When Cynthia Ludwig, director of technical services for the 106-year-old American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) introduced the idea of the company getting involved in cannabis testing, she was given many titles by some of her colleagues. The Queen of Cannabis. The Princess of Pot. The Duchess of Dope. Her Majesty of Marijuana. Ludwig has somewhere between 22 and 27 patents in five different areas of science.
Now the former research scientist for Monsanto is directing work with cannabis labs on a collaborative study to get certified and validated methods for testing cannabis in an effort to create testing methods that will be adopted by the cannabis industry. The goal: Consistently safer product with no contaminants.
At the conference where Ludwig led the discussion on infusion products, I asked one of the panelists, Jaime Lewis, owner and executive chef of Mountain Medicine in Colorado, and a chairperson sitting on the board of the National Cannabis Industry Association, about AOCS and their involvement in the cannabis business: “I am beside myself. We have 3 to 5 years of data that we can bring to the table and have smarter people than ourselves to help guide us in terms of taking the cannabis industry and treating it like any other industry. And the AOCS brings that knowledge of every other industry that has done this before us. I think (the AOCS involvement) is one of the most exciting pieces of news I have heard.” So clearly industry insiders like Ludwig/AOCS involvement, even knowing she was a former Monsanto scientist.
The following interview has been edited for space and clarity.
DOPE: Why did you and the AOCS decide to get into the cannabis business?
Cynthia Ludwig: Seeing the need for more official methods of testing in the industry, we wanted to work on something that we thought would be relatively straightforward to build confidence in the methodology. We are going to dose some hop leaves (the plant that is genetically closest to cannabis) with aflatoxin (a naturally-occurring fungi) at about six different levels. Then we are going to send those out to different labs for them to run a test kit. We will then get back hundreds and hundreds of data points that we will feed into our statistical analysis model, and then determine whether or not this test kit is accurate and meets all of the criteria for everything that goes along with that validation method. Then we will offer that as a standard procedure officially certified by AOCS. People can refer to this method that has been truly validated by an international standard and we can start using that in commerce. As far as I know there is no other entity like ours that is working on this for the industry.
DOPE: Was there any pushback from the corporation about doing this work in cannabis?
Ludwig: We are very progressive, so we went to our board and discussed it. We said we are neither condoning nor condemning, but we are saying that, as a non-profit dedicated to the science and technology of fats and oils, it is our job. It is in our wheelhouse as an edible fat and oil—this is what we have been doing for 106 years.
DOPE: Clearly, you are diving deep inside the plant with your research and testing. There has been a lot of work on the genetics of the plant and reports that the genome has been mapped. How does that affect what you want to do in the cannabis business?
Ludwig: It’s going to be very important down the road, but I think we need to crawl first. If we don’t get this right soon, we are going to have more issues. This could all be repealed some day, so my concern is of immediate analytical methods so we don’t have dosing issues, we don’t make people sick, and we don’t have incidents that cause news stories.
DOPE: Some industry experts like Josh Stanley, a leading advocate for medical cannabis, have said that there really is no such thing as medical marijuana because there has not been enough research and medical studies to call it truly medical. Would you agree with that?
Ludwig: I would totally disagree. Take a look at some of the work coming out of Israel: it is probably the leading country in studying medical marijuana in hospitals—that is official medical research. Not to mention the fact that there are so many grassroots people self-medicating, who have been using it for years and years. I’ve seen it myself: little old ladies taking opiates so they can walk, but they are so bad for the body that they’ve gone to a cannabis regime of mostly CBD during the day and a little bit of THC at night. There is both true medical research that is going on in other countries, and then the sort of grassroots research.
DOPE: What would you like to see happen in terms of cannabis testing going forward?
Ludwig: I would really like to see the analytical communities dealing with the cannabis industry band together and drop the walls of competitiveness. It really frustrates me when an industry analyst says to me, “Well my method is better and it gives the right answer and that makes it a competitive advantage.” That is absolutely the wrong attitude for them to have. The fact that they have a great method means they should share it with the industry so that everyone is running the same method and we can all get the same answer. The fact that you run a good quality lab that has a reasonable price point should be your competitive advantage, not whether or not you got the right answer.