June 15, 2020

DNA Analysis: A Roadmap for Cannabis Safety

Len May, CEO of EndoCanna Health joins us today to discuss the dynamics of DNA analysis and cannabis consumption, as we review real DNA results from our host, Kristina Etter.

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Cannabis is a historically significant plant, with roots buried deep in many regional traditions of medicine. As a plant with hundreds of active compounds, its complexities have frustrated researchers over the decades. Physicians, advocates, and brands alike tote cannabis as personalized medicine, as it doesn't fit into the single-active ingredient methodology of the pharmaceutical industry.

But there may be a second layer of complexities for medical cannabis — a patient's unique genetic makeup. In conjunction with the growing body of well-controlled studies, genetic mapping could be the key, which finally opens the door to personalized cannabinoid therapy. Knowing a patient's endocannabinoid genotype could guide treatment recommendations, including cannabinoid profiles, terpene options, and ratios.

Kristina Etter, Editorial Director for Cannabis Tech, spoke with Len May, CEO & Founder of EndoCanna Health, for A Tech Moment, following her own endocannabinoid genetic testing. May and the team at EndoCanna are using DNA technology to make cannabis a truly personalized medicine.

The Launch of DNA Testing for Optimal Cannabis Experiences

May's founder story follows that of other passionate entrepreneurs in the sector. As a teenager, he accidentally stumbled onto cannabis as a treatment for his ADHD. Over the years, he experimented with different strains and potencies, seeking those that worked best to improve his symptoms and improved focus. His approach was always "try this, try that" until something clicked.

May began to see patterns throughout his early career working in the dispensary and cultivation side of the industry. He explains how he frequently witnessed "two people with the same symptomatic conditions, same illness, that consumed the same cannabis and had different experiences." Initially, May suspected this variation must be related to the plant's genetic makeup.

Soon May was working to sequence the DNA of products sourced from all over North America, seeking to better understand these patterns. His work led to the creation of one of the first cannabis DNA libraries, Cannapedia, and the study of CBD for childhood epilepsy.

It was during the course of this work on CBD for seizures that May had a true lightbulb moment. Overall, the study of CBD for this condition produced remarkable results, but May kept noticing outliers whose seizures didn't disappear or returned. Through the genetic mapping of these outlying cases, May and the research team discovered all the outliers had the same markers. For the first time, May understood how DNA plays a role in how people experience cannabinoids and terpenes.

May launched EndoCanna Health in 2017 to pursue the idea of genuinely personalized cannabinoid medicine. Through DNA testing, EndoCanna captures endocannabinoid genotype through a simple swab, to provide customized reporting and cannabinoid product suggestions.

The platform creates more than 60 Trait Reports on specific health traits (Mood reports, Inflammation, Sleep, Immune, and Cognitive Reports, as some examples). The robust database combines personalized health information to suggest cannabinoid profiles and ideal terpenes and ratios. They also create brand partnerships to facilitate specific product suggestions.

These Wellness Reports detail genetic predispositions for increased, moderate, or decreased risks for various endocannabinoid conditions. For example, one of EndoCanna's Wellness reports explores the tendency of major depressive feelings. Should there be an increased genetic risk, the suggestions include uplifting terpenes (limonene, linalool) and CBD-rich ratios of 20:1 or 1:1.

DNA Testing Confirming What Physicians Already Knew

As physicians have familiarized themselves with cannabis within a modern medical setting, it has become increasingly clear that marijuana is already highly personalized. Experts like Mara Gordon, Co-founder Aunt Zelda's and CDRMed (a portal for physicians and medical health professionals to access cannabis data), have long created patient-specific treatment plans, even for patients with the same condition, in the same demographic.

As only one example, Gordon outlined her dosing protocol for a four-year-old girl suffering from glioblastoma multiforme in a presentation for Green Flower. Gordon recommended a primary treatment of 500 mg of THC twice daily, followed by 250 mg of CBD, also twice daily. These doses were delivered through a cannabis concentrate, taken sublingually. Gordon included strain recommendations in this protocol. She also chose specific strains because they had high levels of two terpenes, myrcene, and lysine, shown to inhibit cancer cell growth.

Gordon's dosing protocol for this example was developed through a slow titration to ensure the patient did not experience any adverse side effects. Other patients she has worked with, including an older man with the same type of cancer, were drastically different, reflecting the very personalized nature of medical cannabis. The potential for working in the results of extensive genetic data into a treatment protocol could speed up this slow titration process and perhaps deliver better, more targeted results.

Accessible Personalized Cannabis Medicine

What genetic testing does for medical cannabis patients is to make personalized medicine effective and accessible. Most patients only have access to budtenders, which in practice have low-to-moderate expertise in cannabis medicine. A small percentage of patients may work with a physician or cannabinoid medical clinics, like Gordon's, but these are the exception, not the rule.

What EndoCanna represents is a new way for patients to take control of their medicine. With detailed Wellness Reports, based on DNA and combined with cannabinoid suggestions, patients are finally capable of taking control over their treatment plan.

With or without a physician familiar with medical cannabis, patients have the necessary information to make smart decisions in their treatment plan. It's no longer a "try this, try that" approach to find the right profile and dose. Endocanna and DNA testing for endocannabinoid genotype will demystify cannabis medicine.

For a deeper dive into the DNA reports, watch the podcast, as Len and Kristina review the finding her own personal DNA analysis!