The Quantified High

Big Pharma-inspired quality control comes to the wild world of weed.

MCR labs

When the label says, “Cannabis,” Michael Kahn says, “How high?” / Photograph by Toan Trinh

Michael Kahn has a burning question: What’s in that weed? In his bare-bones Framingham office, Kahn and his team at MCR Labs—a fully accredited cannabis-testing laboratory—are using pharmaceutical testing methods to determine exactly what’s in the high-end buds, tasty edibles, and THC-infused products you’ll be able to buy as Massachusetts’ medical marijuana dispensaries begin opening this year. With as little as 0.2 grams of kind bud, Kahn can map out a sample’s entire cannabinoid profile: how much THC is in it, whether it’s contaminated with heavy metals, aflatoxins, mold, or plant growth regulators. The company has tested the potency of everything from THC-infused bacon (Kahn jokes that he didn’t try it because he’s Jewish) to cannabis-spiked coconut oil.

These aren’t just exercises in high science. When dispensaries finally get the green light from state regulators, knowing the cannabinoid content will help patients find the best medicine for what ails them, explains Kahn, 32. For example, epileptics benefit from strains high in cannabidiol (CBD), a proven anticonvulsant that, unlike THC, doesn’t have psycho active properties. “One in a hundred samples, at most, that come in is high in CBD. The rest are all high in THC,” Kahn says.

Kahn also wants to improve how THC dosages are measured—he’s even created a free online dosage calculator.

Born in Russia, Kahn says he was three years into a PhD chemistry program at BU when the doldrums of academia became too heavy. He then worked for a contract research organization catering to Big Pharma. Now he’s living the startup life, leaning heavily on his wife and an unwavering optimism that the state will get its act together with regard to medical marijuana. To that end, MCR Labs has secured contracts with several dispensaries awaiting clearance from state regulators, and has worked with dozens of patients, doctors, and caregivers.

In their downtime, Kahn and his team explore big questions: What has more THC, a big stinky nugget or a bag of shake? (The shake.) How many hits off a wood-box vaporizer until all the THC is gone? (Forty.) Kahn can chuckle at the rigor he puts into designing these studies, though he sees a budding demand for this type of R & D as recreational pot gains momentum across the country. With some more time and money, he may just be able to figure out the best way to smoke weed. Scientifically, of course.