Canadian cannabis producer THC BioMed is betting it knows what cannabis smokers really want: pre-rolled marijuana joints designed to look and feel just like traditional tobacco cigarettes.
The Kelowna, B.C. company's upcoming Pure Cannabis Cigarettes won't contain tobacco, which would be illegal under the federal Cannabis Act, but unlike existing pre-rolled joints on the Canadian market, which generally use filter tips made of rolled paper, THC BioMed's cannabis cigarettes will be manufactured using automated cigarette manufacturing equipment will include what a press release called "a commercial-grade cigarette filter."
The exact nature of the filters is proprietary, but they "are not cigarette filters" and are fully compliant with federal cannabis laws, THC BioMed CEO John Miller said in an interview.
From a public-health perspective, Miller said he's aware that tobacco cigarettes have a poor reputation, but said a cigarette-shaped marijuana joint with a cigarette-style filter will protect consumers by filtering out whatever products are harmful to them.
"We don't have any data, but we believe it's a better way of smoking cannabis," added Miller.
The claim that cigarette filters will protect against the potential harms of cannabis smoke "is categorically false," said David Hammond, a public health professor at the University of Waterloo and an expert on tobacco control.
"The main effect of filters has been to provide consumers with a false sense of security," he said, citing a 2014 U.S. surgeon general's report stating the advent of filters in tobacco cigarettes may have increased lung cancer rates by encouraging deeper inhalation.Advertisement
Hammond acknowledges the health impacts of tobacco smoke and cannabis smoke aren't exactly the same, in part because cannabis users tend to smoke less than tobacco users. A comprehensive 2017 review of the health effects of cannabis by the prestigious U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded existing evidence suggests smoking cannabis does not increase the risk for certain cancers (i.e. lung, head and neck) in adults, although Hammond points out that population-level studies have trouble accounting for people who smoke both substances.
"Obviously there's the rationale that says... don't smoke, but there is a group of people who do smoke cannabis, and it's (that) group of people that we are putting the filters in front of," Miller said.
THC BioMed plans to release four different varieties of cannabis cigarettes in the coming months, including one with non-intoxicating CBD cannabis. The company's press release said it expects "regular cigarette users will find it easy to transition to our CBD product, which we think is better than smoking tobacco."
Miller subsequently denied his company is explicitly positioning the CBD cannabis cigarettes as a tobacco cessation tool, and Canada's laws forbid making that kind of health claim to consumers.
"While all smoking is definitely dangerous for you, we definitely believe that the CBD-based product is a better product than tobacco," Miller said.
That earned a skeptical reaction from Danielle Ramo, an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco who is an expert in the co-use of tobacco and cannabis.
"Companies that have products that could potentially appear to be safer than cigarette smoking often want to position their products as potential (tobacco smoking) cessation devices because it's something that will help smokers purchase their products," Ramo said.
"But these claims far outweigh any evidence that many of these products actually are helping with cessation. There is no evidence, that I know of, that CBD is an appropriate alternative to nicotine… and if anything, a product that looks as much like a cigarette as theirs does would be associated with cues to smoke."
Miller said his market data shows pre-rolled cannabis joints are his company's fastest-growing segment. In the future, he even believes THC BioMed could stop selling loose cannabis bud entirely and focus more on pre-rolls. To that end, it makes sense to capitalize on decades of tobacco industry research, he suggested.
"They know what consumers want, they know the feel, they know the size, they've done it all," he said. "They've spent billions of dollars, there's no need for us to come in and reinvent the wheel. We've taken that same system and applied it to cannabis."