From Seed to Shelf - The CBD Manufacturing Process Explained

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Before a drop of cannabidiol (CBD) hits underneath your tongue, have you ever wondered how it came to be? How a 4-6 ft tall hemp plant grown on a farm was then converted into liquid gold? With a market growth projection of $55 Billion globally by 2028, the CBD market exhibits immense growth potential. Let’s walk you through how it starts with soil and ends in oil.

CBD Manufacturing Process

The manufacturing process behind CBD follows a similar standard of procedures like any other plant-derived extraction. The biggest difference between CBD processing and manufacturing and other medicinal plants is that CBD is heavily regulated. Understanding why ingesting CBD oil, capsules, and/or isolate is a part of consumer knowledge and education in the product your consumer decides to buy. From farming and processing to manufacturing and marketplaces, understanding the supply chain of CBD will make you a better decision maker. This will ultimately help improve your final product and hopefully help your business in the long run.

Farming

It all must start somewhere, and that somewhere is soil. Before planting any crop, soil should be tested for fertility and health. Whether you consult with a soil scientist or consultant, understanding your farm’s soil health will determine the success of your crop and yield.

Cultivation of cannabinoid hemp is quite arduous because most states are in the stages of trial and error. The majority of the hemp seeds are imported from regions that are not similar to the US and its microclimates. Microclimates and different genetics may play a vital role in the stages of growth, flowering, and cannabinoid producing content, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

After choosing the genetics that may be best for your climate, you may start planting. Farming practices vary, but regenerative farming with the use of cover crops and living soil (soil with mycorrhizae fungi or teeming with organisms) can create a healthy crop. Though hemp can suppress weeds due to its canopy of fan leaves, cover crops will assist with water retention (less water usage is important for farmers with limited access to rainfall and irrigation) and the suppression of weeds. Cannabinoid hemp grown in a biochar bed is beneficial and may produce better yields with higher CBD content.

You may minimize your risk with field-grown hemp by growing indoors. Cultivating your cannabinoid hemp indoors gives the sense of security in terms of controlling temperature, lighting, cannabinoid content, and water usage. Growing outdoors in areas that may be susceptible to drought, hail, or early frost may cause a sense of caution, but hemp crop insurance may take care of that. Depending on your budget and your state’s minimum on square footage, indoor growing may or may not be for you. Please visit your state’s Department of Agriculture website to determine which grow is best for you.

Processing

You’re almost at the finish line and it’s harvest season. Your crop is smelling beautiful shimmering with trichomes and now it’s time to harvest. Depending on your farm size, manpower, and budget, you can gather a crew to hand harvest or use machinery. After harvest, you’ll want to transport your cut crop to a facility where it will be cleaned, dried properly and bucked, trimmed, and/or stripped and then placed in well-sealed super saks. Make sure you have the proper documentation for logistics and transportation if the facility is not on-site.

Extraction

To turn your flower or biomass into an end-product, the oil, terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, and more must be extracted. There are a few options to choose from when it comes to extraction; CO2 (supercritical, subcritical, mid-critical), solvent / solventless, alcohol, distillate, and isolate. 

As technology advances and consumer knowledge becomes more widely available, choosing an extraction facility will result in subpar products to clean and purer products.

Third Party Lab Testing

Testing is the most crucial step to make sure your product is in compliance with state and federal regulation. To be legal for sale under US Federal law, a hemp productshould not test above .3% THC. If your product has been tested above the legal threshold, you are no longer in compliance and may have to seek other options for further remediation.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a CBD Manufacturer

Choosing a CBD Manufacturer will involve some homework and research. What are some questions you should ask when seeking one? Choosing the right manufacturer determines the quality of your end-product and other consumer goods.

1. Certification & Quality

In order to ensure a quality product for the end consumer, raw materials must be thoroughly inspected. Manufacturers and processors will look at the quality of the hemp they’re bringing in. They normally conduct business with contracted farmers with expectations and obligations. Manufacturers may demand certain genetics to be cultivated and harvested to be consistently tested. Minimal pesticide use, cannabinoid content, and/or best cultivation practices may matter, too. Every company varies, which will put out different quality products on the market. What differentiates substandard product to a premium product? That answer may lie into what type of manufacturer is processing the plant.

A quality cannabinoid manufacturer can be ISO, cGMP, or GMP certified facilities with standardized nutraceutical practices. What do those acronyms mean; ISO, cGMP, and GMP and why are they important?

For a facility to be ISO certified means that they have followed the metrics and criteria of the International Organisation for Standardization. You’ll see manufacturers with the ISO 9001 stamp of approval which states that they were proficient in quality management which equates to better product, services, and customer care. A manufacturer that takes these additional steps to become certified means they’re willing to go the extra mile for their customers and excellent service. 

cGMP vs GMP, what is the difference? 

Unlike ISO certified facilities that are certified by a non-governmental organisation, GMP and cGMP guidance and regulations were developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for consumer safety and production transparency. The six components in a GMP or cGMP facility are:

  1. Quality
  2. Production
  3. Laboratory
  4. Materials
  5. Facilities & Equipment
  6. Packaging and Labeling

Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) is a system that is put in place for facilities to follow and comply with to ensure quality standards are implemented within the six components mentioned above. From raw materials to packaging, there are detailed criteria that must be met to be compliant with GMP regulations. 

With Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), companies implement current technology and systems that are “up-to-date.” This entails top-of-the-line, well-calibrated equipment, quality standards and reliable processes and systems. 

Sourcing a CBD manufacturer that is cGMP, GMP, and/or ISO certified will warrant satisfaction throughout the processing, manufacturing, testing, and labeling process, giving clients peace of mind with minimal risk in faulty or subpar products that might surface on the market.

CBD Extraction Methods

There are a few widely known cannabinoid extraction methods that are currently being done; CO2 extraction, distillation, and isolate.

CO2 Extraction

CO2 extraction is a very common extraction method used in the hemp industry. Facilities that perform C02 extraction may have chosen this method for different reasons. CO2 is said to be cleaner than ethanol-based extraction and safer for the end consumer. Phytocompounds are extracted through the use of pressurized carbon dioxide at certain temperatures. This method rarely contains chemical residue, contributing to a cleaner product. With CO2 extraction, the whole cannabis profile can be supported (terpenes, flavonoids, cannabinoids).

Distillation

According to Rhizo Sciences, “CBD Distillation uses heat and a vacuum to separate CBD and other cannabinoids and terpenes from less desirable compounds such as fats, waxes and pigments.”

In other words, the method of distillation can refine and focus on one or two compounds like CBD, CBG, CBN, etc rather than the whole cannabinoid profile like C02 extraction.

Isolate

The isolate method goes through many steps before it turns CBD into a powdery crystal, including ethanol-based extraction, winterization, filtration, distillation, and then crystallization. Isolates are bioavailable and some are water-soluble, making them easily absorbed throughout our body. You can take it sublingually or mix it in a drink of your choice. 

Whichever extraction method your lab chooses, having a product that is safe for consumers should be the number one priority. This leads us to testing.

Lab Testing

Finding a third-party testing lab is as critical as the extraction process. With every CBD product on the shelf, a Certificate of Analysis (COA) should be available. COAs are not created equal, and there isn’t much regulation on CBD Lab Testing. Some reports can give you a simple report of the cannabinoid content and percentages, where others will test for mycotoxins, heavy metals, terpenes, pesticides, and more. Just like standards in manufacturing, finding a DEA-approved lab or an ISO 17025-accredited testing site will give the client peace of mind understanding that the testing lab has passed critical testing and quality criteria. Unfortunately, there have been bad actors in the industry where reports have been altered or manipulated to meet State and Federal compliance. There are a few ways to verify if a report is real:

  1. Check if there is a QR Code that will link back to your paper report. Make sure the digital and paper information matches.
  2. Examine names, titles, and fonts. If you believe there might be a slight change in fonts that differ throughout the document, you may have a fraudulent report.
  3. Match the dates. Do the testing dates align with your product? Those who believe they are clever may try to use old COAs for newer products.

One of the most valuable pieces of information on the COAs is the THC content. If your report states that your product is over the .3% THC legal limit, your next steps would have to be further remediation. This critical information determines whether you are producing a legal or illegal product, which may result in fines or shutting down operations.

White & Private Label Packaging

Labeling your product after it’s been through proper testing and manufacturing is one of the last steps before hitting the marketplace. There are many white- and private-label hemp companies on the market today that can provide this service. 

White-label manufacturers create the same product for multiple brands or retailers, while private-label manufacturers work exclusively with certain brands with room for modification. White-label keeps production cost down, which may be the better option for start-ups, but with private labeling, you’re able to take time with your brand and modify it to fit your company’s mission.

What you state on the final product also matters. With FDA warning letters being sent to companies due to medical or therapeutic claims on packaging, how to label your product safely and truthfully matters. You might want to seek legal consultation to ensure you are not misleading consumers.

Tracking & Transparency

As conscious consumerism slowly takes over the power of purchase, consumers are wanting to learn what they’re buying and why. Educated buyers are no longer fooled by marketing ploys and packaging, but are now interested in the how, when, and where of the products’ lifecycle. From cultivation and harvesting methods to logistics and carbon footprints, consumers want to know it all. 

Consumers may want to know how the hemp plant was cultivated and if the product was domestically grown. Was it grown with organic practices in mind on arable land, or grown in field that pesticides may have leaked onto? Agritech and traceability is an exploding, innovative market, and hemp companies are taking notice. Transparency is important in a new industry, and may be a piece we never knew we needed. Creating a sense of security will in turn develop a loyal consumer base with trackability and transparency technology. Answering consumers’ questions may result in returning customers.

In conclusion, sourcing CBD manufacturers isn’t as easy as ABC, but with due diligence and research, understanding what goes into making a product will create customer-value and thus create a lucrative industry. With a global market projection of $55 Billion by 2028, following this guide may help your business grow.


Article Authored by Anna Chanthavongseng 

Anna Chanthavongseng is the Assistant Executive Director of the largest hemp non-profit in the United States, the National Hemp Association. With a professional background in Early Childhood Education and as a freelance Graphic Designer, Anna joined the hemp industry as an advocate back in 2013. She combined both her professional backgrounds to create educational hemp infographics on Social Media Channels as part of her advocacy work. Her work has been shared throughout the web and her educational articles on hemp have been shared and viewed hundreds of times. Her hemp recipe has also won the first Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance hemp recipe contest and can be viewed on the National Hemp Association app through Learner Mobile.
 
She continues to create hemp educational content through NHA's hemp education series, whether it be through graphic imagery, educational blog posts, and/or video shorts.
 
To learn more about the National Hemp Association's work and mission, please visit nationalhempassociation.org 


Please note: all references to “CBD” or “CBD products” within this post refers to hemp-derived CBD, not marijuana-derived CBD.

This material does not constitute legal, tax, professional or financial advice and BigCommerce disclaims any liability with respect to this material. Please consult your attorney or professional advisor on specific legal, professional or financial matters.

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