes and terpene blends are really what he focuses on. If you’ve read his book, you would know that. It was a really interesting interview. I was really glad to hear from him and I’m now nudging him, I’m like, “Hey, man, you better let me check out that lab of yours. I just think I need to lay eyes on it.”

EG: Yeah. We’ll get you in that at some point. If you’re listening, Perfect Blend, Codi, wants to go to the lab. Well, I think really just to continue on that point. The reason this is important is because if you find something you like, you’re going to be able to buy the product again and expect the same effects rather than having to start from scratch every time you go to the dispensary.

CP: It’s so important to try to deliver a consistent product because cannabis is an agricultural product and there’s a lot of turnover in the dispensary, it can be hard to know whether you’re going to get a consistent experience even if the name is the same from a different cultivator, the name of the strain. One thing that Perfect is aiming to do, and I think they’re doing a pretty good job, is to try to deliver a more consistent experience. You’ll have to try it for yourself if you’re in Southern California and let us know if you think it works. I guess you could be in Northern California too.

EG: It’s like California in general. All right, so let’s hear from Michael. Remember to stick around after the interview. We’ve got our regular segment with our Co-produces on this podcast with Americans for Safe Access. We’ll be popping that on for you after the interview.

CP: Let’s get to it.

CP: All right, Michael Backes. Welcome to The Cannabis Enigma Podcast. How are you today?

MB: I’m really good, Codi. How are you?

CP: I’m so happy to have you on here. The last time I saw you, Michael, we were standing in line to a party at MJBizCon, and I’m standing there and I hear this guy talking. I’m like, “I know that voice.” From clubhouse, so now I’m looking around. I’m like, “All right, which little circle face do I know here?” Then, of course, I have to look up and you’re straight up to see you there, because you’re significantly taller than me, but I’m really happy to have you on. We are glad we got some time that worked for both of us. 

MB: Yeah, for sure.

CP: I got to be honest. I really want to talk about cannabis, but I can’t, because I have to first ask you about what I know about your past. How did you go from Spider-Man to being an author of a book about cannabis terpenes? I know there’s probably a lot in between there, but they tell me a little about what you were doing with Spider-Man and how you got there.

MB: Right. Well, it’s not about, we’ll just clear that. It’s not a book about cannabis terpenes. It’s basically about medical cannabis.

CP: Yeah. Cannabis Pharmacy, yeah, yeah, for sure. You’re absolutely right. I’ve read the good majority of it. I love how you break down the chemovars or cultivars or strains, whichever you choose to talk about.

MB: Yeah. The thing was, I mean, I used cannabis when I was in high school and college.

CP: In Southern California?

MB: No, no, I went to college in Indiana. I went to high school in Tucson, Arizona. Then I didn’t use it for years, but I had a migraine headache that precluded me taking a lot of conventional migraine medication, because it increased my risk of a stroke, because stroke runs in my family. My neurologist said, you probably shouldn’t take any of these [inaudible 00:06:53] derivatives, random stuff we’ve had –

CP: You don’t want to take these regularly. You’re putting yourself at risk of this stroke.

MB: Right. So he said, but you could try cannabis, it does seem to work for some people. 

CP: Oh, you got to meet me this neurologist, Michael.

MB: What was interesting was, he thought and it correctly that it would – I get classical migraine, so it has a prodrome, you know it’s coming, you get this aura and visual disturbances and all that. The thing was, is that I found that a little bit of cannabis and it could be, it’s really interesting, because it seems to work equally well with THC and CBD.  Both of them have a tendency to interfere with the progression of the aura. So that it doesn’t end up becoming a headache. I may have to deal with 15 minutes of visual disturbance, but it’ll subside and it will devolve into a headache. I thought, “Wow, this is really interesting.” 

This was right when the first dispensaries were opening up in Southern California, and it turned out that I was living in a house in Silverlake and moving to another house with the guy who owned the house. I was going to live at a place he was buying an Eagle Rock and this guy from Berkeley came in, Don Duncan, who had helped start Berkeley Patients Group and was going to open up LAPCG in Los Angeles.

CP: These are collectives and grow operations that are growing — a pretty significant amount of cannabis for the community, right?

MB: Right. Anyway, and I didn’t really know much about dispensaries at that point, and suddenly this guy shows up who’s about to open one. I got really into it. I got into diving deep, because for the first time I could actually get consistent sources of cannabis, which I never had when I was in college, and really got it in –

CP: Indiana.

MB: Yeah. Got into this idea of different chemovars, I mean, that word was being used yet, but I got so into it that people started to say you should open up a dispensary. So I did, I open up a dispensary in Eagle Rock in 2006 with a couple of partners called Cornerstone Research Collective. We started out trying to be more Evidence-Based. At the time that was really challenging, because there just wasn’t a lot of information published.

CP: What year is this? Just for reference.

MB: 2006.

CP: 2006. Yeah, you just said that. Okay. Yeah. I mean, we’re just discovering the TRP Channels that are involved in maybe the headache effects of cannabinoids. We’re very early on and what we can do, and we still have a long way to go, sorry.

MB: Yeah, well, that’s interesting, though. What happened was I got into a start in the dispensary and answering so many questions and getting online trying to find research papers to read, to address the needs of my customer base. I really got into it. Then I got approached by some folks from England who had a book deal with a New York publisher to do this — they had a title, Cannabis Pharmacy, and they wanted someone to write the book. A friend of mine recommended me, and I ended up writing the book [inaudible 00:09:57].

CP: Nobody knows this plan better than this guy, Michael, I know. He’ll talk with you about this.

MB: Yeah. I mean, at that point, I was really into it. Also because I had access to so much cannabis and I’d really become obsessed with finding the best cultivators in California.

CP: I love that. This was really early times. I’m sure that there was even more the lineage and less mixing between this very large, robust market, especially if you go back to early ’90s.

MB: Well, I mean, the thing is, is that the truth is in 2006, they were all LCM strains. There were all these lemon and chorioclin neurocrine strains, the Kush strains. You’d go into a dispensary and there was a dispensary in West Hollywood that probably carried 100 varieties cannabis and over three-quarters of them were kushes. 

Master Kush, Pure Kush, OG Kush, Bubba Kush. The thing is, is that there are different. I mean, those are all LCN strains, but they have different predominance in the turf. So the best OG has a tendency to be very citrus. The best Bubba Kush has a little bit of that citrus, but it’s very incense forward. So it has that incense probably coming from Alpha [inaudible 00:11:17], which is a terpene that nobody tests for, because [inaudible] off the chromatography machine so quickly.

CP: Yeah. I think that’s one of the really interesting things about when we’re talking about what we know about the terpene profile versus say the aromatic profile of cannabis is, is  we only see what we’re testing for, right? We have limitations in what we actually are able to deduce.

MB: Yeah. Nobody’s testing for esters.

CP: Yeah. 

MB: The thing is, there’s a ton of them.

CP: They’re important to this smell profile and potentially towards the pharmacologic profile. Yeah, but we don’t really know very much about these terpene esters. I guess for the folks listening and I think this is a really cool science detour for us to jump on. We say terpenes and cannabis, but really we’re talking about a class of molecules called Terpenoids. If you zoom out and look at Mother Nature, this stuff is everywhere.

MB: Absolutely. The thing is, is that our understanding of Terpene pharmacology in humans is ridiculously limited currently. The thing is that as you walk into dispensaries and you see these terpene posters up on the wall, it’s antifungal, anti-inflammatory. What’s funny is, this is from animal testing or from cell studies and extrapolating –

CP: Essential oils.

MB: Yeah. Extrapolating this stuff to people is really, really tough to do. As a matter of fact, it’s gotten to the point where now I consider a lot of terpenes to be what I call window pane terpenes, and because you’re seeing through them to the cannabinoids behind them. What it is, is that certain terpenes don’t have much pharmacological effect at all. What you’re really feeling is you’re feeling the cannabinoids, in particular THC. I mean, it’s really interesting to see a lot of these sativas out there. When in fact, they’re almost indistinguishable from taking pure THC, as far as what you feel. If you A-Bed them with THC, you wouldn’t notice much of it.

CP: Is this suggesting like, limonene is one of these less pharmacologically active?

MB: No. I think limonene is pretty pharmacological. I think that terpenes it’s probably less pharmacological than we think and it’s classically associated with a lot of sativas.

CP: Yeah. I don’t see it too much, though, right? It’s not the most common terpene floating around.

MB: Well, it was. It isn’t anymore. But if you look at, the thing is, again, that’s because of the inbreeding of cannabis, but all the Thai that came in from Southeast Asia, most of that was terpinolene dominant. A lot of Columbian was terpinolene dominant, but by the time it got to the States, smuggled, terpinolene had evaporated, it’s gone. Those varieties became associated with caryophyllene effects, because caryophyllene is what survived in smuggling.

CP: Makes sense, especially I mean, even just thinking back to let’s say when I first got my hands on some cannabis in 2006. Let’s say the first time I – this was crap. You wouldn’t even accept looking at this in modern today, no one would smoke it. That was all that we had, of course, I was getting the bottom of the barrel in the small-town Pennsylvania, but the point is outside of places like California, it was real slim pickings around what cannabis was available. Frankly, cannabis, the government was growing, wasn’t doing too much better until of course, recently there was a big chain in which growers can grow for use from NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

MB: Right. I mean, the truth is University of Mississippi had a lot of great genetics, because they got all the seeds, there were some seeds of marijuana. There was a lot of really good marijuana seeds. So what thing about it is that their numbers were low as far as THC content, but here’s the thing. I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions is that while the cannabis back in the day was lower in THC-A, it wasn’t necessarily lower in terpenes, all right.

Now, a lot of the differently smuggled commercial weed that smelled like, hey, well, clearly didn’t have a lot of terps, but the good stuff from Hawaii or from California, Oregon, Colorado from back in the day was very terpy, even though it wasn’t typically high intensity.

CP: That makes complete sense to me and just to line up with my experience at the time that I maybe did get that higher end, even let’s say like BC Bud or Indoor Grow that was happening at that time. I agree, we’ve seen this increase. It makes sense. We haven’t been breeding the plant for high terpene production until at least recently when everyone started getting on the terpene train, right? For a long time, especially the illicit market was focused, not certainly the legacy growers per se, but the underground market was growing for THC because that’s what sold. That’s what worked.

MB: Right, but one thing that is interesting is that my contention is that we put terps aside and started chasing THC content, because, I mean, you watch even at the time I’ve been in the business, the average THC content is gone from about 15 to close to 30 now. The thing is as Raphael Shawn says, there’s the stinginess of the plant, which means that the plant’s a factory. It only has so many metabolic resources to create these secondary metabolites. So if you shove everything towards THCA, well, one of the results is going to be less terpene content or terpenoid content. 

So the thing is, is that, I mean, I’ll tell you, for years, the best smelling cannabis I’ve ever smelled was Kona Gold. That was in the late ’70s, okay. It was incredibly aromatic, incredibly aromatic, like you open a bag and you’d smell it a hundred feet away. I mean it was really, really smelly.

CP: What I’m impressed with is the invisible bag you just opened to smell, Michael was huge. That was a QP that you just opened up to smell.

MB: Well, I mean, what’s funny about that is when we got a Kona from Hawaii, it actually came in, in trash bags, like paper ones, because they didn’t want it to mold up. I don’t know how they were smuggling. I think they were flying it in from Hawaii, but yeah. So it came. It came. You got a grocery bag full of Kona and even then, it was crazy expensive, it was $200 an ounce in the late seventies.

CP: Wow. That’s a lot of money back then. Yeah, that’s like –

MB: That’s a $1,000 an ounce today, really.

CP: Certainly that’s far more than anyone’s paying pretty much anywhere in the country and really ever.

MB: I’d pay for it for Kona Gold today.

CP: Oh, look at that. Yeah. Well, so that’s the interesting thing and maybe you seem to dabble in all of this. So what do we have today? Right, so I go down the street and I find Jack Herer. Is it Jack Herer?

MB: Oh, yeah, yeah, because I and Jack Herer when it was first released in Amsterdam, and I’ve got a really good memory for these smells and flavors.

CP: I guess what I’m asking is, I look around, right? What can the consumer do? Does anything in the book that consumers can do to verify that this is Jack Herer? 

MB: Well, it’s really like, put your money on brands that sell flower, that do terp testing. I mean, it’s very easy to learn how to read the terp test. I can look at a terp test and tell you how it’s going to smell and with risk, more accuracy. I know I’m buying what I want to buy. If the pining isn’t there in your blue dream, then this is going to be blue dream. If your terpinolene isn’t there on Jack Herer, it’s not going to be Jack. I mean, these are the terpenes that really –

CP: Right. The characteristic terpenes of this cannabis, chemovars or cultivars, maybe that’s a good question, right? This came up in my writing just the other day, Cultivar and Chemovar, what are these words that the listener might be reading on the Internet or what’s your take on them? Because these are not formally defined words in cannabis, a lot of what we’re talking about is vernacular is being developed or has been developed in silos.

MB: Yeah. So I mean, cultivars are simply cultivated varieties. So literally it’s used in agronomy to discuss specific phenotype, genotypes that are cultivated. Chemovars or ones that have the genes to express typically a particular cannabinoid profile and terpene profile.

CP: In order to know if it’s the right Chemovar, I have to have an analytical test? It’s like in line with what you’re suggesting as you need to line ourselves up with products.

MB: Our noses are really good. I mean our noses are really good and the thing is, before I had regular terp testing, I just relied on my ability to smell these Chemovars and distinguish something. I mean, if you put OG Kush, Trainwreck, Skunk number one, Northern Lights in front of me. I would never make a mistake.

CP: He’s sure. He can do the blind taste test, folks.

MB: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t even, you just learn it. I mean, it’s funny. I can recall the smell of Trainwreck, I can recall the smell of Bubba Kush. I know exactly what good bubba Kush smells like. So I would say the nose, nose. You really do learn how to recognize these chemovars, because your nose is incredibly sensitive.

CP: I agree. The nose is the best tool that the consumer has right now, hands down. That’s what we need to tell consumers to do when they can, but then empowering them for the future, right? Because Lord knows in person is less common today and continues to fall out of favor. Correlating what you smell, especially when you’ve freshly opened your cannabis jar and when it’s new and the terpene profile can be beneficial in trying to make those associations. So that’s something I recommend, particularly in that before you smoke it and forget.

MB: Check the date. If you want to see the name on the jar is going to align with what’s in the jar. One of the things you can do before you open the jar is check the date. 

CP: See when it was packaged. 

MB: No question, because you use a lot of these small terps within 45 days after harvest. It’s not taken care of, which means kept at reasonably low temperatures. I think wine cave temperatures are around 48 degrees. The way I look at taking care of cannabis is basically treat it like produce. That’s what it is.

CP: It’s an herb, a fresh herb.

MB: Keep it tightly sealed in the dark in the vegetable drawer or your refrigerator and it’ll last a while. It’s not going to last forever, but it will last awhile.

CP: Yeah. I think that’s great advice. We have articles on the topic and the truth is, is all cannabis will start to degrade over time from THC into CBN and from the terpenes evaporating off.

MB: No, that’s slow.

CP: Yeah. pretty slow, especially under refrigerated, but generally it looks to me like 10% a year and something to that effect at room temp.

MB: Right, but if you’re keeping your stuff more than a year.

CP: I’m not recommending it. I’m just suggesting this is what’s happening. Yeah. I’m sure that people have some carts, some old carts sitting in the bottom of some drawer somewhere for years and they’re cracking out. They bought it from your dispensary in Eagle Rock in 2007, and it’s still in their nightstand.

MB: I wouldn’t sell carts. 

CP: There you go.

MB: I wouldn’t sell for carts. The reason I wouldn’t sell carts is the first ones because I knew instantly that they were using PG and VG in these carts. I refused to carry it.

CP: That’s propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. These are cutting agents often used with electronic cigarette devices or e-cigs, the vape types.

MB: The truth is at heat these things can make things you don’t want to smoke, but the truth is that heat terpenes can turn into things that you don’t want to end up, Bob Strong and at Portland State. Has done some really, really interesting studies about how a lot of these terpenes turn into polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are horrible things to inhale, some of the worst atmosphere pollutants that are out there.

The idea of sucking on something that’s producing these, because the temperature of the device is, let’s say, over 800 degrees and you don’t want to inhale too hard when you’re smoking a joint. The thing is the fire comp which is the cherry. You actually don’t want to make that get white. You want to keep that — the way I say is you sip, you don’t rip, okay. That goes for bongs, that goes for joints. The reason is if you expose these herbal products to these high temperatures or these extracts with high temperatures, you’re going to break them down to the things you don’t want to know. 

CP: Yeah. All of these molecules at higher temperatures start to break down. Starting with THCA which has to be converted, which is produced by the plant, THCA and has to be converted to THC that you guys know what I’m saying and listeners to neutral THC, anyway.

MB: Just sip don’t rip. That’s my slogan.

CP: Sip don’t rip. That’s the takeaway. That’s to preserve the –

MB: Chemistry while you’re trying to get in you.

CP: Terpenes that are behind the cherry and not go too hard. That’s really great advice. I love those practical tips that listeners can take with them. I think it’s just all really interesting, the vaporization temperatures that can be included. What’s your take on best way to use an herbal vaporizer like a dryer? Do you like – 

MB: I use the Storz, Bickel and Mighty, because it’s got pretty good temperature control on it and I always try to keep it below 400. The thing about flower vaporizers is they it’s smoking an ultra-slow motion. All you have to do is you just have to be patient. So what you’re going to get is you’re going to get a lot of the lighter volatiles first and the heavier things can add on.

CP: The aromatics and then later come the CBD or the THC or even some other products.

MB: Exactly. So the thing is, is that you used to hear from people like, “Oh, man when I get on vaping, take the weed and I cook with it.” Well, if you’d vaped effectively, there’d be nothing to cook with except some suspended vegetable matter. So the thing is, is that if you’re leaving cannabinoids on your vape load, you haven’t been patient enough in getting them off the vape load and into you.

CP: Okay, everyone. I have to confess something. Michael’s talking to me right now, and I definitely have a dry herb vape collective, where I’m going to water cure it and then extract it. Certainly it sounds like, Michael says there’s a better way, so folks will report back. Great. I love that. You’re very keen on this. You wrote a whole book on cannabis medicine. What do we need to do as a passion project of mine, obviously, and for anyone who’s listening, I’m very concerned that we’re losing patients to the Retail Association of Cannabis. I want to make sure that they get their medical needs served. What is it that we can do? How do we build a better medical cannabis model. You wrote a book, Cannabis Pharmacy.

MB: Wow, challenging, very challenging question. The reason is, is that, yeah, it’s like okay, once a tsunami’s been triggered, how do you prevent damage from it? I mean, I think paying attention to the evidence and encouraging key research into the medical cannabis and also not overstating them. I mean we went through a phase with CBD is the perfect example of this, a craze.

CP: Yeah. Claims craze, fad.

MB: Yeah. Where people are claiming efficacy in treating all of these symptoms on thin evidence. I mean, it’s really amazing, because if you go to buy CBD and look at the doses that are recommended, they’re usually a 10th of the dose that clinical studies are conducted with. So you look at these studies on CBD and epilepsy, I mean they’re not taking ten milligrams. That can be taken out for a gram a day of CBD and nobody can afford to dose at the levels that are used in clinical studies, so that’s really a conundrum. Now, I do believe that there are different effects of these cannabinoids at different dose level –

CP: Ratios. 

MB: Yeah. Well, not only ratios, but actually –

CP: High doses affect differently than low doses.

MB: Yeah. If you hear that something does one thing at one milligram and does a totally different thing at ten milligrams. For example, THC at one milligram has a tendency to reduce feelings of anxiety, while if you give the average person who’s never done THC, 20 milligrams, they’re probably going to have an anxiety reaction. All right, very, very common and it’s all over the literature. I think it’s well I understood. So you have these dual effects, ranges of effects, and I’m completely forgetting the term for it, but that’s okay. I’ll remember it 5 minutes after we finish.

CP: No, I think we’re getting to the fact that there’s a lot to be said about using these cannabinoids for medical uses, but we need a lot more evidence. Currently, what’s been done in the pharma model, right? The studies that you alluding to for CBD have really been done with mostly isolates and very little terpenoids content and very little even secondary cannabinoids. The best study results that we got really of any of these commercially available products, guess what? Is a combo of two cannabinoids, and that’s THC and CBD, one-to-one, Sativex, which is a pretty effective medicine.

MB: Also that has terps in it. Those aren’t made with [inaudible 00:28:37]. 

CP: It does have a little bit, but are they plant extract or are they added back in?

MB:  No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Those are only, those are only plant extracts. What type those are is, those are CO2 tires, all right. It’s a CO2 tire from a high THC plant and a high CBD plant. Then those are combined together to make the tincture Sativex. Yeah, they’ll have [inaudible 00:29:01] terpenes. I mean, they’re going to have mono-terps too, because I have a lot of friends who extract mono terps from cannabis with CO2 and want it and to do it very well.

CP: Interesting. I guess it’s interesting, because it’s not on the package insert of these products. It is the concentration.

MB: Well, no, but it’s also that they didn’t want to have to account for their behavior. It’s the big thing in natural product extracts is that you have to limit what you’re saying is the active.

CP: Interesting for sure. This isn’t abundantly clear even to this pharmacist as it looks to the back of the product. For what it’s worth, I don’t have access to the package insert on Sativex as it is not approved in this country, although it is approved –

MB: You can download it. It’s up on GW’s website and it’s easy to find. Yeah.

CP: Cool. I will. All right, well, what are you working on now, Michael? What is your passion project today and what can people expect from you in the next one to two years? Any more writing or what are you interested in?

MB: Well, no, we’re going to have a company called Perfect. What we’re doing is we’re doing terpene controls based inhalable cannabis blends. what I’m doing is I’m choosing chemovars of different cannabis varieties, drawing half the crop on fresh, freezing. The other half, I extract that fresh frozen material, get high Terpene Entourage-based inhalable cannabis plants. So what I’m doing is, I’m choosing chemovars with different cannabis varieties on growing half the crop on fresh freezing the other half, extract that fresh frozen material, get high terpene extract and THCA. Then I combine all these things together in a blend for a certain trajectory.

At Perfect, we have three products. We have Happy Camper, Pick Me Up, and Nightcap, and they do what they say. Happy Camper is designed to elevate mood and make everything a little absurd. Pick Me Up is to help you focus to work without discomfort. Nightcap is to just get you to relax at the end of the day. That’s been my primary focus. I’m also working on Perfect Blends. 

CP: Perfect Blends. I love that. It’s not a Frankenstein, because you’re taking its own strain and you’re mixing it together, so this is you’re –

MB: No, we’re not

CP: Your extra sauce. It’s your special sauce, but it’s the cannabis’ own sauce. It’s really cool what you’re doing.

MB: Well, here’s the problem. I really wanted to make blended pre-rolls about almost three years ago. I got some of my favorite varieties of cannabis, and I’ve ground them and blended them and gave them to people. They love them and then I got the lab results. All my monoterpenes were gone.

CP: You just had Sesquiterpenes, beta-caryophyllene, some kind of a flap.

MB: Yeah. What happens is when you grow cannabis, the reason that pre-rolled factories smells so good is they’ve basically atomized all of their terps into the air and they’re not in the product. That got me thinking about, “Well, how can I fix that?” The best way to do it is to take the strains I like, extract them and try to get the purest extraction I can that represents the breadth of the plant and then combine those together and put that on the dried chopped flower. It’s really worked out. It’s great, because we blend to a formula, so it’s in a pretty tight range every time you get it, so you don’t get this crop to crop variation. That’s a big –

CP: Consistency. 

MB: That’s the biggest – for medical. If you’re going to use this to treat symptoms, it’s really nice to know what you’re getting this time is what work last time. That’s been really hard in cannabis.

CP: I couldn’t agree more. That consistency is really challenging, especially for patients in the current system, because when you go to the dispensary, even if you like, I’m going to throw a name out here. I have no affiliation. Alien Labs, you could get either variety depending on which place you go. They might not have it. It’s they’d have a totally different terpene profile, totally different cannabinoid profile, and you could get a different effect and you just spent $65 on 3.5 grams of cannabis and you don’t even get the effect you’re looking for. I think what you’re doing is brilliant.

MB: I think the way I describe it is, if you walk into a pharmacy and the pharmacist said, “Well, this could be aspirin or it could be Valium, here you buy it.” That would be unacceptable. 

CP: Well, this is probably a downer, but it might be a little bit of an upper, sorry. It isn’t precise enough for medicine.

MB: The problem is in cannabis is often people will, they make excuses for the unacceptable range of variation. There are really talented cultivators out there. They’re really talented extractors out there, but there aren’t a lot of people taking care of the products in the supply chain. So you’ll get stuff from a dispensary that’s old and you expect it to be fresh and people need to check the dates on the product their buying, it’s really important. One of the things we do at perfect is we use some tricks to try to help stabilize those monoterpenes and it took a long time to figure them out by leveraging things that the plant itself uses to keep these compounds around.

CP: Like a flavonoid or some natural preservative the plant is – Yeah, I know these are trade secrets. You don’t have tell me, but I could start listing off things in the plant. My favorite flavonoid by the way is anthocyanin because I just love the purple color in cannabis.

MB: Yeah. Anyway, that’s what they’re working on the advisor board for the Emerald Cup. We’re revising the rules for the Emerald Cup, which is the big California competition, Cannabi Austin.

CP: Should I go? Somebody told me I should go last year. I’ve never been. 

MB: It’s amazing.

CP: I feel like I should pay a visit. When Elana, our CEO, hears this, I’ve got to encourage her to get me a Cannigma hat and send me on my way. I’ll be a happy boy for three days.

MB: I mean the Emerald Cup, I’ve learned more at Emerald Cup about what constitutes high-quality cannabis products than anyone. It’s really toxic. This year, we’re doing instead of we’re dividing up the flower categories this year to put cannabis in silos depending on the terpene dominance. There are eight basic superclasses of cannabis. We’re going to start to recognize those, so that terpinolene gets to judged against terpinolene.

CP: Trying to put them in their own expectation class. So you can’t compare an uplifting strain to a sedating strain, because that’s apples to oranges. I like it.

MB: With the fanaticism, fanatic acceptance of the desert strains now, these wedding cake. We want to encourage broader production of these other cultivars, rather than the same problem we had a few years ago with everything was kush. Now everything’s wedding cake and so we want to get away from that.

CP: Birthday cake, regular cake, just plain cake.

MB: No cake. Cakeless. 

CP: Yeah. Cakeless, there it is. Cake piss. No, I’m just kidding. Everyone, Michael Backes, you are a wealth of knowledge. Is there anywhere that folks can find you or Perfect Blends that they should go before you sign off?

MB: Yeah. perfect-blends.com that’s an easy place. You can find me on Instagram. You can find the book on Amazon, or any bookstore [inaudible 00:36:10].

CP: That’s Cannabis Pharmacy. All right. Well, Michael, until the next time we run across each other. I can’t wait till I get to visit you in Los Angeles and see this laboratory blending up these infusions, these self-infusions of cannabis, chemovars. Can’t wait to see it, my friend. Thank you so much for your time. Be well.

MB: Thanks a lot, Codi.

EG: All right, so we’re here for our last AFSA segment of season two, because this is indeed the last episode of the season. I’m here with the Executive Director of Americans For Safe Access, Debbie Churgai. Hey, Debbie.

DC: Hi. How are you? 

EG: Good, good. Good to talk to you as always. Debbie and I were just talking and we were thinking a really nice way to wrap up the season would be to hone in. We’re used to getting all these regulation and policy updates in these little AFSA segment, but at the end of every episode of, what is AFSA? So we thought there might be some of our listeners, both in the United States and around the world, who are interested in hearing about AFSAs mission and activities. So I asked Debbie to give us a bit of a rundown.

DC: Thanks. Well, yeah, a lot of people are surprised, first to hear that Americans For Safe Access has been around since 2002. This year, we’re actually celebrating our 20th anniversary on not on 4/20, but on 4/19 is our actual birthday. 

EG: Yeah. Good timing. 

DC: Yes. 

EG: Happy birthday. 

DC: Thank you. So we’ll be celebrating our anniversary this year, which also is going to include a yearbook, an anniversary yearbook that we’re going to put out later this year, which is going to talk about all the advocacy efforts that AFSA has done in the 20 years. We’re going to have stories from patients and members and donors and people that have supported us in these last 20 years.

That’s something definitely to look forward to. We’re also going to be hosting our 10th National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference this year, where we’ll be celebrating our birthday as well.

EG: That’s a mouthful.

DC: Yes, it is. Anyways, AFSA was founded in 2002, and our mission is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis, therapeutics and research. For us, what that means, it’s not just about passing a law. Everyone thinks that access means there’s a law. We know and patients all around the country in the world know that it’s more than just passing a law. We have to make sure that the laws and regulations actually work for the patient, and actually work for the industry, because the industry is the one that’s providing this medicine for patients.

We want to make sure that laws are fair, they’re safe, they’re inclusive. We want to make sure that cannabis is affordable. We want to make sure that everyone has access, not just those that are lucky enough to live in a certain part of the country, lucky enough to have a certain condition that it’s approved for, and lucky enough to have the medicine that they need available in their state. Our mission is really to create access for everyone who needs it.

EG: Super important. I think, that’s really interesting, something you said there, Debbie. It’s like, closing that gap in between the regulation and the implementation of the laws, because it’s not always like, even if it’s a good law, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to be implemented in such a way that the spirit of the law comes through in the program.

DC: Yes. That is definitely true. Even more so, even sometimes after implementation of some states, which we’ve been finding lately are going backwards, they’re taking away priorities for patients. They’re taking away access. They’re taking away – They’re making things harder, too, in some states. We’re keeping an eye.

EG: Is this is in states open to adult use?

DC: Yeah. What we find is even states that have full medical cannabis programs and adult use programs, patients are still getting pushed aside. Their products aren’t available. A lot of people are putting priority on the adult use market, and they’re forgetting, or they’re just not making improvements to the patient program. The patient program is really important. We need to keep that patient program going and we need to keep that. That means doctor education, research and patient education as well.

EG: Yeah. It all comes down to the education, right? We talk about this all the time.

DC: Yeah. Helping to end the stigma as well. I feel like, that’s one of the big things that is still, especially in certain parts of the country,  the stigma is still there and that is one of the things that we’re also helping to help people understand that cannabis is a medicine. It’s not as scary as a lot of people think.

EG: Yeah, absolutely. Well, very happy to be involved in doing that work of breaking a stigma with you. Tell me, Debbie, our listeners, if they want to get involved, if they want to learn more about what AFSA is doing, how can they do that?

DC: Yeah. Our website is safeaccessnow.org. We have a ton of free information. Everything on our website is free to download, read, to utilize site. We have a lot of research. We have a lot of education. We have a lot of reports, things like that, and a lot of history. The history of medical cannabis is really important. We have a lot of history on our website as well.

If you go to safeaccessnow.org/join, you can join us as a member. Membership is only $25 a year, if you’re a veteran or a student. $35 a year for everyone else. Very affordable. We also have some business membership options and some leadership membership options which come with more benefits. We definitely love having our supporters become members. Membership is really what funds us, what keeps our work going. When you’re a member, everything that we do, you are helping us with. Members are so important for us. We have a certain few members-only webinars throughout the year and things like that. Just donate as well.

Everything we do, we need donations for. Everything, we have to have funding for. We really appreciate donors and sponsors. Also, we understand not everyone has money. If you just want to sign up for our email alerts, you can also just sign up for our email alerts. We send action alerts. We make it really easy for you to advocate. We write letters that you guys can use and send to your state legislators. We try not to bother you too much with our emails. We do a monthly newsletter, and then a few action alerts and things like that throughout the month.

EG: All right. Well, a bunch of different options that we’re going to put all these details in the show notes so that everyone can find them. I guess we’ll talk to each other again in season three.

DC: Yeah, can’t wait.

EG: All right. Thanks, Debbie.

DC: Bye.
EG: I’m Elana Goldberg. This episode of The Cannabis Enigma podcast was executive produced by myself, with production assistance from Dr. Codi Peterson and Ed Weissman, and edited by our friends at We Edit Podcasts. If you enjoyed the episode, feel free to like, rate and share. It helps other people find the podcast and it’s really nice for us as well.

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