- Jonas Duclos has devoted the last two decades to cannabis products.
- With two business partners, he set up CBD420, a website that legally sells products containing THC and CBD — molecules found in cannabis.
- Testimonials from customers say his products have helped a range of conditions from epilepsy to Parkinson's, pain, and acne.
- But to really help people, Duclos says legislation and regulation of cannabis have a way to go.
- Many people use products from the black market, which aren't always safe.
- If the industry was regulated, everyone would have access to products that could be proven to help.
- But it's going to take a long time to get there.
When he was 15 years old, Jonas Duclos started to have some health issues. It took a while to work out what was wrong, but his doctors finally told him he was suffering from a rare genetic disease called PRP, which was attacking his skin and blood.
For the past 17 years, Duclos has been trying to manage the excruciating pain the condition brings.
"Suffering from constant pain... it is a real nightmare on a daily basis, and many people cannot understand that struggle because it's really hard to grasp how terrible it is," he told Business Insider.
As a teenager, he found the most effective painkiller available to him was cannabis — and he realised it was helping his pain more than all of the pills doctors were trying to give him.
"I've been able to help myself with cannabis, of course for many years illegally... My disease doesn't fit the sheet of the pharmaceutical industry — so I had to figure out how to treat myself on my own somehow."
He said this discovery led him to become curious about the "therapeutic or the helpful side of cannabis, not only the recreational."
The journey to CBD420
After dropping out of school due to his health, Duclous dedicated the next two decades of his life to the science and economics around cannabis.
Despite having no high school diploma or degree, he managed to impress Swiss investment bank UBS, who took him in for an apprenticeship in wealth management. He was there eight years before shifting his attention entirely to the cannabis industry.
He used his new financial education to look further into the legislation of cannabis, its issues, and the health benefits — always coming from a personal angle of trying to find new ways to help people through this misunderstood plant.
In 2016, Duclos met Bruno Studer and Kevin Goetelen, who shared his view of how much good the cannabis industry could do for people. In 2017, they started JKB Research together, which manufactures and sells CBD-based products under the brand name CBD420.
CBD is one of hundreds of compounds in the cannabis plant. At the International Cannabis Business Conference last April in Berlin, Duclos listened to presentations from medical professionals which essentially said we don't know anything about most of them.
"We know already there are more than 500 compounds in the plant of cannabis, and so far, we haven't identified half of those," he said. "So how can we pretend we know everything at this point? It's impossible."
The best way to introduce cannabis to skeptics
CBD doesn't make you high, and the only known side effect is that it can make you feel sleepy. As for the benefits, they appear to be endless.
"There's no scientific proof at this point," Duclos said. "It's only that there are some obvious observations we've been able to notice from many people doing tests on their own."
In testimonials from his customers, for example, Duclos has heard CBD can help with the spasms that come with epilepsy, the shaking associated with Parkinson's, and CBD balms can even help with skin problems. But without scientific data, these experiences are merely anecdotal.
"It's very important to explain to [customers] how we can't promise anything," he said.
But the research is building up. For example, an article published in the journal Oncogene this week found that CBD could boost pancreatic cancer treatments — although the tests were in human cells and in mice. CBD is also being used in a number of trials to try and treat psychosis.
Duclos has a passion for skateboarding — he founded and leads OG Skate, Switzerland's largest skateboarding association — so he also has a lot of contact with professional athletes who use CBD for their muscle problems.
"If they get hit, or if they twist an ankle, if their knee hurts, they've been giving us amazing feedback of how CBD seems to help them," he said.
"So far, no studies have been able to prove that CBD could be psychoactive or addictive.... So this molecule is a very interesting one to start introducing cannabis to people."
There are also compounds called terpenes, which can enhance or activate the potential of CBD, but according to Duclos, nobody knows how they work.
"The human body is actually full of what we call CB [cannabinoid] receptors," said Duclos. "Somehow there seems to be a matching molecule in this cannabis plant."
He said it's like there are puzzle pieces in the body, and the matching pieces are found in the cannabis plant, "but so far the picture on it is too blurry to see how they are really matched together."
THC is more risky
Another well-known compound in cannabis is THC, which is what makes you feel high. It is also associated with anxiety if the product is too potent, or is simply made with too many bad chemicals. Duclos said a lot of these problems come down to the fact cannabis is mostly bought and sold on the black market.
With the right regulations and education around it, cannabis could be safe for everyone, he said. He compared it to how people would make moonshine during prohibition in the US, and were dying from drinking a bad, unregulated product.
"I think it's pretty unfair to make [cannabis] evil at this point," he said. "We didn't make alcohol evil for that matter. We are in a period of marijuana prohibition. The product coming from the black market cannot be controlled and clean, and we cannot work with full transparency with a client in the black market."
For instance, some dealers lace their cannabis products with chemicals to boost the levels of THC. Unless you know the product really well, it's unlikely you'll be able to tell exactly what you're smoking or ingesting until you take it.
Not everyone who uses cannabis wants to get really high. As Duclos said, if you were making a fine wine, you wouldn't be marketing to the students who want to get drunk all the time. There are those who buy strong spirits for exactly that reason, but there are also people who want a more mellow effect.
"For the industry to be able to educate, we need to have a better understanding, and regulations that enable the industry to sell clean products with full transparency," Duclos said. "And it's just impossible today to do it perfectly, as we're evolving in those grey areas in all those different countries."
There are a lot of grey areas
In Switzerland, for instance, there was a slight change to the law in 2011 to increase the tolerance level of THC in products from 0.2% to 1%.
One of the main reasons for this adjustment was because hemp farmers, who make textiles from the fibre of the cannabis plant, would end up with products with a THC level naturally higher than 0.2%, so they would be breaking the law by selling rope, strong fabrics, and paper.
"Those very simple farmers would end up in an illegal situation because of a bad understanding of cannabis," said Duclos. "That's why the Swiss authorities increased the level — because that obviously wouldn't make sense."
So CBD420 products with a THC level of less than 1% can be sold in Switzerland, which is essentially a loophole. But all cannabis products are also listed as a tobacco substitute, so it's heavily taxed, and everything CBD420 sells has to have a "smoking kills" label.
"Which is a shame when you know how some of my clients are just old ladies making tea with it," said Duclos. "It seems to be, from their feedback, very helpful for their arthritis."
Other countries have their own regulations, which complicate things even further.
In June, Canada became the second country in the world, behind Uruguay, to legalise marijuana. In the US, it's a grey area, because laws differ from state to state. In nine states, including California, cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational use. In 31 states, it is legal for medicinal use only.
In the UK, Duclos said Brexit could bring about an interesting opportunity to start over with a blank sheet on cannabis regulation. And the country does appear to be opening its mind on the topic. In July, UK home secretary Sajid Javid said doctors should be allowed to prescribe cannabis-derived medicines.
In countries like France and Germany, there's confusion over whether authorities should rely on EU or local law. In France, for example, CBD420 products are totally legal under EU law, but they're illegal under French law.
"Right now, the governments, they're not educated well enough," Duclos said. "It's pretty obvious today that prohibition is a failure on every level: on the understanding of the products, the protection, the use, everything that's been done so far. We can tell criminalising people for using drugs is not a solution, that's pretty obvious."
Black market products vary in quality
If recreational cannabis use was decriminalised everywhere, Duclos argued patients like those who buy his products could be as healthy as possible. Having a good regulation for cannabis is the only way to ensure people get a clean product, he said, and we would actually be able to learn what the positive effects really are.
"A lot of people are using cannabis for medical purposes, but they're hiding," he said. "They're scared, because cannabis has a very bad image. There has a been an impressive brainwashing about the negatives of cannabis over the past 50 years, and of course it's very difficult to change people's mentalities at this point."
Paypal and Google, for instance, have made their problems with doing business with cannabis-related operations clear.
All the murky legislature, the bad public image, and the lack of data to support how CBD can be used means Duclos can never honestly recommend his products to the hundreds of people who come to him looking for solutions to their problems.
"As of today we don't have enough information to do that, when someone asks me: 'How much cannabis should I take?'" he said.
But he doesn't have a problem introducing people to CBD, "because no matter the situation, to my knowledge, the worst case scenario is that it makes them tired and it doesn't fix their problem. But it won't make anything worse."
Changing the public image of cannabis
It's going to take a long time, Duclos said, but he is clear CBD420 has always played by the rules. They do their books and accounting, pay their taxes, and work with the health authorities and customs. They use organic products such as beeswax, coconut butter, and herbs, and there's no dodgy chemicals to be wary of.
"That's pretty much our strategy today, to start by showcasing a good image of cannabis through a brand," he said.
But the problems don't start and stop with legislation. In Canada, for example, the authorities are going to have to start regulating an industry that comes from the black market.
"It's like parents and teenagers," Duclos said. "As of today, a lot of people have been using cannabis illegally for medical purposes, including edibles and concentrates, and they've been working with people from the black market, and doing an amazing job helping those patients. But now what is it going to be? Are they going to get a licence? They don't know."
The major problem, he said, is that governments are so far behind in innovation and research, they won't know the best people to work with. When there's a massive unregulated black market out there, it takes experience to know who's legitimate and who isn't.
Duclos said people in the industry do not want to see regulations that look like they're written for the pharmaceutical industry. From day one, he has wanted to research cannabis for how it can help people, both recreationally and medically.
The pharmaceutical industry will never care about their patients as much as CBD420, he said, because the companies work for shareholders. For Duclos, the journey has been personal right from the start. He's not just investing his career and livelihood into cannabis, but his health too — which he wouldn't be doing unless he truly believed in what it can do for people.
The future is bright
Every step of Duclos life — from his illness, to his banking career, to finding his personalised health plan — has led him to the cannabis industry, which he says is a "blessing."
"I feel like I've been really lucky to gather the knowledge and skills over the years," he said. "My life has been pointing in that direction, and it feels amazing and I'm looking forward to everything that happens next."
It's going to take decades to fully start to grasp how cannabis really works, and authorities will have to adapt along with the research. Duclos hopes things go the right way, rather than sending the trade underground all over again.
Either way, he said his business will always be legal, and if that means he has to give it up, so be it. But until then, he'll keep playing his part in spreading education about cannabis.
"Any farmer thinks they can be a cannabis grower, but it actually takes a lot of science, so you need to be better educated, and it takes time," he said. "It's going to be a long process... but if somehow we have a positive impact on it, I'll be the happiest person on earth."
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