WASHINGTON: Months after her biotechnology company sold for $40 million, Jessica Tonani is on Seattle’s Highway 99, where Kurt Cobain in his final days shot heroin in cheap motels. She’s scoring a gram of Blueberry Kush.
Tonani doesn’t plan to smoke the pot. Her typical procedure is to isolate some of its DNA and bank it, sequence its genetic profile, and test it for bacteria. After her stop at Choice Wellness, a medical marijuana store in one of the states where pot is newly legal, she buys the same strain in three more places (often collecting a “new-patient gift” of pot-infused gummi bears or goldfish). The goal for her new company, Verda Bio, is to build a database bringing order to billions of potential DNA combinations and, eventually, create stable strains that people can grow like a Red Delicious apple.
Right now, Tonani says, people using pot for health conditions—legal in 23 U.S. states—are doing the equivalent of rummaging through their medicine cabinet blindfolded. One day they might get Tylenol; another, mouthwash. Even when they buy the same strain from the same place, it might not have the same effect because of differences in how each plant is grown. The variety Harlequin, for example, is sometimes recommended for children with epilepsy because it’s high in cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychedelic pot compound that appears to limit seizures.
Tonani analyzed more than 20 samples of Harlequin along with Analytical 360, a Seattle testing lab, and found that 22 percent were high in the psychedelic tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and had almost no CBD. Any kids taking it were likely just getting stoned.