The Supply Chain of Cannabidiol

In September 2018, Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research company, predicted that the cannabidiol industry would reach $22 billion by 2022. It’s a bold prediction, considering the entire nutraceuticals industry is expected to reach $100 billion by 2022. However, whether or not the prediction proves accurate, there’s no denying the cannabinoids industry is growing.

Today, there are more phytocannabinoids options on the market than ever before. Yet, all of these products are not created equal. Consumers often don’t actually know what’s going in to the products they’re buying, how they’re produced, and where they come from. Similarly, product manufacturers might not know the options available to them when it comes to sourcing their wholesale cannabinoids.

Here’s a quick look at the supply chain, from growing and extraction to quality control.

The supply chain starts from a seed

There are various strains of cannabis seeds. Some seed varieties are high in terpenes. Others are high in THC, the compound primarily responsible for the hemp plant’s psychotropic effects. For the purpose of producing CBD oil and water soluble CBD, growers wants hemp plants that are high in CBD and low in THC. High CBD hemp strains have been bred to produce CBD content of  between 10 to 20 percent, with less than .3 percent THC.

Hemp plants have skinny leaves that are concentrated towards the top of the plant with few branches beneath the upper half. These plants are grown closely together, they have an average growth cycle of between 110 and 120 days and can be grown in different climates.

Once the plants are grown, farmers can take two different approaches to trimming them. Wet trimming is when a grower trims the leaves right after the branch is cut from the main plant. Dry trimming involves waiting for your branches to dehydrate before trimming.

Drying the hemp once it is harvested is one of the most important parts along the supply chain. Hemp should be dried as quickly as possible to avoid damage. If the harvested hemp is too wet or dried too slowly, it can impact the quality of the final product. Hemp must also be dried in a clean environment with plenty of ventilation to avoid contamination.

The extraction

There are two main ways ways to extract CBD from the hemp plant:  CO2 extraction and ethanol extraction.  CO2 extraction is the cleanest way to extract CBD because there is no residual carbon dioxide in the final product. This differs from ethanol extraction. When ethanol is used, it tends to bind to the water soluble components of the plant, resulting in an an end product that is less pure and generally less potent. For comparison purposes, here’s a list of the steps involved in each process.

Using CO2

  1. Supercritical CO2 liquid passes through plant material while stripping the cannabinoids and terpenes in the process.
  2. The compound-enriched solvent is subjected to temperature and pressure change to separate the cannabinoids and terpenes from the CO2. Then a polar solvent is mixed with the extracted crude oil at sub-zero temperatures to separate and filter out waxes and lipids.
  3. Further purification and separation of processed crude oil removes all solvents.

Or using ethanol

  1. Plant material is washed in ethanol to extract the plant compounds and produce raw crude oil.
  2. The crude oil is dissolved in warm ethanol, then supercooled to remove unwanted lipids and waxes
  3. Further purification and separation of processed crude oil removes all solvents.

And the finished product

Once the CBD has been extracted, it must be tested to ensure quality, potency and purity. This includes measuring CBD levels, developing a terpene profile and checking the final product for microbiological contamination, heavy metals and pesticides. Since hemp is considered a “phytoremediative” plant, it draws up heavy metals and toxins from the soil it’s grown in, so it’s important to make sure there are no contaminants in the final product.

There are thousands of distributors on the market so it’s important for retailers to verify that the product they are buying has gone through rigorous quality controls. Manufacturers may use third-party labs to verify the quality of their products and ensure it meets appropriate standards. Suppliers should provide a certificate of analysis that confirms the levels of CBD, THC, and other compounds in a CBD product. Reputable distributors should also be able to provide information on the sourcing, processing and extraction processes for their isolate, distillate or bulk product.

Every transaction goes through a verification process to ensure the seller’s licensing is up to date. Additionally, some states like Colorado and Washington have additional distribution regulations including seed-to-sale tracking requirements, which monitor information such as how many plants were planted versus the yield, pesticide use and plant transfer records.

Our role in this chain

We partner with hemp farms and extraction facilities in the US to obtain only the best products, both for retail and wholesale. We work only with professionals who source the seeds and own the genetics. The farmers who work with us are sourcing specific strains for GC and have produced plants with very specific qualities, for instance, flowers with as much as 15% of CBD.

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