Articles  Jeff Raber Werc Shop Interview

Jeff Raber Werc Shop Interview

Sample MMJ label from The Werc Shop The Werc Shop, a medical marijuana testing facility located in Southern California is the brainchild of Dr. Jeff Raber. Jeff, a science nerd with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from USC, prefers the title Head Coach to CEO since he and his scientist co-workers act more like a team than a business. Even The Werc Shop’s mission statement “Moving Sustainable Medicines Forward” seems a little smarter than the room, but once you talk to Jeff, you see his vision and it becomes clear: Dr. Jeff Raber wants medical marijuana patients to know exactly what is in that 20-dollar gram they bought at their local collective. Is the Blue Dream you bought at the trippy dispensary in Venice from the same source as the same named bud from the head shop in Van Nuys? Most likely they are from various growers that use different techniques for growing, curing and delivering that can alter potency. Dr. Raber and his colleagues scientifically measure the THC, CBN and CBA (There is science involved, but no quiz, I promise) contents of bud or edibles and within two days can tell you what those levels are. They can also indentify the harmful things that are lurking in your smoke, like molds, yeast or pesticides. After testing has been completed, The Werc Shop provides labels for the dispensary, much like the FDA-mandated labels you see on products in U.S. grocery stores. The labels make it easy for patients with varying ailments to immediately see the strength and numbers on their medicine. If they are looking for a headier high, or if they need to diminish pain or nausea, they can find out by simply reading the label. Medical marijuana testing is the wave of the future and Dr. Raber is at the forefront of the industry, with state-of-the-art technology and science. I was lucky enough to gain access to this innovator in the field of marijuana testing and his facility. I even got to wear safety goggles…sweet!

How did you get interested in this type of business?

I got involved with the Cannabis business through my brother. He was working for a construction company and was asked to build a storefront dispensary. Soon after I joined the company as a consultant to help them with their business development. Then I began to do research on the science of it on my own. I think I quickly became aware that there could be a tremendous amount of benefit. And in the context of doing that we got close to the operators. They were looking for someone responsible to operate a few clubs. Me and a few others were asked, would you like to start one, maybe you can build your own?

So I thought real quickly, I could help a lot more people, other than becoming my own dispensary if I serviced all the other ones, tried to educate everybody, utilized our science backgrounds to really fill that gap. And more importantly, not just what’s in the plant but what’s not there as far as public health and safety. So how do I protect people from getting hurt? What else could be there? Pesticides, microbiological contaminants, and other things you don’t want there adulterating the products. Let alone a lot of the dose stories I heard about with edible products.

I felt there was a gap as far as patients aren’t getting what they need. No one has any idea what it is. Everybody calls everything "Top Shelf." Every ad says "high quality." Nobody knows what any of that is. You have a bunch of education gaps with people who aren’t familiar with the medicine. The scientific evidence to me was overwhelming and compelling. You read reports by Dr. Lester Grinspoon out of Harvard, who has done the analysis and has said this is one of the safest compounds and drugs that you could find. It’s a natural resource; it’s sustainable.

What do you test for?

For safety we do microbiological screening. So we’re looking for microbiological contaminants such as the Terra Aerobic count; that’s any bacteria that grows in the presence of oxygen and includes bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. Yeast and molds are together. So there are 3 types of tests you can run. We use a new rapid profiling technique that is forty-eight hours for a mold test, which is very different from any other lab out there. Most other facilities take up to sixty days to get results.

Looking at the label, I see listings for THC and CBD. Are those the only chemicals that a patient consumes when using cannabis?

So you’re getting about 300 to 400 chemicals at once when you’re consuming cannabis. So what are those chemicals? It’s a chemical mixture. And that’s the complicated part. It’s not one chemical, that’s the thing. It’s not about THC or just CBD. It’s about the combination of those and other compounds that give you your desire effects. So how do you balance all of that to find out what’s right for you? It’s a very complicated picture but we’re going to hopefully do our job right and pull out the veil and say you need these thirty to get what you’re looking for.

What type of equipment do you use to test the weed?

We bought commercial systems. The same tools that are utilized by pharmaceutical companies. We talked to equipment suppliers that supply the same people in pharmaceutical companies-guys I’ve had relationships with 10 years back in graduate school. You can buy other equipment that’s not as good-not as accurate-not as reproducible-not the right tool for the job, and claim you’re a laboratory-but you’re not doing it right. So it’s very important to us to do the science right-to be reproducible, to be accurate, know exactly what we’re doing and tell everybody we’re doing it the best possible way we know today.

So we use a liquid chromatograph and this works at room temperature. So it’s very simple, very mild, and very gentle. It does not change the chemicals in the plant at all, in any way, shape or form. As opposed to a gas chromatograph that will heat the sample, decarboxylate and change it before it gets to the analyzer. So as you’re separating all your compounds, there’s chemical changes going on in the gas systems before you analyze it. So our liquid chromatograph allows us to see all those components that you see on the label, THCA and THC. But for food products, I’m not heating it any further so I need to know exactly what’s in there. I can only do that with the liquid chromatograph.

You cannot do that with the gas chromatograph. So we came about and we were one of the first to say you have to use this other equipment. They did a study at the Legal Institute of Medicine in Switzerland that really detailed that gas chromatographs can only convert THCA to THC up to about 70% efficiency.

You cannot get an accurate number unless you use a liquid chromatograph. So, therefore, use the liquid chromatograph and that’s what you need to analyze for orally consumable products. You cannot do food or other products with a gas chromatograph.

And it’s been a tremendous educational battle for us to try to inform everybody we’re using the right equipment. It cost us a lot of money, it’s very expensive, modern, the right stuff but it’s the right tool for the job.

Why is it important to test edibles?

It is much easier to overdo it with edibles. I’ve heard a lot of patient stories and what the issue with that is, it’s, you don’t know what people are putting in there. You see x, 2x, 4x, 6x, 8x. You see drinks that are 500, 800, 1600 x. What’s x? No one’s defined x. X of what? Yes. It is very important that you leave here today understanding the difference for why we are much more capable and prepared to test food products as opposed to other labs out there and the big difference comes from the difference in the equipment we’ve selected to analyze.

How do you get the samples to your facility?

We go to the Grow facility or the Collectives and we select the samples ourselves. We collect it in a sterile fashion so that we know we haven’t contaminated it because I don’t want to be blamed for that. And the grower wants to know if it was them or something else. We select the sample in such a way that we know it’s a valid representative sample of what we see.

And it’s kind of…how much do you have? How is your process to get here? The closer they let us work with them, the more effective and lower our price gets. We don’t have to do as many tests if you’re letting me getting closer to you and understanding your whole process. I can qualify your process and then test accordingly. So just like they would do for FDA type processing.

What is the minimum amount of product you need to run an accurate test?

We take two grams for all the tests. We try and take as little as possible. I don’t want it around. We want to destroy it all in our testing and we don’t want to take products from the patients. It’s a cost to the collective. I take as little as possible to be accurate.

Can the cannabis degrade after testing?

How the product degrades after testing is related to how the collective stores their products. It is quite variable from place to place. Things might dry out a little, and or be stored in warmer or drier places, but the content value won't change too dramatically.

I think importantly from the patient perspective they most likely have a decent idea of the product turnover time in their dispensary (if it is busy, a strain can disappear in days or less, if not, maybe the same thing is there for a week or more). If you are at a fairly busy location, and you see a month old testing date, it is probably safe to assume that isn't indicative of what is currently being provided as each lot/batch or new pound (even if it has the same name) is most likely of a different value.

Can you tell, when you’re testing, the difference between indoor and outdoor?

No, other than a visual look, sometimes. So it’s really tricky because sometimes you see greenhouse. What’s that? That’s controlled outdoor basically. I hear some of the outdoor guys actually trim their buds to look indoor which makes me wonder where did the rest of the waste go? How much of the plant have you lost? What did you lose behind? Where’d it go? Hopefully they’re putting it into food or processing somewhere.

Why is it beneficial for a collective to have this label?

We have to start somewhere and you can start and say well I know I at least have THC values here and my strain smells and looks like this, I’m getting what I want. So now I have a guide. I have at least some sort of guide that patients can use, whether the guy behind the counter is telling them anything correct or not, the patient can inform themselves and use that information to medicate accordingly.

How did you come up with the label design?

Credit to my brother. I said we need to come up with some labels. That was definitely one of the goals that we’d had. We started with some small ones and I came back the next day and he said, you know I grabbed the nutritious facts panel description, out of the FDA’s website and it makes sense cause it says here’s the font size, here’s how to lay it out, it’s familiar to people, it’s very comfortable. This is something they’ll recognize and they’ll be able to relate with and should communicate it properly and well. Why reinvent the wheel? That’s not what we’re doing here.

Can the product get contaminated in a collective?

Yes. If you look at the entire process-say here’s a collective and it’s pretty easy to qualify how thoughtful are they in their cleanliness. Do they use a different jar for each product that they weigh or do they use the same one? What about the tongs, right?

So someone says, "I use wooden chop sticks." Probably shouldn’t use wood, lots of bacteria and stuff hang in there. Do you wipe them with Clorox every time? No? Then it’s still contaminated. There are many things you can see, but some you can’t see, that may contaminate it as well.

Did they weigh it right into the package? That‘s probably better than if they’re weighing into a common jar or pouring it on a common bowl on a scale. That’s the easy one for us to catch. You shouldn’t use the same jar. Use the lid of the jar you’re putting it in if anything. Try not to let everybody smell it or touch it. Someone coughs on it, uh oh, this guy’s really sick and the next guy’s getting this. I’m not a big fan of that. Little sample jars that you can get a little smell out of and at the end of the day, or in the next two days they’re thrown away, that’s probably the best thing for those. The big giant candy jars; people are putting their hands in there all the time. I’m concerned about that one.

If I buy a product with all the THC, THCA, CBN that I want, can the numbers change by the way I ingest it? For example, someone is smoking it out of a one-hitter, another out of a 6’ bong, another person smoking a joint?

Right. It can change exactly what you’re inhaling and consuming. So you can get different - say you smell a really strong smell - you can get more of those in relation to cannabinoids depending on which device you use. You can get less depending on other things, too. So take for example, the vaporizers. You know you have the big bagged ones, right? The Volcano? Well a lot of compounds condense on the plastic.

Some chemicals are heavier, and quite often, CBD is a little bit, just a little bit heavier than THC. It’s a little bit less volatile, so it condenses first. Then you have these really complicated, fancy bongs, right? They’ve got the cooling chamber, the ice stuff, you got the dry ice cubes in the air and the other condenser up here, wow! You’re probably getting hardly any CBD by the time it gets all the way up there, it’s mostly terpenes and a little THC. Or mostly THC depending on the strains.

You get very different effects based on your device. That is one thing we don’t know yet. A patient is best served by standardizing their own equipment, finding what works for them and using that. And that might be what’s cheapest.

Besides testing the product, what other services do you offer to collectives?

We offer a lot more than just numbers. We give each of the collectives we work with a presentation, to the staff members, if they’d like to see it, then we leave literature behind so that they have it. I give them a Power Point presentation to try to give them everything they need to be informed. So if you want to know what THC means, what CBD means, this is kind of compressed into that.

But going back again, asking questions, making sure it sticks, leaving things with them that they can refer to if they forgot and we always tell them our lines are open, our emails always open. If you have a question, if your patient has a question tell them to call us. We want to help everybody get the right info… we put as much as possible on the website.

So we’re trying to inform people, you know, my world is chemistry-I like the molecules. That’s where I live but understanding what’s there allows us to pick and understand what strain, what variety, how do we get here, how do we use it in different ways?

Bottom line…why did you start this business?

The ultimate goal of starting this instead of a collective was how do I help the most patients with my abilities, skill sets, and background. How do I help the most people? It’s all about helping the most patients, not anything other than that.

For more information on The Werc Shop and Dr. Jeff Raber go to

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Guest | Aug 10, 2011

my favorite dispensary uses the werc testing. this is a great service and should be offered at all dispensaries.

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gbennett1 | Jun 23, 2011

this is something i have seen at higher end collectives or dispensaries. the concept of doing this would create a customer basis that was happy because they know what and how much they r getting. its actually comforting knowing the quality of the medic

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chronic sufferer | Jun 10, 2011

I am so glad that people that the world see as intelligent individuals are standing on the side of medical marijuana. For so many years it was the pot head moron that symbolized what is a truly beneficial substance. Yeah to the Werc Shop for doing a lo

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Guest | May 26, 2011

our collective uses the wercshop exclusively. Most of our members are senior citizens and having uncontaminated meds available for them is one of our top priorities. In addition they extend very compassionate test pricing for us, with prompt results.

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SkillitHits247 | May 12, 2011

This was such a cool idea; science actually being put to good use... A dispensary told me about this process so I can submit my buds to them to have tested. It's cool to know that you can get a rating on the potency of each strain.

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cbluedeedoo | May 8, 2011

I am all for this idea. It will be really great to see the different properties of each strain. Growers, like all others, should have to submit their products for testing to ensure it's healthy and truth in packaging.

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gbennett1 | May 2, 2011

Not many dispensaries in range county use this service. at least from my experience i have not seen them. there r a couple in long beach that have these labels, herbal solutions..they r pricey though.

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sbsdewb | May 1, 2011

Yeah Chief as did I with this article. This is very informative and a good read. I have to agree they should expand to all dispensaries and I think this is a great thing and could help lots of people in need in the long run

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shadesguy | Apr 30, 2011

I certainly learned some new things with this article, I mean I always knew that the way you ingest the MMJ changes the numbers but I didn't know that even vaporizers can hold back some of the content too. I think that this should expand to reach all o

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Kushie Q | Apr 29, 2011

I am in total agreement on the lab testing, we as patients have to most of the time simply take the dispensary staff's word on what something is and how good the quality is. I will pay the price for what is the best but I want to know I have gotten the

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bayareabrendan | Apr 28, 2011

I think clubs that have there weed Lab tested are way better. For example, I went and got some Blue Dream from a club in San Jose that does have lab testing, the blue dream was amazing. When I went to another club in Oakland and got the same strain (bl

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krreese | Apr 28, 2011

This is a great innovation! I was discussing this very issue with friends the other day when they commented on the fact that some dispensary MMJ didn't seem up to par. Right now we can only go by sight, sense of smell or recommendations when choosing

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lindzzz | Apr 27, 2011

I think that he definitely accomplished his goal of helping people. We as patients deserve safe medicine and a lot of us don't know about the harm that molds can cause. If the medicine isn't top quality then people shouldn't be forced to pay top dolla

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