Hemp Extraction Techniques
(not all inclusive)
The most popular process to date in the THC/marijuana extraction process is called critical CO2 and frequently termed as a solvent free process, which is not exactly correct as this is a ‘phase’ extraction process where CO2 is moved from liquid to gas and in the transition passed through the plant to ‘extract’ certain cannabinoids. In the marijuana industry, the extraction process is aimed at getting as much THC as possible out of the plant as THC is what gets one ‘high’ as opposed to the Hemp industry which is trying to extract a ‘full spectrum’ of cannabinoids that have therapeutic value and are NOT INTOXICATING! The critical CO2 process does NOT extract most of the other elements native to the plant. If ‘The Entourage Effect’ and enhanced effectiveness are the goal, there are other alternatives.
Another popular extraction method in the recreational marijuana industry and is still used to some extent in the hemp industry is hydrocarbon extraction or processing using solvents such as hexane or propane. They are used for a variety of reasons- largely because this process can concentrate THC in very high percentages.
Many claim that these solvents used in extraction are then taken off the finished product leaving no trace of these cancer-causing agents behind. According to all the chemists I know, and I urge you to confirm this, it is chemically impossible to remove all traces of these solvents. The issue, then, becomes whether there is enough left in the products that might cause health issues down the road. I leave it to you to decide whether you want to ingest even small amounts of these chemical agents.
These caustic chemicals can also be used in some of the processes currently employed in the CBD/Hemp industry especially in the creation of ‘distillate’ products (distillate is a form of hemp/CBD that contains only the ‘acid’ cannabinoid forms and virtually devoid of all other components). As far as I can tell, the use of these chemicals can produce a product that is pleasing to the eye and not much else. As a consumer these distillates are used in many different products where the formulator is desiring a product that is colorless and odorless. Some common products would include cosmetics and food products. These solvents can be found in finished products by a qualified lab.
True solvent-less extraction is accomplished via a method termed ‘hot press’ where the plant trichomes are pressed together using very high heat for a very short period of time. This yields a product that has lab profiles similar to an ethanol (food grade alcohol) extraction process. This method is limited to ‘craft’ extractors as the volumes and the efficiencies are not scalable.
Another more commonly used extraction process used extensively in herbal production is one that uses ethanol (food grade alcohol). We here at Enerhealth have used organic 190 proof ethanol in our processes since the beginning. Most herbalists will use a combination of ethanol and water to extract both water and alcohol soluble components of a given herb.
As traditional herbalists, we believe that this ethanol process will extract the majority, if not all, elements of the hemp plant including the cannabinoids existing in the original plant material as well as the ‘other’ elements such as flavonoids, terpenes, lipids and alkaloids among others. This is termed a whole plant extract and we are of the opinion it is the most efficacious product one can buy. Beware of products produced with solvents other than pure ethanol, such as rubbing alcohol which does have toxicity in human consumption, but it is cheaper to use in extraction.
Here at Enerhealth we are redefining the term Whole Plant Extract as we go an extra step or two further. First, we extract at low temperatures to preserve as many of the ‘acid’ forms and terpenes as possible. We use low or room temperatures since high temperatures are the catalyst to transform the acid forms such as CBDa to CBD – the ‘free form’ and terpenes will burn off at higher temperatures.
Secondly, after we have extracted all the elements in the plant using organic ethanol, we then extract the minerals and salts that exist in the plant and reintroduce them to the original extract. Thus, we have the entire plant back together again, now purified so that the body can assimilate the product more efficiently with greater efficacy using smaller dosages.
This entire process is termed Spagyric and in our opinion is the only true Whole Plant Extract available in the market today. Our final step is to concentrate the extract to reduce the ethanol to below 10%. We then blend these concentrates with MCT coconut oil to reduce the alcohol to below .004% and THC below .18% in the final products to ensure a minimum of alcohol and THC levels well within legal limits.
The lab analysis of the finished spagyric process (see this chart) suggest that the molecules are fractionated, they are reduced to very small particles naturally. Smaller particle sizes coupled with the mineral salts will increase bioavailability, at least that is our working hypothesis.
This process is all natural as opposed to the nano process that reduces the size of the cannabinoid molecule via a chemical process. Many of the nano products can then be encapsulated in various materials to give them the appearance of water solubility and bio availability. I am here to say that making an oil (cannabinoids are oils) water soluble is impossible, as oil and water don’t mix, save for perhaps Merlin the magician. Whether these are more bioavailable and effective remains to be seen.
Another process to be reviewed that is being employed today, steam distillation, which is similar to the process used to obtain essential plant oils. It can retain a better profile of terpenes indigenous to the plant than other processes, but one must be careful of over-indulgence in terpenes as they can be harmful in higher concentrations. Which brings me to a disturbing issue of ‘fake terpenes’.
Fake terpenes are terpenes that are not indigenous to the plant. These terpenes are derived from various fruits such as lemons to get limonene and are sometimes added to a hemp and/or marijuana to achieve certain taste profiles. I don’t recommend using these type of terpenes as there needs to be more research into the effects of these elements.
In summary, some of the processes (and I have only touched the surface as there are so many permutations of these processes now) used today excluding ethanol, hot press and steam extractions are not aimed at producing the most efficacious product. Many times the method is ultimately geared toward producing a product that is appealing to the eye or the tongue but not necessarily highly functional as a health supplement. Hopefully, as time moves forward and more science is introduced, the hemp extraction process will begin to be more focused on producing products that exhibit the ‘Entourage Effect’ and thus a better, more effective supplement.
How to determine which of these processes is for you? Begin by reading the websites. Look for independent 3rd party testing for potency, glyphosates, heavy metals and microbials if available. The lab used for this testing should be ISO certified. Look for QR codes on the bottles on the store shelves that will lead you back to the potency testing.
Look for companies that are FDA compliant, either registered and inspected with the FDA and/or cGMP (certified Good Manufacturing Principles). Pay attention to the claims made on a website. If there are disease claims, claims of ‘cures’ for any medical condition you can rest assured that this company is not FDA compliant. Any reference to what is termed as ‘structure function’ claims are patently disallowed and at some point, the FDA will generate a ‘warning letter’ for the company to cease and desist such practices. The FDA can shut down a company for this among other infractions related to the entire production process.
As time goes forward there will most likely be fewer ‘CBD’ companies as regulation and enforcement begins. The newer, smaller, companies are, in large numbers, unprepared for the costs and compliance issues associated with regulation…and it is coming. Given the current state of the industry and the loosely defined terms and rampant disregard for rules regarding marketing statements, we view this as a positive development.
Pay attention to the terminology used. Full spectrum can mean many things and is hopefully used to suggest that the product has a full spectrum of cannabinoids in both the free and acid forms. Broad spectrum can mean a ‘full spectrum’ extract that has been remediated, removing most of the THC. Products derived from the ‘isolate’ CBD are not as effective according to existing science.
Many people and MDs have questions about dosing and to date there are no hard and fast recommendations. We urge people to assess their condition and/or health goals and, using some of the filters I have listed in these articles, select a product and begin with smaller doses and increase or decrease as you assess results. Keep in mind these are herbal supplements and can take longer than a few hours or days to begin to have noticeable effects. The good news is there are no known toxicity levels in humans for these herbal extracts.
For pets we recommend starting with 1 drop per pound of our pet hemp extract and see how your pet responds. You can increase or decrease dosage accordingly.
I hope that these articles are helpful. I welcome any comments and feedback. If you plan to use these extracts, I urge you to educate yourself, there is a lot of scientific white papers available to the general public. At the end of the day, find a company you can trust and if their product gives you the desired results stay with them. I hope you choose Enerhealth Botanicals.
In parting, I urge anyone whose employment depends on passing a drug test to not use any CBD/Hemp product even if it has non-detectable THC. The reason for this precaution is many tests will give a positive drug reading due to the other cannabinoids. These tests are all highly varied in reliability and can give different results for different people using the same products since a person’s metabolism, fat percentages and many other physical factors can affect the outcomes. WE ALWAYS TELL PEOPLE TO NOT USE THESE PRODUCTS IF THEIR EMPLOYMENT DEPENDS ON PASSING A DRUG TEST!!