A new lab provides quality checks for medicinal cannabis.
When Jason Iannuccilli ’00 MD’05 RES’10 was in medical school, interventional radiology was practiced behind a mysterious door labeled “Special Procedures.” Now Brown offers an IR residency and fellowships, and tumor ablation, transarterial chemoembolization, and other minimally invasive procedures are far more accepted—and expected—treatment options for certain cancers.
“It’s amazing,” Iannuccilli, an assistant professor of diagnostic imaging, says. “You’re looking on a monitor, and you’re using imaging to see inside the human body, but at the end of this thing, there are no stitches. It’s just a Band-Aid over a skin incision.”
Now he’s on the cusp of another budding field. Again and again, patients would ask for his help navigating the fledgling medical marijuana market. At first he was skeptical. “After doing my own literature research, I’m a firm believer that there is definite therapeutic potential,” Iannuccilli says. “But we just don’t have enough information to guide patients on appropriate product selection and appropriate therapeutic dose. … It’s funny that we call this ‘medicinal’ when there’s nothing prescriptive or customized about the way that these medications are being used.”
Iannuccilli and a primary care physician, Jonathan Martin, MD, who’d had similar encounters with patients, set out to solve their shared problem. “We realized that at the heart of it all are the testing labs,” Iannuccilli says. Requirements vary by state, from the strict to the vague to none at all, and few licensed third-party labs anywhere specialize in cannabis. Inaccurate labels force patients to experiment, and take it on faith that the products aren’t contaminated.
“You put a lot of trust in the fact that what you’re taking is safe,” Iannuccilli says. The lack of assurance concerned the two doctors, so last year they launched PureVita Labs, in West Warwick, hiring microbiologists and analytical chemists and investing in the latest cannabis testing technology.
They attract clients on the premise that accurate labeling will build brand loyalty, something that will be even more valuable when Rhode Island legalizes recreational cannabis, which many observers believe will happen this year or next. The brands that thrive will be consistent and designed to treat specific symptoms, Iannuccilli says. “You can’t do that without a lab.”
While the scientists mostly run PureVita, Iannuccilli, who lives in his hometown of East Greenwich with his wife and three kids, continues to practice full time. Though he plans to take a larger role at the lab as it expands, his commitment to patients won’t change. “There’s a lot of science left to uncover,” he says. “If we can actually come up with a legitimate way to prescribe these products to help people, then we’ve got something big here.”