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Scientists say nanotechnology in cannabis needs cautious approach, more research

Scientists say nanotechnology in cannabis needs cautious approach, more research


Trait Biosciences is set to unveil its water-soluble cannabinoids, in liquid and powder form, on June 10 in California.


Submitted: Trait Biosciences / PNG

A Toronto cannabis firm is urging consumers to by wary of potential health risks in pot edibles and medicines that use nanotechnology, while at the same time unveiling a competitive product.

Trait Biosciences has developed technology to transform fat-based cannabinoids into water-soluble cannabinoids, which can then be produced commercially for food, beverages and nutraceuticals. It is set to unveil its cannabinoid products, in liquid and powder form, on Monday in California.

Meantime, several cannabis firms and labs have instead been pursuing nanotechnology as a means to infuse products with cannabinoids.

Trait uses glycosylation, which adds a sugar molecule to a cannabinoid molecule to make it water-soluble. The firm says its products affect people’s bodies faster than fat-based cannabinoids, and have increased stability, quality assurance and product shelf life.

Nanotechnology, on the other hand, produces tiny cannabinoid particles that are smaller than 200 nanometres (a strand of human hair is about 75,000 nanometres wide) to increase their bioavailability in the human body. The technology is already used in some food and drugs.

But Trait says consumers need to inform themselves about the potential risk of nanoparticles in cannabis products, particularly given that edibles and drinks are expected to hit Canada’s legal market this fall.

Dr. Richard Sayre, chief scientific officer at Trait, said his primary concern is the potential for non-target effects.

“Nanoparticles can permeate into many different types of tissues and you can’t really control that,” he said.

Sayre said he’s also concerned about the accumulation of emulsification agents. Nanotechnology works in drug delivery but hasn’t been used at a consumer scale where people are consuming large amounts of material over many days, he said.

An OECD report on opportunities and risks with nanotechnologies outlines some of the uncertainties with the technology, warning that it is unclear whether nanoparticles can pass from a pregnant woman’s body into an unborn child.

As well, “it is possible that durable, biopersistent nanoparticles may accumulate in the body, in particular in the lungs, in the brain and in the liver,” according to the report.

Ronan Levy, chief strategy officer at Trait Biosciences, said he understands why other firms are using nanotechnology, which allows them to put oil-based cannabinoids into drinks that won’t separate into layers like salad dressing.

But for most people using cannabis for recreational and wellness purposes, there’s no reason for them to risk putting nanoparticles into their bodies, he said.

“Especially when there are technologies like ours that deliver all the benefits of nanotechnology,” he said.

Dr. Anubhav Pratap Singh, assistant professor at the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of B.C., agreed that people should be aware of potential risks of ingesting nanoparticles, particularly in the sub-100 nanometre range.

Singh, who is researching nano-encapsulation and nano-emulsions, said that at one or two nanometres, nanoparticles can potentially enter the human cell and accumulate in organs if not excreted properly, he said.

“It should require more clinical trials,” Singh said. “There are no regulations around this right now because all of this is in such a state of infancy. In my opinion, I think it should require more rigorous testing if the size is below 50 or 20 nanometres.”

While Health Canada will regulate cannabis edibles, Singh said it is unclear whether the agency intends to or will be able to specifically regulate the use of cannabinoid nanoparticles within those products.

“The problem is that it is too tough to define,” Singh said. “It could be particles, emulsions or liquids. There are so many forms that it is tough to have a single regulation which can cover all of them.”

Health Canada did not return a request for comment before deadline.

Employment and Social Development Canada has identified nano-materials as an emerging occupational hazard, warning: “Although little human data is available on the potential health effects of nanoparticle exposure, existing literature has drawn a causal relationship between nanoparticle exposure and adverse health effects.

But despite the concerns being raised, Singh said consumers should be more concerned about whether a product is being manufactured safely, than whether it uses nanoparticles.

“The microbial safety, the chemical safety, the toxicological safety of the product itself is more of a concern,” he said.

neagland@postmedia.com

twitter.com/nickeagland



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