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All CBD's the Same. It's the Journey that Isn't. And That's What Matters.

Written by: | Posted on 03/05/21

“Not all CBD is the same.” “What is in your CBD?” Sound familiar? These are a couple of the ways that brands are working to showcase the quality and superiority of their products. Then, of course, you have two options: nothing but the best with Superior Broad Spectrum CBD or Ultra-Premium Full Spectrum CBD.

One, these methods can be confusing and contradictory. Two, there's a bigger picture at play that matters most - the journey. I'm talking about the journey of your CBD - the seed, the plants, how it was planted, grown, harvested, processed, and manufactured. The truth is, this is REALLY what differentiates your CBD.

Part 1: CBD Brands Struggle to Communicate Effectively

Industry rules and regulations make it difficult for brands to promote and explain themselves clearly, so I suppose we all feel like we need to be creative in how we try to describe our CBD products. Online advertising avenues such as Google, Instagram, or Facebook, classify us along with pharmaceutical drugs, limiting how we can communicate to our customers and prospective customers.

For Example:

  • We can't make medical claims even if it's the truth.
  • We can't even say or include 'CBD' in our advertisements on these platforms, but Hemp is acceptable.
  • Perhaps you have questions such as, will this help my immune system? Or, can this treat pain? At this time, we're unable to answer those questions head-on due to FDA classifications and limitations.

These are considerable limitations that make communication a real challenge. Brands are working to be creative and think outside of the box but often do so with a lack of effective communication, and instead, they create more confusion. These limiting factors are unfortunate for those who genuinely care about the products they are selecting.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I empathize with you. Whether I can do any better at communicating, well, I'll let you be the judge of that. The best way I know how is to educate you about CBD and tell you like it is.

Part 2: The Origin and Journey of Your CBD

So, is all CBD the same? What is in your CBD, and does it matter? What is the difference between Superior Ultra Broad Spectrum CBD and Ultra Premium Full Spectrum CBD? These questions fall in line with what you’re probably seeing most. There are better questions to be asked, however.

Technically, all CBD is the same as it relates to its chemical composition. It's the origin and journey of your CBD that matter most.

Let me define what I mean by 'your CBD:' I define this as the hemp extract in your CBD product. CBD is a cannabinoid that makes up hemp extract. Products that contain hemp extract, which consist primarily of CBD, are referred to as CBD Products - your CBD.   

Better Questions

How was your CBD grown?

What was the quality of the hemp crop?

How was your CBD harvested?

What happened to your CBD, and where did it go after harvest?

How was your CBD dried?

When was your CBD extracted?

How was your CBD processed and manufactured?

The Origin: Where Did your CBD begin?

CBD is a chemical compound known as a phytocannabinoid or cannabinoid originating within a hemp plant. All hemp plants start as a seed. Yes, there are clones, but clones come from mother plants that started as a seed.

The Origin: Growing Your CBD

Maybe it is grown outdoors in a field, planted as a seed, seedling, or clone nurtured by mother nature. Or, perhaps it is grown indoors, cultivated in more of an artificial but near-perfect environment.

While growing environments can indeed dictate flower yield, quality, and cannabinoid ratio potential, they don't make a massive impact on the overall safety of the CBD products these plants are capable of producing. That’s as long as cultivation managers execute with care and responsibility. Organic farming practices are best - for example, using natural methods to combat pests such as aphids with ladybugs versus chemical pesticides or managing weed pressure with sweat equity (pulling them out row by row, trust me, I have experience here) versus chemical herbicides.

The Journey: From Harvest to Shelf-Ready Product

In short, I will identify and define the primary components that make up your CBD journey as concisely as possible. Keep in mind that the journey to produce your CBD can be long and complicated, with many ways to get there. So, let me tell you about the methodologies I believe to be most prominent.

We've covered the origin, planting, and organic cultivation. So, let's move on to the first step in the journey - harvest.

The Journey: Harvesting Your CBD

Like any crop, hemp plants have a photoperiodic life cycle, physiological responses, and growth during the day and night. The lifecycle of a hemp plant will depend on genetics and/or variety. Most photoperiodic hemp varieties are 120-day plants, requiring 120 days or four months to fully mature. The clock starts as soon as the seed has sprouted and stops once the harvesting is over.

What is harvest or harvesting?

In short, harvest or harvesting is the mechanical or manual removal of plants from their growing environment. There are several different ways to harvest Hemp. The method a Hemp farmer chooses to employ generally depends on the size of the crop. A larger crop will often call for a mechanical harvest, whereas smaller crops may allow for a manual harvest. There's no right or wrong way to harvest Hemp, but there are certainly better ways to do it when it comes to your CBD's overall quality and journey.

The ideal scenario for your CBD is when a crop is quickly harvested and immediately moved to a post-harvest conditioning and stabilization environment. Your CBD will be of the best quality when the hemp flower is separated from the stalks and stems during harvest.

Mechanical Harvest

As it stands today, there are very few, if any, mechanical methods that can effectively and efficiently complete the process of separation.

When harvesting a crop mechanically, the plant is generally chopped up and mulched into a homogeneous type mixture consisting of stalks, stems, leaves, and hemp flowers. This method dilutes the overall cannabinoid ratios with excess fiber and other plant parts that are not as useful when the end goal is hemp extract. A homogeneous harvest yield makes it much more difficult to effectively extract cannabinoid-rich oil found predominately in the hemp flower (bud). Therefore, hemp oil extract results in lower cannabinoid and CBD potency and higher undesirable plant matter concentrations. The higher the cannabinoid and CBD potency of hemp extract, the better the shelf-ready product will be in the end.

However, other mechanical harvest methods remove the whole plant and enable the farmers to manually separate the hemp flower from the plant's various parts and achieve a more desirable hemp extract. At Kannaco, this is what we prefer.

The Journey: Post Harvest Stabilization

I would consider post-harvest stabilization as the most critical series of processes in the journey of your CBD. Hemp plants are wet when harvested, meaning they are still green with high moisture content. High moisture content presents potential issues if not handled properly - mold, rot, and plant decomposition, to name a few.

A drying process is the first step for post-harvest stabilization and can be considered a significant challenge for many farmers. Similar to harvesting, there are several ways to dry a hemp crop mechanically or manually. Some farmers use mechanical dryers while others use manual processes such as hang-drying. Quantity of plants, crop size, and volume dictate the drying method. Hemp plants are extremely volatile post-harvest; therefore, getting freshly harvested plants to their drying environment as quickly as possible is most important.

Mechanical Hemp dryers are great for larger crops and the mixed bag of biomass. The challenge with this method is industrial driers are notorious for too much heat and compromising cannabinoid profiles and the overall natural state of the hemp plant.

Hemp plants dried slowly in a controlled environment designed to preserve terpenes, and the natural plant profile is best.

The Journey: Hemp Extraction

Now that your CBD is dried, it is ready to be extracted and turned into Hemp Extract. The sooner dried Hemp ships to extraction, the better. Some hemp flowers and biomass sit for months or even years before being processed. If it is going to sit for long, it's best to be in a controlled environment. The handling of dried Hemp, where it goes, and how fast it moves to extraction is a prime example of how the journey of your CBD can make a big difference and a reason why some say, "not all CBD is the same."

What is Hemp Extraction?

Hemp Extraction is the process of removing active compounds (cannabinoids) such as CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN, and others from plant matter (aerial parts) such as Hemp flower and, or Hemp biomass.

There are several ways to create Hemp Extract through the processing or extraction of Hemp plants. Brands commonly use extraction methods to differentiate their product, debate alternative strategies, and persuade consumers why their approach yields better CBD products.

While there are many ways to create Hemp Extract, I will only comment on the two most prominent extraction methods we see today - Ethanol or Alcohol Extraction and Supercritical CO2 extraction. Extraction methods generally qualify as solvent-based or non-solvent.

Ethanol or Alcohol Extraction

The elephant in the room is most certainly Ethanol Extraction, also known as alcohol extraction. Ethanol is a petroleum product made from grains, but most commonly corn. Ethanol is considered a solvent, and Ethanol Extraction is a solvent-based extraction method. Because of this, it gets a bad rap.

How Does Ethanol Extraction Work?

In a nutshell, hemp plant parts are soaked in large vats of Ethanol for several hours so that the plant compounds can begin to break down and engage the separation process. The post-soak solution then chills in a series of cylinders at freezing, sub-zero temperatures before being heated back up to boiling temperatures. In short, this entire process yields a hemp extract in the form of what is known as crude hemp oil or unrefined hemp extract containing all of the fats, lipids, minerals, and the full spectrum of cannabinoids. It is hempy to the smell, dense, thick, and dark in color. When done the right way, this extraction process is effective and safe. It is an old and proven method. If done wrong, the plant profile is compromised by harsh solvents and temperatures, ruining the real value of your CBD.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction and How it Works

The next most common hemp extraction method is supercritical CO2 extraction. CO2 extraction combines pressurized carbon dioxide with specific temperatures to move the CO2 gas into a supercritical state. Many prefer this methodology to separate cannabinoids from hemp plant flower and biomass due to its less abrasive nature and ability to isolate terpenes, minor, and primary (major) cannabinoids without destroying the plant's natural state. The plant is generally milled or ground down before being run through these mechanical processes. The CO2 extraction method is used in many different industries to extract the oils from a vast range of various botanicals, plant, fruit, and vegetable materials.

Another reason many prefer CO2 extraction is that it doesn't involve the use of solvents like those you find with Ethanol/alcohol extraction. However, no one tells you that even CO2 extraction also uses Ethanol to fully carboxylate it, which is a process that happens at the very end.

Which extraction method is better or safer?

At the end of the day, using either of the two methods for extracting cannabinoids from hemp flower to create hemp extract are acceptable provided they are processed professionally and responsibly. I have seen incredibly high-quality hemp crude and winterized hemp crude generated from both methods. A certificate of analysis (COA) for a shelf-ready product will tell you all about the hemp extract. You can also be sure that any credible company will have tested their hemp extract multiple times before it even makes it into a shelf-ready product. The fact of the matter is, a small amount of excellent Hemp goes a long way.

Hemp Extract: The Final Phase of the Journey

Your CBD has been planted, grown organically, harvested, and extracted. What now? It is in the form of crude oil or winterized crude oil, known as hemp extract. When someone refers to CBD, they are referring to hemp extract. CBD is a cannabinoid that makes up Hemp extracts unless it's a hemp extract from an alternate primary cannabinoid variety such as CBG or CBN. For this article's sake and in this case, we are talking about CBD being the primary cannabinoid and hemp variety.

What is Hemp Extract?

When I speak of hemp extract, I focus on four primary form factors. And to be clear, I'm talking about the hemp cannabinoid, CBD. Other than hemp flower or hemp biomass, most CBD products start with Crude Oil and Winterized Crude Oil.

  1. Crude Oil and Winterized Crude Oil = Hemp Extract
  2. Full Spectrum CBD is in an oil form = Full Spectrum Hemp Extract
  3. Broad Spectrum CBD is in an oil form = THC Free Full Spectrum Hemp Extract
  4. CBD Isolate (THC-Free Isolate) is in a powder form = Isolated CBD Hemp Extract

Hemp Extract: Crude Oil

In short, crude oil is the foundational premise of CBD you find in any plant-based cannabinoid (non-synthetic) product you will find on shelves or online. It's the first oil form of hemp extraction. It's what hemp flower and hemp biomass (plant parts: flower, leaves, perhaps stems, stalks, etc.) turn into during the first step of extraction, also known as processing.

Hemp crude oil is super sticky, hempy-smelling, and viscous. It retains many of the hemp plant properties such as major and minor cannabinoids in both their active and acidic form (if not fully decarboxylated), fats, lipids, and waxes.

Hemp Extract: Winterized Crude Oil

The next step is winterizing the crude oil. Winterizing is the process of decarboxylating the crude oil - heating the oil to convert acidic cannabinoids into active/available cannabinoids, an essential step towards optimizing the overall cannabinoid concentration.

Hemp Extract: Full Spectrum CBD

Full Spectrum CBD is also known as Full Spectrum Hemp extract, is simple. It is the same as Winterized Crude Oil, but with a little more refinement and purification to remove fats, lipids, waxes, foreign plant material, etc. It looks a lot like pure maple syrup and smells delicious.

This Hemp Extract includes all of the naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, terpenes, proteins, and phytocannabinoids (CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN), including Dela-9 THC, but less than 0.3% THC (< 0.3% THC). Full Spectrum CBD retains the most natural form.

Hemp Extract: Broad Spectrum CBD

Broad Spectrum CBD is also known as Broad Spectrum Hemp Extract. The only difference between this and Full Spectrum CBD is that Broad Spectrum Hemp Extract contains zero THC. Full Spectrum CBD is further processed to isolate and remove the THC cannabinoid from the extract solution.

Most processors and manufacturers are unwilling to pay the costs required of current THC remediation technologies. So, why do I see so many Broad Spectrum CBD products on the market?

That's a good question. You have probably seen brands use the term Ultra Broad Spectrum CBD. Processing and manufacturing facilities are fairly advanced these days. They've learned how to be more efficient and take less time, which means a better bottom line and more affordability. It also means more processing. Ultra-Broad Spectrum CBD is a blended approach. CBD isolate - cheap, readily available, and much easier to manufacture from lower quality Hemp biomass from large-scale farmers with mechanical operating techniques (harvesting and drying).

Using a cheap and readily available input, CBD Isolate, they can now have a THC-Free solution. They accomplish this by blending the CBD Isolate with the cannabinoid minors such as CBG, CBC, CBN, etc. By doing so, they can develop highly targeted and precise blends and call those blends Ultra Broad Spectrum CBD or Ultra Broad Spectrum Hemp Extract. However, what they miss are the other natural components such as terpenes, vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, etc.

Suppose I were to compare this in a nutritional or dietary manner. Ultra Broad Spectrum CBD would be similar to simple sugars or processed carbohydrates (white bread, crackers, etc.) versus Full Spectrum CBD, similar to complex carbs and unprocessed carbohydrates (oatmeal, whole grains, etc.).

Hemp Extract: CBD Isolate (powder)

CBD Isolate is also known as THC-Free CBD. It is comprised only of the CBD cannabinoid and presents in a white powder form factor. It originates from Full Spectrum CBD or Winterized Crude Oil, in which the CBD cannabinoid goes through the process of separation and isolation from all other cannabinoids and components.

In Summary

All CBD is the same; it's the origin and journey that differentiate your CBD and dictate the overall quality. The entire process is long and complicated and riddled with a ton of variables along the way. Now that you know a little more about the typical methods, perhaps you are better equipped to look for the indicators and information that matters most or at least be able to ask questions that matter more.