Despite medical cannabis being legal in the UK for over five years, it is no secret that at times the industry has struggled to meet the expectations of campaigners and advocates, clinicians, and most importantly, patients. Over the last few years, several issues and points of contention have emerged, from mouldy to irradiated cannabis, to raise concerns over the quality of products being prescribed in the UK. Given the high prices associated with legally prescribed medical cannabis products, it is understandable that patients want to be sure they are receiving the very best quality. But recent reports of seed-infested cannabis buds have left some patients certain this isn’t the case. More (or less) than what was bargained for In recent months, a growing number of patients appear to have been disappointed to discover an abundance of seeds in their prescribed medical cannabis products. This might not sound like a big deal – after all, cannabis is a plant and plants have seeds, right? Well, sure... but there is much more to this issue than one might think. Some may be (and have been) quick to quip that this is surely an added bonus: the affected patients should just “plant the seeds” and reap the rewards. Of course, aside from the fact that this would be illegal, such suggestions completely miss the point of the valid complaints. You see, while it is true that cannabis is a plant and, yes, plants produce seeds, they don’t actually need to. More than this, though: it is actually common practice to breed cannabis specifically to not produce seeds. Female cannabis plants can reproduce without pollen from male plants, and without the need to bear seeds themselves. This technique has been around for decades and has been adopted by most growers – both black market and licensed. So, how does it actually work? Sinsemilla aka Seedless cannabis Most plants have either male or female reproductive parts: pollen from males fertilises the flowers of females which then produce seeds. However, cannabis doesn’t require pollen from male plants to reproduce. Instead, the parent plant can be cloned, or cuttings can be taken to create a genetically identical copy of the original plant. This is called Asexual reproduction. In cannabis grow facilities, male plants are usually separated from the crop to prevent the fertilisation of the female plants, allowing them to grow without producing seeds. If you are familiar with cannabis consumption or even cultivation, you may have come across the term, “sinsemilla”. This Spanish word, which translates to “seedless” in English, is widely used to refer to unfertilised female cannabis plants. But what are the benefits of cultivating sinsemilla plants? A boost in cannabinoids Back in the 1970s, cultivators discovered that unfertilised female plants had much larger flowers and actually produced stronger effects compared to male plants and fertilised females. In fact, it is said that when sinsemilla became increasingly available, many consumers thought they were a completely new species of cannabis. These improved effects are due to a boost in cannabinoids that is facilitated by the lack of seeds. As the plant doesn’t need to use energy to produce seeds, these resources are instead directed to the cannabinoid-rich leaves and flowers of the plant. Understandably, the cultivation of sinsemilla plants caught on fast. But it isn’t just the increased psychoactive effects of sinsemilla that have helped to make this cultivation technique so popular. Increased cannabinoid content is also a good thing for medicinal consumers who may benefit from the properties of CBD, THC, and many other compounds found in the cannabis plant. Issues associated with seeds in medical cannabis Today, the absence of seeds in a cannabis yield is largely seen as a sign of quality. Despite being considered a superfood – thanks to their high nutritional value – they contain little to no cannabinoids. Furthermore, the presence of seeds may indicate lower levels of CBD and THC throughout the plant. When it comes to the medicinal use of cannabis, the careful monitoring of these cannabinoids can be extremely important. However the presence of seeds in cannabis products is about more than just the cannabinoid content; when consumed by smoking or vaping with a dry herb vaporiser (as many medicinal consumers favour), cannabis seeds can pose a more serious problem. Generally, seeds (when they are present) and stems of the cannabis plant will be separated from the cannabinoid-rich buds before being consumed. Aside from offering no medicinal value, smoke and vapour from these parts of the plant tend to be harsher. This could lead to further issues such as irritation in the throat and lungs when consuming medical cannabis-containing seeds. The seed problem in UK medical cannabis Patients in the UK are routinely told that medical cannabis from licensed sources is of much higher quality than that found on the street. After all, medical products must go through various quality checks and be compliant with tight regulations. And yet, we are seeing a growing number of patients who are dissatisfied with the products they are receiving from licensed distributors. “We should get better at this price (at any price - it’s a medical product)” A brief search through Reddit will turn up hundreds of comments from patients who have discovered seeds or “micro-seeds” in their prescribed medical cannabis products. While some describe positive responses from their prescribing clinics, such as replacement medication and refunds, others have been underwhelmed by the action taken. As one poster states: “We should get better at this price (at any price - it’s a medical product)”. This begs the question: Why is it taking so long for the UK medical cannabis industry to catch up with those of other countries? Not only do many patients face significant hurdles to access medical cannabis in the UK, but it seems that even when they do get past all the red tape and finally receive a prescription, patients are not guaranteed the same quality assurance they might get with other medications. Still, it seems that many patients are willing to put up with the odd batch of bad cannabis in order to receive their medicine from legal channels. The question is: Should they have to?