How Cannabis Isolates Expand the Market and the Research

by | Nov 19, 2019

Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

When cannabinoids are isolated using high-tech methods such as chromatography, this separates the molecules, allowing researchers to learn about the individual compounds, as well as, allow manufacturers to formulate specific cannabinoid combinations, or remove particular cannabinoids like THC.

Although there is a high demand for full-spectrum cannabinoid products in the consumer market, cannabis isolates have a bright future in multiple industries. From pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoid products to nutraceuticals, beauty and skincare to food and beverage industries, cannabinoid isolation is critical to the industry.

Why Cannabis Isolates?

Although advocates argue for the importance of full-spectrum products due to the full synergy of all cannabinoids not being fully understood yet, extracted cannabinoids are crucial products within the industry. Some CBD products offer children suffering from medically resistant epilepsy a method of treatment without the harsh side effects of traditional pharmaceuticals, and without the high associated with THC content. Such products paved the way for the United State’s government to review the legal status of hemp and cannabis used for research purposes. 

THC is still a federally regulated substance in the US, so by making products without it, companies expand their reach. Besides fighting the legality, some people have adverse reactions to certain cannabinoids just as people react differently to any medicine on the market. Additionally, some jobs will always have a zero-tolerance policy for THC. These are only a few reasons why it’s crucial to have options for people who are unable to consume full-spectrum products. 

How Are Cannabinoids Isolated? 

short-path distillation for cannabis isolates

Fresh cannabis is rich in the acid forms of cannabinoids, such as THCa and CBGa. Converting cannabinoids from their acid form to their active form requires decarboxylation, or heating the flower at 105 degrees for an hour before performing a solvent extraction. 

Popular solvents to use for cannabinoid extraction include chloroform, light petroleum, hydrocarbon, and ethanol. Apeks Supercritical systems use CO2 as a solvent to extract the oil because there is no residue left after extraction. 

  • Chloroform is an ideal solvent because it removes 98%-99% of the cannabinoids present in biomass through a single extraction within 30 minutes. A second extraction can remove all of the THC content. 
  • Light petroleum is effective, but it only removes 88%-99% of cannabinoids during the first extraction, although it removes 99% after a second extraction. 
  • Hydrocarbons, such as butane, propane, and hexane, are less expensive than other similarly potent extraction methods and ideal for products such as shatter or honeycomb wax. It works quickly, however it’s difficult to automate, expensive, and it requires residual solvent testing.
  • Ethanol is inexpensive, quick, scalable, and it works, but it removes sugars and ballast pigments, which complicates purification. It’s also flammable and requires secondary processing. 
  • CO2 allows for the extraction of sensitive materials such as terpenes. It is a process which requires minimal safety costs, and can easily be automated. Equipment is complicated and expensive, and cheaper machines are much slower. 

Once extracted, the solution should be filtered through charcoal to clarify, chilled, and filtered again. After this, it should be concentrated to half volume, and to prevent oxidation, it should be extracted with 2% aqueous sodium sulfate. Finally, once the agues layer is separated and the solvent is stripped, the result is crude oil. Redistillation or column chromatography can be used to purify it further. 

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To preserve THC content, column chromatography is preferred due to THC being heat-sensitive. There are a variety of chromatography methods. Once the cannabinoids that are supposed to be isolated have been filtered out, the oil goes through winterization, which involves removing any fats, waxes, and lipids or other unwanted material from the biomass. 

After being extracted, the oil is combined with high-proof alcohol and stirred until thoroughly mixed. It is then chilled, which helps to remove imperfections and unwanted terpenes, flavonoids, and chlorophyll. Once everything else is removed, the solution is then heated to burn off the alcohol, as alcohol has a lower burning point than oil. 

Short Path Distillation can then be used to create cannabis isolate the different compounds so that individual cannabinoids can be separated by taking advantage of their unique boiling points. 

After this, there is a pure powder of whatever cannabinoid which can then be put into products as it is, or turned into crystals. These cannabis isolates are the best for research, as each cannabinoid can be observed individually for its effect on the body. As we learn about specific cannabinoids, we can also learn more about how they work together.

How the Market Incorporates Cannabis Isolates into Products

From Arizona Tea to pillow companies, the CBD craze has washed over nearly every retail market known to man. The legal market offers pure cannabinoid extracts, broad-spectrum, or full-spectrum products to consumers. The decision to produce these products comes down to consumer demand and company strategy.

As technology advances continue to make cannabis isolates easier and more cost-effective, expect the market to grow to accommodate more specific cannabinoid formulations as time progresses.