We are presented with a rare opportunity—to shape the demand in the cannabis market for the highest quality products. Currently, the most widely accepted standards rely on a business-based model, as opposed to a medicinal-based model. While this can produce a quality of standards entirely acceptable for recreational-based use, we are finding that in severely compromised immune systems such as those with cancer, autoimmune diseases and other neurological disorders (RSD, CRPS, fibromyalgia), this approach can have potentially detrimental effects. Our goal is to bring awareness to the different ways the cannabis plant is cultivated, extracted and processed and things we need to be aware of when making medicine specific products.
Genetics and Harvesting
The genetics of the plant itself needs to be of medicinal quality, and there must be integrity in the cultivation and harvesting process. The strongest, fastest, highest-yielding plant does not always translate into the best flower for medicinal purposes. Having high cannabinoid and essential oil content is vital. Essential oils are commonly referred to as terpenes, although they also contain various other compounds. The ACDC strain can have two percent or more of essential oils, yet is very spindly and bushy, and does best outdoors in full sun. Only a few great cultivators have successfully grown ACDC to a 20 percent CBD content flower.
Cloning is often the best way to propagate a dependable yield, yet it can also cause more susceptibility to pests and molds. Plants grown from seeds appear heartier and require less pest control measures. Although there are plenty of non-toxic solutions for molds and insects, they require planning and forethought. Pesticide use in cannabis cultivation usually occurs at the last minute, when unforeseen problems arise and toxic solutions are quickly employed to save the crop. This is the beginning of flower contamination, which poses a potential health hazard to the seriously ill. Harvesting the plants too early often results in less robust medicinal content, though doing so will keep the THC content low, the chief reason it has become the standard harvesting system.
There are multiple extraction methods, including solvent, hydrocarbon, CO2 and water extraction. The active compounds congregate in the flowers, making it the preferred material for medicinal extractions and producing the most potent concentrates. Discarded leaf material is commonly used, resulting in a lower medicinal content. In my opinion, the best solvent extractions are made with food-grade, high-proof grain or sugar alcohol. They’re made with both fresh and/or dried plant material. Water can also be used to extract a variety of compounds, including the coveted essential oils (terpenes).
CO2 extractions use an inert gas under pressure to separate the plant (waters, waxes, cannabinoids, oils, etc.) and yield more using dried plant material. It is preferred medicinally by many, as it’s non-toxic and considered, by many, the safest method. It concentrates Beta-Caryophyllene, which research has shown to open the peripheral endocannabinoid system. However, it does not capture the full profile of an essential oil. Dewaxing is regularly necessary for the widely used cartridges. This process evaporates the essential oils, leaving it clearer, but often with less flavor and effects.
Hydrocarbon extraction is the most widely used process, commonly using butane and/or propane. Petroleum-derived solvents are fossil fuels, and therefore contain toxicity. One point of debate is that evaporation of a hydrocarbon process will leave a negligible amount of residue in the finished product. A medicinal approach to this situation is understanding that a seriously compromised immune system is susceptible to even the most minute of contaminants.
Testing for potential contaminants has become vital. Testing for pesticides and fungicides, terpenes, CBD and THC content as well as hydrocarbon residue are the most important toxins to examine. PPB (parts per billion) or PPT (parts per trillion) provide the most reliable results. Genuine research necessitates the ability to produce repeatability, which requires numerous tests of samples to obtain statistical data. Most testing is PPM (parts per million), which may come out to zero, yet there could still be contaminant molecules in a product registering a zero PPM, when measured at PPB/PPT. While this may be acceptable for recreational use, this risk is not worth it for ailing patients.
For many, a business perspective will justify using the cheapest and most widely accepted methods. Medicinally speaking, the most powerful medicine comes from the following: the proper plant grown toxin-free, extracting without solvents and formulating healthy dosages. Extreme disease and pain levels require these potent formulas, while basic tinctures and infusions will suffice for simple pain and mood relief. More research is obviously required.