Interview with One of America's Top Hemp Scientists

These days, the CBD industry is like the Wild West—there’s not much regulation or standardization, which means consumers don’t always know exactly what they’re getting. Miraflora’s products, however, are all backed by science—like, serious, exhaustive science, performed by the team at Front Range Biosciences, which specializes in hemp genetics. (FRB recently sent hemp tissue cultures into space—yes, space—to explore if zero gravity could help identify new varieties or chemical expressions of the plant.) 

As a result of all this research, FRB has bred the heartiest and most efficient cannabinoid varieties for the Rocky Mountain region, which Miraflora grows on its farm in Boulder County, Colo. FRB tracks and tests the plants constantly, ensuring quality and consistency in the finished product so consumers know exactly what they’re getting. 

We caught up with the cofounder and CEO of FRB, Jonathan Vaught, Ph.D., who’s arguably the world’s premier hemp expert, to find out more about the plant. Here’s what he had to say.

Q:

You have a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, and have worked in pharmacology, food safety, and agriculture. What got you interested in cannabinoids?

A:

I’m passionate about the cannabis plant from a science perspective. It’s remarkable. It represents exciting and huge consumer product potential—from plant-based protein to pharmacology to wellness. And I think we’re only really just starting to realize some of its potential.

Q:

Why is full-spectrum CBD so important?

A:

There are a lot of interesting compounds in cannabis. There are terpenes, flavonoids, minor cannabinoids, and others that we don’t even know about yet—so there really is a lot more to this plant than CBD isolate or extract. I think there are a lot of different hypotheses. Maybe the other compounds interact with receptors in ways we don’t fully understand, which leads to the difference a consumer might report. If you give someone a pure CBD pill, a synthetic THC pill, or full-spectrum extract, you get different reports back. People say, “I like this full-spectrum thing—it makes me feel different.” Those are the kinds of things we see and hear about from consumers, and, as we learn more about the endocannabinoid system and the receptors, science is backing that up. Basically, I think the difference between a pure compound and a group of compounds is akin to the difference between taking a vitamin isolated from lettuce versus eating the lettuce. 

Q:

What are you seeing out there in terms of CBD brands and the lack of regulation?

A:

Because it’s not regulated yet and the FDA is still trying to understand it, a lot of people are taking advantage of that. A lot of companies are selling things that are not up to the standards. They may not contain as much CBD in them as they claim, or there could be toxic pesticides and heavy metals that came along for the ride from the hemp. If those things weren’t tested for, they’re getting into the supply chain. There are a number of companies and groups working to solve this problem—they talk about where they source, they have visibility to their extraction partners, and have specifications they uphold to take their products to market. I think it’s super important. It’s definitely a challenging area, but just like there’s a movement for people to know where their food comes from, there’s a movement for more of that supply-chain visibility in general. That applies to hemp just as much as it does to lettuce and tomatoes.

Q:

Have you ever experienced first-hand the benefits of CBD?

A:

I’ve taken CBD supplements, along with different supplements, herbs, and vitamins. I am a chemist. I look into these things. I look for data and make decisions. Everybody’s different—with different deficiencies and natural body chemistries—and everyone is exposed to different things. That’s why I got into chemistry—I was fascinated by how these different compounds, like caffeine (I’m a big fan), interact with the human body. I do know of a number of people who use CBD specifically. They have reported it helps them stay more relaxed and less anxious, eases chronic inflammation, and makes their joints feel better. I met somebody yesterday whose daughter is a cancer survivor, and they had cannabis extract in their routine, with THC and CBD and all the other interesting compounds. We worked with Rylie’s Smile Foundation. She was a survivor of a really challenging cancer, and she was taking cannabis extract. It’s become a clinically approved drug for two forms of rare and severe epilepsy, with very high doses of CBD improving the outcome. It’s also been shown to help with opiate addiction and PTSD and depression. It’s also helpful for serious gut issues—there’s cannabinoid receptor there. Cannabis has been instrumental—it’s made huge improvements in people’s lives. The reality is we need more clinical data, but cannabinoids are pretty safe compounds, which is why it’s such an exciting plant. 

Q:

So why has it taken us so long to start researching cannabis?

A:

The smear campaign that got us into this place is pretty unfortunate.

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