Higher Education: It’s Not Just a Pipe Dream Anymore

March 2, 2020
Abstract / Synopsis: 

Lake Superior State University (LSSU) and ExtractionTek Solutions (ETS) are teaming up to bring the world a true cannabis degree with a hands on laboratory. LSSU is regionally accredited and is currently enrolled in three Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) cannabis degrees. ETS and its partners will be providing real world experience, knowledge, and expertise from the cannabis industry. LSSU has also teamed up with Agilent to provide much needed analytical testing research from a facility that is not incentivized by money.

A cannabis degree? What once seemed like a pipe dream is actually happening. The cannabis industry is enjoying a steadily growing demand and is in need of an increasingly expansive, educated labor force. As of the first quarter in 2019, reports show that the cannabis industry provided more than 200,000 jobs in the U.S., and over 60,000 of them were created in 2018 (1). With more states approving medical and recreational cannabis sales and the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the growth potential for the industry is enormous.

As the fastest growing industry in the U.S. and a promising growth sector internationally, commercial cannabis is maturing faster than most can keep abreast. It seems as if there is far more misinformation than real information available; leaving a large gap between those who have knowledge and those that want it. The ability to distribute cannabis knowledge in an organized manner is problematic. The internet is a valuable resource, but it leaves much to be desired. So, where do we go from here?

Lake Superior State University (LSSU) is one of the first universities to step up and take the responsibility for formally carrying cannabis into higher education. They have broken the barrier that others were unwilling to. Cannabis has been stigmatized and laughed about for so long that society has been trained to think it’s a bad thing. Other schools have tip-toed around the wording, but have never called it what it is: cannabis. LSSU has officially put cannabis into the realms of higher learning. Comprised of a multitude of compounds, with a wide array of applications, cannabis’s complexity is a daunting puzzle to unravel. Cannabis is made up of hundreds of compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and much more. As such, it deserves its own degree and to be studied at a higher level.

Founded in 1946 and located in Sault Saint Marie, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, LSSU is the first regionally-accredited institution to offer Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in cannabis. Academic innovation is not new territory for LSSU, however, as they were the first in the country to establish one of only three accredited Fire Sciences degree programs in the U.S. Further, LSSU has been fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association since 1968 and, as such, provides its students with financial aid and transfer credit eligibility. LSSU’s current cannabis-focused degree programs include “Cannabis Business,” “Cannabis Chemistry,” and “Cannabis Science.” Consistently bringing the world what they need, LSSU is focused on turning out the next generation of cannabis employees, but they cannot do it alone.

Enter ExtractionTek Solutions (ETS). Established in 2011, ETS is a Colorado-based company providing light hydrocarbon extraction (LHE) equipment to the cannabis industry. ETS was at the forefront of cannabis legalization and was instrumental in providing safe and efficient equipment solutions to the ever-growing hydrocarbon extraction market. They bridged the gap from the basement style “open blasting” technique into the first third-party-engineer, peer-reviewed, closed-loop extraction platform. The “open-blasting” extraction technique included a cylindrical vessel filled with raw plant material (RPM). The vessel contained a small hole at the top to introduce the liquid hydrocarbons to the RPM and a filter was affixed to the large opening on the bottom, to separate the solvent mixture from the RPM. The hydrocarbons passed over the RPM and dissolved the compounds into a solution. The solution was collected in an open collection vessel. Heat was then added to the solution to convert the hydrocarbons into vapors, leaving behind the extracted plant compounds. In this process, the solvent was then purged into the atmosphere, and this sometimes had rather explosive results.

In light of its associated safety issues, “open blasting” was quickly outlawed nationally, particularly as injuries mounted. ETS’s closed-loop extraction system was able to take the open blasting process, encapsulate it in American 316 steel, and make it safe. By keeping the system under vacuum and using the physical characteristics of the solvents, it is now possible to extract the compounds out of the RPM and recycle the solvent for multiple uses. While similar to “open blasting,” in that a vessel is packed with plant material, the closed-loop extraction vessel is capped on either end, and a series of valves and hoses control the flow of the hydrocarbons through the system. The hydrocarbons are contained in an operating tank and will begin and end in this same spot. Just like “open blasting,” the solvent contacts the RPM and dissolves the compounds into solution. The system then passes the solution through a filter and into a closed collection vessel. The collection vessel is jacketed and can have hot water applied to the external jacket. Once the solution is heated, the liquid hydrocarbons convert to vapors. The vapor is distilled out of the collection vessel and recondensed back into a liquid that is returned to the starting solvent tank. This completes the “loop,” and the vessels were always “closed,” hence the name closed-loop extraction system. When operated correctly, this is the safest way to extract with these solvents. 

References: 
  1. B. Barcott, Leafly.com, March 4, 2019, https://www.leafly.com/news/industry/legal-cannabis-jobs-report-2019 (accessed February 7, 2020).