When most people think of hemp or CBD, the plant or a product might come to mind. We often see the end product and think “I know what this is because the packaging says so.” But what happens in the production cycle? Where do these products come from and how are they manufactured? Why is knowing this information beneficial?
Let’s first take a look at the different ways in which hemp is traditionally grown.
The bulk majority of global agricultural crops grow exclusively outside. Think of the corn used to make your cereal or the oranges squeezed to fill up your glass. Many growers of hemp prefer to follow this old-school approach to growing. Here are some reasons why…
- Requires less energy and fewer resources. Since sunlight supplies the energy needed to grow plants, energy-sucking lights aren’t required. Outdoor grow operations often require less fertilizer, pesticides and fungicides. Outdoor plants also benefit from rainfall and other naturally occurring sources of water, thus further reducing costs and carbon footprint.
- May improve the surrounding environment. When intercropped with other suitable plants, soil nutrients and pest management improve.
- It’s closer to what’s natural. These plants have grown outside naturally for a very long time. Artificial light mimics natural light but isn’t exactly the same. The production of terpenes & cannabinoids reportedly occurs best in natural, ambient light. Furthermore, fancy ventilation systems aren’t required to facilitate airflow. Abundant in nature, CO2 can be readily accessed by hemp, too.
- Produces greater yields. Due to the natural sunlight, outdoor plants can outgrow – in size – their indoor counterparts.
Growing plants indoors is a newer approach to agriculture that allows growers to remove random variables like weather and many (but not all) pests. This is sort of the “mad scientist” approach where environmental precision and control dictates product consistency and uniqueness. Some suggest that pharmaceutical-grade products should come from plants grown exclusively indoors.
- Can grow year round. Since seasons don’t exist indoors, anytime is a good time to grow hemp.
- Allows for meticulous control of conditions. With the appropriate skills and resources, growers can finely tune conditions like air flow, humidity, soil, nutrients, temperature, light and more. It’s also easier to preserve specific genetic characteristics with indoor plants.
- Enables consistency. Since nature isn’t 100% predictable, it’s challenging to control outside environmental influences. While growing indoors it’s much easier to maintain a repeatable set of growing standards.
- Gives creative control to the grower. By carefully tweaking indoor conditions, growers may strategically augment certain traits of the plant.
What about hybrid growing environments like greenhouses?
Greenhouses take the cake when it comes to cultivating hemp and other types of plants. Why? Because growers can take advantage of both indoor and outdoor benefits. Energy costs decrease because natural sunlight is used. Since greenhouses are enclosed spaces, growers meticulously control and create consistent environments as they would with indoor facilities. Greenhouses can yield 3-4 crops per year.
What happens once the plants are harvested? How do they extract CBD and other goodies from hemp?
Unless they intend to sell the plant or flower as is, there are several ways separate phytochemicals like cannabidiol, terpenes and flavonoids from hemp (more on those).
There are several ways to extract CBD. The three most accepted commercial methods involve ethanol, CO2 or hydrocarbon.
Ethanol extraction can occur in both warm and cold environments. One such technique involves boiling ethanol, condensing it via cooled-coil, and dripping it through the plant material which strips the plants’ phytochemicals. Using ethanol to extract CBD is the least expensive extraction process of the three. However, ethanol extraction doesn’t offer the same level of control as the other two and requires additional processing before it can be put in a consumable product.
Known as supercritical CO2 extraction, this process involves the use of pressurized carbon dioxide to extract phytochemicals from plant material. Why is it called “supercritical”? Well, carbon dioxide converts to a liquid when subject to extreme pressure. These liquids are called supercritical fluids.
Anyway… plant material is put into a specific extraction machine where it is introduced to super cooled carbon dioxide. Because supercooled CO2 remains a liquid only under certain conditions it all evaporates, leaving nothing but extracted material. CO2 extraction is highly tuneable, meaning isolating molecules (i.e. CBD, terpenes, and flavonoids) in the extraction process is easier. The extraction process, however, is slower than other methods.
Hydrocarbon extraction requires the use of a solvent like propane or butane. In summary, plant material is compacted into a glass tube where it is then introduced to ignited butane or propane. The heat from the ignited solvent causes the hemp plant material to release its oils. As the oils are released, they drip into a pot of boiling water. Since boiling water exceeds the boiling points of the solvents, they evaporate along with it and all that remains is clean oil.
Hydrocarbon extraction is fast, delivers high-potency and costs less than CO2 extraction
The Future of CBD
It seems that CBD is here to stay and with its increased demand, consumers want and need to know both where their CBD products come from and how they are made. Though the verdict is yet to release regarding CBD’s potential health benefits, people are reporting that CBD helps with pain and anxiety, among a slew of other conditions. From beverages, tinctures, and edibles to vapes, topicals, and patches there’s something for pretty much everyone. Oh, and your pets can participate with CBD, too!