TELEPHONE INTERVIEW WITH LAURENCE MCKINNEY
CAMBRIDGE PHARMACEUTICAL LABORATORIES, INC.
POST OFFICE BOX 748
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS 02139
JULY 20, 1991
OLSEN: What's the difference between synthetic THC and
MCKINNEY: Molecularly speaking, there's no difference at all.
The only difference between getting THC out of the plant, is when
you get it out of the plant, the residuals, the impurities, are
all these dismissive molecules, which are other plant molecules,
of course. When you make synthetic THC, the only residual
impurity, quote-unquote, is delta-8 THC, so Marinol's technically
95% THC and 5% delta-8 THC, whereas marijuana is 5% THC and 95%
plant material which apparently has no effect, because every time
people give all this testimony and talk about the effects of
smoking marijuana, or whatever, whenever they talk about the
effects, the effects are identical from the effects of taking
OLSEN: You said there's never been any ..., you know, when
people talk about marijuana, they're talking about THC, because
none of the other chemicals have ever been tested.
MCKINNEY: Exactly. Well, it's not that they haven't been
tested, they've been tested, but there's been no real indication
that they have an effect to the extent that it changes the effect
of smoking marijuana. In other words, there's never been a test
on any of the other drugs that are in marijuana that indicated
they have dramatic enough effects that they would be changing the
effect of THC. Say, maybe, there was, you know, 2% water in your
orange juice, it wouldn't do a lot of difference to the orange
juice. It would be slightly diluted, but you wouldn't taste any
difference, and you wouldn't feel any difference. So, what's
happening is, the government charges, which are totally specious,
is that there are these other things in marijuana, sure, but not
one of these other things in marijuana has been shown to be
dangerous or problematical, nor has it ever been shown that those
experiencing the effects of marijuana are experiencing the
effects of anything else but THC.
OLSEN: What about the argument that smoking marijuana is bad
because it's smoke?
MCKINNEY: That, per se, is silly, because the National Cancer
Institute will tell you that unless you smoke more than four
cigarettes a day, there's no determination that you're moving
towards lung damage, and very few people are smoking more than
four joints a day.
OLSEN: Is there anything different about marijuana smoke than
MCKINNEY: No. Actually, marijuana does have a slightly
tarrier smoke. It's about 30% to 40% tarrier, but, again, we go
down to how many joints a day.
OLSEN: What about the bronchodilator and bronchoconstrictor
MCKINNEY: That has to do with the effects of THC on the smooth
muscle. Initially, it acts as a stimulator, which causes smooth
muscle to contract, which gives you that feeling of your
diaphragm getting tight, or people say that smoke is expanding.
That's ridiculous. Smoke is not expanding their diaphragm, it's
contracting. It's because it effects all smooth muscle
immediately, making it contract.
OLSEN: Well, they say marijuana's like a bronchodilator, and
tobacco is a bronchoconstrictor.
MCKINNEY: Who say?
OLSEN: I've read this over and over again.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, well, there's a lot of things. People used
to say you could bury your dope in the ground, it would get full
of mold and everything. There's a lot of bullshit around in this
business, because there's so many people
OLSEN: I've also heard that it was good for migraines, because
it expanded the blood vessels in the brain.
MCKINNEY: Well, that's complete bullshit, because there's
nothing that's going to give you a headache faster than expanding
the blood vessels in the brain. In fact, the two kinds of
headaches that we normally have, one is caused by constriction of
the muscles in the neck which drops the blood pressure in the
brain, the other is caused by exhaustion which by making the
smooth muscles relax ...
OLSEN: Well, it was described to me as the migraine or the
headache comes from constricting of the blood vessels, cutting
off the supply of oxygen to the brain.
MCKINNEY: No. No, not at all. If you cut off the blood
supply to the brain, you'd be dead. It just drops the blood
OLSEN: Well, just restricting the flow, I mean, somewhat.
MCKINNEY: Restricting the flow drops the blood pressure,
OLSEN: I don't know.
MCKINNEY: Well, let's face it. You've got X amount of blood
pressure, and you put less blood in. Come on.
OLSEN: Yeah. I don't know. It was described to me as being a
reduction in oxygen.
MCKINNEY: By a licensed physician who had a knowledge of
cardiovascular things, or some marijuana advocate? Let's get
straight here. Who are we talking to, experts or Merlins?
OLSEN: No. I just heard this. I'm just checking it out.
MCKINNEY: Don't believe a thing you hear, unless the guy who
is saying it .
OLSEN: Well, I don't believe a thing I hear. I repeat it as
being something I heard, and that's all the value I give it.
MCKINNEY: Between you and me, I won't pass along anything.
Ever since I've been in the drug education business, since 1970,
I always check it out with the medical journals before I repeat
OLSEN: Well, of course, well, I just thought I'd check with
you, since you're that kind of a person.
MCKINNEY: Well, here's the word. THC from a plant and THC
from a vat are absolutely identical. However, since that's the
case, and since no one smoking marijuana has ever described the
symptoms of smoking marijuana as being different from those of
having an effect of THC, we are really putting people in jail for
an alternative administration of a legal drug, and that's what I
keep saying. If you vaporize a plant to get your THC molecules,
even though they re mixed with a lot of other crap, sure, it's
ineffective, but it's simply an alternative mode of
administration. And the Drug Enforcement Administration has to
admit that people smoking marijuana are self-medicating
themselves with THC. And if you talk about self-medication,
instead of getting high, and you talked about self-medication
with crude THC, rather than smoking a doobie, now you re talking
about using this wonder drug that everyone says is so safe.
OLSEN: Yeah. Yeah, OK, tell me now, what are the two
chemicals that are used to make THC synthetically.
MCKINNEY: Olivitol and paramenthadianol , And you react the
two, and I'm not certain how you react the two, I mean, that's
the part I don't know. Do you put it in a pressure cooker? Do
you put it in a special apparatus? Do you do this? Do you do
that? I'm not sure. But you react the two together. It is
being done at Norac Industries owned by Chester, Dr. Chester,
McCluskey in Azusa, California. I mean, this is something that
ought to he fun. You could get a sort of a tour of the lab. You
could get all the marijuana activists out to Azusa and stand
around the place where they make the THC.
OLSEN: Yeah. I'm interested in where they get these two
chemicals from, too.
MCKINNEY: They get it from Sandoz in New Jersey.
OLSEN: And do you have any idea how Sandoz gets it?
MCKINNEY: They make it.
OLSEN: OK. And do you have any idea how they make it?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, from a lot of other stuff. I think they start
with gallac acid. I'm not certain, but I think they start with
gallac acid. I'm not sure, but the thing is, someone told me ...
Carl Nocka is the man who makes it.
OLSEN: OK. Got his address?
MCKINNEY: Carl Nocka is the man who makes the olivitol for
Sandoz. I believe it's Sandoz, in their chemical division. He
describes the process of making olivitol as mouse milk.
OLSEN: OK. Is there any way I could find out from this guy,
or from anybody else, exactly where the organic compounds come
from? What do they start out with? Where do they get the plant
material or the mineral material?
MCKINNEY: There's no plant material.
OLSEN: Well, where do they get the minerals from then, to
start this whole process?
MCKINNEY: Well, they usually get them out of the ground.
OLSEN: Yeah. And what are they? What are the minerals?
MCKINNEY: Well, it comes down to probably atoms of carbon and
nitrogen, and things like that. You see, when you talk about
biosynthesis, it means the plant, using its own clever bits of
iona this and iona that, is shifting the molecules back and
forth. Let's also recall that the plant doesn't make
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it makes tetrahydrocannabinolic acid
and then it has to be decarboxylated by heat. Now, the other way
of making THC is to make cannabidiol and then reverse isomerize
it, which the isomerizer never did do, into THC. That's the
Razdan process. You see, the thing is, that when you're making
THC, if you let the reaction go too far, you end up with
cannabidiol. And, what the Razdan process locked into, the fact
was, take it all the way to cannabidiol and then turn the
cannabidiol into THC. That's how they do Razdan THC, which is
the stuff that Harry Pars wanted to put on the market. Remember,
THC can be made by anybody for nausea, it can't be made by anyone
else excepting Unimed for weight gain.
OLSEN: OK. Why?
MCKINNEY: Why? Because they got an orphan drug from the
United States government, a monopoly. That's why this whole
thing started. Kapoor, an Indian fellow with $200 million, took
over Unimed and then he got an orphan drug for weight gain, and
pushed forward with a lot of government pressure, and they opened
up the market in Europe by having the UN change their OKs on THC.
OLSEN: OK. What's an orphan drug?
MCKINNEY: Orphan drug means when a drug supposedly has so
little market that making the ..., the expense of creating an FDA
passable version of the drug would exceed the money that a person
was going to make from it. It's called an orphan drug. That
means that nobody really wants to make it, because it's not
profitable enough. So, in order to induce a company to make an
orphan drug, the government gives one company a monopoly. So,
Unimed has a monopoly. The interesting thing about Unimed is
that it's owned by an Indian named John Kapoor who lives in
Chicago, but it's distributed by Roxane Laboratories which is
wholly, privately, owned by the German drug cartel Boehringer-
Ingelheim, which means that the profits from this drug are going
to Germany. And, the people who make the olivitol are Sandoz.
It's a Swiss company. So, the profits from the manufacture of
the raw ingredients go to Switzerland. All the money from this
wonderful drug goes out of the United States, increasing our
deficit. If we grew it in this country and made it, it would be
American THC. This is sold by the Germans, with ingredients made
by the Swiss. And we could do it all ourselves. The original
work was done by Arthur D. Little and was picked up by Unimed
back in 1983, because no one else wanted to make it. The
capsules are made by Banner Laboratories in Los Angeles. So, the
THC, pure THC, is shipped from Norac to Banner, Banner puts it
into capsules and ships it to the Cleveland, Ohio, warehouse of
OLSEN: How do you think that the government can keep marijuana
MCKINNEY: Well, because, you see, the law, as was written by
John Mitchell, is the Controlled Substances Act. If it was the
Controlled Drug Act, we'd have a real problem, because in modern
day we don't think of a drug as being a collection of substances,
but as being a specific molecule. But, by calling it a
Controlled Substances Act, you can play all sorts of legal
rubbery games like saying that cocaine is in Schedule 2, because
there's a medical use for cocaine, but crack is in Schedule 1.
OLSEN: And the coca plant is in Schedule 2.
MCKINNEY: Yes. But, what I'm trying to point out is, although
cocaine is in Schedule 2, and they can't get it out of Schedule
2, to make more money for the police and the Justice Department,
crack is in Schedule 1, which means there is no medical
intervention, it's all in the hands of the police, although,
chemically speaking, crack and cocaine are precisely the same.
It's simply another form of it. And that's why I say you have
the Controlled Substances Act. That's how you can have the
entire peyote plant in that category, or the entire marijuana
plant, because it's a substance. THC is in Schedule 2.
Marijuana is in Schedule 1. It's in Schedule I supposedly
because it contains a drug called THC which is in Schedule 2.
However, if you take the THC out of marijuana, it's still in
Schedule 1, even though its got its drug taken out of it, because
it's the marijuana that's the controlled substance, and that is
the trick to a controlled substance. They could make Scotch Tape
into a controlled substance.
OLSEN: Why is marijuana then, without THC, in Schedule I and
tobacco is legal?
MCKINNEY: Because, in Schedule I in the Controlled Substances
Act they define a number of different items, and marijuana is
defined as the leaves and the flowering tops and everything made
of the marijuana plant. That's the legal definition.
OLSEN: But how can you call it due process, I mean, how is it
fair that a classification include something and doesn't include
something else, when they both fit the same definition?
MCKINNEY: No one ever said the body of law in any country is
particularly good. In Arabia, they chop your head off. I mean,
let's face it, the laws are never anything but the current
reflection of popular political opinion. So, what you're looking
at here is a drug which is itself, at 95%, considered to be a
wonder drug, safe, never been an overdose. OK? But, at 5% in a
plant, it's in the same category as heroin. In other words, when
it's 20 or 30 times more potent, it's legal. But, when it's so
crude, when it's in its crudest form, it's like saying gasoline
and crude oil ...
OLSEN: Well, aren't they saying, because of the fact that it's
only 5% and it's mixed with all this other stuff, that that's why
it's worse that the 95% pure?
MCKINNEY: Well, what they're saying, whenever you try to make
marijuana into Schedule 2, is that there are all these other
things which haven't been tested. They make you put marijuana
through the same test you'd put THC through, which is to say,
what are the impurities?," and of course there are 423 molecules
in marijuana, only one of them is THC. So, if you take out the
THC, how many impurities have you got? 422. That's how they do
it. Because, normally, when you make a drug, you've got to test
the impurities and see if they're OK, and see if they have any
effect. Can you imagine anyone wanting to test 422 other
molecules? Now, the only thing I have, there's been a change in
the generic drug laws that says you don't have to duplicate the
entire procedure, but you do have to make it equivalent, its got
to have the same effect. And when the FDA told us that they
didn't care where you got THC from, as long as it was 95% pure,
there was some question there. But what it comes right down to
is that nobody in the marijuana movement, including Richard
Dennis, wants to put their money behind the one simple routine
that would change everything, which I've been talking about for
the last four years, which is a very simple movement to change
the definition of marijuana in the rule books. All you have to
do is include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as one of the legal
products of the plant, along with hemp seed and hemp cloth and
hemp this and hemp that, and the whole thing would fall apart
immediately, because then you would have the anomaly of a plant
which had its active ingredient removed still being in Schedule
1. It would fall apart on its own ridiculousness. And yet ...
OLSEN: In other words, you're saying that it would be looked
at like tobacco?
MCKINNEY: Yeah. I mean, it wouldn't be looked at like
tobacco. Suppose that you had a lemon, and vitamin C was legal,
but lemons were illegal because they had vitamin C, and a lemon
was defined as everything that comes off the lemon tree.
OLSEN: Yeah. Well, you re saying marijuana is illegal because
it has THC in it.
MCKINNEY: I'm saying that the way that the government keeps
marijuana illegal is by broadcasting the idea that marijuana
contains a dangerous drug. The dangerous drug they refer to is
THC at 5%. On the other side of their mouth, they're calling THC
a safe and harmless drug at 95%. In other words, when the THC is
in sesame oil, which is the only other ingredient in Marinol,
surrounded by a gelatin capsule, it's a wonder drug. When the
THC is in a hemp stalk, surrounded by hemp fibers, it's Schedule
I criminal, and how it would be illegal for us to hack our way
into there and pull the legal drug out. You see, to us, to our
way of thinking, and our argument all along, we're going into a
plant to pull out something legal, and we're calling the plant
illegal because its got the legal stuff in it. It doesn't make
any sense. You can simply say that the people smoking marijuana
are self-medicating themselves with the effects of THC, which are
found by the government to be safe, efficacious, and absolutely
harmless. There's never been an overdose, there's never been a
death. And they're just people who have, you know, nausea maybe?
Who knows, maybe they want to gain weight. Fine, let them self-
medicate. Why can't they medicate by taking it out of the plant?
It's like saying you've got to have pure synthetic maple syrup,
you can't tap a tree.
OLSEN: So, is there another way to get THC out of marijuana
besides smoking it, and without refining it?
OLSEN: Is there some way to use the raw marijuana at home,
does it have to go through some ...
MCKINNEY: You can't get pure THC out of it.
OLSEN: You can't?
MCKINNEY: You can't. No. You can get maybe a solution as
high as 65% or 75%, you can. That's about as high as you con go.
The reason it costs nearly as much to make natural THC is because
there's so much more gunk to clear out with the liquid
chromatograms. When you've only got two molecules to separate,
it's not so hard. When you've got 400 to separate, it's harder.
OLSEN: It would be more expensive to make THC from a plant
than it would be to ...?
MCKINNEY: As expensive. Until you get into serious large
production, there's no real advantage. The one thing that's the
biggest advantage is you don't have to rely on a lot of complex
expensive chemicals made by a lot of complex expensive companies.
When Carl Nocka said that making olivitol was mouse milk, what he
meant was it takes a hell of a lot of whatever they use to make
it out of to make a little bit. It's a very low yield process.
That's why olivitol costs $1,000 a kilogram. Very expensive.
Now, in the making of THC from the raw materials, it costs a lot
more to refine it, but the raw materials are cheaper. You see,
the liquid chromatogram uses packed columns of silica gel which
will retard certain molecules and let other molecules go through.
And what happens is that it retards the cannabinoids say, but
then eventually the little granules in the tube become all
clogged up with what they're trying to sieve out. And the
problem is because there's so many similar molecules to THC in
the gunk, that you can't run the solution through the tubes more
than two or three times and it's all gunked up. And, silica gel
costs $150 to $250 a kilogram. It's like sand. It's specially
treated sand, for all intents and purposes. But the fact is,
it's expensive, and when you have a synthetic, which only has
delta-9 and delta-8, you can see it's a lot easier to separate
them. Still, the most expensive part of making the synthetic is
separating the delta-9 so you end up with a 95% solution.
OLSEN: You have to do this no matter how you make it, right?
MCKINNEY: You always have to go to the liquid chromatogram for
the last stage. The thing is, when you make it synthetically,
you end up with an 80% solution, and there are only two molecules
in that solution. In the making of natural , you end up with a
75% solution, 25% of which is made up of 420 different other
things. However, generically speaking, this may not be as
important if it's shown that tests have no differences in the
effect. The only reason that Perdue-Frederick dropped that is
because there wasn't enough sales of the synthetic. Otherwise,
they would have backed us with the natural.
OLSEN: They would have kept testing?
MCKINNEY: They would have backed us with the natural. They
didn't test. They never got to that stage. But the funny thing
is that, of course, if they push the synthetic enough, or course,
other people will come in line and start working with the
natural, hopefully. And, if they're going to make the natural,
they're going to have to make it out of the plant, and the plant
will have to drop to Schedule 2, as all precursors of Schedule 2
drugs have to be in the same schedule. You can't have a
precursor of a drug in a higher schedule than the drug itself.
OLSEN: What is a precursor? You mean the plant?
MCKINNEY: The plant, the poppy.
OLSEN: The coca plant?
MCKINNEY: Yeah. The poppy plant is in Schedule 2, opium
poppy. And, if, say, for instance, if mescaline became legal,
they'd have to put peyote in Schedule 2 for the same reason. And
that's why I keep saying, if we can only get natural THC into
Schedule 2, it would force marijuana into Schedule 2. But the
nutniks in the marijuana reform movement are all a bunch of ex-
hippies sitting around rolling doobies on the back porch and
gazing at the sun and saying, "Oh wow!" They're not realizing
there are two important things to do. First, it's very easy to
change the definition if it looks like you're doing it to keep
marijuana away from people. And by simply slipping in a
definitional change in the marijuana definition in the law, state
by state, you can slip that through the legislatures with no one
getting excited, because they wouldn't understand what you were
really doing. It sounds like you're, you know, bringing the
definition up to date, because in 1985 THC became legal,
therefore, THC is defined as the psychoactive drug in marijuana,
and that's the way it's defined in the Physician's Desk
Reference, the PDR.
OLSEN: Well, you know, Iowa's law says that marijuana's in
both Schedule I and Schedule 2. Schedule I says it has no
medical use, and Schedule 2 says it does, and what you just said
would be a way to solve, to make the Iowa law make sense and
accomplish exactly what they tried to accomplish without making
it look like a bunch of idiots wrote it.
MCKINNEY: You can change the definition so that marijuana is
illegal, excepting for the products, and one of those products
would be pure, it could be pharmaceutically pure THC.
OLSEN: Which would be Schedule 2.
MCKINNEY: Yeah. Now, the legislatures and the lawmakers know
if anyone wouldn't realize what they were doing by changing that
to make it clear that only pharmaceutically pure THC from the
marijuana plant would be considered legal, but the rest of it's
no good, it sounds like you're making it impossible for someone
to do this, but what they are doing is that they're making
marijuana the precursor of a legal drug.
CARL ERIC OLSEN