What is it like inside the Santa Fe marijuana plantation where cannabis oil is manufactured

Since October 2021, the Industrial Pharmaceutical Laboratory of Santa Fe develops and supplies medical cannabis oil to patients diagnosed with refractory epilepsy that are within public health and in the Provincial Autarchic Institute of Obra Social (Iapos). Currently, it supplies more than 70 personasas reported by its director, Elida Formente, to TN. In addition, the LIF is preparing to process the fruits of the first harvest of the public plantation of the Center for Research and Development of Medicinal Cannabis, Aquaculture and Agroecology (CIDCaM).

For Formente it is important to be able to reach more and more patients. “Although the number of people accessing treatment is still not large, the growth in Santa Fe is remarkable,” she said. The director of the LIF maintained that it is necessary to expand the indications so that the possibilities of access are greater, but she clarified that this depends on a national standard.

Also read: Medical cannabis: ANMAT enabled the first industrial plant in the country

Regarding the distribution of the oil from the Laboratory, he clarified that they are gradually expanding the number of patients to whom they provide it, but “what also happens is that there are people who consume certain oils that give them results, so it is difficult to change to another type”. Along these lines, she stressed the importance of building trust in the product so that the patient can replace it.

Eliana Eberde, Santa Fe Undersecretary for Productive Innovation Projects, looks at a cannabis plant.  (Photo: Thamina Habichayn).

Eliana Eberde, Santa Fe Undersecretary for Productive Innovation Projects, looks at a cannabis plant. (Photo: Thamina Habichayn).

At this time, the provincial laboratory is working on the staff training and medical cannabis research and development. Occasionally, it conditions the pilot plant with supercritical fluid technology to obtain Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients in relevant environments and under “Good Manufacturing Practices” from standardized cultures. It does so through financing of $7,000,000. In addition, they continue to fine-tune the CIDCaM laboratory.

“We are training, researching and generating knowledge about the extraction methods within the parameters that are required for a product to be designated pharmaceutical,” Formente highlighted. As the Center’s laboratory is under construction, only progress was made at the site with the drying of the first harvest, which took place at the end of September, and its storage.

Seeds, cultivation and harvesting of medical cannabis

LIF works with two imported raw materials: bulk cannabis oil brought from California and synthetic oil from the Czech Republic. The latter is natural based, but crystallized. Both present the necessary quality for the development of medical cannabis oil within pharmaceutical parameters.

The first 200 planted specimens have already been harvested.  (Photo: Thamina Habichayn).

The first 200 planted specimens have already been harvested. (Photo: Thamina Habichayn).

Cultures are performed at the CIDCaM. The idea is that in the laboratory that is prepared there, the study of the components of the harvest and the extraction and purification of the resin are carried out. In March 2022, the first investment was made in the land located at kilometer 12.5 of Provincial Route No. 2 (Monte Vera) and the first harvest of the 200 specimens was carried out in September. Now they are working on the second, which is estimated to be ready in March.

For the first planting in the Center, a macro tunnel structure was built to protect the plants from winter conditions. Once the specimens were harvested, the summer external planting was carried out instead.

Formente stressed that now the LIF will work on the Center’s first harvest. “We have to carry out the scientific-technological linkage and the first steps of the industry,” he added. But at the same time they carry out other tasks such as the training of health workers and the formation of a regulatory commission to monitor the treatment of patients who already use the LIF oil. “We evaluated what effects the change in the use of the oil has or what relationship it adopts compared to the rest of the medications”he exemplified.

Large scale marijuana plantations

The Center for Research and Development of Medicinal Cannabis, Aquaculture and Agroecology of the province of Santa Fe was launched in March 2022 and the first 200 specimens of Sativa L were planted on July 12. The first harvest was carried out at the end of September and the spaces were released to start with the second crop in the province: summer. The flowers of the summer crops are expected to be obtained in March. Meanwhile, progress was made with the implementation of the greenhouse cultivation model and the industrial warehouse where the LIF will perform the extraction and purification of the resin.

The objective of the Center is to satisfy the demand for medicinal quality cannabis oil that the LIF has in the province of Santa Fe. Eliana Eberle, PhD in Biological Sciences and undersecretary of Productive Innovation Projects of Santa Fe, indicated that they are looking for supply, with a public production, the demand for a medicinal product made under the norms established by the Anmat (National Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology), that is, a production and a result of pharmaceutical quality. For this, personnel from the Ministry of Production, Science and Technology, the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (Inta) and the Conicet also work at the Center.

Also read: Self-cultivation of medical cannabis: the importance of state control after the endorsement of the Supreme Court

In addition to pharmaceutical quality production and output, the Center’s goal is to experiment, research, and train large-scale production. Added to this is agronomic development and advice to producers. The place remains open to the public every day with trained personnel who can provide guides and explanations to visitors.

Another purpose of the Center is show from the State the “know how”, that is, how different marijuana plantations can be carried out on a large scale. Although it also provides tools for small producers who have the authorizations of Reprocann.

The first experimental planting was done in a tunnel in winter.  (Photo: Thamina Habichayn).

The first experimental planting was done in a tunnel in winter. (Photo: Thamina Habichayn).

Once the Center is fully up and running, three types of cultivation will be carried out: outdoor, greenhouse and indoor. According to Eberle, The idea is that once all the facilities are finished, the Center will have the capacity to house some 3,000 plants.

In the Cidcam, mainly three forms of cultivation will be carried out. The simplest and the one with the least economic costs is outdoor cultivation in the field. The time to do it is summer.

To advance with winter cultivation, work was done on the construction of a macrotunnel, under which the first winter planting was carried out. This element protected the plants that were harvested from frost, wind, rain and the weather of the season.

Once completed, some 3,000 plants will be cultivated at the Santa Fe Province Medicinal Cannabis Research and Development Center (Photo: Thamina Habichayn).

Once completed, some 3,000 plants will be cultivated at the Santa Fe Province Medicinal Cannabis Research and Development Center (Photo: Thamina Habichayn).

The tunnel is approximately half a hectare in length and is removable. It was made specifically for winter planting and its protection. In addition, it has photoperiod lighting, not growth.

Resin extraction and indoor cultivation in the industrial warehouse

The purpose of the Center is to build a central hall where various tasks will be carried out, including indoor cultivation and the extraction and purification of the resin. At the moment there is no end date for the space.

The industrial warehouse will be divided into several rooms that will be used for different activities: indoor cultivation with growth lighting, areas for drying, extraction, manicuring, recovery, and resin production.

Now what remains is to complete the industrial warehouse where the extraction laboratory will be and buy the necessary equipment that must be imported. According to the director of the LIF, these elements are difficult to obtain, in addition to their high cost.

Under glass

Between the outdoor cultivation area (Santafesina Agroecological and Fisheries Demonstration Unit) and the industrial warehouse, a greenhouse will be built for cultivation with controlled sunlight, the third form of planting that will be carried out in the Center. It will be a rigid structure, similar to a thick plastic, that will be about 18 meters by 12.

Training for health personnel

After a survey of health workers to reveal the degree of knowledge of universal access to medical cannabis, they answered more than 500 people and more than 70% said they had ever been consulted for the use of medical cannabis. In addition, 95% stated that they were interested in receiving training on its use.

In this way, from March 15 to 31, training will be carried out for all health personnel in the province. It will be online, synchronously, although asynchronous course is also possible. The workload is 60 hours and certificates will be awarded to people who take all the classes. Registration opened on February 6 and closes on February 26.

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