Inside the Italian Army’s Cannabis Grow Site

Photo by Nico Escondido

It’s a strange concept but, hey, someone’s got to grow the medical marijuana.

Italy’s English language newspaper, the Local published an account of the Italian military’s cannabis grow site in Florence.

Maureen Meehan brings us the abridged version of the article written by AFP’s Angus MacKinnon, who was lucky enough to visit the site and watch as an Italian Army colonel inspect “pristine plant buds destined to be cut and dried” for medical marijuana use.

“No, I have never tried it, and I don’t have any intention of trying it either,” said Col. Antonio Medica, who nevertheless is quite confident he is producing some really good stuff.

In one of the grow rooms, described as a cross between a science lab and a steamy greenhouse, Medica explained how he ended up producing top-grade weed for Italy’s health service.

“One of my colleagues was joking with me the other day: ‘We spent 40 years trying to stop the troops smoking it in the barracks and now we are producing it ourselves.'”

As we know, producing medical marijuana is a serious business, and the quality has to be reliable. The output from the military’s Cannabis Project Team is destined for patients, not potheads.

“Producing in this sterile, sealed environment is very important,” Medica explained. “That is the only way you can ensure a consistent product and one free from the toxic materials, particularly heavy metals like mercury, that the plants can easily absorb when grown in fields.”

The first batches of made-in-Italy pot have recently arrived in Italian pharmacies. Its production is just one of the activities of the military’s 164-year-old Chemical and Pharmaceutical Institute. The body prides itself on the fact that its cannabis was registered as a pharmaceutical product by Italy’s medicines agency in September 2015.

Naturally, it is high CBD and low in THC for Italy’s estimated 2,000-3,000 MMJ  patients who use it for relief from multiple sclerosis pain, combatting nausea after chemotherapy, glaucoma and for helping to restore the appetite of anorexia and HIV patients, among other illnesses.

Italy legalized medical cannabis in 2007 but was slow to roll it out because, like so many places, doctors were reluctant to consider it an option citing uncertainty over dosage, how to administer it and what illnesses it benefitted.

“They were afraid of side effects, afraid to take the responsibility, afraid about everything,” said Pierluigi Davolio, a Florence pharmacist.

Davolio estimates that he is now dispensing around 300 cannabis preparations per year as awareness and confidence grows among doctors and patients.

He has no doubt that cannabis has its place on his shelves.

“One thing it works well for is fibromyalgia, a condition for which there is no really effective medicine,” he told the Local.

The Grow Site

With 100 plants yielding 18 pounds of final product, they plan to have four grow chambers soon and to produce around 220 pounds this year.

Medica anticipates expanding output to produce different types of medical weed as demand grows and feedback identifies which strains work best for specific conditions.

Smoking Discouraged

At the moment, MMJ patients are advised to make a cannabis tea or to vape their meds, to be sure they are ingesting the required dose.

Although health workers recognize that many will bake it in cookies or smoke the weed, Medica says they shouldn’t.

“Studies have shown that burning degrades the active ingredients and increases the risk of side effects, so that is strongly discouraged,” he said.

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