The Higher Learning LV Interview: Dr. John MacKay

Updated: Oct 27

Dr. John MacKay was the guest for the Cannabis Commerce + Chemistry Podcast No. 5. Listen now.


In June 2022, Higher Learning LV interviewed Dr. John MacKay, a leading expert in the science of cannabis extraction and separation chemistry. His expertise extends to laboratory instrumentation and the current market for cannabis and hemp extractions, both wholesale and retail, in North America.


Other popular articles in the Higher Learning LV Interview series include:

Dr. John MacKay


The Interview


Higher Learning LV: "Thank you for taking the time to share your industry experience with our readers, Dr. MacKay. Your expertise lies in chemistry and marketing, focusing on extraction technology and anti-cancer compounds. What originally attracted you to the cannabis industry?"


John MacKay, Ph.D.: "I was not attracted to the cannabis industry at all in the beginning. I sort of backed into the industry. I believe it's essential to bring peer-reviewed science to this industry.


"I initially believed that people looking for a medical marijuana card were only looking for an excuse to semi-legally obtain marijuana. But as I looked into the market, I could see that there was some science already involved, as early as the early 1940s."

"I initially believed that people seeking a medical marijuana card were only looking for an excuse to semi-legally obtain marijuana. But as I investigated the market, I could see that there was some science already involved as early as the 1940s.


"I was especially interested in epilepsy. I studied it in more detail and made some excellent contacts. Doctor Ethan Russo was one of them. From those contacts, I became more interested in cannabis and the possible connections with other diseases.


"At a conference in Seattle in 2013, I first became interested and understood more. I was very fortunate in those early days to meet some of the best scientists in the market and to have them as friends today."

HLLV: "Tell our readers about Synergistic Technologies Associates."


JM: "I started Synergistic Technology Associates after retiring from Waters Corporation. My idea was to help people struggling with extraction that I'd met while I was at Waters.


"It also allowed me to expand beyond carbon dioxide [CO2] into other extraction modes and to do more analytical testing. I developed many articles and then expanded into education, including presentations at conferences."


HLLV: "In early 2021, in the middle of a global pandemic, you launched the Institute of Extraction Technology, with a focus on training and certification for extraction professionals. Tell us more about this project."


"The Doctor John MacKay Institute of Extraction Technology did come about in the middle of COVID. It would seem like an odd idea to do a live class in the middle of a time when people were doing a lot more distancing from each other and could not travel great distances."

JM: "The Doctor John MacKay Institute of Extraction Technology did come about in the middle of COVID. It would seem like an odd idea to offer live classes in the middle of a time when people were distancing from each other and could not travel.


"What was missing in my video series was the contact with customers that always needed immediate answers. So I took my one-day pass and connected with CbD Expo, which included it in their price. I then began offering multi-day workshop-style classes that give more people more [hands-on] time with actual extraction instruments."


HLLV: "There is a variety of extraction technologies and methodologies available to cannabis businesses today. What are some of the pros and cons of the most popular approaches to the creation of cannabis and hemp extracts and concentrates?"

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JM: "The first thing that I help people with is extraction. It's something we do every single day. Coffee and tea are extractions.


"Formulation-centric processing is essential for a successful extraction facility. These formulations allow companies to choose a process that will concentrate the particular ingredients needed for that specific formulation. I talk much about the three S: Speed, selectivity, and skill.


"Companies can have only two of these three elements. Those trying to determine where they fit on a curve of these elements can place them in a triangle and decide the exact compromises they're willing to make to get the two of their choice.


"The fourth act is financial. How much is a company going to invest in a technology that provides the ingredients they need for formulations?"


"Standard operating procedures allow companies to know what they have in their mixtures, from the time the plant comes in the door until it becomes a product in a customer's shop."

HLLV: "The recent vape cart crisis, where some consumers obtained tainted cannabis concentrates (mostly in the form of 510 standard cartridges), shocked the industry and did nothing to promote the cause of adult-use cannabis legalization in the United States. How can the nascent industry prevent such health and PR crises in the future?"


JM: "The popularity of vape cartridges was based on people purchasing products outside of the regulated market. But even within the regulated market, it's all about testing and constantly looking at how and why other components and compounds can get into a mixture without our knowledge.


"Standard operating procedures allow companies to know what they have in their mixtures, from the time the plant comes in the door until it becomes a product in a customer's shop."


HLLV: "You're an expert in laboratory testing standards and the state of certified testing in legal markets in the Americas. How is this critical segment of the legal market evolving? What are the major challenges facing this market segment over the next few years?"


JM: "The major challenge in the market segment for certified testing of products is to simply understand that it must be done. It is essential for the success of any cannabis company. It has been said that you cannot manage which you cannot or will not measure.


"The current delta-8 THC controversy is an excellent example of this because the testing can be done by other means now, outside of traditional liquid or gas chromatography.

"It's not that delta-8 is terrible. However, the other compounds and ingredients left behind from their chemical reactions cause concern. Delta-8 is not really a product. Rather, it's an ingredient in a product."


HLLV: "What is your opinion of nanoemulsion technology, specifically in terms of onset period and—as revealed by multiple peer-reviewed research studies—sometimes significantly increased bioavailability and bioactivity?"


JM: "Nanotechnology in nanoemulsion has been in the marketplace for a long time. In the food industry and the medical industry is where nanoemulsion needs to be understood better by the people trying to implement it into the cannabis market.


"Nanotechnology in nanoemulsion has been in the marketplace for a long time. In the food industry and the medical industry is where nanoemulsion needs to be understood better by the people trying to implement it into the cannabis market."

"You need a unique size distribution of the nano-sized droplets and a way of testing to ensure that you are making the same product each time. If the nano particles are too big, they will not get into and have true bioavailability in the human body. If the particles are too small, they will just pass through and, again, deliver no true benefit. To work with reproducible results, a company needs reproducible manufacturing."


HLLV: "What is the future direction of extraction tech and the overall concentrate segment within the cannabis industry?"

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JM: "The future direction for extraction and this segment of the market will evolve as people better understand the technology. Extraction tech did not come about because of cannabis!


"Also, there's not just one way to extract. Understanding the principles and practices of extraction will lead to understanding where technology can provide an answer to continual regulatory compliance.


"There's not just one way to extract. Understanding the principles and practices of extraction will lead to understanding where technology can provide an answer to continual regulatory compliance."

"I think we're going to see in-line artificial intelligence in processing. This will allow a company to choose the parameters needed to make the ingredients correctly for a particular formulation.


"I can go to the largest big box store and do the same thing when looking for coffee makers. Some models make coffee very quickly, but allow few parameters [to be adjusted]. Other models provide grind size [adjustment] and users to determine the amount of material in their coffee, whether it is cold brew or hot or espresso.


"And yet, we do not have this simple consistency for cannabis-derived products! However, it is obtainable. In the end, having more in-line processes means gaining more control over the process and the improving the accuracy, consistency, and quality of the final products."


Like what you just read? Check out our new Cannabis for Cancer Hub that features links to all of our articles about marijuana for cancer.

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