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By: Elements of Green
From Farm to Label – The Journey of your CBD from Beginning to End.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is helping people around the world with anxiety, pain, sleep issues, energy levels, and more. In just a few years, CBD has exploded from a niche product for a few people to a major industry which serves a much larger audience.
Many of the people benefitting from CBD have little idea of how cannabidiol makes its way from the farm to the user. The journey is an interesting one and it can help you make the product choices which are best for you.
CBD comes from the hemp plant. Hemp is a variety of cannabis which has a low concentration of the psychoactive ingredient THC, so a hemp plant product can not make you high the way medical cannabis does.
Hemp is among the first plants known to have been domesticated. The fiber went into rope and fabrics. The seeds and the flowers are used as food products, as are the oils derived from them. Intentionally growing hemp for large amounts of CBD is relatively recent, but much of the process to get a CBD product to you is a refined version of processes farmers have been using for hundreds or even thousands of years.
The hemp starts on the farm. Farmers plant seeds which have been naturally selected to grow with large amounts of CBD. There are no GMO hemp plants. In addition to selecting the strain of seed carefully, hemp farmers try to plant a minimum number of male seeds. The female plants produce more CBD and if they stay unfertilized they do not produce seeds.
Hemp will grow nearly everywhere, but the plant enthusiastically takes up just about any chemical in the soil. That means that for hemp grown for CBD or other products for human consumption it is important that farmers use land which is clean of harmful chemicals like sulfur, rock phosphates, heavy metals, and other contaminants. And while hemp will grow in almost any soil, the best hemp comes from the best soil, just like other high-value crops. A good farmer spends a lot of time studying her soil and making changes as appropriate.
The hemp grows over the course of the spring and summer. It mostly takes care of its own weeding but farmers must watch out for stray weeds and for insects and funguses. The European Union and Great Britain do not allow the use of most pesticides and fungicides in hemp crops intended for CBD use and you don’t want those chemicals in your CBD even if they were allowed, so the farmer isn’t going to use them in any case.
Throughout the growing season, the farmers constantly check their hemp. For one thing, they want to remove any male hemp plants which might be growing. They also want to check for those weeds, insects, and fungus.
After 90 to 100 days, when the hemp is at it peak production of seed heads, farmers harvest the hemp. They air-dry the hemp in the field and then sometimes dry it further at a storage facility.
Then the farmers separate the hemp flowers, or buds, from the remainder of the plant. Only the flower portion of the hemp plant contains enough CBD to be useable.
It is here that farmers run the first of many tests before you get a CBD product. The main test here is for THC levels. In Europe the limit for THC is .2%, and if there is more THC than that the crop must be destroyed.
Hemp which passes the THC test can now be processed, though it will be tested more before it reaches a consumer. Some of the hemp is processed for smokable CBD. CBD flower for direct smoking is a relatively new product and it is increasing in popularity. The hemp for smokable CBD is trimmed and tested again, this time for THC levels but also for contaminants.
Most hemp for CBD has the CBD and other oils removed to create a concentrated product. There are several ways to get the oil out, and different product makers use different methods to produce their unique CBD products.
Most commonly, the CBD is removed from the hemp plant using a solvent. This solvent can be ethanol (alcohol) or it can be any of a number of food-safe solvents such as hexane. Hexane is also the solvent used to remove oils from other plants, such as for soybean and canola oils. The hemp flowers are crushed and heated slightly. Then the solvent is introduced and it draw the oils, including CBD, from the plant.
The resulting mixture of CBD and other cannabinoids and extraneous matter from the hemp plant along with the solvent is then boiled at a low temperature. The idea here is not to remove water (the hemp has been dried and there is little water in the extract) but to remove the solvent. CBD processors use solvents which have a low boiling point. Hexane boils at temperatures as low as 50C, which is why it is so popular, but ethane and other solvents also boil well below 100C.
The boiling removes all traces of the solvent. None remains in the extract which will become a CBD product, and the boiled solvent is recovered and reused to make the process more environmentally sound.
There are other ways to get the CBD and other cannabinoids out of the hemp flowers. Some processors use carbon dioxide. The CO2 most commonly put into a supercritical state with temperature and pressure. As a supercritical material the CO2 acts as a solvent.
Carbon dioxide can also be used without being supercritical. This process is more gentle and is sometimes used to make CBD for vaping products because it retains so much of the rest of the plant’s aromas and flavors. Some high-end tinctures also use the more gentle CO2 extraction method.
However the material is removed from the hemp flowers, it is time for another step in turning it into CBD. The oils containing the CBD are very thick and harsh, and often have extraneous matter from the hemp plant. Decarboxylation is the name of the process which heats the cannabinoids to “activate” them by using heat. This step is important if the end product is to be used without heating by the consumer, and that represents the vast majority of CBD users.
Once the CBD oil is purified and activated, the company making the products have a choice. The oil has CBD but it also has up to .2% THC and small amounts of other cannabinoids. Using a distillation process, the people making your CBD product can either leave all of those additional cannabinoids from the oil, leaving a highly-purified CBD, or they can leave the cannabinoids in to create what is called a “full spectrum” oil. It is during distillation that many impurities can also be removed.
The steps in the process so far usually remove most of the terpenes in the CBD. Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants and which give CBD its taste and its smell when the product is smoked or vaped. This will be important later in the journey to your CBD product.
Now the oil is ready to be part of a CBD solution for you. But before it goes to that step, reputable CBD companies test the product again at this point. In fact, some producers have run tests at every point in the process, but here is one of the critical junctures. It is at this point that the people making the product for you ensure that the CBD oil has all the right things, namely CBD and other cannabinoids if they want them, and none of the wrong things like pesticides, heavy metals, and too much THC. The extraction, decarboxylation, and distillation have created a highly concentrated product and any contaminants in the original hemp plant have now been concentrated with the CBD. It is at this point in the route to a beneficial product that producers can find any bad CBD oil and eliminate it before it gets to you.
The most popular CBD products right now are tinctures and oils. To make these products, the CBD oil is mixed with a food-safe oil. Common oils include coconut oil, olive oil, hemp oil. There is a specialized version of these oils, called MCT oil, many producers use. The people making CBD products choose which oil to use to specialize the CBD products. Coconut oil is used because it has a high saturated fat content and saturated fats can help the body absorb the CBD. Hemp oil has its own benefits to many people who use it, so it is added to CBD oil to make a “whole hemp” product. The MCT versions of many of these same oils can help with absorption of CBD just as the whole forms of the oil, and early research shows that some people may see other benefits from consuming MCT oil. Many of the companies making CBD products for you use a combination of oils.
Without this additional oil in your CBD tincture, the concentration would be so high that it would be impossible to get the right dose of CBD – a single drop might have too much. The oil would also be too thick to use easily.
For tinctures and other oil products like capsules, your CBD product is almost ready. Most CBD producers add some additional ingredients to the tincture to produce other benefits or to make it tastier. A frequent addition before the CBD is put into a bottle is one or more terpenes. These aromatic compounds were lost during most CBD extraction processes. The people making your CBD can put terpenes back in at this point to make the CBD oil more like the hemp plant it came from. Other additions include different natural flavors like orange blossom, mint, and even chocolate. Once everything has been blended, there is a final test and if it passes the product is ready for you.
Topical products have a similar last step. The CBD oil is mixed into a cream, balm, or other skin product just like any other ingredient. As with the tinctures, the other ingredients in the topical product are chosen for their attributes. One product might have menthol and capsicum for cooling and heating effects, while another might have aloe and nut oils and shea butter.
Edibles are also similar. The CBD oil is used like any other ingredient and the resulting product can be anything from a gummy to a baked product to a tea!
Things change a bit for CBD vape products. Here, some of the common oils used to work with CBD oil for ingestion are not appropriate for inhalation. In addition, the CBD oil and the other oil for a tincture are too thick for the vaping process to work. So CBD vape makers use a product like glycerine or polyethylene glycol. These are the same carriers used in nicotine and THC vaping products.
It is very important not to vape CBD oils not specifically made for that purpose.
CBD vape makers also often reintroduce terpenes when the formulate their vapes. They do this to create a better vaping experience for the user. Some people also believe that terpenes enhance the entourage effect of the different cannabinoids in a CBD vape product. As with the other products, vape makers can also introduce other flavorings like mint or pineapple or berries to enhance the vaping experience for you.
Whatever product the makers create for you, it is time for one more test before the CBD ships to you or to a retailer. It is this test which many companies publish, and it is this test that Elements of Green insists on receiving before we agree to show you the product. It is this final test which tells you how much CBD is in the formulation you have chosen, whether there are other cannabinoids, how much THC (if any) is in the end product, and sometimes there will be information about terpenes.
The earlier tests were for regulatory compliance or to help the makers do their work. This last test is for you. It is the test which assures that all of the earlier tests caught any problems before the CBD product reach you and that you are getting what you are paying for.
By understanding the steps that CBD goes through from a seedling on a farm to a tincture under your tongue or a cream on your elbow, you can make better product choices for yourself. The keys are to insist on lab-tested products, to be mindful of the non-CBD ingredients and how you might like or dislike some of them, and to be aware that if one CBD product is not working for you, a different product might produce better results.