Michael Armstrong, a professor at the Goodman School of Business at Brock University, believes Canada’s packaging laws around cannabis will fuel the black market. He says the plain-label requirements will lead to consumers believing legal cannabis is a lower-quality product than black market cannabis and that they will keep making unlawful purchases. Source: The London Free-Press
An Arizona Court of Appeals ruled June 27 that the state’s medical marijuana law does not permit the use of cannabis extract products, such as oil cartridges, frustrating business owners and patients. Advocacy coalition Safer Arizona’s chairman, Dave Wisniewski, told Cannabis Business Times that the ruling is yet another setback the industry has to fight against. Source: Cannabis Business Times
Alberta is not going to allow garden centers to sell cannabis plants or seeds, instead opting for them to be sold in cannabis stores. Lisa Silva, marketing manager at Bluegrass Nursery in Calgary, Alberta, lamented the missed chance for nurseries to get involved in the industry. Source: CTV News
MedPharm Iowa owner Dr. Chris Nelson says Iowa’s medical cannabis program, which is set to launch Dec. 1, will not be ready to adequately serve the state. His comments come after the state announced it awarded only its second license to cultivate and process cannabidiol (CBD) to Cedar Rapids-based Iowa Relieve, LLC, on June 29. Source: KCRG-TV9
RD Industries/Rare Dankness founder Scott Reach looks back on the two years since the award-winning story on his company was published in Cannabis Business Times. He dishes on working with family, his company’s price-matching capabilities and its international partnerships with Maricann.
Brian MacIver: It’s been two years since you’ve been on the cover of the magazine. What has changed for you and your business?
Scott Reach: The brand is bigger, more diversified. We have established ourselves as one of the most recognized cannabis brands in the world. The facility is incredible, always evolving into a bigger, more advanced version than I started with.
We also are expanding into a few other markets with strategic partners on projects that allow us to expand market share and potentially franchise into the seed-to-sale model. In Canada, we are working on a verified genetics project with Maricann. In Switzerland, we are working alongside Maricann on a CBD/hemp project as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes.
I recently found an equal share partner for the Colorado grow and dispensary, which cleared me of the debt involved with the construction of the facility and left Rare Dankness, as a brand, untouched and in control and with ownership, so I’ve been sleeping better than I have in years.
MacIver: In the July/August 2016 issue, you said, “If you’re not on the technology side of cannabis, you’re just going to be on the farming side, and there’s not a lot of money on the farming side.” Do you still believe that today?
Reach: I most definitely still believe it. It’s been enjoyable watching all the technology retrofits happening within facilities in our own state. I’m called constantly by competitors for consulting needs on technology. Rare Dankness has been able to step into a fully mature market in Colorado where I was known for high-quality, large-scale production from my former days as a grower for local producers. We actually sculpted out a nice chunk of the market for ourselves while changing how the operators across the country build and run their facilities’ [automation and workflow].
MacIver: In 2016, you had built one of the most advanced cultivation facilities in the country. Knowing what you know today, what would you have done differently?
Reach: Hired more college graduates for all my management and department head positions. From my own personal experience, my college grads require the least amount of micromanaging or weekly training sessions. All those positions have a college graduate in place at this time.
As far as building design, we all have our 20/20 moments. There are at least two companies I wouldn’t have worked with because I knew they over-stated their abilities. A common flaw in our society is, “fake it till you make it,” instead of working hard, failing and learning to succeed.
MacIver: How have you handled the price pressures seen in the more mature markets (Oregon, Washington and Colorado)?
Reach: Honestly, our dispensary model is unique; we can price-match the current market price on our higher-quality products, simply thanks to a lack of overhead [that is often caused by being] overstaffed and having better workflow and processes. [There have been] a few moments when [my wife] and I have chosen to drop prices, [and] I’ve said, “You don’t have to go that low.” But then you look at production costs and overhead, and we are still profitable, so why not pass along the savings? I’m not planning on driving a Ferrari anytime soon; I like my truck.
MacIver: You work with your wife, Pamela, at Rare Dankness. What tips can you offer on working with family?
Reach: Don’t bring work home (well, as little as possible). When we are in Colorado at the facility she runs the day-to-day operations as CEO from our office space above our dispensary, I’m in the back helping my main facility lead with whatever day-to-day help we may need in the gardens. Pamela and I see each other on the drive into work and on the drive home, and at night. I rarely see her during the day unless she scrubs in and comes back into the garden.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length, style and clarity.
The cannabis concentrate industry has advanced at an accelerated rate for the past five years. In fact, more advances to specialized, large-scale equipment and the associated methodologies have occurred in the past five years than all previous years combined, thanks in large part to the influx of funding for research and development.
This unprecedented acceleration has produced a completely different focus on concentrate manufacturing. Like all other agricultural commodities, today’s focus has shifted from simple production to lowering cost of production without compromising quality—i.e., catering to customers’ desires for the best possible product at the most affordable price.
As of late, I’ve been seeing market movement toward wet-plant extraction. This method does not require trimming, drying or curing plant material, which saves money on trimming-labor costs and construction and maintenance of drying environments. And since the terpenes are not evaporated during drying, it yields a final product with the highest monoterpene content. Combine this methodology with large-scale extraction equipment and processes, and you can produce superior products for a superior price. That said, the resulting multitude of concentrate forms have specific and targeted uses, ranging from flavorless distillates for manufacturing edibles to full-flavor, high- cannabinoid content oil for vape cartridges, and everything in between.
The first installment of this extracts series sheds light on different extraction methods and their resulting extracts, and explores the cannabinoid and terpene profiles of each concentrate product and its intended end use.
Today, multiple large-scale extraction methods are available, and more are being developed to facilitate large-scale CBD extraction from hundreds of acres of hemp fields being cultivated in many U.S. states, Canada and Europe, among others. Medium-scale methodologies are being utilized to manufacture most connoisseur-quality and mass-produced consumables in various concentrated forms, but large-scale processing and manufacturing soon will match that quality.
Less than 10 years ago, cultivators had few extraction-equipment options, let alone large-scale extractors or super-refining equipment. Manufacturers were reluctant to sell equipment to or advise anyone in the cannabis industry during prohibition. Realistically, cultivators had five options:
- carbon dioxide, or CO2, extraction (done crudely);
- dry sieve;
- water extraction;
- basic Soxhlet extraction methods; or
- crude cold finger extraction methods.
Today, some of those methods have been scaled and perfected and can produce quality products, and many other equipment manufacturers have emerged. Competition between those manufacturers has accelerated development and innovation, resulting in more diverse apparatuses often borrowed from existing industries that have produced extracts and equipment for decades (e.g., U.S. Patent No. 4,276,315, filed in 1979 to patent a method of decaffeinating coffee). Other equipment manufacturers have expanded the capabilities of their larger equipment and focused on efficiency through automation.
Here is a breakdown of current methods employed and of extraction equipment in rapid development.
CO2 extraction has been employed for decades, yet CO2 cannabis extraction is relatively new because of prohibition. Therefore, as already mentioned, manufacturers have only recently started perfecting equipment and practices to produce high-quality extracts rather than crude extracts that were labor-intensive to super refine into sellable products. Still, CO2 extracts often require further refinement, depending on the end use or desired product purity and potency.
CO2 extraction requires that cannabis material be dry—and the dryer the better. Because of that, the majority of available monoterpenes (myrcene, alpha-Pinene, beta-Pinene, limonene, linalool, terpinolene, just to name a few) are evaporated during the drying process, resulting in a product with a much lower terpene content than the plant material from which it came. That’s not to say all terpenes are eliminated, but most of the terpenes responsible for the full expression of the plant are. This makes it a perfect concentrate for manufacturing edibles, especially those that don’t taste or smell like cannabis, which many consumers and patients prefer.
CO2 extraction is a great method of extracting cannabinoids that can then be super refined via winterization, filtration and distillation. Many extractors employ CO2 as a primary extraction method, then further refine the extract into desired compounds for a variety of uses and products, ranging from edibles to topicals and oil cartridges (often infused with either non-cannabis or cannabis-derived terpenes that are added to the extract). Yields depend on both the percentages of available cannabinoids/terpenes in the plant material being processed and the skill of the technician/operator.
Hydrocarbons, whether butane or propane (or others), have also been employed as a form of extraction in other industries for decades. However, utilizing hydrocarbons to extract cannabis at a large scale is, again, relatively new.
A decade ago, cannabis processors extracting with butane used cans of lighter fluid in a process termed “open blast,” and closed-loop extraction systems (which do not evaporate the solvent into the environment) were merely a dream. The unprecedented rise in demand for, and sales of, hydrocarbon extracts has dictated a rapid acceleration of development of available closed-loop extraction systems, which has massively improved safety and efficiency. Production costs are lower, thanks in part to new equipment that enables the butane or propane to be recycled instead of boiled off.
Hydrocarbon extraction can be performed using dry or wet plant material. (Wet material is used if processors want to focus on monoterpene preservation and extraction.) The process is rather basic: Super-refrigerated solvent is passed over plant material in a sealed vessel, stripping the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material and binding them to the solvent. The solvent is then removed from the cannabinoid/terpene-rich liquid and returned to the original containment vessel from which it came. (Each manufacturer and equipment manufacturer utilizes different temperatures depending on the desired reaction, be it refrigerated solvent, double-jacketed columns cooled with liquid nitrogen, or de-waxing columns and filters also cooled utilizing liquid nitrogen.)
The resulting concentrate is left behind in a collection vessel, while the concentrate can be further refined or made into many different forms of products, including:
- Oleoresin: a natural or artificial mixture of essential oils and a resin in the form of a semi-solid extract;
- Absolute oils: concentrated, highly aromatic oily mixtures extracted from plants, produced through solvent extraction;
- Concrete: in perfumery, a semi-solid, solvent-extracted mass made from fresh plant material.
These are proper terms for various extract forms, but as the cannabis-extraction industry progressed, it invented its own terminology to describe the varying final forms of its extracts. Most of these cannabis-specific terms are based on observations such as color composition, form or action. For example:
- Budder: As the name implies, this concentrate form is light in color and when heated, has a consistency similar to warm butter. It can be manufactured utilizing hydrocarbons, ethanol, alcohol and rosin as well as alternative methods. If made properly, it has a very high cannabinoid and terpene content.
- Shatter: Typically a solid/hard concentrate that can range in appearance from translucent to opaque, and from red to golden-amber. It is most commonly produced in a vacuum-drying oven after extraction. It is high in THC, but as with most harder-consistency extracts, it has a lower terpene content than budder or wax.
- Wax: This form has a warmed-wax consistency. Its color can range from off-white to golden-amber. Most often it is manufactured by agitating hydrocarbon extracts after extraction, but can be made by a multitude of extracts.
- HTFSE/HCFSE (high terpene full-spectrum extract/high cannabinoid full-spectrum extract): A hydrocarbon extract or alternative extract that has been extracted with a specific focus on a high percentage of available cannabinoids. The cannabinoids and terpenes separate naturally, allowing for custom blends.
Besides these forms, the industry has been further refining cannabinoids into their purest forms, from crystallized extracts of CBD to THCA, Delta 8, THCV, etc., at 90-percent purity and higher.
Other Extracted Products
While the aforementioned staple concentrate forms have been popularized over the past five years, other extraction methods have been around for hundreds—even thousands—of years.
For example, hand-rubbing, or dry-sieving, is a method that utilizes specific-sized screens to make hash. In this method, the cannabis is agitated over the screens, and the resin glands are separated by size.
Water-extracted hash is produced in similar fashion to the sieve method, except the cannabis is submerged in water and gravity allows the resin glands to sink and separate. Dry-sieve hash has a higher terpene content than water-extracted hash because a portion of water-soluble terpenes are lost in the water.
Rosin is a form of concentrate that is relatively new. Its manufacturing process involves the application of heat and pressure to dried cannabis buds. When pressed and heated, the available resins containing cannabinoids and terpenes are squished out and collected en masse.
Recently, liquid nitrogen (LN2) has been becoming a common initial form of extraction. In this method, wet or dried cannabis is submerged and agitated in large conical tanks. The resin glands are separated and collected in a manner similar to water-hash separation. This method yields a terpene-rich extract in a form that can be further processed into any other form (such as pressed hash, rosin, CO2 extracted for refinement, hydrocarbon extracted for refinement, or further refinement via distillation into an oil), depending on the desired final concentrate.
Ethanol alcohol extraction on a large scale is another industrial application that is just now becoming available to the cannabis industry. In this process, the cannabis is soaked and agitated while submerged in ethanol, and the alcohol absorbs the cannabinoids and terpenes (along with some undesirable compounds requiring further refinement to eliminate). The cannabinoid- and terpene-rich ethanol alcohol is winterized and filtered, then refined via rotary distillation or other form of distillation to remove the ethanol from the extract and recover it for re-use. After refinement, the resulting concentrate is an oil with high-THC content that ranges in color from clear to amber. This oil can then be utilized for a variety products and formulations similar to CO2 extract products.
Distillation (either thin film, wiped film or short path) is also a popular methodology that was scarce even five or so years ago. The process typically involves heating the concentrate to remove any non-cannabinoid impurity. Typically, it is utilized for super refinement of cannabinoids, whether THC or CBD. CBDA or THCA cannot be produced through distillation (unlike with hydrocarbon extraction) as the acid forms of those cannabinoids convert to their regular forms in the presence of high heat. For the most part, distillation is utilized to remove and recover alcohol from extracts and to target boiling points of specific cannabinoids. Distillates can be utilized to formulate or manufacture most any desired product or incorporated into vape cartridges.
All the above-mentioned products share one thing in common: Yields are typically dictated by the quality of the starting material, operator skill and whether the output goal is quantity or quality. Ultimately, the extraction method you choose should be based on your desired final concentrate form.
So which form should you be producing? Part II of this extracts series (which will be featured in the September issue of Cannabis Business Times) will help you understand the considerations that should go into making that decision. Stay tuned.
Kenneth Morrow is an author, consultant; owner of Trichome Technologies™. Facebook: TrichomeTechnologies Instagram: Trichome Technologies email@example.com
Everyone with serious cannabis industry experience has spoken with patients, friends and relatives about cannabis’s effectiveness as medicine. Patients tend to be the most familiar with its effectiveness in controlling disease symptoms, including pain, and in controlling various diseases themselves. We all find ourselves with a chance to educate when an outsider asks, “It’s not only for pain, but it actually treats the disease?”
Some of us may dive into technical details and explain that THC and CBD are partial agonists for the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 and CB2 receptors, among other things. We also may discuss cannabinoid-induced apoptosis (cellular suicide activated by the presence or removal of a stimulus) among malignant cells. In response, we often receive blank stares.
Obviously, it would be nice if patients had these conversations with doctors before turning to cannabis-industry members. Doctors’ ignorance of the endocannabinoid system and reticence to engage with our industry keeps them from jumping in. We’ve talked to a few, who fell into the following categories.
- Prehistoric medical training: Many medical school professors, and the doctors those professors trained, completed their respective educations before the early ’90s, prior to the discovery of the human endocannabinoid system. Those doctors typically do not know that the endocannabinoid system exists.
- Conventional medicine: Many doctors live quite well working within established medical practice care standards (defined treatment protocols for each disease state) and insurance-driven drug formularies (lists of drug products covered by each source of insurance). In addition, federal resistance in Congress, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has effectively prohibited the randomized, double-blind, placebo- controlled clinical research that has otherwise served the medical community reasonably well. Thus, many doctors find it unreasonable to risk their licenses to practice by involving themselves or their patients in unproven medicine.
For the doctors who fall into those buckets, medical marijuana is, at best, an unproven novelty. There are, however, three other groups to consider. Each of these three groups accepts the thought that marijuana may be extremely effective in treating various disease states:
- Yes, but not in my practice: This first group understands at least some of the science behind medical marijuana, but is not willing to accept any risk from cannabis involvement. This group refers its patients to doctors with recognized medical marijuana expertise.
- Cannabis mills: The next group of doctors receives payment for registering patients with their respective state regulators. Nothing more, nothing less. Some are principled, and some are not.
- The few good ones: Finally, there are a few doctors who are both knowledgeable and involved. Even when they start with little or no awareness of medical marijuana, given a patient with an unresolved need, these doctors follow their professional responsibilities wherever they may lead. Most professions have some great professionals; medicine is no different.
Can We Help the Situation?
Doctors have spent long hours and long years with biology and chemistry texts and in laboratories, all focused on human health. As a group, our focus is typically elsewhere. Some of the issues for these doctors might originate from how we present ourselves to them, like being heavily focused on the recreational market or on our businesses’ bottom lines.
If we wanted to make a serious attempt to engage doctors, how might we do this, and what might be in it for us?
The cannabis market can learn several lessons from the American consumer packaged goods industry, including:
Identification: We would need to accept some basic assumptions about products in the United States to understand how we might engage doctors with our industry. U.S. law requires that all producers identify their products to a level of detail that is unfamiliar to our industry. “Wild-caught” is different from “farmed;” “wild” is different from “organic,” which is different from “all-natural.” In the U.S., ingredient lists are simply givens on product packaging. We take for granted the testing and the labeling that comes with nutritional content. While all of this is not relevant to cannabis products, some of it may be. Although state labeling regulations that govern cannabis labels may be demanding, all other packaged goods producers in America face rather challenging labeling demands.
Safety: Americans do not expect contaminants of any kind in any of their products, and doctors expect recreational products (candy, baked goods and beer) to meet the same standards. Although the war on drugs left many of us disgusted with the government, the end of that war does not mean that cannabis products are exempt from meeting standards, or that we are immune from the product liability lawsuits for which our legal system is world-famous.
Would working with doctors mean full testing protocols for every batch, everywhere? Probably not. Chocolate bars, ice cream and beer are not tested for medical impact. Much of our product belongs to the same “recreational” classification. For this type of product, we should expect to be held accountable on matters such as identification, purity, safety and adult-oriented marketing and packaging.
Pharmaceutical effect: For products intended to address medical symptoms (including pain) or to treat medical diseases, we should expect more accountability. At least initially, doctors would look for third-party assurance as to the most medically significant components of our products. Based on the consistency of our results, over time, we might push to move that testing from independent labs into our operations.
Becoming engaged with the American medical establishment, particularly with doctors, will be complicated and expensive. It will devour time and money. Why might we consider moving in this direction?
The Great Prize
General access to the American market with legitimate recreational or medical products is a good enough answer for us. This American market, by all measures the largest in the world, with a single language, a single currency and—perhaps eventually—a single set of standards, presents to all of us the possibility to do well by doing good. The opportunities in our new industry are the world’s envy, and many international players are attempting to work their way in.
The least legitimate recreational and medical players will likely get knocked out. Some will not keep up with American consumer demands. Others, for better or for worse, will fall to lawsuits or regulatory enforcement. For those of us willing to deal with the market demands, including the needs of its doctors, the business opportunities will be meaningful.
Active ingredients: Single Molecules vs. Whole-Plant Compounds
Exploring and developing the concept of whole-plant extracts, as opposed to the FDA’s conventionally single-molecule approach, will require a lot of time and attention.
Historically, the FDA cleared out snake oil salesmen and other frauds from the American pharmaceutical market by demanding that formulators identify each pharmaceutical product’s active ingredient, which has typically been a single chemical compound. In what we can see as an inadvertent step in our direction, the FDA has recognized pharmaceutical biologics, but there is a great distance between a monoclonal antibody (a type of protein made in the laboratory that can bind to substances in the body, including cancer cells, according to Cancer.gov) and a cannabis medication with hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenoids and potentially other compounds that may be exerting a therapeutic entourage effect.
FDA regulations that govern the production and sale of nutritional supplements offer another potential, but rather imperfect path through the FDA gauntlet. Nevertheless, we will argue that 50 years of federal suppression of meaningful research on cannabinoids cannot be ignored. Until we have the time to explore the synergies of the multiple compounds within cannabis, we should not be prevented from considering the value of a whole-plant approach to medicine.
Working with doctors to treat symptoms and diseases will mean much more work. We will need to persuade many skeptical clinicians that prohibition was bad and led to avoidable suffering. We will also, in turn, accept the FDA’s successes, for example, in keeping the thalidomide disaster (thousands of European children born without limbs or with severe deformities) out of America. We will also work with fractions of cannabis that more closely approximate the FDA’s current concept of medicine, as isolating cannabinoids is already becoming a common practice in the industry. We will work with doctors to make up for time lost due to the war on drugs, with accelerated testing protocols yet to be negotiated.
The doctors willing to work with us are out there, as are the patients with needs that we can help address. We have good reason to take responsibility for communicating with more of them.
The authors do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for legal, accounting or tax advice. You should consult your own legal, accounting and tax advisors before acting on any related matters.
Thomas Schultz President, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions (CPS), CTPharma.com
Rino Ferrarese COO, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions
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