By Matteo Zonta, Chef régional des ventes, Canada, Regional Sales Leader, Canada
Two main set of regulations make up the Cannabis Act as outlined by the Government of Canada—cannabis regulations and industrial hemp regulations
As of October 17, 2019, new rules took effect for three classes of cannabis as per Health Canada. The regulations establish rules for the legal production and sale of:
- edible cannabis
- cannabis extracts
- cannabis topicals
As required by the Cannabis Act, the amended regulations went into force on October 17, 2019. However, it will take time, after that date, before new cannabis products become available for purchase. Adult consumers can expect new products to appear gradually in physical and online stores beginning in mid-December 2019. For an overview of these new rules, please review Final Regulations: Edible Cannabis, Cannabis Extracts, Cannabis Topicals. The Cannabis Act is the law that legalized recreational cannabis use nationwide in Canada. The Act was passed by the House of Commons of Canada in late November 2017.
As the regulatory considerations and opportunities in the Canadian cannabis industry continue to evolve, information becomes a crucial commodity to better understand the situation, help make better decisions and increase the probability of success in the industry. With these three new classifications, particularly cannabis extracts and cannabis topicals, there comes a need to better understand the scientific technique of extraction (as well as distillation) because extraction is crucial to quality production.
What is botanical (or cannabis) extraction?
An extraction is a process of removing the desired chemical components from material to separate it from its initial source. For botanicals, many different parts of the plant can be used, such as the stem, root, flower, or fruit. The result is an oil extract that contains the compounds of interest without the solid plant material. For example, a cannabis extraction can separate the following elements of the plant:
- THC (psychoactive ingredient – tetrahydrocannabinol)
- Terpenes (flavor / medical benefits)
- CBD (medical benefits – cannabidiol)
Botanical extraction can be achieved in roughly 5 to 6 steps depending on the method. There are currently three different methods that are popular for cannabis and essential oil extraction.
Cannabis extraction: three main methodologies
- Super Critical Fluid CO2 Extraction (requires recirculating chillers < -60°C)
- Ethanol (EtOH) Extraction (Requires chillers, rotary evaporator and vacuum pump
- Liquid Butane (BHO) or Propane Extraction (usually requires heating circulators, chillers or low temp circulators)
All three methods yield extracts with plant lipids and waxes. These extracts require an additional process called Winterization to remove unwanted components.
Common terms used in extraction
Grinding– This can be performed on any part of the plant, including the flower, stem, or root. Finely grinding the material creates more surface area for the solvent to interact with, leading to much more efficient removal of the chemicals of interest. Grinding is typically performed in a laboratory mill, utilizing a blade or grinding balls to reduce the plant into fine particles.
Extraction– This process places a solid in a solvent in order to remove soluble components. In most cases, high proof ethanol is used for plant extraction. For cannabis, this process will remove Terpenes, THC and CBD oil, leaving a mixture of the desired chemicals and solvent. The solvent will later be burned off using a rotary evaporator or a purge oven.
Winterization– This process removes fats, plant lipids, or any kind of wax from the extract. Achieved by adding ethanol to the extract using a simple filtration step requiring only a vacuum pump, Büchner funnel, filter paper, and vacuum flask. After the material has been filtered, a solution of solvent and extract remains. Use a rotary evaporator to boil off the ethanol, leaving a pure extract that can be dried in a lab oven or readily infused.
Decarboxylation– This process is necessary to activate the psychoactive effects of the cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant or oil. Decarboxylation has a few different meanings however, in this instance, it means replacement of a carboxyl group (-COOH) with a hydrogen atom and releasing carbon dioxide creating THC from THCA. This is achieved by heating the extract or plant material.
Distillation/Isolation/Final Processing– This process is not required for infusion or oil use but distillation remains an important step in the research process. By heating the extract at different temperatures, each chemical of the plant extract can be isolated. This is useful to recover CBD oil without THC present and in for any research process where a scientist is looking to study a specific compound of the plant.
For more information about how Cole-Parmer can help you “Optimize Your Workflow for Success”, see our botanicals resource page.