Arizona MMTAC members debate medical marijuana testing details

By

Hannah Saunders

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Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council (MMTAC) was established in 2019, and is directed to submit an annual report with recommendations for medical cannabis testing requirements to the state’s Department of Health Services. Council members met last month to discuss updates to terpenes and MCT oil testing. 

Councilmember Joe DeMenna, who has been a medical cannabis patient in Arizona since 2015, hopes to measure the prevalence of MCT oil in Arizona’s cannabis products—specifically for vapes and cartridges—so patients and consumers understand exactly what they’re putting into their bodies and any potential side effects. MCT is a triglyceride and diluting agent that’s derived from coconut oil that is mostly used in vapes and cartridges. 

“It’s banned in some states, like Colorado, and from my information of communication with the Department of Health, there are no prohibitions or restrictions on MCT oil in Arizona at the present moment,” DeMenna said. 

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DeMenna referenced Infinite Chemical Analysis Lab, a Michigan-based lab that had a high prevalence of MCT in its products. The lab’s co-founder and CEO, Josh Swider, said over 30 percent of cannabis vape pens and edibles that were recently tested there contained MCT oil. The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency is now working to remove MCT oil from consumer products. 

Colorado’s ban of MCT oil in cannabis products—and vitamin E acetate and polyethylene glycol (PEG)—came after a 2019 outbreak of lung-related illness

“These are things that are made for eating, generally, or are at least safer for eating,” DeMenna said. “We’re talking about a scenario where people are inhaling it.”

Councilmember Steve Cottrell said vitamin E acetate has been found in many vapes and cartridges across the nation during recent years, which have been linked to lung issues. He said studies have been conducted on flavorings, or food-grade terpenes, many of which produce an embalming fluid known as formaldehyde. Some cannabis vapes and cartridges contain food-grade terpenes, and Cottrell said tests should be run on them since they can be harmful.

“This is something I would love to be testing as a recommendation for a new testing protocol,” Cottrell said. “Flavonoids and terpenes have been studied around the globe for thousands and thousands of years. In ancient medicine, this is what causes so many different things and so many different effects in the body—and benefits.” 

Flavonoids are not unique to cannabis plants, and they impact the pigmentation, odor, and taste of plants. Terpenes found in cannabis have healing effects through its anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. 

Councilmember Murray Stein said he’s conducted cannabis terpene research.

“They’ve been shown to have some very interesting impact in terms of the whole cannabinoid experience,” Stein said. “Just recently, they identified a specific terpene (limonene that) offsets the anxiety so many people get when they use cannabis.”

While scientists found positive effects of limonene for those experiencing anxiety caused by cannabis consumption, Stein said the learning process regarding the chemical compound continues.  A challenge that remains is the lack of clarity on what happens to many cannabis compounds when they are smoked. 

“I’m a smoker. I use cannabis whichever way I can,” Stein said. “The simple truth is, in time, as our market and our industry evolve … We may find that some things we choose to put into our body through different conduits, mechanisms … Maybe aren’t the best approach.” 

The next MMTAC meeting will be held in August. 

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