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How Blockchain and Molecular Tagging Can Support The Growth Of The Medical Cannabis Industry

Jason Warnock, Chief Revenue Officer of Flora Growth and Robert Galarza, CEO of TruTrace on why they are leading the way in adopting, and developing, best-in-class technologies

OVER the last few years, we have seen a proliferation of jurisdictions around the world beginning to legalize and adopt cannabis as a medical treatment. 

This growth has led to an influx of new breeders and growers and a profusion of new cannabis strains. 

Unfortunately, this rapid growth fails to recognize the fact that cannabis is highly variable with potentially significant chemical changes between batches and lots. 

These subtle changes in the chemical expression of various strains, whether by genetic structure or environmental conditions, may have significant clinical effects on the patients using this treatment option. 

With so many strains available, and with relatively limited information on strain composition or genetic lineage and their relation to their chemical output, patients have had little ability to control what they’ve been taking over time.

Jason Warnock

This unfortunate reality has led to many in the traditional healthcare sector to refuse medical cannabis as a recognized treatment option. 

The amazing thing is that this reality is not due to a doubt in the product’s efficacy, but instead because of the potential variations and inconsistencies that exist. And truth be told, their reluctance is understandable. 

Often forgotten in the cannabis industry is the reality that traditional medicine is accustomed to rigorous testing, fixed doses, and universally applicable information. 

Instead, the industry believes practitioners should prescribe cannabis solely on patient reviews, instinct, and vague descriptions from licensed producers. 

The Solution

However, solutions to these problems are emerging and these include technologies, such as blockchain and molecular tagging.

Blockchain can be used to help traditional medicine adopt the use of cannabis products as a treatment option, regardless of the chemical composition of each product. 

With such a comprehensive source of tracking and data, practitioners can ensure patients are more accurately matched with the medical cannabis product that will best suit their health and wellness needs, be it an oil, extract, dried flower, or edible.

Upstream from the patients most software systems utilized in the industry are fragmented and are built to simply manage internal operations, with very little interoperability into secondary systems. 

Robert Galarza

There is also a worrying lack of testing standards – egregious conduct like ‘lab shopping’ is prevalent and it is a significant threat to the newly-emerging industry.

Consequently many jurisdictions are taking a closer look at the current regulations, or lack thereof, with a clear focus on product testing and the integrity of independent third-party data. 

This issue is further compounded by the lack of enforcement of the existing testing regulations.

Access And Security

Additionally, even in jurisdictions where such egregious conduct is limited, the industry is still suffering with a broad range of variability in testing results stemming from the use of different methods by labs, different sample submissions and an overall lack of standards regarding both methods and terminology.

The reality, however, is that these practices are short-sighted. Reputational risks, potential legal actions for product liability and the emergence of more sophisticated distributors in the industry will require change. 

Tru Trace platform

Implementing blockchain can address the numerous concerns surrounding medical cannabis by providing a secure, central database that tracks the potency, THC, CBD levels, and — most crucially — variations between batches. 

Armed with this information, healthcare professionals and pharmacists can consult an up-to-date, science-based source of secure information from a trusted supplier, which facilitates easier, more consistent dosing. 

Implementing blockchain can help provide patients with a wider variety of treatment options. In a fast-paced industry, where innovation drives growth, blockchain is the next step in encouraging access and security for cannabinoid-based medicine. 

In parallel with blockchain we are seeing the development of molecular tagging systems, such as those provided by Applied DNA Sciences, which feature the physical tagging of cannabis products using a unique molecular tag to represent the brand and product. 

This tag is then tested at key nodes within a domestic or international supply chain with authentication and chain-of-custody data securely captured and written into the blockchain. 

The application of this tag can be applied to cannabis plants, oils, lotions, tablets, edibles and packaging to serve as an immutable indicator of authenticity, origin, and provenance and a system to forensically audit products in the market. 

Emerging Cannabis Markets 

Agriculture is one of the oldest industries known to man with incredible technological advances continuing to expand progress. 

However, the technology necessary to support emerging industries like cannabis continues to lag behind many others. This industry is seeking legitimacy as it gains global acceptance, moving from the underworld of the illicit drug trade into a transparent and highly regulated emerging industry. 

The growth of this industry must also come into alignment with the standards and practices currently followed in the consumer-packaged goods space around the world. 

Benefits arising from the utilization of technologies, such as those provided by blockchain, and molecular tagging should address the many concerns regarding the quality and legality of cannabis products. 

Moreover, the utilization of advancements in science and technology will add assurance, efficiency and transparency to bolster trust with patients and customers.

Integrated into one of the most complex industries, blockchain technology can help legislation catch-up with the exciting developments in cannabis medicine. 

Main Image: Flora Growth’s Colombian cultivation facilities

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