April 30, 2015

The Cannabinoids: Beyond THC - A poster

PhytoChemia is proud to present the cannabinoids family (in the convenient form of a poster that you can put on your wall). This magnificient work of art was made in collaboration with Marianne Parent from Pixel M Design.

This poster is a curated list of the structures of all known cannabinoids with their suspected precursor (some pathways are proven other are suspected). It is a great demonstration of the complexity that we encounter when we are working with phytochemicals. A lot of those compounds have a pharmacological effects, but this subject is better treated on its own.

If you wish to have a high quality printed versions please let us know, the price should be around 45$CAD + taxes (~38$USD) (no taxes if you're outside of the country), possibly less if we have a lot of demand. You can click here to see a bigger version of the image.

Let us know what you think !

Edit: A typo (oxydation->oxidation) was spotted by /u/Alex4921 on reddit. It will be corrected in the printed version.

April 27, 2015

License for analysis medical marijuana/cannabis for Canadian producers - License delivered by Health Canada.

Laurie Caron, Chemist, M. Sc. - News and events 

Recently, Laboratoire PhytoChemia has received its license for the analysis of medical cannabis from Health Canada. We offer to producers scientific consulting and third party analytical services. We offer HPLC and GC determination for cannabinoids (THC/CBD and their acidic form), quantification of heavy metals, pesticides, bacterial count and volatile terpenes profiling in our standard analytical package.  
Article in the local Journal of ''Progrès Dimanche'' on the new license of PhytoChemia
Although the medical cannabis is regulated under the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), the raw material of cannabis is treated in exactly the same way as medicinal plants or other natural products based plant. Tetrahydrocannabinnol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most known compound in cannabis, they also are among the most studied. There are currently about 104 compounds in cannabis and most of them, have only been reported once in scientific literature and there are no official data on their effects on the human body. Recently, new data have been reported on some cannabinoids like cannabinnol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabivarin (CBV)  and it seems that most of them have an effect on the body. With these new researches published and popularization of the data it may be  interesting for consumer to know more about the product that they use. Two strains with similar THC/CBD ratio may not have the same effect on a user and the difference may be in the minors compound. As for the volatile terpenes, these are responsible for the flavor and odor of cannabis. This is a field that is very studied, especially in perfumery and flavor chemistry, but is lacking in the cannabis industry. Users are able to discriminate the taste in different strains but these are not quantified. By building a database of the volatile compounds and their relative concentration with the organoleptic properties (taste, smell, etc.), producers will be able to develop a better marketing around their products and the consumers will be able to choose a corresponding product for their needs.


Difference between HPLC and GC analysis for cannabinoids

HPLC analysis
HPLC will have the advantage of being soft on the material, therefore it will degrade less the active compounds. You will be able to have an accurate determination of every cannabinoids that you wish, providing that you are able to separating and identifying them. Generally this imply a standards, so you will need to have a sample of a pure compound. In the case of THC, you will be able to determine the concentration by measuring THC and THC acid and adding them up. This is taking for granted that most THC in the plant is under these two forms (a fact that may not be true since there is two forms of THC acid (A and B) and recently there have been 8 terpenic esters of THC found). It is reasonable to expect that some THC is still bound in unknown way in the plant. A big plus of determining THC and THCa separately is that THC is virtually absent in fresh plant, so a high ratio of THC vs THCa may indicate that the sample is starting to degrade.

GC analysis
GC on the other hand, imply the pyrolysis of the THCa (and possibly some of the ester too) to THC and measuring only the THC. This method has the advantage of being very simple and easy to implement but doesn't give us indication if the material is degraded or not. This method also take for granted that all THCa (or THC ester) in the plant decompose to THC in the GC injector, which may or may not be true. All these method also take for granted that the extraction method extract all the THC compound, it is our opinion in recent view of the current litterature that this may not be the case. The discovery of a series of terpenic THC ester in 2008 seems to indicate that the compounds bound to other moeity in the plant, therefore it is reasonable to expect that THC may bound to other compounds that may not be extracted by the current solvent method, like cell walls or sugars.

A strict quality control from producer on his production will allow to prevent many problems such as potential contamination in the process and they will be able to have consistent data and do good statistics. These statistics allow the producer to make discoveries, to optimize their production and to offer a more fit diversity of product to their customers. Consequently, the consumers will be certain to have a product of good quality with safe properties.


(1)         Pertwee, R. G. Handbook of Cannabis; Oxford.; Institute of Medical Sciences University of Aberdeen, UK, 2014; p. 781.

April 20, 2015

Aromatherapy: Is it easy to know if essential oils are safe ?

Laurie Caron, chemist, M.Sc. - Popularization 

In the last few weeks, I saw many discussions on LinkedIn/Facebook groups about aromatherapy. Some people seem to be highly concerned by this subject and they want to know how to use essential oils safely. So, I asked myself what was my knowledge about this topic? First of all, I am NOT an aromatherapist and I did not follow a given number of hours of training to pretend that I know all about aromatherapy. Yet, as a trained chemist, I learned how to understand chemical data, research results and toxicological data on a product. In this post, I will thus try to expose you facts, results, examples, of  what I consider to be important to know before using a product like essential oils.

First, here are some definitions and a bit of history. Aromatherapy is a discipline which can be defined as the use of essential oils extracted from herbs, flowers or other plant parts applied topically or taken orally, by inhalation or other way, on the human body to promote health, wellbeing, etc.[1,2]. This discipline is based on traditional practices of herbal medecine acquired many years ago by people from different countries (India, Egypt, China, etc.) [1]. Modern aromatherapy was strongly influenced by a French chemist (René-Maurice Gattefossé) who wrote many articles on the subject in the early Thirties [2,3].  Since this time, many schools of thought have emerged and they teach different ways to use essential oils. 
Photo credit : Centre antipoison belge

Now, let us continue with an example. You have heard from a friend of a friend that the essential oil of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.) has a great anti-inflammatory effect on body and you want to try this product. First of all, if you can not see a health professional, you could do your own research to make up your mind on the subject. You have to find information about the toxicity of the oil and what kind of studies have been made on this product. I found a recent book (2014) that brings together all the toxicological information about a great quantity of essential oils : Essential oil safety - A guide for healthcare professionals by Robert Tisserand [2].

When we look for chamomile (blue) in this book, we can find this kind of information :

  • Percentage of major compounds in the essential oil (these data depend of variety, origin and method of distillation of the plant and may help ensuring a quality control for consumers); 
  • Information on organ-specific effects such as adverse skin reactions. Undiluted oils often are a moderate irritant for skin. A study on the diluted oil of German chamomile (test on 25 volunteers with oil diluted at 4 %) observed no irritant reaction and another test on a panel of 200 dermatitis patients (oil diluted at 2 %) showed adverse results of 0,5 % of participants reporting skin sensitizing effects caused by the oil*;
    Photo credit : Roberttisserand.com
  • Systemic effects and data on acute toxicity: Acute oral LD50 in rats (>5 g/kg) and acute dermal LD50 in rabbits (>5 g/kg)**; 
  • Other pertinent information on essential oils such as drugs interaction for precise compounds, comments from the author, etc.

Normally, with this kind of information you would be able to make a good choice, isn't it?

I suppose that some readers just told themselves : I don't have background in chemistry or toxicology, so this book cannot really help me because I'm somewhat lost and have too much information to assimilate. It might be the case, but it is in your interest to learn a bit about these topics to make safer choices with these kind of products.

Meditate a little bit on this question : why do we need healthcare professionals to prescribe medications/advices to people? Among others, it is because we do not know all the information on the toxicity, the interactions owith other drugs or other important facts on all medications. Natural products are, by all means, also mixtures of chemical compounds which might have adverse effects on the body.

Photo credit : Centre antipoison belge
If I had just one advice to give on the subject it would be the following:

Do not hesitate to ask questions to trained health professional who are certified by university and have skills in pharmacology, chemistry, toxicology and human biology before you want to use a ''health product'' on yourself. 

It's not because it's natural that it's officially a safe product.

*Additional information : According to many scientific papers, in the case of ingestion, essential oils often showed toxicity for humans. Many cases of contact dermatitis are also listed when essential oils are not diluted properly and used pure [3].

**Definition of LD50 : «Lethal dose is the amount of a material, given all at once, which causes the death (acute oral) or effect (acute dermal) of 50% (one half) of a group of test animals » [4]. The results presented above for German chamomille normally mean that the product is not highly toxic. In the cited research, they fed the rats (acute oral LD50) a large dose of 5g of essential oil by kg of body weight of the rat. If the rat weights 0,5 kg, the administered dose was 2,5 g, and more would have been needed to cause the death of 50 % of animals.


(1)      Cooke, B.; Ernst, E. Aromatherapy : a Systematic Review. British Journal of General Practice 2000, 50, 493–496.

(2)      Tisserand, R.; Young, R. Essential Oil Safety A Guide for Health Care Professionals; Second edd.; Elsevier, Churchill Livingstone, 2014; p. 783.

(3)      Husnu Can Baser, K.; Buchbauer, G. Handbook of Essentials Oils - Science, Technology and Applications; Husnu Can Baser, K.; Buchbauer, G., Eds.; CRC Press - Taylor and Francis Group., 2010; p. 994.

(4)      Gouvernement du Canada. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) - What is a LD50 and LC50? http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/ld50.html.