The stuff flying off the shelves of Arkansas’s medical marijuana dispensaries is a far cry from the innards of joints passed around the drum circles at Woodstock, or that dry shake you scored in the Pizza Hut parking lot in your college days. And, unless your weed dealer was especially nerdy about his or her business endeavors, you may not have known much about the contents of what you were enjoying. It’s 2020, though, and patients visiting the local MMJ dispensary are handed a sheet of paper with chemical profiles galore: a list of marijuana strain names with THC and CBD percentages, accompanied by words we’re accustomed to seeing on restaurant wine lists — “earthy,” “fruity, with sweet floral notes.” We talked terpenes (and the rest) with Micah Reynolds, a 28-year-old Camden native and self-described cannabis nerd who works as an “herbologist” at Little Rock’s Herbology dispensary.
We know that medical marijuana is targeted toward eliminating a variety of ailments — anxiety and insomnia and pain, to name a few. What kind of feedback have you gotten from patients? Herbology only opened in early March, but I’d guess you might already have return customers.
We definitely do. We get a lot of patients who come in and know what they want, or know that they want the most potent product in terms of THC, and those are pretty quick transactions. I deal with a lot of new patients — patients who have never used cannabis, or who used cannabis back in the day and are being reintroduced to it, or patients who have only ever had black market cannabis and are like, “OK, I’ve never tried any of this stuff. What do you know about it?”
We try and treat patients the way they want to be treated. A lot of veterans come in — we offer a 10 percent discount for veterans — and so we get literal “war stories,” but also people who have been using cannabis for a while and feel comfortable talking about how it’s helped them.
That, and I think [patients] realize we’re actually knowledgeable. We’re trained, and we’re studying the product, trying it ourselves, giving each other feedback. We do some in-house journaling amongst staff members so we can make better product recommendations. So if a patient comes back to me and says, “Hey, I tried X product and it wasn’t for me,” we’re gonna take the next step and figure out what’s right for them. … You gotta start low and slow — a low dosage, and taken slowly, especially with edibles that take longer to have an onset. Wait a while, see exactly how this product will affect you. Journal your experience, write down your dose and what time you took it.
How about the guidelines for tracking different patients’ information as you consult? As opposed to, say, a doctor’s office, where there are strict rules about confidentiality?
We can’t ask for a patient’s diagnosis, and we can’t ask for medical records. That stuff has to be given to us voluntarily.
A lot of people that I’ve talked to are specifically trying to avoid opioids. Either they’ve been on them and cannabis has helped them wean [themselves] off of those, or there are just young people like me who just want to avoid those altogether — who, as soon as the doctor says, “You need this pill,” would rather not.
It seems like there’s some trial and error to this, and some subjectivity according to a patient’s chemistry and how their body will respond to a specific strain. How well do you think you can target strains to ailments?
You’re absolutely right. There’s no way of saying with 100 percent certainty, “This is gonna work for you the way it works for me, or the way it works for him or her.” Especially when you’re dealing with raw flower, because [of] the variables of growing — the genealogy and the phenotypes. It’s an amalgamation of data. So when you analyze that stuff — your terpene profiles, your cannabinoids — it’s all subjective. I personally do my best to have the manager get all of the lab results from every cultivator from every batch that we bring in the back door. So that I can say, “Hey, this is the true 100 percent result for THC. This is the true 100 percent result for these terpenes,” if they test for those — they’re only legally obligated to test for the four main cannabinoids — THC, THC-A, CBD and CBD-A. So not all cultivators test for terpene analysis. Let me know if I’m losing you here … .
You definitely did. What’s the difference between THC and THC-A?
Those are the acid forms. For most flower, when you see the THC content listed, there’s a formula that formulates how much THC acid — that’s what the “a” stands for — is [in the batch], before heat is applied and breaks it down into delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol [THC], which is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that provides the euphoric feeling. The CBD, on the other hand, is a counterpart to THC, and acts on the endocannabinoid system mostly as an anti-inflammatory. So for a lot of pain patients, I’ll recommend something lower in THC, higher in CBD.
And the terpenes are the compounds in cannabis that provide the scent and flavor profile of a cannabis strain. They also provide therapeutic benefits. For example, limonene — which is found in a lot of citrus fruits like lemons and oranges, that kind of thing — provides an uplifting, energizing kind of feeling. Caryophyllene is a peppery note, and it’s a terpene that acts on the endocannabinoid system, like THC and CBD, and it’s an anti-inflammatory. If I know something’s heavy in that particular terpene, that’s always a good pain reliever.
So terpenes, along with THC and CBD, provide what’s called an “entourage effect” — the whole, rounded benefit of each particular strain. Scientists are just scratching the surface of cannabis, in terms of its medicinal potential, and still trying to figure out how all of these terpenes work together. … There’s a lot that is not yet understood. We have a great deal of information that lets us make educated recommendations, but we’re not doctors. … Generally, when it comes to pain, I can hit the nail on the head because I’ve personally medicated for back pain. I always suggest Burkle; it’s my go-to flower for pain, and I haven’t received any feedback about steering anyone wrong on that one.
How do you know what you know about medical marijuana?
I’ve been medicating with cannabis for just over 10 years now. And what started as a good way to release stress and anxiety turned into a fascination with the cannabis plant as a whole. … I really started bolstering my cannabis knowledge over the last seven years, I’d say. It’s all about experiments, and about my personal desire to figure out exactly what’s happening, why it’s providing so many therapeutic benefits for myself. And how I can apply that knowledge to try and help patients find that same relief.
Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire” is an excellent resource I’ve valued, but I haven’t really gone to any official botanist training. … Leafly has been there from the very beginning. A lot of it has just been personal experience. Field research, as it were.
How much of a believer are you here? There are definitely some people who might say the medicinal thing is bullshit, or just a stepping stone to legalize recreational marijuana, or to make a lot of money. But it sounds like this is personal for you.
Absolutely. I can’t speak for the state of the industry, but I have personally experienced ways in which cannabis has changed my life. I used to be a wild, nervous, anxiety-ridden person. Cannabis calms me down. … I have a flattened, herniated disc in my SI joint, right where my hips meet, and my nerve passages are so thin that going up stairs really hurts. Cannabis doesn’t just distract me from that pain, it provides therapeutic, anti-inflammatory benefits.
What was your initial reaction, as a cannabis user in Arkansas, when medicinal marijuana became legalized?
I definitely did a lot on my end to help with that initiative, but I kind of believed it was a little bit of a pipe dream for Arkansas — a kind of conservative state, [where] there are a lot of taboos surrounding cannabis. I always believed that decriminalization or legalization should be the goal, ultimately, but I thought I’d be way older than I am now when that happened. And then hearing about it actually passing — it was then, and is still now, amazing.