Cannabis Isolates 101

by | Jun 29, 2021

Written by Kristina Etter

Kristina is a digital content creator and designer. She has a talent for creating engaging and informative content that resonates with our professional audience. Kristina’s passion for the cannabis industry stems from her belief that it has the potential to revolutionize the world in many ways, and has a personal testimony of cannabis success.

Although full-spectrum and broad-spectrum products remain in high demand, cannabis isolates are becoming a regular item in most stores and dispensaries. The widening interest in what effects individual cannabinoids can produce has even expanded to industries outside of cannabis.

Being able to separate these cannabis compounds individually allows researchers to study them further. Additionally, isolates allow commercial producers to create products without certain cannabinoids, like THC, for those who don’t want to experience psychoactive effects. By examining the purity of cannabis isolates, we can better understand the full medicinal potency of the cannabis plant.

How are Cannabis Isolates Made?

Aside from THC and CBD, almost all the other 100 minor cannabinoids appear in much smaller quantities. But with advancements in technology, extraction technicians can now isolate these different compounds and extract them in larger amounts.

Isolating the various cannabinoids is accomplished using chromatography, more specifically, centrifugal partition chromatography. This process removes the terpenes, flavonoids, plant matter, and unwanted cannabinoids.

Brian Reid, the Chief Scientific Officer of ebbu, a Colorado-based company leading in hemp research, states this is the only chromatographic technique that works best at isolating the individual compounds.

“CPC is ideal for ripping a single active ingredient out of a pretty complex mixture,” according to Reid.

Steps for Isolating Cannabinoids

Extraction is the first step when making any kind of cannabis concentrate. For isolates specifically, this process always involves using solvents. Many labs prefer using supercritical CO2 extraction because it’s the most effective method for removing residual solvents, but they will also use:

  • Ethanol
  • Hydrocarbon solvents (butane and propane)
  • Isopropyl

What’s left is a crude oil containing fats, waxes, chlorophyll, and other undesirable elements.

Winterization is the next step to help remove all of the unwanted material. This ethanol wash is performed at sub-zero temperatures and placed in a freezer, usually overnight, to allow the lipids to coagulate on the surface of the crude oil.

The next step involves running the mixture through a filtration system to separate the coagulated material from the oil. The filtering process can be done as many times as needed until the oil is clean.

Once the solution has been filtered completely, the ethanol used in the winterization process is removed by putting the oil through a rotary evaporator. The machine gently warms the mixture and boils the alcohol, so it evaporates out of the oil. Since alcohol has a lower boiling point than the oil, it can be separated out, collected in a condenser, and be reused for other extractions.

What happens next depends on whether or not decarboxylation is performed before or after the extraction process. There have been multiple studies outlining the advantages and disadvantages of both prior- and post-extraction decarboxylation, but the choice ultimately depends on which method best suits the operational needs of the company.

If decarbing was completed beforehand, then the freshly filtered oil goes through distillation. Short path distillation, also called fractional distillation, uses thermal heating to siphon off different cannabis compounds once they’ve reached their particular boiling point.

At this stage, the isolated cannabis extract can be made into one of two things: crystals or powder. Grinding down the isolate crystals will result in a pure white powder. Otherwise, the end product remains in a crystallized form.

Commercial Cannabis Isolate Products

The cannabis medical and recreational markets have a variety of consumption methods for cannabis isolates. These include:

  • Sublingual– Some people will put the powder directly under their tongue for at least a minute. It’s then absorbed and delivered directly to the bloodstream without having to pass through the digestive system.
  • Inhalation– Crystal isolates can be dabbed using a traditional rig like other cannabis concentrates or vaped if made into an oil.
  • Topicals– Isolate powder can easily be mixed in manually with different lotions, creams, and balms.
  • Oral– Edibles are a popular method for consuming cannabis isolates. Many people will also use the powder or an isolate tincture to infuse their food or beverages.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cannabis Isolates

Cannabis isolates, especially CBD, have proven to be beneficial compounds, even for industries outside of cannabis. Plus, the lack of understanding behind the benefits of these different cannabinoids continues expanding interest in furthering cannabis research.

Scientists have already discovered several advantages to cannabis isolates, one of the biggest being the purity of the compound. Since isolates make up nearly 99 percent of a single cannabinoid, patients and consumers need far less to achieve the desired effect.

Isolates also provide an alternative for those who can have adverse reactions to THC or must follow a zero-tolerance policy set forth by their job. There’s versatility in consumption methods, like with most cannabis products, making it easier to measure out the correct dosage.

However, the most substantial disadvantage with cannabis isolates to patients and consumers is not experiencing the therapeutic benefits of the other compounds produced by the cannabis plant. This notion makes full-spectrum and broad-spectrum cannabis all the more appealing for most cannabis users.

Along with the remaining cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids work together to invoke what is commonly referred to as the ‘entourage effect.’ A study, done by Dr. Ethan Russo, entitled “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects,” delves deep into how these various compounds maintain a synergistic relationship.

Are All Cannabis Isolates Safe to Consume?

One cannabinoid that has caused some controversy among many cannabis experts is delta-8-THC. Delta-8-THC is described as a milder form of delta-9 and is converted from CBD. Chemists are showing growing concern around delta-8 extraction and claims made by brands regarding the purity of their delta-8 THC products.

The legality surrounding this synthesized cannabinoid has been called into question based on how some companies have interpreted a loophole in the 2018 Farm bill. However, little research exists on Delta-8’s psychoactive effects, and no official regulations have been created outlining how to convert it from CBD safely.

Christopher Hudalla, president, and chief scientific officer of ProVerde Laboratories, takes concern with consumers being used as guinea pigs. Scientists from his lab tested thousands of delta-8-THC infused products, and according to Hudalla, “So far, I have not seen one that I would consider a legitimate delta-8-THC product.”

Cannabis Isolates Have a Place in the Medicinal and Recreational Markets

The interest in how individual cannabinoids affect the body has created a steady stream of isolate products. These are a suitable alternative for consumers wanting to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of a single cannabinoid without the interference of other cannabis compounds. Even with the oversights surrounding delta-8-THC, there’s plenty of evidence showcasing the necessity for cannabis isolates in the regulated market.