To make CBD for use in food or medicine, hemp must be cultivated, harvested, dried, processed, extracted, and purified using specialized equipment and processes. This manufacturing process for CBD derived medicines is multi-step and requires several different stages. In total, the process takes many months from growing the plant to extracting and refining the CBD before sale or incorporation into finished medicines.
Ideal conditions- Selective varieties of CBD Hemp of Cannabis spp. are specially bred to comply with producing high levels of Cannabidiol, or CBD. Hemp is an annual plant that grows well in most parts of the country, other than in extreme desert conditions and high mountain areas. It thrives in warm weather and grows best in well-drained soils that are high in organic matter. Hemp seeds are generally sown in directly where the plants are to grow, rather than in pots for transplanting. They should be planted after the average date of last frost has passed. Established hemp plants are fairly drought tolerant, but the seedlings require irrigation for the first six weeks whenever the soil is dry.
Cultivation- Growing hemp for CBD is more effective with the rich CBD plant varieties that contain high levels of flower and resin production. This is best for the extraction step to create full spectrum medical products. The high CBD Hemp plants generally look, grow and smell more like the typical marijuana plant.
Harvest- High CBD medical hemp is typically harvested by hand to ensure the flower heads are kept clean and intact and that the resin-rich trichomes are not dislodged by rough handling.
Post-Harvest Processing- Post-Harvest processing is the immediate agricultural processing of wet and dried herbal material needed to prepare the hemp for industrial, food or medical use. Processing practices and equipment vary significantly depending on the variety of hemp grown, the cultivation style, the available equipment and standard processes in the region.
Drying- Drying hemp post-harvest is an important step as it determines the ultimate product quality. If hemp is dried quickly, cleanly and with minimal damage or loss of the product, it maximizes the quality of food, medicine or fiber products from the harvest. In contrast, hemp that is harvested too wet, or dried too slowly, or with inadequate ventilation, or gets dirty or contaminated by fungi or bacteria during harvest and drying may become spoiled, unsaleable and totally unsuitable for food or medical processing.
Extraction/Purification Process- Once the plants are harvested and properly dried, it is ready for the extraction process. The best quality extracts and medicines come from specially selected, bred and cultivated high CBD hemp plants. The seed or fiber are removed from the hemp plants to allow extraction from the remaining plant material especially the leaves and flower heads. Almost all the CBD in the plant is in the flower heads, followed by a smaller amount in the leaves. There are lesser CBD amounts in the stalk and negligible from the seed.
There are many extraction solvents that can be used to separate and collect the essential oils and compounds of hemp. The extraction process utilizes a super-critical carbon dioxide (CO2) process, which utilizes non-toxic fluid CO2 as a solvent. Super-critical CO2 is listed as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA and is used extensively for commercial extraction in the food industry. To extract all the desired materials, the solvent is forced through the harvested hemp to pull out the CBD, essential oils, lipids, and beneficial compounds. The solvent is then removed from the final product, yielding oil that is naturally high in CBD.
Testing Process- While testing standards vary between manufacturers, ideally CBD oil is examined for cannabinoid content reliability and safety prior to being released on the market, by a third party testing facility. Experienced technicians should test for degradation, damage, or contamination in the oil to ensure that consumers receive only safe, reliable CBD oil.
The process starts with a clone which is a small cutting from a previously planted cannabis plant that they source from a greenhouse. Using a clone versus seeds can make it easier to get a whole crop of the exact type of plant you want (in this case: high CBD and very low THC). After the clones are delivered, they sit to acclimate to the weather for a week and then planted.
Once planted, they get watered through the irrigation system during the season, which runs from May to October. Throughout that season, watering is done as needed depending on the soil moisture level as well as monitoring the proper soil pH.
The crop is harvested in October, as soon as they get clearance from the Department of Agriculture of that state (a sample of each crop is tested by the state).
Once harvested, the plants are left to air-dry. The plants are kept dry and ventilated so mold or mildew doesn’t get introduced. The plants sit for about three to four weeks.
Once the plants are cured, the flowers are stripped. That flower is transported to the processing facility (the rest of the plant is either destroyed or sold to companies to use as roots). At that point, the processor will grind it down to the consistency of coffee grounds. An extraction process is initiated to remove any terpenes (the organic compounds in the plant that are known to give it its distinct scents) that are not wanted. It then goes through the winterization process, where it’s subjected to cold to pull off the fatty acids, lipids, that can potentially alter the chemical make-up of the oil. Next, the mixture is turned into a warm bath with the result of a very raw oil. A distillation process is done to the oil to get a clear color and remove some of the contaminants, while leaving the terpenes that are desired. At that point, the oil is tested for quality and strength by a lab (unaffiliated with the company) and bottled with a carrier oil to make it palatable.