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[Editor’s Note: While THC and CBD steal most of the limelight, they represent just two of the hundred-plus compounds in the cannabis plant—each with unique properties just waiting to be studied, and with them, potential medical and therapeutic benefits. This series shines a spotlight on these little-known, less studied, and therefore less understood wonders in waiting.]

The Germans have a word for it—Kummerspeck, literally “bacon guilt,” the regret one feels after a rash overindulgence of food. It’s a general term yet is apropos in describing an at times unsavory (at others, very savory) aftereffect of what we call the munchies, meaning chomp chomp.

This is partly why another compound produced by the cannabis plant, tetrahydrocannabivarin, or THCV (delta9-THCV to be precise), although first isolated in the 1970s, has been getting more and more attention in recent years. Nearly identical in chemical composition to THC, THCV has two fewer carbon atoms in its hydrocarbon “tail.” This seemingly small change makes THCV a different puzzle piece with which the body interacts. THCV can produce effects similar to those produced by THC but with lower potency. In low doses, THCV actually antagonizes some of the effects of THC, while at higher doses it can encourage them, but it’s definitely not “THC-lite.” Unlike THC, THCV has been shown to suppress appetite, which could be beneficial to those with overeating disorders, and shows signs for some other potential avenues for use farther down the road. Let’s dive into what those are.

But first, let’s back up to how cannabinoids interact with the body. A full description is beyond the scope of the blog entry and it’s worth remembering that many cannabinoids have diverse and dose-dependent pharmacology, THCV very much included. With that said, once cannabinoids are consumed, the compounds come into contact with endocannabinoid receptors, part of the endocannabinoid system, which helps to regulate many biological functions, such as appetite, anxiety, learning and memory, emotional response, reproduction, metabolism, growth and development. The endocannabinoid receptors are CB1, which are located mostly in the brain, and CB2, which are found throughout the body. Because of this, the endocannabinoid system is often thought of as the bridge between the body and the mind.

The brain’s CB1 receptors have been determined to play a role in reward signals related to appetite and the consumption of food, among other signaling pathways. THC tends to activate these receptors, resulting in those hedonistic dives into the fridge. At low doses, THCV opposes this activation of the CB1 receptor. In other words, THCV blocks the CB1 receptors from activating in presence of THC, which, presumably, is how THCV can attenuate some THC effects. Relatedly, in rodent tests, THCV has been variously shown to decrease weight gain and interest in food, as well as increase weight loss and energy expenditure. Other studies show that this reward-blocking trait may have some potential in combating nicotine addiction and relapse.

“While I’m not so sure about its pharmaceutical value, in terms of the diet market, there’s definitely potential,” says Jon Wani, Director of Client Relations at MCR Labs, a Massachusetts cannabis testing firm.

The compound is found only in trace amounts in most cannabis plants (half of 1%). Slightly more potent strains, such as Durban Poison or Doug’s Varin, usually descend from a subset of monstrous sativas—sometimes growing 30 feet high—in parts of Africa and Australia, as they thrive in hot, arid climes. Wani says that while most, if not all, indicas and sativas in the U.S. are actually bastardized hybrids, sativas from places like these are genetically more pure, meaning they’re also more likely to produce the high that sativa is commonly bandied about.

“From anecdotal reports, there’s a tremendous amount of energy—like an I-wanna-go-clean-my-house-right-now sort of thing,” he says. “You’ll get stoned in your head but you won’t feel lethargic. Imagine the appeal of that for a second: getting stoned and then being motivated to go take a hike or go play some tennis.”

Of course, confounding factors such as individual physiology, mood, and diet make any promise of desired effect somewhat suspect, he still sees value in THCV. “If someone had a sativa and it got them really ‘up,’ I would venture to guess it’s not only the terpene profile in that specific plant, but it’s the THCV that’s causing that effect.”

Barriers
Suffice it to say, these varietals grow best outside, Wani says, while the majority of U.S. cannabis growing is done indoors, making it another barrier to research and development aside from the industry’s nascency and a thicket of laws that tie the hands of researchers.

Another factor, he says, is grow time. Higher THCV strains take about twice as long to flower as common strains’ period of seven to ten weeks, making it unattractive to most growers and producers, many of whom have never heard of the compound or are understandably skeptical about its effects and their marketability thus far.

Given the runaway success of CBD and an industry full of undiscovered territory, sheer novelty still has outsized currency in the market. “If someone had 100 pounds of it, they would sell out in a couple of days, even if people didn’t even know what it was going to do to them,” Wani says.

Other potential
In some lab studies, THCV has lowered blood sugar and stimulated insulin production, prompting some speculation that the compound could have potential benefits for those with diabetes. To this end, England-based GW Pharmaceuticals is reportedly working on a drug that couples it with CBD. Other possible applications include the treatment of osteoporosis, as it may help stimulate the growth of bone, and its anticonvulsant attributes may one day lend themselves to treating neurodegenerative disorders and various types of seizures.

THCV interacts not just with the endocannabinoid system but with constituents of other signaling and regulatory systems, and it may be possible to exploit these properties. For example, the compound has shown signs of decreasing inflammation and pain in mice and could one day be useful in lessening the symptoms of schizophrenia.

For now, THCV will always come with other cannabinoids, such as THC, and the extent to which it can offset or augment some of the effects of THC remains to be seen. If seeking it out for yourself, of course, ask for the test results.

So, does THCV have a future in the diet world and beyond? Until we find out, we certainly have something to chew on.

In the 1975 cult classic Rollerball, premised on a fictional sport that could be described as a spiky, no-holds-barred roller derby, the rules, in toto, are simple: “No timeouts, no substitutions.”

Replayed countless times growing up, the line is seared into the brain of Rachel Braun Scherl, becoming a mantra that’s emblematic of the grit that’s long put the multipronged marketer, author, and frequent keynote speaker at the intersection of all things #femtech, #sextech and #orgasmicleadership.

“We’d always been in the business of building brands and businesses, and you’re always looking for a category that’s emotionally engaging,” she says. “It turns out, there’s very little that’s as emotionally engaging as people’s sex lives.”

As co-founder and managing partner of SPARK Solutions for Growth, a strategic consultancy now 20 years strong, she’s been in the game long enough to see that in women’s sexual health, a new playing field is emerging—and with it, perhaps, new rules. One thing is clear: There’s no stopping now.

We caught up with the self-described Vagipreneur to talk about the whirlwind moment in women’s health and what makes her tick.

Women’s sexual health can be a wild biz. How does it differ from other industries? 

There is so much societal discomfort with the complex reality—the complex beauty—of women’s health. Last I saw, fewer than 25 states in the country require sex ed, and a subset of those don’t require it to be medically or factually accurate. So we don’t have the education the way we used to, which means we don’t have the language. At the same time, we have ubiquitous access to porn, which is becoming the de facto sex education, and we have people from many cultural backgrounds have different feelings about the role of intimacy and sexuality, so we’ve created this environment where it’s very difficult to have a conversation. Add to that, we’re becoming more and more knowledgeable about the spectrum of sexual identity, so what we’re working with is a little bit antiquated.

What makes the space especially challenging?

One of the big issues has been access. It’s still quite difficult getting advertisements on the content channels you want. When I started in this space, we went to 100 outlets—network, cable, website, radio—and 95% of the time, people essentially said, “No, we don’t want your money to advertise this product.” So here we’re saying it’s fine having every kid on the planet know what it is to have a four-hour erection, but we can’t say anything about a vagina or sexuality or orgasm or lubrication. For example, back in the day we couldn’t even get ads on Lifetime, yet somehow we’re totally comfortable watching the Superbowl on CBS and seeing those ads. So there’s a huge disparity between men’s and women’s advertising.

Similarly, so many female health companies cannot get their products approved on Facebook, and especially the ones targeted to women 35-plus, where it is a primary source of where they get their information. And when you look at the way Facebook classifies its advertising, erectile dysfunction is placed under family planning. So while the algorithms are perhaps applied with discipline, the underlying thought process behind the algorithm shows a disparate attitude.

You’ve seen tons of sex products for women. Where does Vella fit in? 

Let’s start with the fact that it’s a clinically proven product, which is something very few products can say. It has CBD that was designed by a brilliant scientist who’s as well renowned in sexual health as anybody on the planet, so it’s not just someone slapping some more CBD into another product. It’s an extension of the personality and gestalt of the company, whose DNA is based on creating incredibly well-designed, scientifically proven products.

The work of an entrepreneur in a burgeoning industry never stops. What keeps you sane?

I spend a lot of my weekends watching my kids play college squash. I also love cross training and watching classic comedies, movies, and Broadway shows. I’ve seen Chorus Line 11 times, and I could see Wicked every day.  I don’t sing or dance, so I’m always amazed at the level of talent, and the production behind telling a story on stage—it’s an incredibly complex business I’m always blown away by. And with a lot of the things I like to do, I like to be taken away and focus on something else.

The other thing is, my mother always said when I was growing up, if you need to recharge, go outside yourself and do something for somebody else. So I also like to volunteer or help somebody out who needs help. But I don’t do all of those every day obviously. I don’t want to pretend that I wake up, save the world, exercise, and then run businesses. But laughter and exercise are the two primary things I do to keep myself on track.

What do you wish you knew? 

I wish I had a magic wand.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen hundreds of businesses, and sometimes I see things and say, I wish I understood what was motivating about that. Right now we’re in a market where every day, people are being inundated with new products, and not all rise to the top. And sometimes it’s better marketing, and sometimes it’s a better product, and sometimes it’s better management, and sometimes it’s a combination. But sometimes there are these products where I just say, I don’t get it. What did those people know? So I guess I wish I could predict what’s going to happen many years from now. It would’ve been amazing to have been a part of the team that said the internet is going to change the world, or to be Steve Jobs when he predicted we’d be in a world where devices were all connected. He had a vision into the future that, in my experience, very few people have. So to be hyper prescient, to be able to see things not years in advance, but decades in advance.

Magic wand pending, what would you say about the future of this industry? 

I think there will be a lot of shakeups, as with any industry that’s growing, and I think it’s the same with CBD. Not all the businesses are going to survive. What I think is the most important, and what is really relevant, is you really do want to know products that work. CBD is in everything, which may be good, it may be terrible. But what really differentiates Vella is it has science behind it. People know CBD works for a lot of things, but it hasn’t been proven for all those things.

One of the great things about being in this space is that it attracts interesting, dynamic, hard-working people. It’s incredibly collaborative. Competitors work together to get important messages out about access or about the right language, or about advertising. It’s an exciting space to be in.

Two pairs of pliers, dozens of baggied-up metal hoops, and—it made so much sense now—printed-out Google results for making a chainmail. After all that fidgeting, the burly, seven-foot enigma, swaddled in a slanket and lurching well past the armchair property line, was owning his space in the world, and then some. And I, forcibly snuggled against him as he began his medieval crochet, was a little bit jealous.

The flight from Tulsa to Las Vegas is three hours. I was the cowboy-hatless passenger going for MJBizCon, an annual cannabis conference hosted by Marijuana Business Daily that blossoms ever bigger each year, flooded with folks lured by the billion-dollar biz taking shape and who’re ready to gamble in green.

Well, I was and wasn’t going. We were aiming for the parties that surround it, which is a relief, because in the photos and things I’d read from prior sleuthing, the exhaustion of the event seemed to jump off the page.

Hunter S. Thompson once said, “A little bit of this town goes a very long way”—something anyone who’s been to Vegas once automatically knows. And on the way there, weathering the degrading constant graze of dingle-berried fleece streaked with strays from my neighbor’s long mane, I was already starting to see where Mr. Thompson was coming from.

***

Rocketing through the Strip in an Uber, I arrived at the Cosmopolitan, a flirty hotel and the de rigueur lodging choice for the conference. A bunch of wide-brimmed ball caps and gauged ears in the elevator assured me that I had the right place. And given the only other tidbit I had—that we had a penthouse suite on the 61st floor—those parties would likely often be coming to us.

After dropping my bags, the Manna team and I whisked off to an American joint downstairs for dinner. The hotel had morphed into a mall, and I would later find out that most of Vegas is one big dizzy interconnected mall, full of replica statues and landmarks from other cultures and, because it was December, overtaken with poinsettias, which also looked fake even, even though they were probably real.

While waiting for the jumbo surf and turf that would turn me into Daryll Hannah from the restaurant scene in Splash, I finally got to meet the team that until now were disembodied voices I’d quizzed over the phone in my few months since I began blogging for the company.

There was Nial DeMena, our affable CEO; Chief Medical Officer Harin Padma-Nathan, a wine connoisseur who navigated our bottle selection; our CFO, Frank Manganella, who seemed to know every single cannabis figure in town, their pedigree, and what they were weighing on their internal scales; and Chief Scientific Officer Michael Frid, who took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes to complain about the latest bogus black hole studies and the importance of revitalizing the optic nerves of rats as he cycled his phone and the WSJ inches from his nose. Right then I knew that this was an unusual team, our conversation different from what any other cannabis cohort in town was probably talking about during their first night of MJBizCon. That I was pretty sure of. It was the first bet I was willing to make in Vegas.

Amid a parade of bros stopping by the suite the next day, I snuck away for a coffee downstairs, which became an unexplored area of the mall, rife with a whole world of delights that almost made going outside irrelevant. Plunking down $8 for a latte at Starbucks, I glanced over to a couple engaged in PDA, doing nasty nuzzles over a Venti and a mimosa flute. His and hers. Booze hath no boundaries here, which 23-year-old me would’ve really been into. Nauseated, I stepped outside for a small walk on the Strip for some fresh air. In the sky was the surreal Caesar’s Palace, a Pantheon on stilts, where Jupiter might shoot craps, or oddly futuristic ruins of a world ravaged by rising ocean water—an absurd building design that seems frighteningly more practical by the day.

Eye level was a tad less inspiring. A four-mile zoo parade of warbling Midwestern women sipping souvenir cups, plastered and bouncing off the partitions lining the road, which do double duty saving the lives of tipsy tourists and making it harder to exit the strip. Maybe they were actually sober; anyone would feel drunk from the sensory overload of just walking through the crossfade of Top 40 hits as lights and sights flash into your skull. It’s disorienting by design—and for a nongambling, at the moment sober chap like me, each attraction only tempted insofar as it offered respite from the rest of them.

Early that evening, the drinks started flowing as the suite swelled with all sorts of people, now diverse and young movers-and-shakers from places like Rolling Stone and Penske Media. I did my very best to play it cool and pretend I knew some things, not all things, but a few.

Suddenly it was time to leave for an infused dinner by 99th Floor, held in the Flamingo’s Stirling Room. Not on the list, I lingered around the table of nametags until it began, choosing, at the all-knowing Frank’s discretion, to be the stand-in for a “Joe.” With a renewed sense of purpose in Joe’s identity, I went forth.

The multicourse meal ensued, each plate and drink noted with the milligrams of THC you’re signing up for. It was all tantalizing, but despite being quite hungry, I was afraid to have much of anything. So was the blonde lady next to me, and we kept ordering non-infused rolls, each time lamenting having to specially request the carbs we typically take great pains to avoid. Girlfriend, we are so off.

“Y’know Joe, it’s so funny how at these things people have a tunnel vision of what they’re after,” she said as everybody mingled between courses. Totally! I squealed out, and 15 seconds later, a lady appeared out of nowhere and asked me what I did in cannabis. Not long after I replied, she deadened her gaze, began mumbling and twirled away again into the networking waltz. Joe wouldn’t have taken it personally; he, I presumed, was a seasoned professional at the top of his game. So I wasn’t going to either. I needed to be strong for Joe, whoever he was.

Several hours and three warm, smudgy glasses of chardonnay later, with our party itinerary for the night all but shot, we piled into a SUV for the end of the Acres Field dispensary party. I got a wristband from a girl who was leaving, and we snaked past the abandoned step-and-repeats to find Astroturf and a dance floor out back.

The beats there were slappy—the gyrating trolls and circles of mad chiefers, getting happy stupid in a dense fog of smoke, would definitely back me up on this. Finally, here, I saw a slice of the joy of cannabis culture, away from the straight-laced business types that have stormed the field. Cannabis is growing as a medicine, but it will also always be a silly, social way to let your hair down and get weird. The enduring virtue of getting high is that no one quite has all their bearings on reality, so in slightly mistrusting our perception, we give other people the benefit of the doubt—a kind of tonic to the anxiety-fueled seriousness and pretense that, these days, we need just as much. Ok, you can put your tissue away, I’m done now.

***

The next morning, we waited for what must’ve been nine months for breakfast to be delivered. Michael Frid was sitting at the bar, in good, well-rested spirits, firing off jokes at a fast clip:

“Rene Descartes walks into a bar. ‘Having coffee?’ says the waiter. Descartes says ‘I think not’ and disappears.”

Silence. The exhausting night some of us had before made for a tough crowd. While others prepared for flights home, Michael and I went to do some reconnaissance work at Planet 13—the turnstiled crowds and video projected onto the ceiling made felt a bit like museum on free admission day.

I found Michael talking to a cute budtender and self-described “sweaty sleeper” named Amanda, who said she loved the Manna Patch, it helped her with her anxiety and pain, and that she could start feeling it within 10 minutes of putting it on. That’s how it is for me too, although we technically say 30 minutes. I had one on my lower back for a hangover, and considered flashing her when she said it, but I did not want to move that much.

Another night, another bar, then I woke up to a text from Nial, saying he’d checked out of the hotel. I frantically jumped up and called to see when checkout time was, ordered an egg sandwich from room service, and boxed up the remaining products we brought and went down to the FedEx. I got back to the suite to find a note under the door from room service. Room service arrived again, 5 minutes before official checkout time, and because I had no change or sense of customary tip, and they had no card reader, I paid $50 for an egg sandwich I had five minutes to eat. Woof.

***

One morning, as I was leaving the pyramid that is the Luxor Hotel, my phone died in the lobby, forcing me to camp next to the fake tombs and the fake ‘50s carhop, hungover and decomposing in the recycled air, drinking a coffee with fake pumpkin flavor as slot bells screamed like a firehouse in the distance. Someone won again. Or fake won; they were far too frequent to be real. I sat in a stupor. Was my life on fire? Is 2019 on fire? Is this whole planet on fire? Maybe, mostly, yes.

It was funny and oddly relaxing, the way things going up in flames sometimes can be funny and relaxing. In a world combusting with deep fakes, fake news, fake users, and fake songs by fake artists on Spotify, Vegas held a brand of fake I was more sure of, an innocent fake that made me feel realer by contrast. It was a phony relief—a fake that isn’t trying to be something else. It’s claims to authenticity these days that makes me uneasy.

The flight back was 2.5 hours, not three, as one man, seen boarding between a herd of cowboy hats, loudly pointed out, accounting for the earth’s spin to move Tulsa closer from the other side, like burning something at both ends.* Is time actually faster when the world moves against you? I thought, leaving a city the way probably many do: listless and ever so briefly touched by thrill. Perhaps, in Vegas, time flies when you’re having anything. If you play your cards right, each moment is a total crapshoot.

*Disclaimer: Manna is well aware of the Coriolis effect, and therefore does not support this belief.

After months of testing the pharmacologic effects of CBD on the vaginal smooth muscle in rats and humans, Vella, Manna’s cannabinoid-based sexual serum, was born. Now it was time to translate the science the formula hinges on.

In the arena of anatomy and physiology, words alone have always fallen short. So to best show the science behind it, Manna commissioned board-certified Medical Illustration Studios to show how the smooth muscle is pivotal to arousal in women.

But when the team set about to have them made, they quickly confronted an issue at least as old as the field itself.

“I myself didn’t know at the time how difficult it would be to find source material for the kind of anatomical story we were trying to tell,” says Manna’s Chief Design Officer Carolyn Wheeler. “Which is to say, we couldn’t find an existing representation—medical illustration or otherwise—that scientifically explained the physiological process of female arousal. This was both sad and exciting.”

Dr. Harin Padma-Nathan, Manna’s chief medical officer, is quick to point out that the science in these drawings isn’t anything new, but that they are unique in their focus on the role that the smooth muscle plays in arousal and orgasm.

About the illustrations

Unlike more well known muscles, such as the calf or bicep, smooth muscles are involuntary and not tied to tendons and bone. The reproductive smooth muscles in men and women consummate physical arousal: relaxing them lets blood flow in, which causes engorgement. In men, that means an erection. In women, this gives the vulva rigidity to support penetration and also helps produce lubrication. By nano-encapsulating cannabinoids to be water-friendly, Vella is able to deliver them to the smooth muscle, which relaxes it.

Smooth muscle relaxes during arousal. (Image copyright Manna Molecular)

A closer look at the illustrations accounts for the twofold effect: Blood fills lacunar spaces in the corpus cavernosum of the clitoris when the smooth muscle lining the spaces relax. This reduces the resistance to capillary filling of the spaces and these then balloon into pockets that, when filled, produce engorgement. Around the vaginal wall, the penetrative hallway, the influx of blood produced by smooth muscle relaxation results in a process called transudation, whereby a serum like watery lubricant is produced and released into the vaginal vault—another evolutionary upgrade to facilitate more comfortable, “successful” sex (if reproduction is your thing). Whatever the goal, it’s safe to say that comfortable and more pleasurable sex is something most people can get behind.

Relaxed smooth muscle allows blood to fill lacunar spaces in the clitoris, resulting in engorgement and subsequently lubrication. (Image copyright Manna Molecular)

Physiology aside, a mix of cultural and psychological factors often makes sexual health—and health in general—a hairier matter. Writing for Design Bias, a Vice series examining the often unintentional ways hegemony replicates itself in various fields, Rose Eveleth draws a line from medical illustrations to real-world implications.

In a 2014 study of more than 6,000 images from 17 anatomy textbooks, researcher Rhiannon Parker found that just 36% of images with an identifiable sex were female (and of those, 86% were white), relatively unchanged from similar studies in the early ’90s. The disparity raised scores on implicit, but not explicit, bias among medical students.

Though it’s not often distinguished, coronary heart disease, as Eveleth notes, presents itself differently in women than in men, which could be a factor in women being misdiagnosed at higher rates than men. Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, which many experts say is mostly due to doctor bias.

“There are severe disparities in health literacy based on race and socioeconomic factors that we need to tackle by creating effective and widely accessible visuals that resonate with the increasingly dynamic makeup of our modern society,” says Jennifer Hollis, diversity committee chair of the Association of Medical Illustrators.

In the area of sex disparity, Dr. Nicole Prause, founder of Liberos, a sexual biotechnology firm, can attest. As a longtime researcher and educator of the odds and ends of sexual health, she’s familiar with the confusing messages women receive about orgasm.

“I think people have no idea what that’s supposed to look like or that that’s even supposed to happen. And I think a large part is because there’s no representation of it,” Prause says. “I have looked for the images, and I look everywhere—no holds barred, safety search off.”

One reason for the sex disparity is that female sexual organs, largely internal and unseen, are simply harder to access. “If you’re gonna cut it out of a cadaver, where do you make your cut?” Prause says. “How do you pull it out of the pelvis, and what is that gonna sever? And there, you’re definitely not gonna see it functional. So it’s a hard problem to solve.”

The other factor—and to which other disparities, such as race, gender, and age, can largely be ascribed—is the long legacy of white androcentrism that has for centuries pervaded nearly every facet of Western medicine, often exacerbating the misguided science of the times with a once-removed knowledge of the female experience. (Freud, for example, theorized that orgasm from clitoral arousal signaled an immature, psychologically underdeveloped female, whereas vaginally inspired orgasms indicated the opposite.)

Add to this that physiological signs of arousal are often harder to recognize for women themselves, rendering it a more subjective experience than it is for men.

In her book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, researcher Mary Roach describes how in some studies examining female arousal, in which the participants’ feedback was compared with their physiological data during the time of arousal and orgasm, the correlations have sometimes been so low that researchers sometimes wonder whether physical changes should be taken to mean anything at all in terms of arousal. This is in line with a similar study Prause herself conducted at the University of Iowa, in which 20 masturbating women were asked to press a button at the onset of arousal and again at orgasm, where only about half the women’s responses matched up with the diagnostic indicators they were hooked up to.

This is not to say that the body doesn’t know what it wants. More than 70% of women say that clitoral stimulation was necessary or helpful in achieving orgasm, while just under a fifth report orgasming from intercourse alone. But if the mind plays a larger role in women’s arousal, it stands to reason that education—or lack thereof—could have more of an impact in its realization.

Extending this logic, I just had to ask Dr. Prause: So is it possible that some women may never orgasm simply because they don’t know what it’s supposed to look and feel like? Her answer may shock some men: Absolutely, yes.

“Even if you look to sex films and adult films, they’ll often use [artificial] lubricant to show something that appears to be wet, but you can still look at the vulva and plainly tell she’s not aroused,” Prause says. “To me, that’s one of the biggest oversights of sex education today—that is, vasocongestion is a more important sign of arousal than lubrication, because lubrication is affected by all kinds of things,” such as antihistamines and menopause.

With this dearth of representation, what, then, is left? Other images rush to fill in the gap, and with them, a ready sociosexual script. Without adequate knowledge of their bodies and needs, women, it seems, are often left to simply simulate what they see projected across the funhouse mirrors of culture.

“I’m reminded here of the expression ‘the map is not the territory,’” Wheeler says. “When you map or draw something, you gain the ability over others to speak to it with power and authority. You are determining the contents of its story.

“We think of Manna as guided by the exercise of figuring out what from the Western medical system to bring with us into this new industry, and what to leave behind,” she says. “Ultimately I see these medical illustrations as a way to talk more easily and openly about women’s sexual health, which still feels like a bit of a radical act.”

Pour one out for Millennials—their tipsy may soon be reaching a tipping point.

Earning less and often working more, maybe multitasking younger generations simply can’t afford it. Or perhaps it’s the ubiquity of walking, talking media brands—their peers—and their eagerness for salacious new content keeping those spontaneous (often compromising) wild nights at bay.

Whatever the reason, the numbers are sobering: Drinking among teens and early twenty-somethings has declined each generation since the Boomer era. Meanwhile, nonalcoholic beer sales have grown by 3.9% on average for the past five years, making it the fastest-growing segment in the beer industry. Young people, it seems, just aren’t getting stupid like they used to.

Thirsting for new revenue streams in a market fixated on wellness, some of the nation’s biggest beverage brands have begun to make inroads in the wild world of cannabis. Cannabis drinks pulled in $86 million in 2018, and are expected to be a $1.4 billion industry by 2023, according to beverage industry analyst Zenith Global. Last year, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson Coors, and Corona-maker Constellation Brands each announced partnerships with Canadian cannabis companies. And Diageo, parent of spirits such as Tanqueray and Johnnie Walker and recent majority holder of nonalcoholic spirit label Seedlip, is poised to make a similar move in the U.S.

Whether this is a prescient pivot or flimsy bandwagon betting is yet to be seen, but it does provide a unique opportunity for the cannabis market: a new way to consume for a broader, more mainstream customer base. Unlike smoking—obtrusive and stinky!—sipping has the potential to feel less like an illicit drug and more like the socially acceptable ones, like coffee and alcohol.

But there are some potential hiccups on the road to mainstream use, starting with the price. A four-pack of THC-infused bottled (nonalcoholic) margaritas runs around $25; so too could one 12 oz. bottle of gnarly lemonade. Just a glimpse could scare away consumers before they get to the details, like potency, which informs the price but is a wildcard all its own.

The potential pitfall with potency is that it’s all over the map. Early on, when the medicinal cannabis market was more niche, infused drinks reliably skewed strong. Now, a beer-sized infused drink might contain a modest 2.5 mg of THC…or a walloping 100 mg and beyond. While products with mind-erasing potencies are often divvied up into reasonable servings in fine print on the back label, one can easily see how they could induce a real nightmare for uneducated consumers (i.e., first-time buyers). If the goal of many of these brands is to replace social alcohol drinking, an uninvited psychosis isn’t the way there.

Perhaps the most basic issue regarding premades so far has been, does it actually taste good? With terms ranging from soapy and barnyard to dirty socks and urine, the Wall Street Journal surveyed many startups’ struggles to tamp down on the trifling taste of cannabis drinks, whether by soaking and straining, nanoemulsion, or selectively enhancing more palatable flavor profiles in the plant while attempting to minimize others, all to varied success.

As is often the case, some of the complications come from the oily, hydrophobic properties of cannabis compounds. This makes THC and CBD drinks prone to unsightly separation, with all of the greasy, grassy cannabis taste floating to the top, ready to kiss your lips. (Then again, lots of people routinely find a way to look past the less-than-exquisite taste of alcohol, so maybe there is hope?)

A newer wave of infused beverages, however, comes in the form of powder and liquid mixes, many of which use technology to extract the active ingredients while filtering out the unsavory elements, rather than fussing with flavors to disguise them.

“The problem with most mixes is that there’s usually some clumping or sediment, or like premades, the mix doesn’t stay suspended,” says Michael Frid, chief scientific officer at Manna Molecular Science. Another common problem, he says, is all the sugar.

“We always keep in mind that some of our customers may be diabetic or have diets that don’t involve carbohydrates or just people who watch what they eat,” Frid says. “So we’re very cognizant of not adding anything that will meaningfully impact anybody’s dietary intake.”

By extracting only the desired plant compounds and tweaking their chemistry, he and his team are in the lab developing drink mixes to get around these pitfalls, starting with the flavor: flavorless.

“If someone is drinking coffee, then presumably that person likes the taste of coffee,” he says. “We don’t want to interfere with what people already like.”
Employing the same nanoencapsulated liposomal technology used in Manna’s other products, the mixes are expected to similarly boost absorption rates and disperse evenly throughout the drink with a modest shake, Frid says.

Further testing, including pharmacokinetic studies, which are commonly done on new pharmaceuticals to examine what the body does to a drug, is planned sometime near the products’ launch, which is expected in early 2020.

More than 40 deaths and 2,000 sickened—each time you check, the numbers keep ticking up.

While much is still unknown about the vaping crisis, the saga has increasingly underscored the perils—and proliferation—of the cannabis black market. Some 78% of reported cases are tied to illicit THC products, according to the CDC, though there have been nicotine-only cases as well.

Known variously as VAPI (vaping-associated pulmonary injury) and, more recently, Evali (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury), the condition, which officials began noticing in the spring, includes symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The response by some states has been swift. Michigan, New York, Washington and Rhode Island quickly announced stopgap bans on flavored vaping products, while Massachusetts has gone whole hog prohibiting any vaping anything. New Mexico now requires warning labels on all vaping cartridge packaging.

Before a battery of TV cameras, Donald Trump, announcing plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes to curb use among minors, declared his assessment of the crisis in trademark style: “It’s really not wonderful—I think that’s one thing we can say definitely.”

So how is the legal cannabis industry, which is already on shaky regulatory ground, responding to this not-wonderful turn of events? The answer, it turns out, is not by going on the defensive, but by amplifying the message its had all along: legalize and regulate us.

“People on the street are not trying to make their own Tylenol, you know?” says Michael Kahn, president of MCR Labs, a Massachusetts firm that tests thousands of cannabis products each month for potency and safety. “And if they did, somebody might die, but they don’t because it’s a really well regulated product.”

In mid-September, a high point in the epidemic’s media attention, the National Cannabis Industry Association similarly issued a call to Congress:

“These unfortunate illnesses and deaths are yet another terrible, and largely avoidable, consequences of failed prohibition policies. Current federal laws interfere with research, prevent federal regulatory agencies from establishing safety guidelines, discourage states from regulating cannabis, and make it more difficult for state-legal cannabis businesses to displace the illicit market. These policies are directly bolstering the markets for untested and potentially dangerous illicit products,” NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith said in a statement. “It is now the responsibility of Congress to end prohibition and regulate cannabis without delay.”

Publishing their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at the Mayo Clinic have since found the injuries to resemble chemical burns akin to mustard gas rather than an infection, as was initially suspected. Still, much of the inquiry is focused on vitamin E acetate, a popular thickening diluent used to cheaply cut illicit THC cartridges for more profit. In early October, a federal investigation concluded that nearly half of the vaping injuries studied contained it.

When heated by a vaporizer, vitamin E acetate transforms from a liquid oil to a vapor, which is then inhaled by the user. Once in the lungs, it reverts to a liquid state, wherein could lie the harmful effects.

As a result, many cannabis labs are adding vitamin E acetate to their list of things they screen for.

“If it’s not Vitamin E acetate, somebody’s going to cut something with something to make more money,” Kahn says. “Generally the regulated market doesn’t do that; it’s too risky.”

About a week after reports named vitamin E acetate as a possible culprit, he and his team began offering two free tests for it to anybody who was concerned about the products they had.
Since then, the extra scrutiny on bootleg cartridges (aka carts) has both added to the case for federal legalization and raised questions about legitimate-seeming manufacturers.

A recent Leafly investigation tracing a common route of illicit carts—from raw materials in Shenzhen, China, to dirty-cash suppliers in LA’s Toy District to crackpot “labs” in Midwestern rental homes—shines a light on how frighteningly easy it is for anyone with an internet connection to make illicit THC carts, fake Juul pods, and CBD whatever.

That includes Dank Vapes and Chronic Carts—two black market “brands” cited in the epidemic that aren’t tied to companies but are merely packaging that can be bought by the boxload and stuffed with anything by anyone willing to part with a few pennies.

On the other hand, the incident involving Kushy Punch, a very real, licensed California cannabis manufacturer, has been an untimely black eye for the industry. In October, state officials raided a warehouse near Los Angeles and seized millions of dollars’ worth of illegal, untested Kushy Punch–branded vapes and edibles allegedly made by the company, raising the specter of legal, above-table brands’ capacity for double-dealing. Elsewhere in the state, legal brands are spending millions on packaging redesigns to stay one step ahead of counterfeit copycats.

“You have a whole bunch of people who came into the industry who don’t have experience with chemistry and formulating drugs correctly, and they’re just making really bad assumptions that they can add ingredients that they really shouldn’t be adding,” Kahn says. “It’s incorrect, it’s unfortunate, and it’s happening because it’s just not a well regulated industry.”

Kim was freaking out. Her second surrogate child was on the way, and she craved some serious chill. Thus, the idea for a CBD-themed baby shower was born.

“Let’s zen out for a Saturday,” she said, clad in breezy taupe and surrounded by yoga mats, sound bowls, and a gong. Kris, Kourtney and Paris looked on. “So everyone have a puff and put on some oil.”

Suffice it to say, CBD—used by roughly 1 in 7 Americans—has found plenty of believers. Touted as a treatment for a wide range of ailments, from anxiety and insomnia to chronic pain and inflammation, it’s predicted to rake in some $5 billion in sales by year’s end—inspiring a slew of new products that grows weirder by the day.

“There’s always gonna be, like, Carls Jr. putting CBD in burgers, and people are gonna throw it in toothpaste and mouthwash,” says Manna Molecular CEO Nial DeMena. “It’s just gonna be, ‘put it in first, ask questions later,’ and I think that attitude is the exact wrong tact to take.”

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than 100 compounds found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its cousin, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it’s nonpyschoactive, meaning there’s no “high” involved. Still, its piecemeal state-by-state legal status has made it a magnet for shady players, shoddy products and dubious claims.

“I just don’t wanna see CBD go the snake oil route when there’s so much research yet to be done,” says Adam Terry, a biochemical engineer and senior manager of product development at Integrative Health Products, which develops and distributes THC and CBD products nationally.

Next time you’re in the market for CBD anything, keep these tips in mind to ensure you’re getting a quality product that’s safe.

Things to know before buying CBD:

Verifying the product’s potency, isn’t just a good idea for your wallet, DeMena says. Because of CBD’s low bioavailability by default—edibles hover between 6% and 20%—users may be inclined to dose themselves many times over to get their desired effect, which is not only expensive, but floods the body with various outside agents could have long-term effects that are too early to know about.

“People think, ‘Oh, Vitamin D is good for you, so let me take 50,000mg of Vitamin D every day.’ Well, that can cause liver damage, kidney damage, and you’re pissing out 99% of that,” DeMena says, “so it is a big deal in terms of bioaccumulation and overall health.”

Consistent, extreme dosages over a period of time can also have a diminishing effect, as the body adapts by reducing the number of receptors for the drug in response. The solution, DeMena says, is to aim for products with high efficacy in the first place.

Quality aside, results will also depend on the delivery route, each of which varies in absorption rate and duration, and may act locally or throughout the body.

Connoisseurs might enjoy exploring the finer points, such as whether the CBD extract is pure (isolate) or contains other compounds found in the plant (full- or broad-spectrum), which some find to complement or enhance the CBD—what’s known as the “entourage effect.” Just how much these and other aspects play a role is, for now, largely a matter of perception.

“Placebo effect can have its own benefits,” Terry says. “As long as someone thinks it’s working and feels it’s working, then, for them, it’s working.” Believe it or not, it’s a powerful thing.

[Editor’s Note: Welcome to Lab Notes, Manna Molecular’s new blog exploring the ever-changing world of cannabis. Here, you’ll find exclusive insights from key thinkers and scientists in the space, industry news, and ruminations on the future in bloom, as well as the latest updates, innovations, and products from right here in the Manna-sphere—tools, we believe, to lead your best self-cared-for life.]

When the little blue pill hit the market in 1998, it changed the lives of millions of men struggling with erectile dysfunction. Dr. Harin Padma-Nathan remembers it well. As a longtime professor of urology at USC and lead principal investigator for ViagraⓇ, he oversaw the clinical trials and published it in the New England Journal of Medicine, all of which paved the way for the drug’s FDA approval, whose overnight eruption across news media and late-night routines began deflating the stigma of a condition that today hardly elicits a blush.

All the while, the void in Venus remained. “The unmet societal need was for women,” he says. “And women are far more complex than men, thus the drug therapies out there didn’t seem to be very effective.” In other words, challenge accepted. Seeing some strides—and roadblocks—in the chemistry of cannabis products in this area, he got to work developing his own.

Now, as Manna’s chief medical officer, Padma-Nathan is on the cusp of a breakthrough that could prove as girthy a discovery as the little blue pill was for men: Vella, a new line of CBD and THC sexual lubricants shown to amplify arousal and orgasms in women.

Here, he phones in from his office in LA to chat about what he’s working on, his life away from the microscope and the outer limits of scientific inquiry.

Your work on ViagraⓇ and CialisⓇ has been covered in The New York Times, LA Times, 20/20 and Nova. What has been your most memorable moment to date? I think one of the most interesting things was the first time I realized that ViagraⓇ was really a game changer. When these men took ViagraⓇ they were having normal erections again and that was mind-blowing. One of those eureka moments was when I had a patient who’d had a radical prostatectomy coming back and telling me this stuff is really working.

How did the idea for Vella come about? I noticed that there was some activity in the cannabis space looking at delivering THC and CBD by topical applications and the problem is that they’re typically in coconut oil, which ruptures condoms almost instantly. But I wondered what CBD did, and the problem was in the low absorption that one has with oil compounds, plus they don’t dissolve in aqueous solutions. But I knew, nanotechnologically, liposomes were a great way to make a fatty compound like CBD live in a stable, enclosed, or encapsulated, water-soluble environment, which would also make it condom-compatible. So I began working with a number of approaches to develop the kinds of liposomes to do this.

What do nanoencapsulated liposomes do exactly? Nanoencapsulation increases the bioavailability, and the liposomes are made with the same lining you find on cell walls, so what happens is these liposomes are attached to the cell wall, in this case at the labia, clitoris, and the distal vagina, and they’re actively absorbed, so the drug goes into the cell and is immediately passed to the cell next to it, which is the smooth muscle cell, and that’s where the drug works. The common problem with liposomes in a lot of treatments is they’re very tiny and usually unstable, so they don’t last a long time, and most importantly, they don’t carry a large payload. So, I developed large, multilamellar (multicompartmental, if you will) liposomes that were 1,000 times bigger to carry a large payload.

What does that mean for what women can expect to feel when using Vella? Women who have some degree of desire should see an increase in lubrication, clitoral engorgement and increased orgasm, increased time spent in orgasm and increased frequency of orgasm. But unlike other stuff out there, we’ve done studies to show this. We’ve studied isolated rodent vaginal tissue and demonstrated, for the first time, a dose-response to CBD with increasing smooth muscle relaxation to increasing doses of CBD. This is an unexpected, novel pharmacological response necessary for female sexual arousal. We’ve used vaginal plethysmography to show changes in blood flow to the vagina, in response to Vella, which causes arousal. We’ve also tested to make sure it is condom compatible. And lastly, we’ve used an at-home questionnaire to explore real-world experience with Vella, which is how the FDA does it too. At the end of the day, it’s all about their arousal, their orgasm, their satisfaction. While we can show a blood flow increase and smooth muscle relaxation, none of that means anything unless patients themselves experience a positive effect in those areas.

When you’re not knee-deep in work, what do you like to do? My great passion is skiing. You know that every Sri Lankan skis right?

I did not know that! (Laughs) Well, I might be the only one. Like the Jamaican bobsled team, I’m a Sri Lankan ski team member.

If you weren’t doing what you do now, what could you see yourself doing? Today we drive our kids to things that make money like finance and maybe entertainment or whatever, which is big in LA, but I couldn’t ever see myself doing that. I love numbers and math. And I like people and I like biology. The other thing I really like is astrophysics.

Oh really? What about it interests you? Yeah. I’ve become interested in quantum mechanics just because of the quirkiness of it, but what I really like is astrophysics—the science of black holes and neutron stars and that stuff. The bizarreness of quantum mechanics becomes the bizarreness of how science changes when you start to approach a black hole. And at the end of the day, that’s all really about the function of god to me. It is just the beginning, the end of the universe, multiverse, whatever, and to me that sort of borders on the meaning of life.

That’s fascinating. When we encounter these phenomena that threaten to break our understanding of science and physics, they could reorient what our beliefs are. Yeah. God is physics, physics isn’t god. It’s a concept that we understand so little of and it’s so confusing. Newtonian physics applies to some stuff on the earth, and relativity applies to a lot of stuff, but when you try to bridge quantum mechanics and relativity, quantum mechanics is like a bizarre trip. It’s so fascinating and unusual to try to blend the two with string theory…but at the end of the day, it’s all about trying to understand the bigger picture. We’re so consumed by our own little world, and it’s just a small part of everything out there.

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