Aqualitas is an innovative, women-led Canadian licensed producer that places helping patients at the centre of everything they do. According to Aqualitas’ Medical Program coordinator, “Aqualitas has sought advice and feedback from medical patients and healthcare practitioners since its inception. This commitment to really listening to the needs of these groups, combined with our commitment to quality and research, provides the medical consumer a high level of confidence in the company.”
Aqualitas is the first Canadian LP to be Clean Green Certified. The company’s unique cultivation practices — aquaponic and soil-based — received this certification in recognition of their commitment to organic management practices, compliance, quality and sustainability.
Aquaponics combines horticulture (farming) and aquaculture (raising fish). Koi fish and plants are grown together in an integrated system where outputs from live fish are broken down into nutrients which are easily absorbed by plants. This means very healthy plants that are able to naturally express themselves with no synthetic fertilizers added to the system.
Combining thoughtful genetics, consistent environmental controls, and small batch production, together with aquaponics has resulted in a consistency batch after batch which is of critical importance.
For patients, the method results in organically grown and processed products, completely free of synthetic fertilizers that could leave a residue or affect the taste of cannabis. Aqualitas suggests their product may be of interest to patients with chemical sensitivity, compromised immune systems or other health issues. Patients can choose from a variety of organically grown dried flower, oils and premium concentrated distillates, with edible and topical products coming soon.
For the environment, the Aqualitas system requires up to 90% less water than traditional indoor methods, while their use of LED lighting and other efficiency design results in a 50% reduction in energy use.
Aqualitas is committed to advancing cannabis science and consumer product development. They have developed an organization called Sindica – Global Institute for Cannabis Research and Innovation to act as an incubator for collaborative research and product development. Aqualitas has provided its cannabis flower, oils and concentrates to medical researchers in Canada, the US, the EU and Israel. The company also has a research license which includes human clinical sensory assessment of products, and a second site university lab. The company manages ongoing research projects around cultivation practices, nutrient development, and the development of beverages and edibles and is pursuing several domestic and international human clinical trials. Aqualitas also has partnerships with Atlantic Canadian universities and colleges, and has received more than 14 federal and provincial research grants and awards.
Medical Cannabis by Pharmaprix is proud to carry the following Aqualitas products:
Q & A with Medical Cannabis by Shoppers
1. Where are you located? Why do you work in this community?
Aqualitas is located in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia at the former Bowater Mersey paper plant and our Head Office is in Bedford, Nova Scotia. We chose to open our plant in this community because of its highly skilled workforce, its existing infrastructure, and picturesque location on the Atlantic Ocean. Rural economic development is important to us - and this community, devastated by a downturn in forestry, welcomed us with open arms and has supported our success since our inception. Our brand names, Reef and Aqualitas, both pay homage to the tranquility and power of water and the coastal community we work in.
2. Why is medical cannabis important to your organization?
All of the individuals who were part of founding the company back in 2014 were motivated to do so because of personal connections to medical cannabis, wellness, social justice, and a true desire to improve access to medical cannabis. We also wanted to be part of advancing research, development and advocacy in this area.
3. Are there any specific stories you can share about what inspired founders or leaders in your company to provide medical cannabis?
Our CEO Myrna Gillis worked as an advocate for persons with disabilities for the majority of her career and was inspired by seeing how medical cannabis improves the lives of her clients with disabilities. Other members of the LP previously worked in different capacities within social justice, environmental sustainability, and healthcare professions.
4. Which awards, certifications, recognitions has your company/brand/individuals in your organization received?
Aqualitas won the CleanTech Energy Award, a Spark Innovation Award and the 2019 Lunenburg Queens Business Excellence Awards Export Achievement Award. We were also Grow Up Environmental Impact Finalist and an Arcview Pitch Finalist. Aqualitas has Clean Green Certification as an organic cultivator and processor. Our unique aquaponic platform is sustainable and was recognized by the Washington Environmental Law Institute for ecological design and environmental sustainability.
5. Are there innovations your company/brand is proud of?
We were the first Clean Green Certified producer in Canada. We were the first Canadian LP to export to Israel and believe we were the first LP to export to Poland. We’re proud of our partnerships in research with companies in Israel, Canada, the US and the UK, advancing clinical trials and research in chronic pain, restless leg syndrome, MS spasticity, chemo induced nausea and vomiting and PTSD. We were the first LP in Nova Scotia and one of the few LPs in Canada to receive over 14 federal and provincial research grants for cannabis product development and cannabis cultivation. We are also proud to be one of less than 10 license holders to have certification for organic cultivation, and less than 5 license holders with certification for processing using organic flower and organic ingredients.
6. How does your organization show leadership in support for fairness and equality?
We are a women-led company. The majority of our directors are women; half of our workforce is made up of women, and many of those women are in senior/leadership roles. We’re mindful of equity in our employment practices relating to full diversity in our workforce and we actively work with diverse community groups to promote inclusive recruitment. We also strive for fair trade in our supply chain practices, and in relation to paying a living wage relative to our community. We have sponsored newcomers to Canada, and promote pride and cultural diversity work events and training. We also have 40% a large component of our workforce that self-identifies as persons with disabilities. During the public health crisis (COVID-19) of 2020, we supported our staff at work and at home with daily communications, providing a runner for those people who were self-isolating, as well as providing sanitation and PPE packages for use in the community.
7. How does your organization show leadership in sustainable environmental practices?
Corporate social responsibility is important to us, and part of that commitment relates to the environment. We received the largest efficiency rebate ever awarded by third part auditor Efficiency Nova Scotia in recognition of our facility design, which includes the use of LED lights, gravity irrigation, energy efficient equipment, water recirculation, and access to steam. Our aquaponic design and lighting use up to 50% less energy and up to 90% less water than conventional indoor grows. We also use organic inputs that do not discharge effluent or run off.
We have a commitment to environmental practices in our packaging – omnidegradable and recyclable containers, and we’ll soon be using ocean-sourced plastic, which as a producer in an ocean community is very important to us. We continue to seek out ways to improve in relation to our recycling and waste diversion efforts, contribution to community projects (like beach clean-ups) and innovate in sustainable packaging practices.
8. What initiatives are you implementing (or have implemented) to ensure diversity in leadership roles?
We strive to create an inclusive environment, and one that accommodates the needs of individuals. Our team reflects equal representation by gender, approximately 40% of our staff self-identify as having a disability, and we have diversity in all elements of our company at all levels. Members of our team also have mandatory respectful workplace training and supporting policies are in place. Our HR Manager is affiliated with many local boards and associations that promote diversity, both in the community and in the workplace, including participation in the South Shore Multicultural Association, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Works, and the Nova Scotia Career Development Association. Aqualitas is also registered with the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program – we have submitted and they are reviewing our application – if approved, we will be able to hire foreign skilled workers who want to immigrate to Nova Scotia.
9. How do you ensure that your products are safe and high quality for patients?
We use Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), but are additionally seeking GMP certification that is internationally recognized, to ensure all of our products are manufactured under validated and repeatable processes that ensure product safety and consistency. As an indoor operator, we are able to reproduce the environmental conditions that our organic products are grown under, and have access to a consistent supply of nutrient-rich water from our aquaponic system. We have a research licence which allows us to do human sensory trials to ensure products meet objective and subjective quality measures prior to being released to consumers. Our products have been sourced for medical trials and have been shipped to the EU without irradiation. Our low microbial counts reflect the stringent sanitary conditions in our production facility. We have strong indoor environmental controls that allow for much tighter growing parameters. In medical trials, we ensure consistency of product--batch after batch--for terpenes and potency within the 10% required range for our research partners. We have a large quality control team and staff receive GMP training to ensure compliance with good record keeping, sanitation and controls in manufacturing.
10. What sets your products apart from competitive products and why should this matter to patients and consumers?
One of the things that sets our products apart is the fact that they are organic. We’ve identified that 60% of medical patients would prefer organic products and have ensured that all of our products - including Cannabis 2.0 products - use organic inputs. We have a proven commitment to research and innovation. We’ve tried to identify genetics and product offerings that are unique, premium and carefully crafted in small batches to ensure freshness and consistency.
11. Which of your products have had the most interest from patients and healthcare providers and why?
Our high THC flower and vape product has received very positive feedback from physicians and patients for managing chronic and neuropathic pain. It is our most popular product for veterans managing PTSD. Our even-blend flower, oils and vapes are also extremely well-received by medical patients who have identified their use for anxiety, pain and insomnia.
12. What are the growing practices for your flower, and what kind of extraction methods do you use for your formulations?
Our growing practices include aquaponic farming; we use organic inputs in our water from fish, as well as living soil with 16 amendments in it. Our research shows that the combination of the two produces healthier plants with increased yields, higher cannabinoid presentations, higher potency and bolder terpenes. Our oil and vapes use super critical CO2 extraction, which then pass through a glass distillation unit for purification. Our terpenes are removed in a solventless cold trap process, then reintroduced to approximate true-to-flower expression.
13. How do you source your ingredients?
Most of our medical genetics were sourced from Europe and Canada. All our biomass is grown in our facility in Brooklyn, with the exception of some hemp. Our inputs are all organic – both the water from the fish and our living soil. We use no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides in our production. We have no cutting agents or added flavours in our vapes, only terpenes and cannabis concentrates. Our oil carrier is organic sunflower oil. We have a commitment to try to source our ingredients locally to reduce our carbon footprint in transportation.
14. Which specific products or processes are your most innovative or unique and why?
Our aquaponic cultivation system is our most unique innovation to date. The organic production method allows our carefully selected genetics to best express themselves as flower and in value-added products. We have developed powder and emulsifications, which can be used in edible 2.0 products, which are of interest to the consumer. We also have topicals and edible products in development. We don’t innovate alone – Aqualitas is proud to be working with other companies and researchers around the world to advance health and wellness products.
15. Tell us about any collaborations you have been (or currently are part of) with researchers, clinicians, scientists to help advance cannabis medical research.
The Ethicann project involves researchers in Canada, the US and the UK. Those projects relate to PTSD, chemo-induced nausea, MS spasticity and chronic pain. We were invited by a research sponsor to open a master drug file for our flower for a large PTSD study in the US. We were asked to supply oils to researchers working with Atlantic Canadian veterans who suffer from PTSD. We are pursuing a collaboration with our oils in relation to a restless leg syndrome (RLS) dose-finding and subsequent clinical trial. We have also exported product to Israel to a medical device maker for research.
16. What are future products are you working on?
We are currently developing a soft chew, a topical and potentially a suppository, solventless concentrates and hash.
17. Tell us about any work you have done in the past (or are currently involved in) working directly with patients and patient or ailment-related communities
Members of our team are active in volunteering or financially supporting organizations that support persons with disabilities including the MS Society, Caregivers Association of Nova Scotia, Cancer Society, Arthritis Society of Nova Scotia, Crohns and Colitis Society, as well as the Alzheimer Society. Our Medical and Patient Advisory Board includes representation from medical patients including veteran representation.
18. Tell us about any work you have done to help patients on the advocacy front.
Aqualitas is one of the few licensed producers to have a Medical & Patient Advisory Board. Our Board includes family and specialized medical professionals, research scientists, a dietitian, a nurse, a pharmacist, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and patients who have found relief using medical cannabis. The Board members are familiar with the use of cannabis to assist people in palliative care, with AIDS, Crohn’s, MS, cancer, arthritis, and PTSD. We have been active in lobbying both federal and provincial levels of government on the Don’t Tax Medicine Campaign, and solicited support for this campaign from other producers in Atlantic Canada. We also participate in industry groups such as C3 to advocate for patients. We directly implement programs such as compassionate pricing and veterans’ pricing to funding limits and absorb the excise tax on products sold on our medical platforms. During the pandemic, we also offered discount pricing for those impacted financially by COVID-19.
19. Are there any specific stories you can share (no names needed) about patients your organization has made a difference to?
An Aqualitas medical client living with MS reported: “Truly the best experience of my life … I have tried many, many strains to try and help with my pain management with my MS. So far, your product was the only thing I’ve come across that helped me walk without tears in a very long time. I felt alive and happy and just normal for once. This was the cleanest medicine my lungs have ever inhaled, bravo to you all for this incredible life changing …”
20. How do you support (or plan on supporting) issues of affordability, and access within your own business practices?
Aqualitas pays the excise tax for medical clients, offers compassionate pricing, supports veterans by assisting with the Blue Cross application process, and covers medical cannabis costs during the waiting period. We also provide a 10% discount to seniors.
21. What else would you like to share with the Shoppers community?
We firmly believe in the Shoppers platform. It’s important for patients to have an abundance of choice and to have the best possible advice about the interactions of their cannabis medicine with other prescriptions they may be taking, in a confidential and professional environment. We’re excited to be part of Shoppers’ product offerings and to continue bringing new products to patients for their consideration. We’d like to invite you to watch our company video here.
22. What would you like Canadians to know about Canada’s leadership in medical cannabis?
Canada is among the world’s leaders when it comes to research and innovation. In Atlantic Canada, we have 19 of 96 Canadian universities. A very collaborative research community exists here. We are incredibly fortunate to have access to university and medical researchers to fast track projects and be leaders in cannabis research. Resources available to us in medical cannabis propel us forward in the sector. Our research lab is located at Acadia University. We know there are many companies, researchers, patient advocates and patients in Canada who are dedicated to and passionate about advancing cannabis research, developing new products, and sharing our unique know-how and products with the world.