Understanding the Science of Cannabis Product Development: Page 3 of 3

June 11, 2019
Figure 2: Ethanol extraction
(Click to enlarge) Figure 2: To produce a full spectrum extract for pharmaceutical-grade products, the most commonly used methods are supercritical CO2 and ethanol (14).
Figure 3: Supercritical and subcritical CO2 create a vast variety of end product
(Click to enlarge) Figure 3: Supercritical and subcritical CO2 create a vast variety of end products that can contain precious terpenes, and be tuned to acquire targeted cannabinoids in the material (15).
Amber Wise
Amber Wise
AC Braddock
AC Braddock
Abstract / Synopsis: 

The rapidly expanding global market for cannabis products should be based on the medical science of cannabis and how it interacts with the human endocannabinoid system. Companies that base their brands on the science of the entourage effect and develop products around plant genetics using cutting-edge extraction technology will rule global market share, reshape our medical system and recreate how we choose to find relaxation and stimulation. Current political and economic situations have created non-science-based markets and products that are not serving medical patients, and are not designed to fill the research gaps we desperately need to fill to legitimize the emerging anecdotal evidence. By understanding whole-plant extractions better, allowing for their medical use and removing restrictions on research and development, businesses will be able to better plan for long-term profitability and sustainability.

I have had the privilege to read and watch a multitude of business pitches in the past few years. What is truly disturbing are two things. First, CBD-only products are being touted as a “cure all.” CBD is a powerful cannabinoid, but it is not a “cure all.” Second, the laser focus on only CBD and the continued demonizing of THC (the so-called “recreational cannabinoid”) is continuing to support and spread the propaganda around Cannabis sativa L. that began in the early 1930s. Not only has CBD been shown to work better when there is a small amount of THC present (and most often other terpenoids and biomolecules—the entourage effect), but THC itself is medically relevant for a wide range of ailments. 

The sheer number of companies adding CBD into everything is damaging the cannabis industry. Not only are companies acquiring CBD from questionable sources that contain impurities and pesticides, they are then adding this into products that are often the only legal form of medicine for patients to consume. They are marketing CBD products that contain minuscule or no actual CBD in them. This is snake oil and it won’t take long for people who try it to make the correct conclusion that these CBD products do not work. The danger is they will assume all CBD products are fake and will stop buying all medically active cannabis products.  Again, science is not prevailing here but instead political restrictions and opportunistic product developers.

Along these lines, the descriptors around whole plant extracts need to be defined. I read one pitch deck that naïvely bragged their products would be “full-spectrum distillates.” The distillation process is designed to purify mixtures and separate molecules from those with different boiling points and molecular weights. The vast majority of all the other biomolecules such as terpenoids, fats, lipids, chlorophyll and waxes are removed. Therefore, by definition, a distillate cannot be “full spectrum” (11). To produce a full-spectrum extract for pharmaceutical grade products, the most commonly used methods are supercritical CO2 and ethanol (14) (Figure 2). Supercritical and subcritical CO2 (Figure 3) create a vast variety of end products that can contain precious terpenes, and be tuned to acquire targeted cannabinoids in the material (15). A warm ethanol extraction is by far the most efficient method, and will perform an exhaustive extraction, which means pulling all of the compounds out of the plant, including chlorophyll that can be quickly filtered from the crude oil. The down side is the loss of terpenes in the solvent recovery process. But a preprocessing of steam distilling will remove purified terpenes that are added into a final formulation can create a more truly full-spectrum extract. Cold ethanol extraction will also help retain terpenes. It is a much slower process and not as efficient, but it can eliminate the need for post processing the crude oil.

Understanding how different extraction protocols are performed and the various outcomes is crucial in the product development process. A combination of extraction methods is often successfully used to create greater processing efficiencies and a greater diversity of products on the shelf with a single batch of material. However, it’s not only a good extraction and formulation that will make a successful product or brand. Every product line is dependent on a message and the line should be created to solve a problem or fill a niche. In the educated connoisseur and medical markets, how and why it is made is the inherent value of the brand. Consumers will pay more for products and brands that bring value to their community. These are the consumers that are aware of the social destruction and medical ills created and propogated by prohibitionists, and will listen when you create a product that restores the value and honor of the relationship between humans and cannabis.

The scientific and business leaders of this growing industry cannot perpetuate the disinformation of the past. We cannot build an industry based in health and well-being and sustain it without bringing the public and politicians along with us into an era of new medical science based on the endocannabinoid system, the entourage effect, and how to create whole-plant formulations and their application to individuals. It is time we investigated the real science, and develop products for brands that take our culture to the next step, and not pander to old medical practice, the traditional pharmaceutical model and short-sighted investors.  It will take a concerted effort. Product development and placement are the platform on which to build and heal our bodies, minds, culture and environment.  

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  11. https://rhizosciences.co/full-spectrum-cannabis-extracts-superior-cbd/ (2015).
  12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/endocannabinoid-system. Multiple abstracts (2009-2018).
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/ (2011).
  14. https://blog.edenlabs.com/hemp-extraction-and-the-versatility-of-the-col... (2018).
  15. https://blog.edenlabs.com/ethanol-vs-co2-which-method-is-best (2019).


Dr. Amber Wise is currently the Science Director at Medicine Creek Analytics, a certified cannabis testing laboratory in Washington state. She was previously the Science Director at Avitas, a licensed cannabis grower and processor in Washington and Oregon. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]

A.C. Braddock is CEO of Eden Labs, a 25-year-old extraction technology company and a career entrepreneur with extensive success in business development, product placement, brand development, business infrastructure and creating modern company cultures. Her mission is the furthering of whole plant medicines, healthy extraction methodologies and socially responsible business practices. She is Chair of BOD for NCIA, Vice Chair of Washington’s Cannabis Alliance and BOD of The Initiative. Direct correspondence to: [email protected]


How to Cite This Article
A. Wise and A.C. Braddock, Cannabis Science and Technology 2(3), 16-20 (2019)