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Inside the First Iowa Medical Cannabis Facility

Inside MedPharm Iowa facility. (WHO-HD)

Iowa legalized the use of some medical marijuana in 2017, that bill allowed two manufacturers to produce it in the state. MedPharm is the first.

Its General Manager Lucas Nelson says they want Iowa to lead the way, “There’s no set up list of what you could or couldn’t apply to these plants. There’s not really a growing history that’s been developed for, this is the best way to handle this particular problem. And so what it’s really important for our cultivators to be able to do is address those types of concerns.”

At the MedPharm manufacturing facility in Des Moines, Nelson and his team are growing cannabis in a controlled environment. The mother chamber is where they start out plant genetics.

Marijuana has been a controlled substance for years, research on it is difficult or illegal. But now that forms of cannabis are regulated, MedPharm wants to use science to standardize their products.

Nelson says, “Most of our patients are obviously suffering from something that’s debilitating, that’s very tough to deal with. And so, what we want is that this medicine is safe, is helping them, is giving them that relief that we’re seeking. They don’t have to worry about, is this going to be contaminated? Or, is it really going to work?.”

To make sure plants are what they’re supposed to be, MedPharm takes cuttings. Putting feminized plants in a different room. Here a variety of cultivars specializing in CBD or THC are grown. They have specific ratios to meet product formula needs.

The process is carefully overseen by the Iowa Department of Public Health according to Nelson, “We’ve got a great relationship with them, they spend a lot of time down here looking at everything from the way we’re conducting our business, and making sure what we’re doing is safe. To setting up standards for our products being tested by independent laboratory.”

Fans blow in the growing room, circulating air to prevent mold or fungus and a trellis supports the plant. Then it’s harvested.

Nelson says efficiently refining oil takes specific measures, “We use a process called super critical extraction. That uses CO2 under high temperature and pressure as a solvent. Important thing there is it’s about the cleanest way you can extract. And that’s really the process from which we pull the oil from all of our plants.”

From a room of cannabis, several kilos of purified oil will be produced. Nelson says they want it to be between 85 and 95 percent pure cannabinoids. Enough to produce several thousand tinctures, capsules, or cream jars of medicine.

Nelson says, the MedPharm staff includes trained horticulturalists from Iowa State, PhD chemists and other scientists, “So we really are trying to bring that scientific angle to this industry, it hasn’t really existed throughout it before. And what I think we’re really able to do with that is offer the highest quality, the safest, the most effective and the consistent products every single time.”

And the company had to move quickly, the Iowa bill passed in 2017, in a year they were delivering products to the state’s five dispensaries.

But Nelson says their greatest success is getting Iowans the medical treatment need, “Really hearing those stories about how they’re getting their life back and able to participate and all the things they used to love to do. That is still mind blowing every time we hear a new one.”

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