This article first appeared on VICE France
Since the Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs in 1961, cultivating, selling, and transporting cannabis has been strictly forbidden in France, as it is in most of the world. The catch is that hemp is still legal here—and in many other countries—as long as the crops don't contain THC, which makes smoking it no fun at all.
But there's more to pot than just THC—the plant also contains dozens of other cannabinoids which various studies have found to possess therapeutic properties. There are already some medicines on the market that contain these chemical compounds—Marinol, Bedrocan, and Sativex, for instance. After THC, the cannabinoid that can be found in the hemp in the largest quantities is CBD, which has potential as a pain reliever and as an anti-anxiety medication.
This December, Antonin Cohen and his associates Sébastien Béguerie and Valentin Squirelo plan to launch France's first CBD e-cigarette, Kanavape—and it will be completely legal, since it won't mess around with THC. I went to their lab in Paris's 18th Arrondissement to have a chat with Antonin.
VICE : First of all, can you please explain what CBD is exactly ?
Antonin Cohen: CBD is one of the 80 cannabinoids contained in the cannabis plant—the most famous of them being THC. The difference is that THC has a psychotic and euphoric effect which can lead to paranoia, whereas CBD doesn't have any euphoric effect and it's anti-psychotic. For a recreational use, people tend to look for varieties full of THC.
What is the point of using cannabis, if not euphoria?
CBD has many applications. It's a molecule that has almost no secondary effect and which can be found in hemp. There is a huge difference between hemp and what we call marijuana, though both plants are varieties of cannabis.
Hemp is grown in France for its fibers and its seeds legally, and now it's also cultivated for CBD. There is less than 0.2 percent of THC in the hemp so you can't use it recreationally. However, it does contain 4 to 5 percent CBD. This is why as a variety it's extremely interesting: It can be grown legally.
How did your CBD e-cigarette come about?
Nearly six years ago, I founded an association for the promotion of medical cannabis—L'Union Francophone pour les Cannabinoïdes en Médecine. We realized that there wasn't any information concerning the use of the medical cannabis in French, while in English there were a lot of scientific studies and clinical trials that demonstrated the therapeutic use of cannabis. So my business partner Sébastien and I founded this association to inform French doctors, journalists, patients, and politicians on the therapeutic use of cannabis.
Have you ever had any trouble with the law?
We chose to focus on the medical aspect and we do not promote the recreational use of cannabis. We don't break the law so we don't have any problems with it. For three years now, we have been organizing one of the biggest conventions on cannabis at the University of Medicine in Strasbourg so we have developed a network of doctors and experts from all around the world working on the use of cannabinoids in medicine—that gives us a certain legitimacy.
How is your company organized?
My associate Sébastien is an agronomist engineer specializing in medical cannabis. He's worked for the biggest European companies active in that domain, especially in the Netherlands. Some medicine containing cannabinoids sold by those companies are marketed in numerous countries, including Europe. He is also a very good friend of mine.
We started with the association then we created a first company three years ago— Alpha Cat. We sold a test for products containing cannabis or cannabinoids—a kind of chemical "mobile test" in a kit—which allowed the identification of the amount of cannabinoids in each product. It can detect up to eight cannabinoids.
So the Kanavape works with a vaporizer that helps single out the CBD. Is that a kind of e-cigarette?
We started with the assessment that people exhibited high-risk behavior after consuming cannabis mixed with tobacco and via a classic combustion. So we looked at e-cigarettes in an attempt to reduce the risk and give medical cannabis consumers a better experience.
When will you launch this product in France and how?
We are at the final stage of production; we've tested the product and checked everything from a legal standpoint. We forecast launching in mid-December. The product will be available in numerous countries worldwide, including France. But we are not here to create a new addiction. We market this product in France for those who are ill—we use a harmless molecule and we can't be accused of marketing a product for a recreational use. You wouldn't be able to get "stoned" with it. We are legally assisted by a law office that gives us advice on the best way to market our products, but we are dealing with a situation for which there isn't really a legal framework.
How do you see the future of your company?
Our company specializes in the development of innovative and scientific products in the hemp industry. So, we work on new products, new types of cartridges with different cannabinoids. Our ambition is to be able to launch new versions continuously. We hope to generate financial success with the launch of this product, which then will allow us to offer several more cartridges as well as other products to the market.