Episode 58 - The Return of Thai Stick

In the next 5 years cannabinoids stand to become the new vanilla. That's a very scary scenario. Listen in to find out exactly what that means.

 
 

Have you ever wondered how vanilla, which costs about $10,000/kilo to harvest and process, can cost just $15 per bottle in the store? How a product that is only grown in a handful of regions in the world is found in so many kitchens? I didn’t either until I spoke to Jim Plamondon, who is the VP of Marketing of the Thai Cannabis Corporation, an impressive thought leader on the future of global cannabis, and an entrepreneur who mission is no less than creating cannabis products that “reduce poverty, respect the environment and raise quality at a respectable price.”

But back to vanilla. Vanilla is an artisanal product that grows in only a handful of regions of the world. Processing and extracting vanilla has always enormously time consuming and expensive. In the 1970s, the McCormick spice company synthesized the vanillin molecule from petroleum, then combined it with about 30 other compounds to produce a substance that is in taste and smell (and chemical formulation) identical to the vanilla that grows on trees. Today artificial vanilla supplies 99% of global demand.

The story of vanilla is the future that cannabis foretold, or so thinks Jim Plamondon (and me). Just like artisanal vanilla growing legal cannabis indoors in North America is expensive. A gram costs a whopping $7—unsustainably high if legal weed is ever going to compete with black market pricing or be as available as aspirin.

So, either cannabis is going to be grown cheaply and outdoors at the equator, which is, after all where the finest strains -- Panama Red, Columbian Gold, Thai Stick, Jamaican Lamb’s Breath – come from -- or cannabinoids that go into medicines or blended into oils are going to be produced in a lab. These lab-constructed so called “cultured cannabinoids” will be grown from yeast in genetic engineering labs. They’ll be produced at scale and will cost a fraction of the price of extracting them from plants and they will be used for many applications: in pharmaceuticals, or blended with terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds to approximate the taste, smell and effects of cannabis oils. And because The FDA and EU define any product as “natural” if their flavor chemicals are extracted from yeast, these products will be legally “natural.”

It’s true bio-engineered cannabinoids might not have the same entourage effect as whole plant cannabis. But if you’re paying pennies instead of dollars and still getting 70% of the effects, are you really going to complain? Does anyone complain (or even know) the source of their vanilla, or their vitamins, for that matter?

This future is not light years away. There are already a dozen companies engineering yeast (and algae) into cannabinoids. And while I’m not endorsing this method of production, it is right around the corner.

Mainstream media is not capable of dealing with these complicated and crucial topics but Jim is an evidence based futurist -- well worth listening to. He’s also got a slamming blog.

This interview occurs in two parts. The first is a brilliant history of how and where the world’s greatest strains developed and why they are about to make a huge resurgence. The second is on the bioengineering of cannabinoids, a topic I’ll be exploring ethically and economically in future episode. And huge thanks to Jim for supplying the hilarious Joe Dolce musical interlude about 25 minutes into the interview. Just listen to see what I mean.

Joe Dolce