Hashish extractors are exploring THC remediation choices

It’s fast but expensive. The other is thrifty but slow – and difficult to find exactly what is right.

Extractors looking to isolate certain cannabinoids have long relied on chromatography to choose up or down the many cannabinoids in marijuana and hemp plants.

But a technique that was once derided as a sign of an inferior product – mining – is receiving new attention.

Cannabis extractors are experimenting with better ways to use light, heat, and pressure to accelerate the breakdown of THC into CBN, a small cannabinoid that is sparking interest in its therapeutic potential.

CBN has long been considered an undesirable by-product of “stale” cannabis and is formed when THC-A is exposed to light or oxidized.

Some cannabis product manufacturers say the THC broken down has sleep and anti-inflammatory benefits that are worth exploring.

At Extract Labs in Boulder, Colorado, a team of engineering students is experimenting with degradation techniques. The aim is to accelerate the breakdown of THC in order to produce a distillate that is rich in CBD but also high in CBN.

“Nature takes months or years to take its course,” said Craig Henderson, CEO of Extract Labs. “We’re trying to find ways to do it in days.”

Savings drive innovation

Hemp extractors are particularly interested in degradation methods to remove THC.

Rather than using large amounts of chemical solvent to remove THC, which then has to be thrown away, the breakdown provides a way to keep more CBD and terpenes intact, and replace the THC levels with a valuable, non-intoxicating little cannabinoid.

“Degradation is definitely cheaper than chromatography,” said Alex Goff, chief operating officer of Gemini Extraction in Erie, Colorado.

“Chromatography has problems with mass loss and expensive solvents. While degradation takes longer than chromatography, the savings on a net cost basis are significant. “

Deepank Utkhede, COO of Vantage Hemp in Greeley, Colorado, said the price difference made it impossible to ignore the deterioration.

“With chromatography, you take (cannabis) and put it on a chromatography column and use large amounts of solvent,” Utkhede said.

“Then you have to remove the solvent and then perform a drying process to remove all solvent residues.

“When you break down, you basically just take the material, mix it up and heat it up and put a slight vacuum on it, and that’s all you do. There is no drying step. There is no step to remove the solvent. “

Not for everyone

Despite the advantages of degradation, no one writes off the chromatographic extraction.

This is because the speed of chromatography requires large-scale production.

The legal cloudiness of CBN is another point in favor of chromatography.

Some countries, such as the UK, specifically prohibit CBN.

The United States has legalized hemp and its by-products, but also claims that THC – even if derived from hemp – is a controlled substance, potentially making CBN an illegal “analog” of THC.

As with Delta-8 THC, the confusion over the legality of CBN in the US has not been thoroughly reviewed in court. For some CBD customers, it is sufficient if even degraded THC is to be removed from the product.

“With chromatography, we can actually remove the THC that is beneficial to international markets,” said Arthur Jaffee, managing director of ECS Brands in Boulder, Colorado.

“In the UK in particular, CBN is classified and categorized and treated like THC. So you can’t sell anything internationally with CBN. “

At River Organics in Gloucester, Virginia, domestic customers are also demanding THC-free products, although the company is still working on organic methods to remove all of the THC from its extracts, operations manager Ryan Cross said.

“Our goal is to use remedial measures to offer our customers products that either match their personal ideas about THC or whose professional requirements just make it incompatible,” said Cross.

However, the cost of the chromatography made Cross pause.

“The CBD industry is switching from chromatography,” he said. “The market for CBD distillates and isolates has declined dramatically since it was legalized. …

“So cost is really what drives the profitability of this industry.”

Customers will decide

Extractors say that the end users of cannabis extracts will ultimately determine how often THC degradation or remediation through chromatography is used.

Utkhede said the US and international markets are going in different directions.

“There are two categories of what people are looking for,” he said. “There are people who are interested in the full spectrum oil, and for the North American markets, they are more interested in being THC compliant. Basically, the THC value is below 0.3%. But you also want the entourage effect and some of the terpenes.

“However, if you are looking for a more global expansion like Europe, Brazil or Latin America, these jurisdictions are not looking for compliance, they are looking for undetectable THC.”

On the other hand, customers are looking for ever higher amounts of expensive small cannabinoids.

“Our customers want oil with less (cannabinoids), around 10% to 20% minors,” said Goff. “And since CBN is so expensive, it’s nice to be able to convert THC to CBN and then spend less money on a CBN isolate.”

Kristen Nichols can be contacted at [email protected].

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