Lift & Co. recently held their largest event to date with the 2018 Toronto Cannabis Expo at the Metro Convention Centre (MTCC).

With legalization on the horizon, this year’s expo marked Lift’s largest expansion yet, boasting over 200 exhibitors and speakers, a TVape lounge, career fair, and Green Relief’s own aquaponics display.

Whether you’re a medical patient, an aspiring recreational user, or a player in one of Canada’s fastest growing industries, the MTCC was undoubtedly the place to be throughout the last weekend of May. If you weren’t lucky enough to be in attendance, however, here are some of the highlights from the event.

Green Relief booth aquaponics display at Lift 2018

CBD and Stress

Ming Elise and Julie Hamer’s presentations were two leaves of the same plant. The yoga instructor and neuroscientist each spoke to the effects stress has on the body and how CBD can counteract them.

The pair agreed that it all starts at the nervous system.

“The autonomic nervous system is divided into two different branches,” Elise explained. “There’s the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.” The latter is nourishing and serves as the body’s method of down-regulation, while the former is up-regulating and triggered by stress.

“A lot of us get stuck in an up-regulated state,” she continued. “This means that we stay in that sympathetic reaction and we don’t get enough time in a parasympathetic nourishing state.”

But what exactly does that mean for our bodies? Hamer identified a few of the major effects.

“The hormone that’s most prominent in our stress response is cortisol, and this is a type of steroid hormone.” Hamer identified testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone as other hormones in that same family. “So, if I’m making a ton of cortisol, there’s not enough left of that precursor to make estrogen and testosterone to go regulate our reproductive organs.”

Needless to say, those shortages can have significant consequences on fertility and sexual dysfunction.

The human stress response also causes increased blood flow to the brain, leaving less for internal organs. Hamer elaborated on this point, stating “there’s a lot of correlation between our gut health and our brain health.” The scientist further cited depression, anxiety, and dementia as potential consequences of chronic stress.

Both women identified meditation as the age-old method of regulating stress and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.

What most yogis won’t tell you is that CBD and THC have similar effects, engaging the same receptors in our brain and mitigating the effects of chronic stress.

The Growing Market

Many Lift attendees were eager to get their foot in the industry door, and the expo had a few panels devoted to their unique interests. Allan Rewak hosted a panel filled with industry titans who shed some light on the qualifications you’ll need – and it all comes down to passion.

“The secret to success is hiring the people that are passionate,” said panelist, Vic Neufeld. “People who you have confidence and trust in, and that match your vision.” The panel emphasized culture as the primary contributor to success and a major factor in the hiring process.

“The only way you manage that scalability is living those core values throughout your organization and ensuring that everyone knows those values,” commented fellow cannabis entrepreneur, Matt Christopherson. “You hire according to those values.”

For those already in the industry, marketing specialist, Maxwell Duchaine, spoke about promoting cannabis. Within the discussion, he proposed a somewhat-unorthodox exemplar for cannabis marketers – Lululemon.

“It’s a weird corollary but they did to yoga what people are trying to do with cannabis,” he explained. “Yoga was also this niche activity done by a few people and it became this mainstream thing about health and wellness and not necessarily just about the activity itself. They did that through community, through building that conversation, through showcasing how it can be an overall lifestyle.”

A Little Science

Members of the cannabis community are well-acquainted with the terms indica and sativa when it comes to labeling strains. While these can be a useful shorthand, biologist Andrew Hand is looking to change how we categorize cannabis.

According to Hand, these age-old definitions are taking away from the big picture. “Everything is a hybrid,” Hand explained. “Everything has been bred together for so long, especially over the past hundred years in the elicit underground market. You’ve had breeders over hundreds of years interbreeding everything, so, again, you can have a tall, sativa-like-plant with an indica-like effect.”

If the old terms are no longer sufficient in defining cannabis, how can we categorize their effects? According to Hand and many others, the answer lies in terpenes: a class of chemicals responsible for the smells we associate with plants.

More importantly, terpenes have therapeutic properties that “modulate” the effects that CBD and THC have on our bodies.

While pine trees have pinene and citrus fruits have limonene, cannabis can have hundreds of possible terpenes. “That’s why cannabis can be such a catch-all medicine for many, many things,” Hand continued. “Because there are so many varieties out there with so many different kinds of terpenes and different ratios and they have different utilities.”

For those still skeptical, Hand provided some scientific evidence to support his thesis. Hand created a multi-pronged graph defined by strains’ effects on the body. By placing hundreds of strains on the graph, the biologist was able to demonstrate that indicas and sativas don’t always cluster together. And neither do identically-named strains across different producers – that’s right, multiple varieties of Pink Kush produced by different LPs were on opposing ends of the graph.

What did cluster together? You guessed it: terpenes.

Hand recognized that terpene research is still in its early stages, which meant the data wasn’t entirely conclusive but he was confident that the results would hold true in the future.

While we don’t have enough research to make an immediate shift toward terpene-based classification, the industry is getting there and Hand is looking forward to that future.

Cannabis Lifestyle

It’s no secret that wellness is at the heart of Green Relief’s identity and speakers at Lift understood that wellness isn’t just medicinal; it extends to our lifestyles and families.

Saturday’s presenters included Riad Byne and Dr. Sarah Silcox who hosted panels on how cannabis can be incorporated into sports and pets respectively.

Byne sat down with Canadian Olympic and national level athletes Ross Rabagliati, Devon Larratt, and Philippe Depault to discuss their routines and how cannabis can enhance athletic performance.

While the men use THC and CBD for recovery, they emphasized cannabis’ place in preparing for sport. Canadian cyclist, Depault, stated that competition comes with pains, anxiety, and stress – all of which can be reduced by using cannabis before an event.

More interestingly, however, all three athletes highlighted cannabis as a tool for concentration. “It will put you in a state of hyper-focus and awareness that is very hard to do,” said Larratt, two-time Canadian arm-wrestling champion.

Olympic gold-medalist, Rabagliati, capitalizes on that focus not just in competition, but also in alpine training. “It wasn’t until I started using cannabis that I really started fine-tuning the equipment I was on: turning my binding one degree here or there […] Those small nuances that you don’t really notice when you’re not using cannabis,” the snowboarder described. “When you’re using cannabis, you can feel your board, you can feel the snow, you can tell the temperature of the air is affecting the plastic of your boots.”

Since briefly losing gold to a drug test in which the athlete tested positively for THC, Rabagliati has been an advocate for medical cannabis as a performance-enhancing drug and has made a name for himself in the industry.

While the human cannabis market clearly has some ways to go, the animal market is over half a decade behind. Licenced veterinarian, Dr. Ian Sandler, explained that his peers still can’t prescribe or recommend cannabis-based products to pets.

In a market riddled with hurdles, he understands that may seem minor, but the panel made a compelling case for why breakthroughs in the veterinary market will be important.

“For us to have another tool in our tool chest that potentially can aid in these various therapeutic classes I think is massive,” Sandler said.

Silcox supported the claim with some statistics that hit a little closer to home: “the number one reason that animals are either euthanized or given up for adoption is that they have not, you know, fit into their pet parent’s lifestyle.”

She explained that medical and behavioral maintenance can be both time consuming and costly for pet owners, often resulting in separations. “The reality is that we can help these animals stay within homes.”

In the meantime, the duo implored pet owners to speak to their vets about using cannabis products, for both the wellness of the pet and to aid in alleviating the stigma.

Graphic Illustration for Lift & Co. Expo Toronto 2018

The Public Eye

Public perception is possibly the largest obstacle facing the cannabis industry. Coming out of a century of prohibition is bound to come with its fair share of naysayers, so the expo offered some education on how the cannabis community can win over the skeptics.

CBC’s Ira Basen started the conversation with a history lesson on Canada’s relationship with THC. 1922 marked the release of powerful feminist pioneer, Emily Murphy’s influential anti-drug book, The Black Candle.

“Her primary interest was keeping non-white immigration out of Canada,” Basen explained. “and she clearly didn’t know what she was talking about because she kind of confused cannabis with opium.”

That racism and misguided frustration are widely-believed to have instigated the criminalization of cannabis in Canada.

Nearly one hundred years later, Murphy’s cautionary messages still permeate Canadian culture, feeding the stigma surrounding cannabis. Irie Selkirk and Hillary Black led a discussion on the fears and misinformation surrounding the drug, starting with accepting cannabis as both medicinal and recreational.

“I had a conversation with my grandmother not that long ago,” Black recalled. “She uses a tincture in her tea and the conversation that we just had was that she was nervous about the fact that she was having fun with it and she was like ‘am I a medical patient or am I now a recreational cannabis consumer?’”

Black described that in the minds of most patients, enjoying medication is viewed as inappropriate.

And most medical professionals aren’t helping.

“There is a lot of misinformation in the medical community,” Black stated. “We have so much work to do still educating physicians.”

Black claims that physicians are either educated from the top-down or bottom-up: either they get information from credible sources or it’s the hearsay of patients.

Like Green Relief, Black believes that foremost in breaking that stigma will be social responsibility: “we should be doing more good than any other industry in the world.”