From Seed to Sale: Everything You Need to Know About High-Quality Cannabis Extracts

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After several changes regarding legalization within the U.S. and Canada, the industry for cannabis and its byproducts is growing rapidly. Despite this growth, there’s still a lack of education and research surrounding the different products and their potential uses for health, wellness, beauty, and more.

But first, it’s important to understand what exactly has changed. For instance, legalization and quality standards aren’t the same in the U.S. — and its 50 states — as they are in Canada. Until standards are set, it can be difficult to pick out high-quality cannabis extracts in a market that’s becoming more crowded by the second.

I. Regulating Cannabis Oil in Canada and the U.S.

In Canada:

The Canadian Cannabis Act has been in effect since October 17, 2018. This regulation restricts the sale or provision of cannabis and its extracts to people under the legal age of 18, 19, or 21 years old (depending on the province). However, adults can legally possess up to 30 grams of cannabis products in public.

To be considered legal, however, any product that has more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) must have an excise stamp that’s specific to the province or territory in which it’s sold. Cannabis may only be legally grown, processed, or sold by enterprises licensed by Health Canada, and some provinces have their own additional licensing or registration requirements. The Cannabis Act also prohibits the transfer of any cannabis products across the Canadian border, covering products such as dried cannabis, oils, extracts, and edibles (items used for medical or scientific purposes must be approved by Health Canada prior to being shipped).

The Cannabis Act also provides language to educate users of cannabis products and extracts. A big focus is to keep those items out of reach of children and pets. The regulation also states that users should refrain from working, driving, or operating heavy machinery while experiencing the effects of cannabis or cannabis products.

In the U.S.:

Unlike Canada, the United States does not have a single federal regulation to govern all uses of cannabis and its extracts. Increasingly more states (33 as of October 2019) have legalized the use of cannabis to some degree — especially for medicinal purposes. As of January 1, 2020, Illinois and 10 other states have also enacted legislation to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.

On a federal level, the U.S. government has not been as keen to loosen restrictions on cannabis use and production, though it has taken some steps to do so. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, known as the Farm Bill, made it legal to extract cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp — a strain of the cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC.

If the plant contains THC above that limit, it is considered marijuana, which the federal government still classifies as a Schedule I drug. Using any extract from a marijuana plant (including CBD) is considered illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

Despite this situation, state and local governments are trying to make it easier for their populations to safely and legally benefit from the use of high-quality cannabis extracts. For example, Colorado recently classified all derivatives of the hemp plant as food ingredients, which makes it easier to manufacture these products at the state level.

II. A Closer Look at CBD

While the use of CBD and other cannabis products has gained popularity, there’s still confusion about what CBD actually is. In many areas, especially within the U.S., the difference between cannabis and marijuana — and between CBD and THC — means everything when it comes to legality.

Understanding the cannabis plant

The cannabis plant produces hundreds of different chemicals, and the composition differs depending on the strain of cannabis. The most commonly known and well-studied of these chemicals are the phytocannabinoids CBD and THC, but the plants can also contain more than 100 other cannabinoids and other molecule classes, such as terpenes.

THC is the intoxicating phytocannabinoid that gives certain cannabis products their psychotropic properties (i.e., the “high” feeling). It’s also a highly regulated cannabis compound because the percentage of THC in any cannabis plant determines whether it can be legally processed in the U.S. As mentioned, to be considered hemp — the federally legal plant — cannabis plants must contain less than 0.3% THC.

Terpenes are responsible for giving different products their distinctive scents and tastes. Many people believe that retaining as many cannabis-derived molecules as possible helps to create the “entourage effect.” This concept proposes that all compounds work together synergistically to increase the potential health benefits.

Products often contain one of the two main varieties of the cannabis plant: cannabis sativa or cannabis indica. The sativa and indica strains differ slightly in appearance: Indicas are short and bushy; sativas are tall and thin. Another common variety is the hybrid. Hybrid strains are a cross of sativa and indica that have physical properties and cannabinoid and terpene profiles that are a mix of their parents. Hybrids — and products made using them — are quite common in the marketplace and are usually classified as sativa-dominant, indica-dominant, or balanced. In addition, the physiological effects of different plant varieties can differ.

For instance, products are often classified as indica when they cause relaxed, sleepy feelings. On the other hand, products labeled sativa can provide more wakeful and alert feelings. Therefore, people who use cannabis to relieve occasional feelings of anxiety may benefit more from indica products; people who have lethargic symptoms may need a sativa extract. Hybrids are usually made to target a specific effect.

These are not hard rules, and exceptions exist. For example, some users describe a wakeful feeling from indica products or sleepiness only from cultivars or products containing high levels of certain cannabinoids or terpenes. As more research is conducted on the effects of various specific cannabis molecules, a better understanding is emerging of which (and how) certain strains or products can give desired effects. In fact, a classification system is emerging that is dependent on biochemical plant properties.

CBD extraction the Neptune way

Cultivators and manufacturers can use several different methods to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis plants, and the method largely determines the quality of the product. At Neptune’s state-of-the-art, large volume cannabis extraction facility in Sherbrooke, Quebec, we combine skill, expertise, and an advanced technological setup for optimal extraction.

We are able to use two of the most effective extraction methods — supercritical CO2 and ethanol processing — and we can conduct a multitude of pre- and post-extraction processes. For example, we’re one of the few cannabis processing facilities in Canada that can:

• Grind large volumes of raw materials on-site.
• Accept flower trimmings with low cannabinoid and terpene content.
• Remove waxes and lipids for on-site winterization and purification.
• Extract individual cannabinoid compounds with selectivity using supercritical CO2 extraction.
• Improve concentrations of extracted cannabinoids and terpenes through molecular distillation.
• Create cannabinoid isolates to provide directly to consumers.

III. Creating High-Quality Cannabis Extracts

When it comes to determining the quality of a product, the lack of contaminants and adherence to content specifications are most important.

Within any manufacturing facility (including Neptune’s), quality is dependent on culture. Everyone should wear protective gowns and hairnets at all times, temperature and humidity should be constantly monitored and kept within tolerance, and employees should feel safe voicing concerns or taking action if something isn’t right.

The entire company must act as a team to adhere to standards that are required as part of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and Good Production Practice (GPP) certifications. In such environments, products must be created with the proper processes and quality checks in place.

In the case of high-quality cannabis extraction, quality also depends on how the plant is grown, cared for, harvested, stored, and cured. Therefore, quality starts by partnering with experienced, passionate growers.

Proper sourcing, education, and passion for the process all impact quality, which is why Neptune audits any third-party laboratories before including them in our process. We only work with labs that maintain the necessary culture of quality in their own environments, that are transparent and experienced, and that can work together to deliver safe and effective products.

The importance of GMP certification

When retailers and consumers shop for high-quality hemp extracts or cannabis products, they shouldn’t have to guess about the quality of the products they purchase. Those of the highest quality will be certified under GMP or current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP), which can be verified with a quick online search.

GMP regulations are put forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or other relevant government regulators, to ensure that medicines, medical devices, and food products are safe, pure, and effective for consumers. All manufacturers and processors of such products — including cannabis and CBD — can face serious consequences for violating GMP regulations.

Because of the wide variety of products and companies under the FDA’s purview, GMP guidelines are followed and met in ways that are appropriate for given products and processes. Every manufacturer has the freedom to implement its own quality control processes to meet regulatory requirements, including:

• Thorough, up-to-date records.
• Verification of personnel qualifications and equipment quality.
• Detailed workflow processes with validated safety controls.
• Documented histories of complaints and their resolutions.

Exercising this freedom means manufacturers and processors are responsible for interpreting GMP rules as best fit their industries. Sustainable cannabis extraction is a relatively new field, and Neptune is one of the few companies that have helped define what those interpretations should look like.

In addition to optimizing our own 50,000-square-foot, cGMP-certified cannabis processing facility in Canada, we partner with companies known for transparent and sustainable practices. As leaders in the rapidly growing field of cannabis production, we aim to help continue to set quality and transparency standards throughout the industry.

Providing transparency and traceability for consumers

Transparency and hemp extraction should go hand-in-hand, especially given the shaky legal foundation in the U.S. Consumers want to know that the products they’re buying are sourced and manufactured legally — and made using high-quality hemp extracts.

The demand for transparency and traceability has forced virtually every market to make significant changes in its supply chain management. In agriculture, specifically, it’s no longer enough to trace a specific problem, such as contamination, back to a specific processing or packaging facility. Instead, companies must be able to go back to the original source.

Consumers want to know where their cannabis products come from — from farm (or seed) to shelf — before they make purchases. As a new and burgeoning market, the supply chain for cannabis production has to begin with this level of transparency and traceability already ingrained.

As mentioned, there are still knowledge gaps about the many different properties of cannabis and its extracts. However, we do know the effects certain products promote must be cultivated specifically. That includes sourcing the right seeds and plants from the top growers before enriching the correct concentrations and combinations of compounds during the extraction process.

As more states in the U.S. open their markets to CBD and other hemp extracts, the economic growth within those states makes traceability all the more essential. More products of different types show up on the market almost every day, overwhelming consumers with nearly limitless choices.

Products that can be easily traced — and are verifiably made with high-quality and GMP-certified extraction processes — offer consumers peace of mind. And when consumers can determine what goes into their products by following the journey of the hemp from seed to sale, they’ll be able to trust the quality of what they’re putting into their bodies.

IV. The Many Uses of High-Quality Cannabis Extracts

Along with tracing a product’s origins and manufacturing processes, consumers want to know they’re buying the right product for their needs.

High-quality cannabis extracts come in many different shapes and sizes. It’s no surprise that consumers are still learning what type of products are available as well as how they prefer to consume CBD, THC, and other cannabinoid extracts. Below, we’ll help you understand some of the most popular product types and their uses.

Common methods of consumption

Cannabis extracts differ in a lot of ways, from the specific phytocannabinoids they contain to the method of consumption. Two of the most common methods dominating the market are tinctures and topical products.

Tinctures can be absorbed rapidly when taken sublingually (under the tongue) and are therefore quickly circulated into the system. What’s more, doses can be modified easily so consumers can adjust the strength of a product’s effects. Tinctures can be consumed in other ways, such as by adding them to food or beverages, which are not absorbed and circulated as quickly but can offer longer-lasting effects. Capsules, on the other hand, offer a similar absorption profile as ingested tinctures, are taste-free, and come in convenient packaging.

Hemp extracts can be produced as broad-spectrum or full-spectrum, dependent on the extraction process and which kind of compounds remain in the final product. Both types of extracts have a place, depending on customer preferences.

A full-spectrum product contains a more complete profile of phytocannabinoids and other types of molecules in the hemp plant, including terpenes. Consumers who want to explore cannabinoids without such a strong taste can choose a broad-spectrum oil that has been distilled to remove the terpenes and offer a milder taste profile. Products can be made containing specific cannabinoids exclusively, like CBD without any THC — or a particular balance of the two.

Products can also be made with cannabinoid isolates that only contain the CBD or THC of the plant, for example. All these forms can be used in a number of ways. From gummies and capsules to lotions and beverages, there’s a product for every preference.

Aside from their compositions and the way they deliver phytocannabinoids into your system, products also differ in their specific purposes. Even though cannabis use is becoming more common, CBD and THC have been studied for a variety of reasons related to health and wellness.

CBD for symptoms of anxiety

As more research and anecdotal evidence adds to the existing body of knowledge, consumers have begun to rely on legally available cannabis extracts to deal with stress, feelings of anxiety, and sleep quality issues.

A retroactive analysis of clinical outpatient cases suggests CBD may have the ability to produce a beneficial effect on anxiety and sleep issues when used under medical supervision. After analyzing 172 clinical evaluations taken at baseline, self-reported anxiety and sleep scores improved in 70% and 67% of the analyzed cases, respectively, after one month of treatment. The potential calming effect on the central nervous system has led to more promising research into CBD’s potential value in helping patients overcome severe neurological disorders, including epilepsy.

CBD for inflammation

Other interesting studies suggesting the potential health benefits of CBD have shown promise in the reduction of inflammation.

For example, a peer-reviewed study of CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties demonstrated a reduction in inflammatory marker expression in intestinal tissue extracts. The findings of the study suggest that CBD acted as a therapeutic agent that helped modulate the neuroimmune axis and decrease the inflammatory response.

Findings in other preclinical studies investigating CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties have helped propel interest in potential treatments for colitis, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, chronic neuroinflammation, and much more.

In many trials and studies, CBD isolates are used. They lack the psychotropic effects of THC and other cannabinoids, and isolating CBD eliminates the entourage effect to keep trial results clear and decipherable. However, interest in and research on how other phytomolecules may act — and act together — is increasing.

CBD for beauty and skin care

With the increase in research following legalization, more researchers have been able to obtain cannabis and hemp to generate additional data. Recently, research has been done to determine the external benefits of CBD products. For example, the Journal of Clinical Investigation published a study that suggests CBD may help regulate oil production in the skin. CBD treatment of human skin cells and biopsies cultured in a “pro-acne” environment was shown to reduce sebum production and cell proliferation.

Beyond CBD

Although interest in CBD for health and wellness has exploded recently, cannabis has been studied for the potential effects of THC for centuries. With this historical use comes descriptions and anecdotal successes of how THC affects the body, but many questions remain unanswered.

Canada and numerous individual states have a framework for medical cannabis applications for a variety of conditions, including for both CBD- and THC-based products. As mentioned earlier, Canada and a number of states allow the recreational sale of cannabis products that contain THC. In these markets, there is a wide spectrum of different types of people who use THC-based products for many reasons; products are available in different concentrations and formats — both with and without other phytomolecules.

Importantly, those who champion the potential wellness benefits of THC advise novice users to start with low doses. Products with measured doses such as tinctures and soft gels are ideal for keeping track of which doses work for individuals as well as their desired outcomes.

Natural methods of addressing health and beauty concerns will only become more important to consumers. Providing documented research into CBD and the effects of it and other cannabis extracts, implementing transparent and traceable production processes, and providing consistently high-quality cannabis extracts will be necessary for manufacturers to distinguish themselves as the market becomes more crowded.