Since the Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs in 1961, cultivating, selling and transporting cannabis is strictly forbidden in France. Although it's been used by humans for its psychotropic properties since the Neolithic times, a form of cannabis – hemp – is also used in agriculture. Today, this plant is still legally grown in France for its fibre, but with a THC rate lower than 0,2 percent which makes any recreational consumption impossible.
It has long been established that cannabis and hemp don't just contain THC. But, what we are discovering now is that more than 80 cannabinoids can be found among the hundreds of existing varieties in different concentrations that also come with therapeutic properties. There are already some medicine in the market that contain cannabinoids – the Marinol, the Bedrocan or the Sativex for instance. After THC, the cannabinoid that can be found in the hemp in the largest quantities is the CBD. This molecule has a lot of therapeutic uses, starting with its anxiolytic and analgesic quality.
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. I went to their lab in Paris' 18th arrondissement to meet and 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 the hemp. There is a huge difference between the hemp and what we call marijuana though both plants are varieties of cannabis. We considered marijuana as the recreational plant that contains a lot of THC and very little CBD.
Hemp is grown in France for its fibres and its seeds legally, and now it's also cultivated for the CBD. There is less than 0.2 percent of THC in the hemp so you can't use it recreationally. However, there is 4 to 5 percent of 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 realised 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 interest of the 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 organising 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 does your company run?
My associate Sébastien is an agronomist engineer, specialised 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 vapouriser – a "vector" – which helps single out the CBD. Is that a kind of e-cigarette?
We started with the assessment that people exhibited high-risk behaviour 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.
We also thought about the best way to deliver cannabinoids for the patients. Vapourisation offers plenty of advantages: no combustion and no harmful substances, you get to keep the traditional "gesture of the smoker" and of course, there is no point for injections. We provide oil cartridges which we control throughout the production line for quality, and we also created a vapouriser compatible with our oil.
How do you produce CBD from hemp?
The hemp is legally produced in France near Marseille, in the Czech Republic and in Spain. We work with different farmers. Once hemp is harvested, there are several extraction stages to extract the molecules. We use the most qualitative cold extraction – the "hyper critical CO2" – a natural solvent which doesn't contain any heavy metals. We carry out this procedure in laboratories with members of our team, who have more than ten years of experience.
This method is also used in the cosmetic industry and in the pharmaceutical industry too. It gives us hemp oil which contains active ingredients, such as CBD, that we pack into the shape of a cartridge for vapourisation.
How do you proceed to separate THC from CBD ?
For two years now, we have been working on the research and development on extraction processes using CO2, precisely to be able to have a hemp extract which doesn't contain THC, but which only contains CBD and other cannabinoids. We are also working on the conservation of the terpenes – this is what will give the product a natural flavour.
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 and marketing for 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 that. We are legally assisted by a law office which gives us advice on the best way to market our products, but we are dealing with a situation where there isn't really a legal framework.
It's a bit like the e-cigarette, but things will change. We seek the highest quality – this is why we control all stages of production. We don't use chemicals. We don't have a "organic farming" designation, simply because we didn't pay for the certificate of approval.
How do you see the future of your company?
Our company specialises 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.