Cannabis is big news these days—with state legalization initiatives and expanding mainstream cultural acceptance—but what many don’t realize is that our scientific understanding of this plant and our ability to harness its full potential is still in its infancy. One company that is setting out to improve our understanding of cannabis is Level Blends, a Bay Area based organization using molecular science to deliver cannabis products designed to reliably produce specific medicinal and psychoactive effects. We recently caught up with Josh, one of the founders of Level Blends, to discuss the science of cannabis use and the exciting new ways this plant can be used.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Josh. How did Level Blends get started?
We started it in the fall of 2015, a little under a year and a half ago. The three of us founders are all science guys with computer science and mechanical engineering backgrounds, along with a scientist with a PhD in small molecule chemistry. As a long time cannabis smoker, I was fascinated with the medicinal and scientific properties of cannabis, but did not know much about the plant beyond the common understanding of indica and sativa strains and THC versus CBD. We decided to dig more deeply into uncovering what all the molecules in the plant were and the effects they have on the human body, individually and synergistically with each other. The mission of our company is to use scientific processes to produce cannabis products that are tools to modulate your mood and how your body feels. It’s a new kind of technology.
Can you give us some insight into what you discovered?
There’s two main classes of molecules in cannabis, the terpenes and the cannabinoids. Terpenes are aromatic oils that the plant produces that change the effects of cannabis. When people talk about indica versus sativa, for example, that’s really [a] difference in the terpene profile of the plant, with the sativas being more creative, energetic uplifting feeling, [and] the indica more of a relaxing body high. The second class of molecules are what are called cannabinoids. The most famous cannabinoid is THC—the main one that produces the feeling of being high. The second most famous one is CBD, which doesn’t have overt psychoactive properties but has vast therapeutic uses for fighting inflammation, relaxing muscles, easing anxiety, managing pain, and so forth. What’s exciting is that those are only two of maybe sixty or seventy cannabinoids that we know very little about, and each one has a different effect on the body.
All of these cannabinoids work on our bodies through it’s endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short. The ECS is actually quite ancient and goes back hundreds of millions of years—fish have it, mice have it, squid have it. It is present in almost all animal life, and it is also present throughout your body; not just in your brain but also in your tissues and your gut. The purpose of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis and keep various systems in your body balanced, such as your energy level, immune system, appetite, and pain perception. What’s interesting is that even though this system is so pervasive, it was only discovered in 1990, so our medical understanding of it is still very primitive. Furthermore, our body produces cannabinoids as a molecular class on its own, and these compounds are operating on a well-developed pathway, and they are not toxic. It’s not hard on your liver, it doesn’t create metabolite side products that are damaging; it works with your body the way nature has evolved.
What form do your products take and how are your blends made?
Right now, the products we sell are in the form of vape cartridges, although we are working on edibles for people who do not want to inhale vapor. It all starts with a farmer growing the cannabis. When it’s harvested, it gets ground up and goes through an extraction process, the most common one being super critical CO2, where carbon dioxide is forced through it at very high pressure and it separates all the cannabinoids out into a concentrated tar. In our labs, we get this tar and we will do various refinement processes to transform it into this honey-colored clear oil. The other form of input we get are terpenes themselves. When steam distillation is done to cannabis, we get the essential oils, which will be strain-specific. From there, we will blend those inputs to produce a formulation that has a characteristic that we are looking for. We have lots of formulations along the sativa to indica spectrum and others that have different rations of THC to CBD.
One of our products, for example, is called Radiance, and it has a two to one ratio of THC to CBD. So it has more THC but has a significant amount of CBD. Because it’s high in THC you get the euphoric high feeling, but the presence of the CBD changes the characteristic of the feeling and removes any anxiety and paranoia you might have. It keeps you from getting super deep into a high so that, while you feel great, you can stay present in conversations and so forth. If you smoke a bunch of this at a dinner party, you are still able to participate and not be so high you have to lay down and listen to music. People don’t realize that is a variation of a “high” experience that you can have. What’s on sale is usually super high THC cannabis where people want to get as high as possible or super high CBD cannabis where people want to have little to no psychoactive effect and just the therapeutic effects. But all those points in-between are quite interesting, and when you’ve experienced it, it is really nice to be able to know you can experience it again reliably.
How do you see your products revolutionizing the cannabis industry?
One of the weaknesses in using cannabis as medicine today is that if you go and buy flower at a dispensary, it is more akin to buying produce than to buying a pharmaceutical drug. Even if you stick with a particular strain of cannabis, each crop can be vastly different based on environmental conditions of cultivation like temperature, lighting, and nutrients. These variables lead to hugely different ratios of cannabinoids and terpenes. By going down to the base ingredients and deliberately combining them to a target formulation, we can offer vape cartridges whose effects span the range of what cannabis flower itself can provide. And it is reproducible, so if you find something that works from you, you can buy the same thing six month later and have the exact same effect.
How can people in California try your products?
We are a few days away from selling our products online, so if you live in California you can go to our website, upload a photo of your doctor’s recommendation, pay with a credit card, and have our products shipped to your doorstep. We are also in about twenty dispensaries, mostly in the Bay Area.
We are grateful to Josh at Level Blends for taking the time to speak with us and for the exciting ways they are pushing the envelope with cannabis products.