Expert insights on cannabinoid science from Ethan Russo (Part II of II)

Expert insights on cannabinoid science from Ethan Russo (Part II of II)

Cannabis Business, POS System, Specialty Retail

By John Garvey
A leading medical marijuana researcher weighs in on cannabis cultivation, public health and cannabis classification

If you were stranded on a desert island and had to pick one plant to meet all your needs, this would be the best choice.

–        Ethan Russo, M.D.

Last month we introduced physician and medical researcher Ethan Russo, who among other distinctions served as the Senior Medical Advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals for 11 years. Russo now heads the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI) in Prague.

Part I of this discussion focused on quality assurance, marijuana concentrates and public health. Today we’ll discuss plant classification, cultivation and cannabis pharmacology.

Like this discussion? Click here for more ICCI educational opportunities.

1) A pervasive misconception: THC + CBD is not a “spectrum.”

Of the hundreds of terpenoids and cannabinoids in cannabis sativa, THC and CBD are by far the best understood. Yet we know there are dozens of terpenes and other compounds that modify their effects and also work in isolation. Isolate CBD and THC from other plant compounds, and you have a lot of lost value.

CBD in isolation is an anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant and has some other applications. In some respects, THC and CBD are complimentary. Yet full-spectrum products rich in terpenes and other cannabinoids more likely to benefit patients.

Of course most, if not all, recreational users prefer full-spectrum cannabis products.

2) Plant classification is an evolving, fascinating discussion.

Cannabis classification at its most basic goes something like this:

  1. Is it hemp or marijuana? (This has only to do with THC concentration, and given how many uses cannabis has, it’s really arbitrary.)
  2. Is it an indica, sativa or hybrid?

But as HEMP Magazine and have Cannabis Now recently discussed in detail, the way industry leaders classify different cultivars is evolving.

Recently, a number of competing nomenclature systems have come forward … to determine the proper taxonomy for cannabis,” reports Mitchell Colbert in Hemp Magazine. “Out of these, the one which has gained the most acceptance among scientists and hemp farmers is known as the ‘Phylos taxonomy,’ utilized by Oregon-based biotechnology company, Phylos Bioscience.

The Phylos taxonomy places cultivars into three simple classifications:

  • Type I: THC dominant with relatively-low CBD
  • Type II: CBD and THC balance
  • Type III: CBD dominant, often with below 0.3% THC, legally classifying it as hemp

This is one of the categorizations Russo uses, though he also classifies plants based on morphological characteristics (narrow- vs. broad leaf, plant height), terpenoid content, fiber and seed production, and specific cannabinoid content.

Russo says an ideal cannabis classification scheme will take all these into account, plus scent, taste and specific effects on patients.

Talk to one of our reps to learn how our industry-leading point of sale and inventory management solutions can help keep your dispensary sprouting upward.


3) Grow outdoors whenever it’s an option.

The main benefits of growing outdoors are energy savings and plants which are healthier for consumption. (When we say “outdoors,” we’re speaking broadly to include greenhouses and other partially-enclosed structures.)

We touched on this our April 9 blog.

Indoor grows are the most susceptible to fungi, bacterial and insect contamination. They’re also the most likely to have residual pesticides. Dr. Russo also pointed out that the prevalence of indoor growing and related health risks are largely a consequence of prohibition. The illegality of cannabis literally kept growing operations underground and many of the best-known techniques for producing high yields involve indoor growing.

But does growing outdoors mean sacrificing yields? Nope. More and more anecdotal accounts suggest that outdoor growing may yield superior cannabinoid and terpene production. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Russo offered two key pest control suggestions:

  1. Mechanical pest control. Yellow sticky cards which attract and trap pests are a safe and effective example of this.
  2. Biological pest control. Another alternative to spraying is biological pest control, or the use of insects that prey on harmful mites and the like. Applied Bio-nomics (OR) is one company with cannabis-specific pest solutions.

4) CBD is on top, but don’t knock the medicinal value of THC!

Hemp SalveCBD might be king right now, particularly since the FDA approved Epidiolex in June of last year. But however valuable we now understand CBD and terpenes to be, THC shouldn’t be sidelined in the discussion of cannabis as medicine. THC is itself an anti-convulsant with neuroprotective and mood-enhancing properties. Some THC present in CBD-dominant products also renders them more effective, says Russo. This reduces the required dose for symptom relief.

Not only is every medical condition unique; every human body is unique.

So tell your boss you’re not just doing it for fun. (Actually, it might be best to defer on that conversation.)

5) Patient care should allow for individualized treatments, but guidelines also apply.

In general, individualization of dosing is a good policy with cannabis-related medicine, says Russo, who has decades of experience as a practicing physician.

He adds that unfortunately, the tendency in pharmaceuticals is towards a one-size fits all approach.

Not only is every medical condition unique; every human body is unique. A therapy that’s successful for 19 out of 20 patients might not work for the odd one out. So some may achieve greater relief by vaping at a higher temperature that delivers greater amounts of THC, even at the cost of burning off some beneficial terpenes.

As a general guideline, patients who want individualized dosing and prompt relief of symptoms will benefit most from vaping terpene-rich, CBD-dominant (Type III) flower. Ideally, cannabis should be grown using organic farming standards in soil free of heavy metals.

Optimal THC presence is also, of course, highly individualized.

There are situations where THC dominance is useful, but it never hurts to have CBD, Russo says. CBD will not detract from the medical benefits of THC and brings medical benefits of its own.

Keep your dispensary sprouting upward

A Look Back on an Epic Year for the Cannabis Industry

A Look Back on an Epic Year for the Cannabis Industry

Cannabis Business, E-commerce, POS System, Specialty Retail

A Look Back on an Epic Year for the Cannabis Industry

… and a peek into 2019

By John Garvey

It’s never been easier to find cannabis-related topics to write about, but providing accurate information that improves the quality of the conversation is another thing altogether. The overall conversation surrounding medical cannabis, cannabis banking and the industry at large definitely moved in the right direction last year despite some obstacles.

In case you ate a giant weed brownie on New Year’s Eve 2017/18 and are just waking up, 2018 was an epic year for cannabis. Here are highlights: Auld lang syne!

Law enforcement

Police in riot gear lined upAnother year went by with no major Justice Department action against prudent legal cannabis industry operators. This in spite of a big scare when (now former) Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memo in January. Either because Sessions was posturing all along or because he had other things competing for his attention, he never took action against the industry.

If that means you won a bet with one of your neurotic stoner friends, cash in your chips.


Epidiolex, an anti-epileptic drug developed by GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH), became the first cannabis plant-derived drug to receive full FDA approval last June. (Long-approved anti-nausea and appetite-stimulating drug MARINOL is made with synthetic THC.) We wrote an entire blog mainly in response to the fear that cannabidiol/CBD would become patented or trademarked by GW Pharma (the claim was malarkey).


Stack of papersTwo pieces of major federal legislation were introduced last June: the STATES Act and the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act. Either would be a huge boon to the cannabis industry. Although recent setbacks indicate that neither is likely to pass, the proposed reforms were bold and historic. The fact that these issues are being discussed seriously in a bipartisan manner is huge.

We covered this in-depth in our July blog. If you didn’t catch it, here’s a synopsis:

  • The STATES Act sought to extend federal trademark protections to the industry, improve access to banking services and shield compliant operators against seizures by the Department of Justice. “If passed,” we wrote, “the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), will be to the cannabis industry something like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch was to private space travel.”
  • Shortly after the STATES Act was introduced, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act was introduced in the Senate. We wrote, “Above all, passage of the MFOA would provide advocates something they’ve been salivating over the mere thought of since 1971: rescheduling ‘marihana’ to a less-restrictive place in the CSA’s inherently flawed controlled substances schedule.”


Canada legalized cannabis, making it the second country to do so (after Uruguay). The only problem is I think my wife has a thing for their Prime Minister so I still don’t fully trust them.


California Flag
Hope California’s cannabis industry veterans and incumbents are keeping up on their blood pressure meds. Because that sounds stressful.

Two decades and change after California passed the historic Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215, which made CA the first state to legalize medical cannabis), legal recreational cannabis sales began. Implementation has been complicated due in part to the established grey market operators struggling to meet compliance guidelines or disregarding them altogether. Some licensed, compliant operators may feel that they’re competing against establishments whose main competitive advantage is avoiding taxes and compliance costs. True?

California’s MMJ industry has long been comprised largely of collectives and co-ops. Most municipalities still aren’t allowing licensed cannabis dispensaries to operate locally, the state isn’t issuing nearly enough licenses, and all the unlicensed operators were set to lose their remaining legal protections on January 9, 2019. Licensing, third-party testing, distribution, enforcement, clear rules and point-of-sale capabilities were all lacking to varying degrees through 2018.

It’s been a bear (pun intended).


Vermont became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis by legislative action rather than ballot. Michigan also legalized the whacky weed, the first Midwestern state to do so. This brings the tally of fully-legal states to 10, plus the District of Colombia.

Medical marijuana was legalized by ballot in three red states including Utah, Oklahoma and Missouri—the latter two winning approval by huge margins.


Hemp was removed from the Controlled Substances Act (i.e., legalized) thanks to a provision in the 2018 farm bill, signed into law on Dec 20, 2018. The FDA issued a surprisingly comprehensive and interesting press release.


Five Canadian cannabis firms were listed on major U.S. securities exchanges—three on the New York Stock Exchange and two on the Nasdaq. Meanwhile, dozens of U.S. cannabis companies were listed on the Canadian Stock Exchange.

We started an awesome cannabis industry blog

In the last year we’ve written about intellectual property law, licensing and compliance, strategy, industry consolidation, various issues pertaining to dispensary operations, and terpenes.

If you ever meet our parents, please don’t tell them how much we know about weed.

Things to watch in 2019

It might take two, three or four more attempts to achieve a substantial, legislative drug policy reform at the federal level, but it will happen and soon. What will that look like? We have our guesses. We’ll continue sharing strategic insights about opportunities in the cannabis industry, dispensary operations and new cannabis regulations.

Cannabis Enterprise Business Solutions

Talk to one of our reps to learn how our industry-leading PCI compliant point of sale and inventory management solutions can keep your dispensary running smoothly.

Waxing on Cannabusiness with LivWell (part II of II)

Waxing on Cannabusiness with LivWell (part II of II)

Cannabis Business, Featured, POS System, Specialty Retail

Waxing on Cannabusiness with LivWell (part II of II)

By John Garvey

This month we’re talking again with our friends at LivWell Enlightened Health, one of the nation’s largest cannabis retail chains and cultivators, about the challenge, inspiration, and oddities of … well, selling weed.

In last month’s blog we spoke with three people from different departments about their backgrounds and what inspires them as cannabis industry professionals. For part II of this blog, we’re talking about the nuts and bolts of compliance and cannabis retail ops.

I. A high-stakes decision

One of the highest-volume retailers in the cannabis industry is LivWell’s Garden City marijuana dispensary in Northern Colorado.

And the busiest day

for the busiest of 14 Colorado locations

for one of the largest cannabis retailers in the state is … (drumroll)


April 20th. Always has been, always will be.
Cannabis Buds in Jars
If you’re reading this you probably already know that 4/20 is like a combination of Independence Day and Black Friday for marijuana dispensaries (except 4/20, in contrast to Black Friday, is an actual holiday as far as I’m concerned).

Illinois native Mandy Leseure, the General Manager at LivWell’s Garden City branch, had a lot on her mind the week leading up to 4/20 this year. Her store switched to NCR Counterpoint—Anthea’s point of sale (POS) system—in the midst of the holiday shopping surge.

“We got the new system two days before 4/20,” Mandy recalls, “and we did that strategically because we knew our previous POS system would not be able to support what we were going to be doing that day.”

The POS system LivWell had been using frequently crashed, no doubt causing people’s blood pressure to skyrocket even on less busy days. The risks of not switching POS platforms included not only thousands in lost revenue over a single day, but also inventory tracking errors and liabilities.

So how did things pan out with this time-sensitive system overhaul?

The day itself was exciting, but the Counterpoint/Anthea transition went just the way Mandy had hoped: boring. … At least in the sense that nothing went wrong.

“I had staff members that used Counterpoint for the very first time on 4/20, so its ability to be user-friendly was fabulous,” Mandy states. “Basically, if they were able to read they could use it, and it didn’t crash once during that entire 4/20 sales binge.”

Sorry. This story would have been more interesting if things had gone horribly wrong. If you want to learn some fascinating background on 4/20, however, we recommend this podcast:

Criminal: The Meaning of 420

  • Hosted by award-winning journalist Phoebe Judge, @PhoebeVJudge

II. Nothing says “fiasco” like a missing lollipop

Compliance and inventory tracking

Row of lollipops on purple backgroundIn addition to point of sale solutions, Anthea integrates marketing functions, seed-to-sale inventory management, accounting, and other systems seamlessly. Manager of Retail Compliance and Corporate Security, James Bauer, can attest to that. The previous system, he says, was pretty good for inventory tracking, but LivWell needed a single platform that everyone across departments—purchasing, accounting, marketing, auditing—could use. That’s important when dealing with what is perhaps the most heavily-regulated inventory in the country.

James says the State’s expectation regarding cannabis inventory tracking and compliance is perfection:

“Anyone who’s worked any retail job and has ever dealt with any inventory accounts knows no one’s perfect. The challenging part for us is we employ over 500 people—200-plus on our retail side—so to expect them to never make a mistake isn’t realistic.

“When a department store like Kohl’s would look at a missing tee shirt, they’d write it off and carry on with their day, … one medicated lollipop that we spent maybe six or seven dollars on can become a major liability if it’s unaccounted for.”

“If we have someone who forgets to scan that and it goes out the door, then during our audit our inventory catches that discrepancy. We have to launch an investigation and see where it went and how it occurred so that we can report that accurately and compliantly to the state. So, that’s one of my biggest concerns on the inventory end.”

Integration across departments

An inventory management system that can integrate accounting, auditing, and other functions across departments not only makes occurrences like these less frequent but reduces the number of hours needed to investigate if they do occur.

Counterpoint is capable of generating over 40 reports, and James’ department uses six or seven on a regular basis, providing a “huge” operational advantage.

“The reports that you guys have provided us with, including the forensics and history reports that help us track down the sales ticket and who sold those products, and the ability to search with the Metrc number are key for us,” James states. “So that’s definitely been a huge benefit of moving to this platform: the reports that are generated from it.”

Where we’re at now, it’s never been better. The audits are quicker, our inventory counts are quicker, there’s more accuracy on them, and then the reports are huge.

III. The Wild West is behind us

Wild west buildings with wagon and old truckIT and reporting

Tech savvy Danielle Biddy began at LivWell 4 ½ years ago as a budtender. Her promotions to Assistant Manager, Retail Project Manager, and now IT Systems Manager were driven largely by her technical aptitude and curiosity.

Danielle is glad to be working in a maturing industry. For her, Anthea’s solutions have played a big role, allowing LivWell to operate like a business in any other industry.

Nonetheless, industry-wide challenges, including sky-high compliance expectations, remain. That’s why you can’t skimp on tracking capabilities. Anthea’s solutions allow LivWell to track seed-to-sale with Metrc RFID tags and barcodes. Ensuring that each budtender is selling from the correct batch and being able to barcode products in-house are also extremely important capabilities. Only solutions providers with a cannabis industry specialty can offer these.

“Anthea is helping because we can specify that it’s Metrc-specific,” Danielle says. “We can make purchase orders on this product, which is not something you can do with other systems.”

Retail and inventory reports

Danielle runs numerous weekly sales reports, including sales by category, by item, and hourly sales trends. These allow LivWell to anticipate demand, reduce stock-outs and surplus inventory, and schedule staff more efficiently.

Counterpoint’s reports also make it a lot easier to keep an eye on open transfers.

“The Anthea reports that we have are a lifesaver actually,” she says. “We have so many more options in terms of what we can get out of the system, such as transfers and alerts.”

Cannabis Enterprise Business Solutions

Talk to one of our reps to learn how our industry-leading point of sale and inventory management solutions can keep the boogie man away from your cannabis dispensary.

Read Examining the Cannabis Industry with LivWell (Part I of II) to learn more about what inspires people in the cannabis industry and what keeps them awake at night.