When you are grocery shopping, do you check the ingredients on a new food product before you decide to buy it? Does it contain any allergens or unwanted additives? Will it meet your nutritional goals? Do you shop organically? The quality of the foods we consume – from the ingredients to the finished product- is likely considered when purchasing, but what about when we shop for cannabis?
At DocMJ, we value the overall quality of the products that are available to our patients. We want to ensure the medicine our patients are using will help them – without unknowingly causing harm. The state of Florida requires MMTC’s to submit finished products through third-party testing to test for THC and CBD content, as well as for any potential contaminants. But how are standards set –and met – throughout the entire production process?
AltMed Florida, a science-driven cannabis company dedicated to bringing pharmaceutical-grade products to the medical cannabis world, monitors their plants closely from the start of the growing process to the finished product itself. Luckily for us, the team behind creating the MÜV Products line gave our doctors a behind-the-scenes tour of their state-of-the-art grow facility.
A partially paved road led us to a nondescript green building with a grass parking lot that had only one entrance available. The overall exterior of the building had us questioning if we were in the correct place, but once we stepped inside the true story began to unfold.
The interior of the reception area was very clean and modern. Couple that with the impressive security setup with two large, curved monitors when you walk in, and it’s hard not to feel intimidated. The walls are understated, with a soft green hue and a proud sign in the center of the back wall –
Welcome to AltMed Florida
Home of MUV Products
The Director of Cultivation, Mitch Tipton, and the Chief Scientific Officer, Chris Witowski, were awaiting our team with smiles on their faces. Dr. Witowski is quick to engage with our doctors, conversing passionately about the products he has developed and what sets them apart from others available in the market.
We were instructed to put on protective wear – a paper lab coat, hair net, and booties- before we went into the cultivation area. It was not to protect us from any harm, but to protect the overall environment the plants were growing in.
Mr. Tipton took the lead through a locked door into a spacious hallway. Touring the AltMed grow on a Sunday had its perks – the halls were kept dim, leaving the flower room doorways glowing like the ethereal light at the end of the tunnel. All of our doctors were beaming with excitement, anxiously awaiting to step into the first room.
The Mother Room
The first stop was the Mother Room. There are rows and rows of plants, about three to four feet in height, sitting roughly two feet high on a raised metal shelf for ease of inspection.
Tipton takes a moment to explain that Florida is not where these plants originated. Cannabis grows in warm, humid, mountainous areas like the Middle East. To grow cannabis efficiently in Florida, you must “take the nature out of it, as it is far too humid for the plants to successfully grow here,” Tipton says. To ensure healthy plants and a healthy environment, humidity is controlled throughout the indoor grow facility.
The lighting in this room combines light emitting plasma in a blue hue with high-pressure sodium light to create artificial sunlight. In the Mother Room, the plants are kept in a “constant state of spring,” to keep the plants from flowering. From this mother plant, clones are taken from the top of the plant – basically, by trimming a small piece of stem and leaves from the top of the plant. These clones then graduate to the nursery, accessible just across the hallway from the mother room. This was particularly interesting to us because it highlighted how all of the clones that were clipped will retain 100% of the genetics from the mother plant.
After the clones are taken from the mother plant, the stem is stuck into a small cup of soil. These new clones are stored in a glass box, resembling a fish tank, with two shelves.
After about 14 days, roots begin to take, and the clone is then transferred into a larger bag of soil, roughly the size of a pint of ice cream. These bags are on two metal shelving units that span the length of the nursery room with roughly 40 clones per unit, creating a sea of green. Our doctors were shown an example of what the roots look like before being transplanted, which seemed to be particularly interesting to them.
In the nursery, the clones are given a red tag with a barcode and unique identification number. According to Tipton, that tag is scanned every time the plant is handled to track its growth and progress. Everything in this room is handled delicately by hand.
The Vegetation Room
After 2-3 weeks in their little bag of soil, the clones are then moved to a bigger bag in the vegetation (veg) room, accessible through a doorway in the nursery. The plants are on a raised platform that rolls, to give the grow associates easy access between them for closer inspections of individual plants. At this stage, nutrients are introduced in higher quantities to prepare the plants hormones for flowering.
In the veg room, Tipton calls out the differences in flower phenotypes. Two factors, the genetics and the environment, influence the structural formation of the plant. While the genetic make-up of the plant (or its genotype) is important, the environment in which it is grown in can equally affect its characteristics. Color, shape, smell and the amount of trichomes of the same genotype can all differ depending on how the plant is grown, so controlling the environment ensures uniformity.
The Flower Rooms
The flower room is where the real splendor is at. Tipton and Witowski advised us to put on gloves before entering. Tipton says he likes to lightly touch the bud in the flower room and smell his fingers to get a whiff of the aroma of terpenes the plant is producing. Our doctors walked into this room buzzing with curiosity, immediately silenced by the overall atmosphere they just entered.
In this room, the lighting is changed completely to mimic summer for the plants; this change in lighting helps to trigger the flowering process. Tipton begins to explain the purple color in one particular plant is due to a certain flavonoid and ropes Witowski in for backup. The two work in tandem, building off of each other’s callouts and reminding one another of key details that may interest the DocMJ team. Our doctors were mesmerized by the knowledge pouring from the duo, drilling them with questions about each of the different strains being grown in front of them.
The Drying Room
The drying room is through the large, dimmed hallways of the facility. The cannabis in the drying room has a string looped through the stems and attached to a hook. The cannabis hangs from a line, like 4-foot vines dripping from the ceiling.
The flower in the drying room is handled more, adding to the microbial risk. To ensure that the flower is as sterile as possible, testing is done in-house in the analytic lab throughout the growing process. The lab team not only tests for microbials, but for the moisture content, cannabinoids present, and the perfect time to harvest the plant by testing the genetics.
The samples are taken aseptically for testing; new gloves are worn between batches, isopropyl alcohol is rubbed onto the gloves to eliminate any bacteria or unwanted organisms making their way to the plant. Skin must be mostly covered, and the paper gown, booties, and hairnet must be worn. Samples are also submitted for third party testing to ensure the safety of consumption. According to Dr. Witowski, it “gives us a lot of comforts that we’re producing the highest quality, safest product for patients.”
Our Doctors Experience
Grow tours are very limited due to the risk of contaminants entering the facility. The AltMed facility has strict standards between securing what can come in and out of the facility and what nutrients are used during the growing process.
The AltMed grow facility utilizes science throughout the four-month life cycle of every plant, testing for the ideal time for harvest, terpene, and flavonoid content. “We are trying to bridge the gap between the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries,” says Tipton – and it absolutely shows.
It was very important for the DocMJ crew to see the growing process step by step. Because the AltMed team was generous to invite us on a tour of their facility, our doctors were able to see how much detail is needed to ensure medical cannabis plants are grown under a controlled environment. By taking us through the process, we were shown the plant is closely monitored during every stage of its life cycle. From a medical standpoint, product consistency is important because our patients need to have the confidence that a product that works for them will always affect them in the same manner.
Next week, we will dive into the next step of the production process –extraction— and how it impacts the overall quality of the medicine you are using.