Ever wonder how dried cannabis is turned into oil?
When compared to other intake methods, such as smoking and vaporizing, cannabis oil provides long-lasting effects, a precise means of dosing, and discreetness.
Simply put, cannabis oil is obtained by separating the plant’s resins from its flowers using an extraction process.
The result is an efficient, clean and high-quality medicinal product that can be ingested orally right out of the bottle.
But what does the full process look like? What actually happens?
Read on to get a glimpse into how cannabis oil is made.
Supercritical CO2 and its sidekick: ethanol
Green Relief’s cannabis oils are produced through a state-of-the-art, supercritical CO2 extraction process.
The extraction process involves using food-safe CO2 gas, which, when applied with specific pressure and temperature, can easily dissolve and separate medicinal compounds from cannabis plant matter
To make oil, we use a clean and efficient process of extraction using carbon dioxide (CO2), a colourless, odourless gas that is naturally present in the air.
To start the process, dried cannabis is ground into a uniform size using a mill. The plant material is then packed and compressed into a cylinder that is piped into the back of an oil extractor. This state-of-the-art extractor uses the same technology that makes olive or fish oil.
A system of pumps pushes the CO2 (the main solvent), along with pharmaceutical-grade ethanol (a co-solvent), though the cylinder at a high pressure, turning it into the ultimate superhero sidekick: supercritical CO2.
Shapeshifting: A super(critical) power
One of the most basic concepts taught in school science class is there are three physical states of matter: solids, liquids, and gases.
But under specific conditions of pressure and temperature, however, a fourth, supercritical state exists.
In the supercritical state, CO2 has the power to shapeshift. It behaves like a gas to fill a container, but with the density of a liquid.
As a tuneable solvent, supercritical CO2 not only dissolves plant material, it also extracts and separates individual compounds that make up the oil.
Contaminants: the bad guys
Coupled with pharmaceutical-grade ethanol, supercritical CO2 ensures a cannabis oil’s optimal potency and concentration.
Together, the two solvents thwart off the “bad guys” – contaminants in the plant material that will impact the final product’s purity.
In cannabis oil extraction, these villains include anything that aren’t cannabinoids or terpenes (aromatic compounds that can enhance the oil’s medicinal properties).
Contaminants can include chlorophyll, waxes and lipids, and any residual moisture left in the plant material.
Once the extraction (which can be up to six hours) takes place, the raw extract is pumped through a separator that is built into the extractor.
As a result, cannabinoids and terpenes are isolated and collected in one vessel, while contaminants are siphoned off into another one.
Weather manipulation (and other forces of refinement)
At this point, the raw extract undergoes winterization, a process that includes dissolving it in ethanol, heating it, and then freezing it to a sub-zero temperature.
Winterization continues to separate compounds with a higher melting point, such as fats, and further isolates ingredients with medicinal value: the cannabinoids and terpenes.
Once unfrozen, the extract is put through a semi-permeable paper barrier that is not unlike an oversized coffee filter.
Finer fats are captured in the filter paper, and form a wax that’s void of cannabinoids, and could potentially be used to make candles. Under Health Canada regulations, however, this byproduct wax must be disposed.
To further refine the extract, it’s put into a flask and placed on a rotary evaporator (or “rotovap”). Dry ice is added to the rotovap’s cold stores to vaporize any remaining ethanol in the extract.
The rotation of the extract encourages the solvent to evaporate, and a water bath gently heats the flask to keep the solvent from freezing while the ethanol dissipates. The ethanol is removed under vacuum and is trapped into a condenser, where it is collected for responsible disposal.
Medicinal ingredients, activate!
Freshly harvested, raw cannabis plants contain cannabinoids in acidic form (THCA and CBDA). These acids are also extracted from the plants in the oil-making process, and need to be activated through decarboxylation to convert them into THC and CBD – the extract’s medicinal properties.
Decarboxylation, which stimulates a chemical reaction that releases CO2 molecules, is achieved by applying heat to the oil for several hours while the extract is in the flask, and rotating.
The water bath, however, is replaced with a silica that won’t boil off, and that will maintain a stable temperature to ensure a steady decarboxylation process.
Carrier oils that pack a punch
After decarboxylation, Green Relief’s cannabis oils (Floating Island, Low Tide, Deep Purple, and Tusnami) are mixed with a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) coconut oil – a purified, stable, and nutritional carrier that effectively aids in the body’s absorption of cannabinoids. Once approved by an independent, third-party lab, Green Relief’s cannabis oil is formulated into a bulk batch, before being packaged for oral ingestion right out of the bottle (or added to food and beverages).
CBD-rich Sunrise Oil
Further refinement is required to make Green Relief’s Sunrise Oil, a highly concentrated CBD oil with trace amounts of THC that has become a go-to for patients seeking effective relief, while also avoiding the psychoactive effects associated with THC.
Sunrise Oil is made using flash chromatography technology, a secondary purification process that separates and isolates the CBD from THC molecules. To achieve this, the oil is passed through a chromatography column which contains media, such as solid, silica bead and a functional group. Solvents are pushed through the column to tumble the molecules, which are either repelled or attracted to the media.
Isomers of each other, so in order to separate the CBD and THC is very tricky. An isomer is a chemical species with the same number and types of atoms as another chemical species but with distinct properties because the atoms are arranged into different chemical structures.
A machine that passes the molecules through and separates them, and pull them out of thousands of molecules.
Two weeks of 12-hour days, constant monitoring of live molecules, and labour-intensive. The CBD isolate is mixed with MCT for testing, and eventual packaging and ingestion.
Separation, and filtration for a pure product to treat what ails our patients.