Medical cannabis patients in Park City, Utah can visit the Deseret Wellness cannabis pharmacy to purchase vape cartridges, tinctures, and a variety of other products. They can even purchase cannabis flower in certain amounts. It would be curious to know how many of them understand the process that gets cannabis products from a farmer’s field to retail shelves.
Cannabis users around the country are in the same boat. Most understand the principle of growing cannabis, harvesting it, and then rolling up the plant material and smoking it. But there is a lot more to the modern cannabis market than joints and flower buds. All those other products derived from cannabis require a lot of effort to produce.
Cultivating and Harvesting
Every retail cannabis product can be traced back to a plant. Some cannabis plants are grown outdoors, though most are grown indoors under tightly controlled conditions. Furthermore, new plants can be grown from seeds or clones of other plants. There are multiple ways to do it.
Prior to harvest, plants have to be tested for THC content. That is because plants with more than 0.3% THC cannot be sold as hemp. They have to be sold as marijuana. Some states do not even allow hemp growers to harvest their plants if THC levels are too high. Instead, those plants must be destroyed.
Harvesting plants is immediately followed by one of two options: freezing or drying. Frozen plants are put through a specialized extraction process to produce what is known as live resin. Dried plants are processed in a variety of ways. In every case, extraction is the next step.
Extracting Crude Oil
With the exception of producing a live resin or shatter product, the main purpose of extraction is to produce what is known as crude oil. This is cannabis oil containing all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other substances yielded by plant material during extraction. Crude oil is then winterized to remove fats and waxes. Processors are left with a substance known as full-spectrum oil.
Here is where all the variation comes in. You can buy full-spectrum oil as-is. What you are getting is an oil with all the natural cannabinoids and terpenes intact. If it is a THC product, the concentration of THC compared to all other substances is lower than the concentration of a product that has been further distilled.
Distilling Crude Oil
Distilling cannabis crude oil is very similar to distilling alcohol. Crude oil is subjected to heat and pressure in a controlled distillation chamber. As the various constituents in the oil reach their boiling point, they evaporate and escape the chamber. They are then condensed and recovered.
Distillation allows processors to isolate specific cannabinoids or terpenes. They can distill crude oil in order to remove everything but the THC or CBD. The result is a cannabis distillate or isolate with high concentrations of the desired cannabinoid.
Processes can also mix and match cannabinoids and terpenes to create specialized formulas. Doing so is one way to produce branded products based on proprietary recipes. As popular as the cannabis market is right now, there is money to be made in this particular pursuit.
All the retail products you might buy at a medical cannabis dispensary are produced after distillation is complete. One manufacturer might infuse a vape cartridge with THC and a few terpenes. Another one might produce gummies, using distilled cannabis compounds as ingredients. Regardless of the product, the same basic process was used to get it from the farmer’s field to the retailers shelf. And now you know.