Imagine for a moment, transforming hemp into CBD, nature’s past miracle plant in 2020. Why the past? Well, because the history of hemp dates back to 8,000BC where it was grown and harvested by our ancient ancestors as a food source, and as a staple for making clothes, rope, oil, and medicines.
It’s only now that modern-day science is breaking the code on one of nature’s greatest botanicals; unlocking a potential treasure-trove of present-day health benefits.
Fortunately, hemp is now legal to grow in all 50 states since the passing of The Farm Bill in 2018 which was signed into law by President Trump.
One of the questions I get asked most often by newcomers looking into making their initial CBD purchase are the various steps involved in converting hemp into CBD oil and other CBD related products like edibles, topicals, and capsules. In other words, how is this stuff actually made?
The journey for all CBD Oil-based products starts with choosing the best hemp seed genetics, following the planting phase, and then waiting for mother nature to kick in to produce her bounty of mature hemp that is ready to harvest and convert into a premium grade CBD oil.
There are approximately 400 varieties or “strains” of hemp available to grow. Out of the 400 or so hemp strains specifically bred for CBD potency, there are about 75 hemp strains in particular that have been bred to produce the highest CBD content contained in the leaves and flowers with little to no THC. (THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid which produces the high)
Seed genetics play a pivotal role in producing the highest potency CBD strains, those containing a minimum 10% CBD content by volume are the most prized, and companies engaged in growing their hemp crop with the intent of producing a high-grade CBD oil tend to keep their strains close to the chest in order to thwart off potential competitors.
The exception to that rule would be a particular strain invented by the Stanley brothers in Colorado called Charlotte’s Web. This particular strain was particularly high in CBD and had a low THC content which classified the strain as hemp. (0.3% or less THC content by law)
Charlotte’s Web was named after Charlotte Figi, a 5-year-old little girl who was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome and after taking the CBD Oil, it caused her seizures to drop from one every 30 minutes to not having one for seven days after starting her treatment. Her amazing story was featured on CNN and became the catalyst for the massive public awareness movement that CBD enjoys today. It took a child’s experience to open and influence our minds. Well done Charlotte.
The majority of hemp seedlings are grown indoors before being planted in the field, giving them the best chance to flourish.
Maturing Hemp Plants
Acres and acres of maturing hemp plants just bursting with CBD ready to harvest. One of the truly remarkable qualities about the hemp plant is the speed in which it grows to maturity. It takes anywhere from 70-120 days to go from seedling to plant maturity, making it one of the most sustainable crops in the world.
View of a 9,000-acre hemp farm in San Bernadino, California. Some strains of hemp can grow to be six feet tall when it reaches maturity.
Once the hemp plant reaches maturity, it is cultivated by cutting the hemp plant at approximately 4” above the ground to ensure they’re not cutting as much of the fibrous stems.
Hemp Curing Process
After harvesting, the hemp has to be cured and allowed to dry either in outside barns similar to how tobacco is cured or depending on the state in which was grown, the hemp plant can be cured inside specially designed facilities where the temperature and humidity can be closely monitored and controlled. Hemp is cured by hanging it upside down in order to concentrate all the cannabinoids and plant phytochemicals directly into the leaves and flowers.
It’s important the hemp plant cure long enough until the leaves and flowers reach the ideal moisture content ranging between 9-10%. Any higher than 10% moisture content will lower-trim quality (too wet) and anything below 9% will cause the flower and leaves to become dry and brittle.
The natural drying process can take anywhere from 5 days to over 2 weeks to cure depending on the weather conditions and climate where the hemp was originally grown.
Larger scale hemp farmers and producers can speed up the curing process by using state of the art industrial-sized steam dryers that were specifically engineered for curing hemp.
Once the hemp has cured to the desired moisture content, then it’s onto the last stage of the journey for the hemp plant before it’s transformed into premium grade CBD oil and that involves trimming and stripping off the leaves and flowers from the plants stalk.
A lot of this work is still done manually, but recent advancements in technology due to high CBD consumer demand can expedite this process by purchasing specially built machines that are able to strip off the leaves and flowers from the stalks automatically, producing larger volumes of biomass in a fraction of the time.
Unprocessed hemp or (biomass), is made up of the hemp leaves and flowers of the plant and does not contain stalks, stems, or seeds. It is now ready for the final journey of transforming the biomass into high-grade CBD oil.
However, nothing of the hemp plant goes to waste. The stalks can be used to create hemp fiber which can be used to make rope and clothing. Hemp seeds are nutrient-dense and can be eaten as a snack, made into hemp milk, or pressed into hemp oil which can be used in cosmetics, hair care products, or even as a carrier oil for CBD tinctures.
Next, you will get a glimpse into the transformation process that turns raw biomass into premium-grade CBD oil that is improving the health and quality of life for millions of people around the world.
CBD Oil-The Final Transformation
The final stage in the transformation process of converting the cured hemp leaves and flowers (biomass) into premium grade CBD oil requires extracting the CBD-rich oil and terpenes through one of 3 popular extraction methods.
- Alcohol-Based Extraction (ethanol)
- Butane or Propane Extraction
- CO² or Supercritical CO² Extraction
Each method has its pros and cons, but by and large, the CO² extraction process is cleaner because it doesn’t require the use of solvents in order to extract the CBD and other cannabinoids from the biomass. It’s a much longer extraction process because you need some pretty expensive equipment in order to convert the CO² gas into a liquid because it requires low heat and pressurization.
The system has to withstand pressures ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 PSI in order for the CO² now in its liquid state to thoroughly saturate the biomass and extract the CBD oil and other cannabinoids from the plant material.
The length of time required for the full extraction process takes anywhere from 3 to 8 hours depending upon the pressure used. The higher the PSI ratings, the less time it takes for extraction, but the equipment cost will be much more expensive. It takes a highly trained operator to run the system and monitor the entire process from start to finish.
In the next article, I will go into more detail about the other extraction methods. Hopefully, you can better understand the expense that goes into producing a premium grade CBD oil.
- Mature Plant
- Creating Biomass
- Extraction Process
- Finished Product
So much goes into the production and manufacturing to create a premium grade CBD oil in order to capture the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of this all-natural botanical so that the customer can truly experience all of the health benefits from taking CBD.