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Mind of a Chemist, Heart of a Healer: Local Medical Cannabis Pioneer Joe DaCrema

Posted on December 28, 2017

by Karen G. Meshkov

With cannabis legalization taking root across the U.S., and Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program rolling out in 2018, there is no shortage of people looking to be a part of the “green rush”. For Philly-area native and owner of DaCrema Botanicals, Joe DaCrema, however, recognizing the medicinal potential of cannabis is nothing new—much like the path to legalization in this country, his journey has been decades in the making.

DaCrema’s introduction to medicinal cannabis came in 1988, during his sister’s struggle with cancer. Like many, she became a believer in the plant’s power from personal experience. “She tried all the medications the doctors prescribed her; she said that marijuana was the only thing that took away her pain,” says DaCrema. He was not as surprised as he might have been, then, to discover that marijuana offered relief from his own issues with an asthmatic condition.

After earning his degree in electrical engineering from Villanova University, DaCrema taught chemistry and biology to nursing and allied health students at a local college, where he had access to European medical journals. He explains, “Marijuana and hemp plants contain two prominent compounds called cannabinoids: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). More so than THC, it was CBD that kept coming up in the research again and again.”

Most people are only familiar with THC, the chemical responsible for the experience of feeling “high”. Far less is known about the effects of CBD—unlike THC, CBD does not include any psychoactive response. Alternately, research reveals that properties of CBD impact what is now known as the body’s endocannabinoid system, a sophisticated set of processors that act as a bridge between body and mind.

Because CBD and the way it interacts with the body is inherently complex, it can be taken in various ways and is indicated to address a wide range of conditions. For example, when concentrated amounts are distilled and processed and then absorbed sublingually through drops or inhaled as a vapor, it has been shown to relieve insomnia, anxiety, depression and a host of other mood disorders. Salves and lotions that contain CBD are absorbed through the skin and are reported to relieve such conditions as chronic pain, arthritis, carpal tunnel, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia. Its effect on addiction, epilepsy and other neurological conditions are being closely studied as well.

Having synthesized the research, DaCrema put his lab chops to work, and in 2011 he began extracting and producing products at no charge for friends and family. He attributes his homemade salve (which is now one of his best-selling products) to healing his wife’s carpal tunnel syndrome. “They told us that the only resort was surgery. We all thought it was pretty amazing,” he admits.

In an industry as rapidly evolving as medical cannabis, DaCrema confesses, “It can be confusing for the consumer. There is fear about breaking the law. We start with CBD concentrate that is derived from hemp, not marijuana. We use only CBD concentrates that are free of THC (less than 0.3 percent) because of ethical and legal reasons. This ensures a high-quality product that is safe and legal in all 50 states.”

With recent media coverage relating to inaccurate labeling of CBD products, DaCrema says his company adheres to a strict set of criteria before labeling any of its therapeutic grade, artisanal CBD products. “Not all CBD is created equal,” he says. “We learn about the purity of the CBD by examining its certificate of analysis.” A certificate of analysis is an official document issued by a third-party tester indicating the levels of certain chemicals.

He is insistent that the CBD be solvent-, heavy metal- and pesticide-free. “We know that solvents and metals are neurotoxic, and pesticides can be harmful to those whose immune systems are compromised.” CBD from DaCrema Botanicals is distilled using CO2 extraction methods. The result is a pure, solvent-free product comprised solely of natural plant waxes, oils and cannabinoids.

DaCrema Botanicals celebrated its third anniversary in October. Its product line now includes products for topical relief, such as salves and massage oil, and for systemic relief, such as sublingual drops and concentrates. As the company’s wholesale partnerships grow to include a roster of natural food stores, doctors, naturopaths and other holistic healers locally and nationally, DaCrema and his team continue to focus on the integrity and authenticity of their product, and in the quality of the relationships they have developed.

Amidst the many dizzying images and messages eager to be listened to as the industry emerges, DaCrema’s voice is steady and clear. “I’ve been in this world longer than most anyone else I know. I know what it takes to make high-quality, artisanal-quality products that really help people heal, and we’re in it for the long haul.”

 

This is an article that was published in Natural Awakenings Magazine.

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