One System, Many Products
In the ever-expanding cannabis market, companies in the business of extraction cannot afford to overlook CO2 extraction systems to successfully address market demands and thereby increase their own profit margins.
CO2 extraction systems provide the power of selectability to the extract-production process. Using a CO2 system as the foundation of an extraction business provides the flexibility to select specific compounds for top products, produce those products, and deliver them on demand.
Vitalis Director of Sales, Jason Laronde, illuminates the concept of “selectability” and how it responds positively to market forces:
“The really unique thing that CO2 extraction has to offer is that it’s super-selective. Depending on how the machine is set—the pressure, the temperature, the flow rate that you use—the crude cannabis oil can be used in the different products.
“While other extraction methods are really great at making one thing, CO2 is really great at making whatever the customer wants, or whatever the market is asking for.
“So, you’re not only investing in a machine that caters to what customers want now, you’re investing in a machine that can make distillate in the morning and sugar wax in the afternoon. As the market starts to shift, you can adjust with it and in really short order, stay relevant in the customer’s eyes.”
If a company specializes in whole-plant cannabis oils, distillates, or other forms of extracts, just one CO2 extraction system can facilitate these popular formulations. CO2 extraction gives a business the ability to extract a broad spectrum of compounds, making it easier for processors to modify their product offerings in response to market pressures.
Selectivity is a key benefit to using CO2 systems, since it allows for the extraction of specific compounds or combinations of compounds with just a few small adjustments. Utilizing a CO2 extraction system enables the facility to become a multi-product production line. Selective extraction of multiple compounds can be accomplished by modifying the solvent power of the supercritical fluid in the system by adjusting temperature and pressure during extraction. For example, companies can target terpenes in the morning, then switch parameters and focus specifically on THC and CBD recovery in the afternoon.
By using CO2 extraction systems, industrial concentrate makers can produce clean cannabis extracts with the consistency of oil, shatter, budder, or wax. The flexibility of CO2 machines means that products can be made much more economically at scale than they would be if producers used a separate machine for each product.
Generally, extraction is designed to pull a compound or a selected entourage of compounds from plant matter. CO2 extraction, with its ability to perform along a wide spectrum of temperatures and pressures, is a delicate process that won’t damage fragile constituents when performed correctly. For this reason, it is ideal for cannabis, as well as the food, pharmaceutical, and fragrance industries.
Cannabis concentrates are essentially a targeted assortment of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other desired compounds from the cannabis plant. For a successful extract producer, the goal is to consistently achieve effective therapeutic or enjoyable recreational products.
A broad spectrum of terpenes within the extract is crucial to recreational concentrate connoisseurs. What’s more, current clinical studies are suggesting that terpenes can enhance the medicinal properties of CBD and other cannabinoids. Although this “entourage effect” needs much more testing and study for confirmation, current research is very promising.
With changes to temperature and pressure in the extraction process, the system can preserve delicate terpenes from the strain being processed. Given the array of terpenes extracted alongside cannabinoids, CO2 extraction can satisfy top-of-the-market medicinal and recreational consumer demands.
The Economy of Potency Variation
In a study performed in 2017 by Harvard Medical School, researchers found that the majority of medical cannabis users chose cannabis oil over smoking dried cannabis flower and that, “the preferred methods are taking cannabis oils in capsules, inhaling via vaporizers, vape pens, and consuming [cannabis] oil in food or tea.” This new consumer trend can be attributed to a pair of factors - dosage control and perceived economy.
Typically, recreational THC-driven extracts contain anywhere between 60% and 99% THC, with each product having its exact potency explicitly defined for consumer to consider. Comparatively, the average Marijuana flower before extraction contains only 15-25% THC.
Because consumers are now given a wider variety of delivery methods with a broader range of potencies, it is easier for them to adjust dosages for themselves. Previous efforts to control dosages were limited to the consumption of flower through the imprecise method of smoking. Consumers could be instructed to smoke "a lot" or "a little" until noticing the prescribed effects, managing dosages in anecdotal fashion based on any number of subjective consequences. Even further, although the potency of a particular strain could be identified, the combustion of the plant material could potentially burn off a percentage of the desired compounds, depriving the consumer of the full measure of the dose.
Consumption of oils, edibles, and other products allows for more direct consumption, and minimizes the risk of lost compounds. For example, consumption of a 10mg edible eliminates potential loss due to combustion and provides a specific measure of the actual amount being ingested.
The subject of consumption efficiency is certainly a mitigating factor in consumer perception as well. In a long-term study performed by New Frontiers, statistics showed a steady increase in the perception that consuming concentrates saved money.
In present terms, consumers feel that when they are consuming a specific dosage through non-smoking means, they're generally receiving more bang-for-their-buck. Though dosage control is certainly a more measurable and objective factor, consumer attitudes suggest a more subjective feeling that they are able to obtain higher dosages in smaller packages - smoking a gram of flower is being perceived as far less cost-effective relative to consuming a single edible with similar potency.
Cascading down into the market, consumers can experiment with dosage control themselves through more “cost-effective” methods. If a formulation is having successful intended results on a broad level, consumers can begin to measure their product more precisely and experiment with more suitable dosages at perceived economical savings. As a result of these two factors, concentrate sales are now matching or exceeding dried flower sales in most regions within North America and Europe.
Of course, when we look at CO2 extraction, there are other benefits as well, including the “residual-free” nature of the extracted oils as CO2 readily evaporates out of the oil at atmospheric conditions. Furthermore, running supercritical or liquid CO2 through raw cannabis plant material kills most microbial contaminants. In addition, CO2 concentrates taste as good as those from hydrocarbon, as CO2’s excellent terpene preservation leads to a great tasting product.
Ultimately, as the consumer market shifts to favour certain product formulations, CO2’s tuneability allows processors the ability to tweak their extraction process and flex with the shifting market to stay ahead of the curve and stay successful. As the market shifts, the processor can shift in response to customer demands for cleaner, greener, broad-spectrum oils.