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Dr. Sulak’s Journey to Low-Pressure Extraction
With a history of political activism and public education dating back to his days as a student at Indiana University, Dr. Dustin Sulak is a well-known and well-respected name within the cannabis and hemp industries. At the age of 19, Dr. Sulak spoke publicly about hemp nutrition, cannabis, and health. In 2009, he started a private practice in Maine focused on osteopathic medicine and integrative health with a mind-body approach to wellness.
As one of the first doctors in Maine to offer medical cannabis certifications, he quickly discovered that cannabis became a gateway to integrative medicine for most of his patients. “People would come to me for cannabis and then stick around for all the other things I was offering,” Dr. Sulak recalled.
But, with Maine’s unique, hands-off approach to cannabis, he saw a vast diversity in the products his patients were using. So, using their onsite cannabis analytic lab to test the various products, Dr. Sulak began to hone in on what was working for patients and what wasn’t.
And what he discovered led to reimagining the extraction process.
Low-Temperature, Low-Pressure Extraction
“We needed a way to extract as much of the plant as possible but also remove any potential contaminants,” said Brad Feuer, CEO at Healer CBD, during an interview. He continued, “One of the biggest challenges in the hemp industry is that these large outdoor crops are notoriously full of molds.”
A couple of years of research and development led to patented processes for nano-filtration, which allows them to remove anything larger than a nanometer, such as molds, bacteria, viruses, and proteins while maintaining the medicinal spectrum of the plant. Starting with whole flower hemp, Feuer explained the process in a few basic steps:
1. Excluding stalks, seeds, and stems, they start by cryogenically grinding the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant into a fine powder, breaking the plant’s cell walls and locking in the volatile compounds with liquid nitrogen.
2. Then, using 200-proof ethanol, they extract the compounds and remove the chlorophyll to improve the taste and prevent indigestion.
3. Finally, the ethanol mixture is sent through a series of nano-filters:
- The first filter removes impurities and contaminants
- The second filter removes the ethanol and concentrates the spectrum without heat or pressure.
4. The concentrated spectrum is combined with MCT oil for a fully acidic tincture formulation.
5. For CBD and THC products, the extracts are decarboxylated, and Feuer explained, “We’ve built our own gentle and effective method of decarbing to help retain terpenes and other volatile compounds.”
Why Use Acidic Cannabinoids?
Dr. Sulak’s interest in acidic cannabinoids actually came from his patients. To better understand the products his patients were using, they built a cannabis analytic lab inside the medical office. As they were testing the various products, they started to see signals around THCa.
“One particular patient who had been having multiple seizures a day found success from a CBD tincture she was purchasing from a dispensary,” Dr. Sulak recalled. “So, we decided to test it to see just exactly how much CBD was in the formula.”
After running labs on the sample multiple times, they found no CBD. Rather, tests proved the tincture was actually a weak THCa glycerin extraction. And this was just one of the anecdotal stories that prompted Dr. Sulak to take note of acidic cannabinoid formulations.
“CBD tends to have a lower potency, and higher doses of CBD can be cost-prohibitive,” Dr. Sulak stated. “CBDa appears to have a stronger therapeutic effect than CBD in many people.”
Additionally, Dr. Sulak said many medical cannabis patients don’t like the THC mitigating effects of CBD, and CBDa doesn’t block THC allowing the full effect of both cannabinoids.
Expanding the Low-Pressure Extraction Methodology
Using the educational platform on Healer.com, the niche brand has developed a global cannabis education community and a global demand for quality products. As such, Feuer said the company is actively looking to create scalable methods to produce more of these preparations across multiple markets.
Having successfully expanded their brand and technology to Maryland, Dr. Sulak’s team hopes to see their low-pressure extraction technology expand across the nation and the world. Feuer noted, “Getting into low-pressure extraction, we were looking at how to make this low-cost and highly disruptive.”
He continued, “Our current platform can serve an entire state; if someone’s already doing ethanol extraction, we can add our proprietary equipment to their facility to make our products.”
Censorship and Misinformation
While banking continues to be a thorn in the side of most hemp and cannabis producers, Dr. Sulak suggests the most significant problem comes from an inability to clearly communicate with consumers, patients, and clinicians. Unfortunately, the most important information on “how-to” use cannabis safely and effectively is often banned from social media and strictly prohibited in continuing medical education courses. Censorship of both hemp and cannabis interferes with communication and collaboration among those on the front lines in these industries, creating significant roadblocks for producers and medical professionals and hindering progress in the space.
Working in both industries, Dr. Sulak said he feels restricted. “Communication and education have always been the most important tools in reinstating cannabis’ appropriate place in medicine and society, and ironically, there’s more censorship now than ever.”
Feuer added, “In a new industry, with so many people rushing to get in, there’s just so much misinformation and claims that don’t help the industry.”
Looking to the Future
Although the burgeoning industries of cannabis and hemp clearly still have a few kinks to work out, Dr. Sulak is optimistic about the future. Hopeful about legislative changes, he stated, “I’ve been working to change cannabis policy since 1998, and having any bill submitted at the federal level is a victory.”
He also believes that economics drive policy change, and it’s just a matter of time before the economic factors drive cannabis reform. “Removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would be an ideal next step.”