The easing of restrictions against cannabis in some states is expected to create a growing market with a proliferation of cannabis-based products and the sort of competition we see in other areas. Sounds like good news for the cannabis consumer, right?
But, as we’ve seen in the USA, and according to some experts, this is a double-edged sword, as a range of adulterated and shoddy hemp products that can have serious impacts on consumer’ wellbeing are hitting the American market, making the age-old dictum of “buyer beware” more important than ever.
The good news is that, with education and some discriminating shopping, tomorrow’s savvy cannabis consumers can enjoy a range of pure organic products undreamed of just a few years ago. We spoke with medical marijuana consultant Robert Dello Russo to get some insight into the safest, sanest way to enjoy the benefits of cannabis.
NOTE: Here at PhamaBlends, we don’t reject the manufacture and use of cannabis products – including oils and other preparations, out of hand. We have, however seen what can happen when people consume products that are impure, or use leaf. We are just cautioning people to be careful. We also hope that the Australian government keeps an open mind as to the benefits of pure, simple, natural cannabis products as opposed to concentrating solely on CBD-heavy preparations.
Robert Dello Russo, a cannabis consultant who has been studying the recreational and medicinal uses of the plant for over forty years, has some serious concerns about the quality and consistency of many of today’s cannabis-based products, especially in regards to potent oils and the wide range of edibles now available.
“If people knew about the quality of the raw material, and then the way it is processed in some oils and edibles, they’d be shocked,’ he said.
“I had clients who come to me complaining of headaches and conditions like sleep disorders, anxiety attacks and paranoia after using some of this stuff, and when I looked into what they were taking, I said, ‘no wonder’. If you’re smoking oils that have been processed with volatile poisons such as butane or consuming edibles made from a mix of low quality trim, and worse, of leaf, of course you’re going to get sick. Maybe not immediately, but sooner or later,” he said.
Butane is often used to extract THC, CBDs and other constituents from the plants when producing oils, and trim is a term for the material that is leftover during the manicuring of marijuana, he explained. And the use of leaf, he stressed, is also causing problems.
“Why, throughout history, have people used the flowering tops and thrown away the leaf? Because it is in fact rubbish, and only makes the consumer dizzy and tired. And in large-scale cultivation, it’s the leaf that carries the pesticides that almost everyone uses in the early growth stages. Even plants that are organic and pesticide free probably had the leaves sprayed.
And that’s what many edible and oil manufactures are buying in bulk and using in their processes.
“Sure, you’ll get an effect from these products. But is it a desirable one? And more importantly, is it safe?” he asks.
”Using cannabis shouldn’t be like playing Russian roulette, and it doesn’t have to be,” he added.
Dello Russo insists that smoking or ingesting cannabis the way it has been traditionally done for thousands of years is still the best, safest and most effective way to enjoy cannabis or receive the beneficial effects.
“Quality and consistency are the most important factors in ensuring a pleasant, effective and safe cannabis experience. Back in the old days, in different parts of the world, people took cannabis very seriously. Whether they were using it to relax, as a social stimulant, or to treat a variety of illnesses, people revered the herb, and for the growers, hashish makers and healers, reputation was everything,” he explained.
“Even more recently, when you bought Afghani palm hash, or, say, Blonde Lebanese, you could be pretty sure of what you’d get. The experiences were different, but they were consistent,” he said.
The reasons for this consistency, Dello Russo explained, was that even though the makers used rudimentary production methods and tools, they were careful in choosing the strains of marijuana they used, and paid scrupulous attention to the hashish manufacturing process.
“It says something that people up in the mountains of Asia were producing a more consistent, higher quality product then most people are today. They used organic materials and paid close attention to the manufacture, because it was important to them and their customers. Reputation was, and still is, everything, and many of these guys considered it to be a sacred duty.
“A gram of Afghani palm hash, whether smoked or eaten, did the same thing, time after time, year after year, with amazing regularity.
“Today’s growers and producers could learn something from them. I certainly did,” he added.
Dello Russo is building a steady reputation among a growing clientele by combining traditional practices with an emphasis on health and wellbeing and more modern consumption techniques, such as vapour pens. He explains that whether you are a long time user, new to cannabis, or seeking relief from a specific ailment, this approach can result in a better experience.
To begin, it is important to understand the various strains of cannabis and their specific effects on the body and mind – something he has been deeply involved in for over 40 years and has led him on journeys to remote areas of Asia.
“I was amazed at how different strains produced such a wide variety of effects and states of mind,” he says today, “For instance, experienced users would recommend blonde or red Lebanese for daytime use as it had a lighter, more colourful effect that was very different to say, Afghani palm hash, which produced more of a body high that relaxed you for the evening.
“It became obvious that there was more to the cannabis experience than just THC content.
“I became curious about what made the various effects so different, and that put me on a long journey to the East,” he said.
Dello Russo’s travels were to take him to the hashish-producing providences of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries, where he observed the different methods of manufacture, and became more and more interested in the various strains that were used.
“These were family businesses that went back for generations. They took a lot of pride in what they did, and in their reputations. And that showed in the finished product.”
Dello Russo carefully recorded the various strains and ways in which hashish was produced and brought this knowledge back home with him.
Before long, his studies took on a more serious aspect when he began studying the medicinal effects of cannabis and how healers in various parts of the world had used it over centuries.
“For thousands of years healers in China, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and throughout the East had been experimenting with and documenting how cannabis could relieve a whole range of symptoms and help people with various ailments, and I began collecting that information and filing it away. It opened up a whole new world for me.” he said.
He continued his cannabis apprenticeship in Jamaica, Hawaii and among other cultures that had a long history of cultivation and use.
Dello Russo claims he now has one of the most extensive files in the world on the traditional healing effects of cannabis, cross-referenced to the various strains and production methods.
“It’s taken me over forty years to collect and analyse all of this information, but now I’m confident in being able to choose the right combination of strains for each individual and targeted to what they want to achieve. Maybe they have a specific ailment, or just want to relax after a stressful day at work. Whatever it is, I can prescribe a blend that will work for them.”
Dello Russo said he now uses seven different strains in 65 carefully formulated blends that he prescribes after consultations with his clients.
“Each person, and their response to cannabis, is different, and you need to respect that. I spend time with each client to make sure that we get it right,” he said.
To this end, he builds a patient profile that uses a questionnaire and takes into account factors such as height, weight, and body mass, lifestyle considerations and any medications used. He has developed a computer program that he will share with medical practitioners to ensure consistency in diagnosis and in prescriptions.
“It’s important to understand the patient, his or her needs, and what medications they are currently taking. Even if a person is looking to reduce or stop taking a certain medication, we need to prescribe a blend that will work well alongside that medication, especially in the early stages.”
Dello Russo claims to have successful helped people wean off tobacco, alcohol, drugs of dependence and benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax.
“With something like Xanax, you need to understand why the person is using it, what they are getting out of it. Then you need to prescribe a blend that works alongside it. I’ve seen people take their morning dose along with one of my blends, but forgo the afternoon dose, topping off with a bit more blend instead.
“After awhile, they find that the cannabis works better for them, and they reduce or quit the pharmaceuticals all together.”
Dello Russo said he also recognises the recreational aspect of cannabis blends.
“If someone is taking one of my blends for, say anxiety, pain or what have you, and they want to go see a film, there’s a blend for that that will work with their main prescription to help them slow down, relax and enjoy the movie.
“If they want to go to a party, then there’s something lighter and a bit more energising.
“People are amazed at how well these blends can be tailored for each experience or expectation.
“Again, that comes from long experience and keeping careful records,” he said.
In the future, as Dello Russo’s company expands and restrictions are eased in various states, he plans on marketing cannabis blends that will produce specific effects, such as tranquillity, energy, and ease of sleep or more creative states of mind.
But for right now, Dello Russo said that as his client base expands, he plans to work with specially trained medical professionals to meet with each client, either personally or in face-to face online consultations. A full consultation would take place over three meetings; the first to evaluate the person and what they hope to achieve, after which the doctor would prescribe a specific blend.
The blend, produced from pure, organic flowering tops, is delivered in compressed pellets to be smoked in cigarette-sized vaporisers or eaten. The pellets are so tightly compressed that they release the active ingredients slowly and consistently, either when inhaled or in the digestive tract.
In addition, each client receives strategies or blends to alleviate any anxiety or nervousness resulting from cannabis use. “People have different thresholds and tolerances towards TCH and other constituents in cannabis, so it’s important that they have safety net when experimenting with different strains and dosages. Over the years I’ve developed ways of helping people level out or come down from the effects of the plant. That’s something I consider to be important,” he said.
And so far, according to Dello Russo, the response had been excellent.
“People who had trouble sleeping are now having the best, most restful nights of their lives and wake up refreshed and happy,” he reports. “With the right blend, people who have been struggling with pain, addictions, alcoholism, anxiety and other problems are telling me that they’ve finally found relief.”
Even people who have been smoking cannabis for years are finding a completely new experience after trying a high quality, tailored blend, he said.
Education is the key to successfully using and appreciating cannabis, Dello Russo insists. It’s important to understand what is good for you, and what to stay away from.
“After studying the different strains of cannabis for decades, I know exactly what certain types will do or won’t do. But you start adulterating them with chemicals or use the parts of the plant that have always been discarded… well, there’s no guarantees, and I feel that you’re just looking for trouble,” he said.
“You consume something made from hundreds of pounds of leaf that often has been sprayed, you’ll initially get a profound effect, but it won’t be pleasant after awhile. Imagine smoking an ounce of leaf in one sitting…
“But if you stick to using products made from pure, high quality, organically grown cannabis, and work with an expert to help you choose the best strains that are suited to what you want, you can have a safe, healthy and really enjoyable experience.”
Dello Russo is currently working with medical experts and other colleagues as he moves his company, PharmaBlends, from a consultancy and research and development phase to delivering high quality products into the marketplace.
“It’s a little bit like being a wine connoisseur, or having a small vineyard that for generations has been producing a select vintage. You can sip a wine and tell exactly where it came from, the vintage, the varietal or blend.
“And then you see people drinking the cheapest box wine imaginable. Stuff made from any old grapes and loaded with chemicals. It’s frustrating, because you know that with little education people would have a much more enjoyable experience and wake up the next morning feeling a lot better.
After working with a select clientele that has included members of the film and other creative industries, he is ready to reach out to a more mainstream audience.
“It’s been a long haul, but it really is a labour of love that had to grow over time to reach the point I’m at now. It takes more than just an understanding of cannabis strains and their effects – you need to understand how people respond to it, and that can only come with experience, and over time.
“I’ve been at this a very long time, and it’s never been about the money. I’ve been fortunate enough professionally to have careers that supported my family and me and still left time for researching something that I deeply believed in and cared about.
“It’s been a life’s work that is now finally coming into its own with practical applications that we’re still developing, but are already helping a lot of people.
“There’s no doubt that cannabis, medically or recreationally, is here to stay. People may as well be getting the most out of it, and that’s something we’re committed to helping make happen.
“It’s a very exciting time,” he added.