Chemist urges caution and controls for emerging cannabis products

Photo by Rosalyn Graham
With a giant model of a cannabis molecule with its black (carbon), white (hydrogen) and red (oxygen) atoms, Dr. John MacKay demonstrates how various parts of the molecule have different properties and effects ranging from euphoria to pain relief, or appetite stimulation or appetite reduction.


At last week’s Rotary gathering, a University of Vermont-educated expert presented the case for thorough and careful controls of a product, now legal in Vermont and many other states, as he outlined the dizzying complexities of growing and processing of the cannabis plant.

John A. MacKay, who has a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from UVM and advises manufacturers of cannabis products on extraction methods, spoke at the regular Wednesday morning meeting of the Charlotte Shelburne Hinesburg Rotary Club at the Trinity Episcopal Fellowship Hall in Shelburne last week.

His message: Legislators passing laws and policymakers need to increase the scientific basis for their actions to avoid creating a dangerous situation for their communities.

Products on the market need to be safe for consumers as already is the case for other products such as apples, maple syrup, milk, etc. “This is not a case of putting the cart before the horse,” MacKay said. “In this situation, the horse hasn’t even been born.”

MacKay is the chief executive and founder of Synergistic Technologies Associates, a consulting company in Whitinsville, Mass., that advises firms involved in the burgeoning botanical and medical cannabis industry.

Holding a large model of a cannabis molecule with oxygen, carbon and hydrogen atoms in a myriad of loops and strings, MacKay demonstrated that cannabis can have a wide range of effects on the consumer, whether by smoking or ingesting. These vary from the classic “high” or “euphoria” from THC to pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects from CBD as well as both appetite stimulation of THC and appetite suppression of THCV.

Given the recent emergence of a diversity of cannabis products, combined with the challenge of extracting specific properties and then measuring active ingredients, MacKay said he believes there is a great need for more government-funded scientific study before expanding mass marketing of cannabis.

MacKay said he had seen miracles resulting from using cannabis products, such as controlling seizures in children. However, he advocates more study of production processes and testing procedures before cannabis products are sold in every corner store.

MacKay graduated from Burlington High School in 1972 and in 1982 received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Vermont. After working for Waters Corporation for nearly 30 years, he founded his new firm outside of Boston which works with manufacturers of cannabis products to improve analysis of extraction products and careful testing. MacKay is also an adjunct faculty member at the UVM Larner College of Medicine.

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