A Minnesota medical marijuana company has developed a potent new strain it hopes will help patients, and drive down prices.
Minnesota Medical Solutions announced Wednesday that it has bred a new strain of cannabis that is rich in cannabidiol, or CBD — a nonintoxicating compound used to treat seizures and inflammation. Because CBD is found in lower ratios in most marijuana varieties, the company hopes its new high-CBD strain will make its products easier and cheaper to refine.
“This is potentially a huge cost saver,” said Dr. Kyle Kingsley, CEO of MinnMed and its parent company, Vireo Health.
Minnesota’s second medical cannabis producer, LeafLine Labs, said Wednesday that it too has developed a high-CBD variety. Company CEO Manny Munson-Regala said the strain, dubbed “Amelia,” after a young patient, is already in production and yields a 33-to-1 CBD ratio on average.
Minnesota’s medical cannabis program has struggled with high prices and sluggish enrollment since it launched on July 1. That could start to change next summer, when the state expands the program to pain patients. But in the meantime, high-CBD oils and tinctures are some of the most expensive treatments sold at Minnesota’s three dispensaries. Medical cannabis patients can pay anywhere from $200 a month for a prescription to more than $1,000, depending on the product and dosage — a cost not covered by health insurance.
The more CBD in the plant, the less work the company will have to put into refining it into the right formula for its pills, oils or liquids. The new plant will not change the formulation of the company’s existing product lines, Kingsley said, but it should make those products less expensive across the board — he expects prices to drop by as much as 10 percent.
MinnMed named its new plant “Katelyn Faith,” in memory of Katelyn Faith Pauling, an 8-year-old with a severe seizure disorder who died earlier this year, months before legalization. MinnMed grows about a dozen strains for production but is experimenting on hundreds more, “in search of the next Katelyn Faith,” Kingsley said.
MinnMed says its new strain has higher levels of CBD than the storied “Charlotte’s Web,” a product that drew hundreds of families to relocate to Colorado from states without medical marijuana programs; hoping cannabis oil might treat their children’s seizures.
From Colorado, Ryan Kingsbury of CW Botanicals, the company responsible for “Charlotte’s Web,” fired back.
“We often hear from groups claiming to have superior genetics,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “What those groups don’t have is our commitment to quality, purity, safety and social responsibility, which are unmatched by anyone in the industry. We are proud when companies such as this one use our Charlotte’s Web brand as a benchmark for excellence.”
Right now, it’s impossible for the two companies to compete directly. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and companies in states with legal medical marijuana programs cannot transport their products across state lines. Vireo, which will also operate clinics in New York state, cannot even import plants from its Minnesota facility.
The Minnesota Health Department confirmed that an outside laboratory tested the Katelyn Faith plant and confirmed a 34-to-1 ratio of CBD to THC — the compound that gives cannabis its buzz. Most medical marijuana is a mix of 1 to 1, while a high CBD strain like Charlotte’s Web might have a ratio of 20 to 1.
Minnesota’s cannabis corporations have been in business for less than a year, but Kingsley said the company’s researchers have used those months to intensively crossbreed and test different strains. Some strains are high in THC, some are a 1-to-1 mix and all are harvested and processed into pills, oils and liquids, since selling the raw plant remains illegal under state law.
Minnesota’s medical cannabis program is one of the most restrictive in the nation. Two companies — MinnMed and LeafLine Labs — grow and refine the state’s entire cannabis crop and sell it at the eight clinics that will open around the state by next summer. To enroll in the program, patients must have medical certification that they have one of nine qualifying conditions — such as cancer, epilepsy or a terminal illness — and must pay a $200 annual enrollment fee. As of last Friday, the Office of Medical Cannabis had 804 enrolled patients.
For more information about Minnesota’s medical cannabis program, visit mn.gov/medicalcannabis.