Topics Covered In This Article…
Specialty Cannabinoids: any naturally-occurring, biologically active, chemical constituent (such as cannabidiol or cannabinol) derived from hemp or cannabis plants, including some (such as THC) which possess psychoactive properties. The term can also include a substance that is naturally produced within the body (such as anandamide) and structurally or functionally similar to plant-derived cannabinoids or a substance that is synthetically produced to mimic the effects of natural cannabinoids.
Specialty Cannabinoids – Summary and Types
Specialty Cannabinoids, what are they? Why are they so popular? How are they grown, harvested, manufactured, and consumed? What are modern hemp manufacturers doing to farm and harvest specialty cannabinoids and turn them into useful products?
Spring Creek Labs, a U.S. Based, Hemp-Derived CBD Manufacturer, and Private Label CBD Product Fulfillment Company, thought you might want to know. So, we sponsored this in-depth, Encyclopedia Style Article on everything you need to know about Specialty Cannabinoids.
What are Specialty Cannabinoids?
Specialty Cannabinoids are super popular, and growing more so each day. But, do you know where your specialty cannabinoid products come from? Do you know how they’re farmed, extracted, manufactured, packaged, and delivered? If not, you’re spending big money on what’s written on the product label. You wouldn’t buy a computer without knowing what kind of software was on it or whether it was infected with viruses or malware. In the same way, you need to know whether your specialty cannabinoid products live up to what’s on the label.
That’s why we’re going to share all the little known secrets about where specialty cannabinoids come from, and how they’re delivered to consumers. Simply put, cannabinoids are chemicals found in cannabis plants. If you’ve heard the term used in other contexts, don’t worry. We’ll explain the reason for this confusion when we talk about endocannabinoids in the human body and the manufacturing of synthetic cannabinoids. Here’s a list of the most popular types of specialty cannabinoids…
Popular Types of Specialty Cannabinoids
Specialty Cannabinoids are cannabinoids that are harvested, extracted, and manufactured into products designed to perform highly specialized functions within the human body. Pretty simple, right?
What you might not have heard is that your body also naturally produces its own endocannabinoids. It does this through what biologists call your “endocannabinoid system.” In this system, endocannabinoids bind to special receptors to “unlock” action potentials in neurons. These action potentials zip through your nervous system, carrying “messages” to various organs and/or muscles and creating a symphony of biological effects.
From the cereal munching, couch surfing, “Dave’s not here dude” stoner, to the cancer patient using medicinal marijuana products, and everyone in between, cannabinoids are the chemical “magicians” that switch specific biological functions on or off, creating the tangible benefits of cannabis.
Specialty Cannabinoids and Neurobiology
To understand how cannabinoids work in the human body, it’s important to grasp how “messenger” molecules produce physiological effects within biological beings. The human nervous system is a network of nerve cells (called neurons) that transmit impulses between one another through electrical signals called “action potentials.” Think of an action potential like a group text message being sent between your nerve cells.
When one neuron fires, it sends a “message” to its neighboring neurons using messenger molecules called neurotransmitters. The neuron sending the signal is called the “presynaptic neuron” while the neuron receiving the signal is called the “postsynaptic neuron.”
Once an action potential is fired in the postsynaptic neuron, it releases neurotransmitters to its neighboring neurons through something called a synapse. These neurotransmitters then bind to specialized receptors on the postsynaptic neurons and “unlock” gates leading into the postsynaptic neuron. This is how action potentials are transferred, via chemical messengers, from one neuron to another. Once the neurotransmitters have done their job, they’re either reabsorbed into the presynaptic neuron or broken down by enzymes within the synaptic cleft.
A Simple Metaphor for the Endocannabinoid System
To simplify the above idea, think about how information goes viral on the internet. Someone posts a meme on their Social Media wall, other people pick up the meme, repost it on their wall, and the process repeats itself until the meme is all over the social media site, creating a “trend” or “hashtag.” Sometimes, the meme goes viral to other Social Media sites and even gets picked up by mainstream media channels. This is a metaphor for how neurotransmitters and other chemical messengers transfer signals throughout your nervous system.
For example, the amygdala is an almond-shaped piece of gray matter inside the human brain. The amygdala controls the experience of emotions, like fear, bliss, etc. Together with the hippocampus (a part of the brain involved in learning and memory), the amygdala produces neurotransmitters like dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters zip through networks of neurons, down the spinal column, and into the body, where they’re experienced as emotions. From excitement to passion, to anger, to depression, every emotion can be measured using biofeedback equipment to measure brain neuron activity.
Neurotransmitters and The Endocannabinoid System
When a person experiences (or sometimes, even imagines) a fear-inducing stimulus, the amygdala releases “fight or flight” neurotransmitters like epinephrine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters carry “fear signals” down the spinal column, and into the peripheral nervous system, creating the physiological responses to fear—blood rushing to the face, shaking, high blood pressure, etc.
Likewise, pleasurable or relaxing stimuli (real, or imagined) trigger the amygdala to produce feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine.
Of course, the effects of neurotransmitters are short-lived. One the action potential is triggered in the postsynaptic neuron, the neurotransmitters are either reabsorbed (called “neurotransmitter uptake”) into the presynaptic neuron or broken down. However, certain drugs can prevent neurotransmitter uptake, leaving the neurotransmitter to hangout in the synaptic cleft, where they can bind to receptors in the postsynaptic neuron over, and over, and over…until the drug finally wears off.
How Speciality Cannabinoids and Other Substances Affect Neurotransmitters
Some substances can mimic the actions of natural neurotransmitters. For example, cocaine blocks the reuptake of three neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Dopamine is your reward neurotransmitter. It rewards you with a good feeling whenever your body thinks you’ve done something awesome. People who are hooked on multitasking, or who can’t seem to stop clicking from window to window on the internet are often chasing the next “dopamine high.”
Their brain is literally fooling them that they’re accomplishing something by opening a new window or switching between tasks. In reality, they’re simply chasing a dopamine high. Serotonin is the “happy neurotransmitter” and norepinephrine is what we commonly call “adrenaline.” So, a person on cocaine is getting a “chemical cocktail” that makes them happy (serotonin), and confident (dopamine), but also jittery and paranoid (adrenaline).
Combing the Effect of Neurotransmitters
This combination of neurotransmitters is an example of how your nervous system blends the effects of multiple chemical messengers to create an effect that is more dramatic than the sum of each individual neurotransmitter.
But, if neurotransmitters normally have a short-lasting effect, how do people remain in a state of fear and anxiety for hours, or even days? This is when the second class of chemical messengers takes over, your hormones. Hormones have a longer-lasting effect than neurotransmitters because, once they’re released from the organs which produce them, they get absorbed into the bloodstream. There, they circulate until they’re disposed of by your liver, kidneys, or other excretion processes in your body. Hormones are typically responsible for how efficiently your metabolism works.
Since the impact of hormones on the body is longer lasting than the impact of neurotransmitters, hormone imbalances are more often linked to chronic diseases. For instance, the Thyroid Gland produces just the right amount of certain key hormones to keep your body’s metabolism in balance. This is why several metabolic disorders are associated with an improperly-working thyroid gland. In some cases, the thyroid gland produces too many of these hormones. This is called hyperthyroidism. In other cases, the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of these hormones. This is called hypothyroidism. People with hormone imbalances can also develop resistance to certain hormones.
For example, people who eat too much sugar force their bodies to create more insulin. Over time, this overproduction of insulin causes the insulin receptors in their body to resist insulin—this is called insulin resistance and is a precursor to the chronic health problem of diabetes.
Neurobiology Isn’t Just About Brains
What surprises some people is that neurotransmitters aren’t just produced and released by the brain. For example, an estimated ninety percent of serotonin is produced in your gut. When released by the gut, this feel-good chemical can send signals from your gut to your brain via your “vagus nerve.”
Your vagus nerve is the “information superhighway” of your nervous system. It carries signals from the gut to the brain, and from the brain to the gut. This is how people with poor gut health develop problems that seem to be related to mood and thinking.
This gives an entirely new twist to the saying “go with your gut.” It’s common for us to assume that our brains are the “smartest” organ in our body. While it’s true that the majority of our neurons are found in our central nervous system (which includes the brain and spinal column), we should not dismiss the “intelligence” at work in the other parts of our body.
In fact, ancient medicine men—who used cannabis and other plant “medicines” to treat both physical and psychological illnesses—taught (and still do) that our body is populated with multiple energy centers, all of which contribute to the body’s collective “intelligence.”
Again, think about those nerve impulses as biological “group text” messages. Your biological “software” can be corrupted just as your computer can be infected with viruses or malware. This is a concept that’s all but lost to modern medicine. This is why western doctors often treat symptoms only, neglecting the larger collection of symptoms, which, many times, grow out of a single root cause. Pretty amazing, right?
So, now that you’ve had a crash course on how combinations of chemical messengers produce physiological effects in your body, we’re ready to explore the physiological function of cannabinoids—from those naturally produced in the body to those taken in via cannabis products. Let’s start by clearing up a common confusion about specialty cannabinoids.
Specialty Cannabinoids vs Phytocannabinoids
Like cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids are also created by cannabis plants. They’re produced in the plant’s “trichomes,” where almost all the other cannabinoids are produced.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, trichomes are those little hair-like growths (unicellular and glandular) you see on the surface of certain plants. Like cannabinoids (and neurotransmitters) phytocannabinoids bind to receptors in the human body to produce the types of effects we talked about at the start of this article.
So, what’s the difference between cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids? Nothing actually. I just explained it that way because that’s how most people seem to understand it.
If we’re being purely scientific about it, phytocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced in plants, while endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced inside plants. So, why all the confusing terminology? A lot of it has to do with how fast this industry has exploded in popularity. You’ve probably read articles online that talk about phytocannabinoids and cannabinoids as if they’re categorically different, when, structurally speaking, they’re close to being chemically identical. The only difference is where they’re produced.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can find all the cannabinoids in your body that you’ll find in a cannabis plant. So far, we can’t know for sure whether this is true or false. Remember, back in 1992, scientists discovered Anandamide, which we know as being the endocannabinoid which is mimicked by the phytocannabinoid known as THC. Since THC is illegal in many states across the US, you could technically make the case that everyone living in those non-legal states is illegal…whether they were born here or not. Hope you’ve got a “green card.”
Okay, that was a bad pun. But it’s interesting to think about how ironic this is for people who rage against the legalization of plant-based chemicals. In fact, here’s a funny thought.
We’re All Substance Smugglers
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a hallucinogenic drug that occurs naturally in many plants and animals. It’s also in your brain. Mine too. People have even called it “spirit molecule” because of its intense psychedelic effects. This is not a commentary on whether this is a valid legal restriction or not. I’m simply saying that much of our attitude toward these plant chemicals is based less on what’s in the chemical, and more on where the chemical comes from.
Likewise, the confusion between phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids disappears once you understand that we’re essentially talking about things that are chemically the same, but derived from different sources. Now, let’s talk about what specialty cannabinoids do in your body…
Specialty Cannabininoids and Your Endocannabinoids System
Like hormones and neurotransmitters, cannabinoids bind to specialized receptors within the human body. This binding causes the physiological effects of cannabinoids in the brain, the nervous system, and in the organs. Further, just as combinations of neurotransmitters can create a “symphony” of effects, combinations of cannabinoids can combine to create more dramatic effects in the body.
However, scientists are currently far less knowledgeable about the effects of cannabinoids than they are about the effects of neurotransmitters and hormones. This is because the cannabinoid system was only discovered in the final decade of the 20th Century.
It started in 1992 when researchers discovered a substance that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the human body. This was the first discovery of its kind regarding the endocannabinoid system. The substance—which they named “Anandamide,” after the Sanskrit word for “joy”—is a fatty acid neurotransmitter that, well…let’s just say it lives up to its name. This was the first of many endocannabinoids to be discovered.
In 1995 researchers discovered a second substance called 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These two endocannabinoids have, so far, undergone the most rigorous scientific research. However, an additional estimated 200+ substances exist which resemble these endocannabinoids and supplement their effects in the human body.
Today, endocannabinoid researchers call this synchronistic phenomenon the “entourage effect.” Imagine a complex, highly diverse, chemical “orchestra” all playing together in biological harmony to create a symphony of effects. That’s how your endocannabinoid system processes endocannabinoids to produce the physiological and biological effects of cannabis products. The endocannabinoid system seems to regulate mood, memory, appetite, and other physiological functions. Chronic imbalances in the endocannabinoid system can lead to a variety of complications.
Specialty Cannabinoids in Human Biology
Today, we know that every animal has a biochemical system of neuromodulatory lipids called the Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS), which bears the common name “Endocannabinoid System.” The endocannabinoid system regulates a broad spectrum of biological functions through the work of a class of molecules called “lipids.” Lipids can come in the form of fats, waxes, sterols, and others or fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, D, E, K, etc). The endocannabinoid system is equipped with specialized receptors. Cannabinoids bind to these receptors the same way neurons and hormones bind to neurological receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system.
So, specialized cannabinoid receptors will only accept certain types of compounds, in the same way, your social media websites require specific log in information before you can access your profile features. Some of these specialized receptors are found in your central nervous system—which is made up of your brain and spinal cord. Others are found in your peripheral nervous system—which is made up of all the nerve cells and ganglia located outside your central nervous system.
The location of these cannabinoid receptors plays a key role in the effect produced by the cannabinoids which bind to those receptors. For instance, the hippocampus is a part of your brain which controls memory and learning. When the cannabinoid receptors found in this part of the brain are activated by cannabinoids, this can affect learning and memory.
Likewise, the cannabinoid receptors found in other parts of your brain, including—your cerebral cortex, which affects emotional behavior and decision-making—your cerebellum, which affects coordination and motor control—your hypothalamus., which affects body temperature and appetite— your putamen, which controls learning and movement—and your amygdala, which affects emotions. When a cannabinoid, or a group of cannabinoids, binds to the receptors in these areas of the brain, action potentials fire, sending signals to other neurons in your body, or to other organs. This is called “signal transduction.” In other words, cannabinoids act on cannabinoid receptors in the same way your hormones or neurotransmitters do.
The Function of Specialty Cannabinoids
Some cannabinoids excite your neurons and are called “agonist” cannabinoids. Others prevent or dampen certain action potentials by preventing specific chemical messengers (either neurotransmitter, hormones, or other cannabinoids) from binding to their corresponding receptors. These are called “antagonist” cannabinoids.
Neurotransmitters also belong to one of these two classes. For example, an agonist neurotransmitter is likely to make you alert, hungry, or aware of the pain, while an antagonist is more likely to dampen your sensitivity to pain and other neurological signals. The same applies to agonist and antagonist cannabinoids.
Agonist endocannabinoids excite neurons, while antagonist cannabinoids block neurotransmitters and thus dampen certain neurological signals. The location of cannabinoid receptors plays a key role in which biological or physiological effects a cannabinoid produces. For example, cannabinoids have been discovered in the brain and in the tissues of the immune system. One such cannabinoid is cannabinol (also called CBN) which binds to the CB-2 receptors.
These receptors are known as “peripheral receptors,” meaning that they’re found in the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system consists of all the nerve cells and ganglia that are located outside your spinal cord and brain. The peripheral nervous system plays a key role in digestion, motor function, and immune defense, making it very important to health and recovery. Since the cannabinol (CBN) cannabinoid acts on immune tissues within the peripheral nervous system, it is believed to have immune immunomodulatory capabilities. Other cannabinoid receptors are found in the central nervous system (brain and spinal column) as well as various places in the peripheral nervous system. The location and operation of these cannabinoids determine the things you experience every day, from emotions to impulses, to cravings, and much more.
Since the research on the effects of cannabinoids in the body is still in the early stages, many well-meaning, yet ignorant online articles and other content still contain claims to “benefits” which are not yet proven through rigorous and statistically significant trials. However, the fact that the body produces its own cannabinoids and is equipped with specialty receptors for them carries a lot of hope for many exciting discoveries soon to come.
Cannabinoid Acids vs Specialty Cannabinoids
Cannabinoid Acids are chemical compounds that become cannabinoids when activated. A good example of this is the chemical connection between Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid (THCA). THC is the cannabinoid most people think of when they hear the word “cannabis.” In fact, you’ll sometimes hear people use the word “cannabis” to refer to purely marijuana products.
We’ll talk about the problems this creates for the cannabis industry a little later. THC is also responsible for the “stoned” effects of marijuana, making it more controversial than other cannabinoids. THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid) is another cannabinoid that’s abundant in the marijuana plant. As a cannabis plant containing THCA starts to dry, the THCA slowly turns into THC. This conversion process (called “decarboxylation”) accelerates if the plant is heated to a certain temperature or burned. In other words, if someone smokes, vaporizes, or heats a product containing THCA, they’re essentially administering THC.
Specialty Cannabinoids and The Entourage Effect
DISCLAIMER: Spring Creek Labs is a Hemp Manufacturer and therefore does not farm, manufacture, or sell products that contain more than the legal limit of THC (.02%).
Of course, there’s more to THC than its psychoactive capabilities. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to mimic a naturally occurring cannabinoid called “Anandamide.” We talked about Anandamide earlier and how it was named after the Sanskrit word for “joy.”
Anandamide is a potent agonist (see the section above) that binds to the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors are most common in the central nervous system (CNS) where they mediate the psychotropic effects. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are more common in the immune system and the gastrointestinal system. THC binds more closely to the CB1 receptors than CB2 receptors, which is why its effects are more psychoactive than the effects of other cannabinoids.
However, it’s important to understand that the role CB2 receptors can have on our brains. In his book “Capability Fuel,” author Joel Puthoff explains why he believes our gastrointestinal system has its own “intelligence…”
Here’s another quote from Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac. a renowned expert, leading clinician, and top educator in the fields of Functional Medicine and ancestral health, and the New York Times-bestselling author…
So, while the expression of the CB2 receptor is assumed to be restricted only to the gastrointestinal system and immune system tissues, we should not ignore the relationship between gut health and brain health. The problem, of course, being that the psychoactive effects of THC impair certain mental capabilities. This is why cannabinoid research is focusing on the possibility of dampening the negative mental effects of THC by combining it with other cannabinoids.
Common Myths About Specialty Cannabinoids
While some online articles and websites carelessly claim that this has already been proven, the results of the research remain inconclusive. The more clarity you have about which cannabinoids produce which effects, the better decisions you can make and what manufacturer or supplier to work with. For example, as a hemp manufacturer, Spring Creek Labs produces specialty cannabinoids that contain almost no THC (less than the current legal amount of .02%)—and, in some cases, none at all.
So, if you’re looking to get “high” from CBD products, you’re going to be disappointed if the CBD is derived from hemp. This is an important distinction which some people still do not seem to understand. The 2018 farm bill made the farming, manufacturing, and selling of HEMP-BASED products legal across all fifty states.
However, even years after, payment processing companies and even some regulatory bodies were still harassing companies selling hemp-based CBD under the accusation that they were “marketing an illegal substance.” But the truth is, most Cannabinoids don’t get you “stoned” the way THC (or converted THCA) can. However, there are plenty of Cannabinoid Acids that convert into corresponding cannabinoids. Some of these common Cannabinoid Acids are…
These Cannabinoid Acids can be Decarboxylated to become their corresponding Cannabinoids like CBD, THCV, or THC. And, in case you’re wondering, no, it’s not possible to turn a non-THC plant into a THC plant by special cultivation, extraction, or chemical activation methods. Although many enthusiastic home cannabis farmers have probably tried. Another specialty cannabinoid that’s gaining popularity is Cannabinol (CBN). This cannabinoid is not directly created by the cannabis plant. Rather, it is a breakdown of the THC cannabinoid.
There are too many cannabinoids for us to cover all of them in detail in this article but understanding the difference between Cannabinoids and Cannabinoid Acids is a good start. As the research continues, the real questions will be how these cannabinoids interact with one another when administered together.
On The Origins of Specialty Cannabinoids
How did cannabis plants come to have all this chemical diversity? The speculations are wide-ranging, and some are weird and even funny. There are some questions as to whether Cannabinoid Acids or their corresponding Cannabinoids act as natural insecticides to protect cannabis plants from insects and other plant predators.
One funny example is the theory that THC would make animals too “stoned” to remember where they’d found the plant they were eating just the day before. There’s been speculation about how THCV may diminish the effects of THC. There’s also speculation on how, in higher doses, THCV may activate CB1 receptors.
There’s little scientific evidence to support many of these theories about how cannabinoids work together. Much research still needs to be done and is indeed being done. We just have to be patient and wait for the results, instead of talking about speculations as if they were proven facts. The right education will help you break free from this whirlwind of misinformation. And the more you understand about how specialty cannabinoids are cultivated, extracted, and manufactured the better.
cultivating and Extracting Specialty Cannabinoids
Spring Creek Labs works with farming partners so that we can specialize in the manufacturing side of the business. However, we do know a lot about how these plant chemicals are cultivated. The quality of a plant’s cannabinoids has a lot to do with the plant’s genetics, a little to do with how it is farmed, and a little to do with how the chemicals are extracted and packaged into specialty cannabinoid products like oils, powders, creams, capsules, soft gels, gummies and the like. One common mistake made by newbie hemp farmers and manufacturers is trying to “out farm bad genetics.” In 2003, Greg Green, the author of “The Cannabis Grow Bible” put out an idea called the genetic theory of cannabis cultivation. The theory was based on one simple, powerful fact…
The advances in hemp and cannabis farming technologies have made this idea even more relevant today than it was when Greg Green first floated the theory. Inexperienced farmers think they can produce a great product from genetic seeds and make up for it with fancy, expensive equipment, and extraction methods. But just as any athlete will tell you that you “can’t out-train a bad diet,” you can’t out farm bad genetics.
Good hemp and cannabis farmers (professional and ammeter) are also serious scientists—whether they call themselves that or not. Every year, they analyze the results of their growth, and question which factors lead to bigger, healthier, more potent crops. Was it the soil, the plant food, the lighting, the pruning, or something else? Good farmers ask these questions and use the answers to refine their methods. But that’s not all. They also carefully guide the “natural” selection process and accelerate it by experimenting with different genetic variations created via their cultivation methods.
Guns, Germs, and Specialty Cannabinoids
In his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” author Jared Diamond talks about how Western Civilization succeeded in sweeping the world largely because of our ability to aid plants in the evolution process, making them more resilient, useful, and genetically superior to the same plants grown in the wild.
Humans have been farming cannabis plants and extracting and using cannabinoids for thousands of years (possibly longer). The exploding popularity of hemp-derived cannabinoid products has simply introduced these plants and their farming methods into the mainstream consciousness.
This has been both good and bad. Good because there’s a larger number of people testing and refining hemp farming and manufacturing practices. Bad because loads of enthusiastic, yet inexperienced farmers and manufacturers are ignorant of the wisdom that’s been passed down to us by the cannabis cultivation experts of our past. They’re trying to use modern technology to reinvent the wheel when they should be learning from the collective wisdom of the past.
That said, it’s important to know that one cannabis plant isn’t genetically better than another plant. It’s simply a matter of which plant is better for producing a specialty cannabinoid product. The Indica cannabis plant is genetically better suited for some environments, while the Sativa is better for others. Industrial hemp is preferred for hard products like rope, textiles, or clothing, but totally inadequate for producing CBD oil.
Breeding Specialty Cannabinoids
Some cannabis farmers breed plants for maximum potency and for taste. Others want plants that can handle an assault from pests or extreme weather conditions. Other farmers cultivate their plants indoors or in greenhouses. Contrary to what a layperson might think, plants grown indoors can sometimes produce a better end product because they’re grown under intense artificial light. I say all this to emphasize that hemp cultivation and other cannabis plant cultivation isn’t strictly categorical. The measure of what’s “good” depends on the goal of the farmer.
Think about that the next time you pick up a hemp-derived or cannabis-derived product. Where did the manufacturer of that product get the raw plant ingredients? Just like any other farmers, hemp farmers have crop shortages all the time. What do you think happens if they suddenly can’t provide for one of their hemp manufacturing partners? What if they go suddenly out of business, or have a major crop failure?
When this happens, the hemp manufacturer often must (quickly) find an alternative source of raw plant materials. Those materials might come from hemp plants which were grown with a completely different goal or end product in mind. As a result, your hemp manufacturer ends up putting out a cannabinoid product made from a genetically inferior (or simply different) plant than the plants they were using just days before. So, when you buy a hemp-derived product off the shelves, don’t let the label fool you. The product you paid $80 for (and loved) last month could be vastly different than the product you bought today…even if the price, packaging, and brand is completely identical.
The same thing can happen if your end product came from a manufacturer who had to buy from a cheaper farmer one month because of some sudden financial hardship (like the impact of the recent coronavirus shutdown). Again, you’re not guaranteed to get the same product every time you buy—even if you are buying the same exact brand. So, don’t let anyone fool you into believing that you’re getting what you pay for when you buy a cannabinoid product.
Again, it’s the genetics first, followed by the cultivation, extraction, and manufacturing methods. What ends up on the product label is just for show. This is one reason Spring Creek Labs loves building long term relationships with our customers AND our farming partners. We want customers to get the same quality product, and this can only happen when the production and delivery process is seamless, from the farm to the shelf. Sorry if that sounded like a commercial, but this is something more people need to be thinking about, whether they partner with us or not.
Getting back to our discussion about cannabis cultivation, the keyword in good genetic-focused cannabis cultivation is something called “Population Genetics.”
Specialty Cannabinoids and Population Genetics
The best way to understand population genetics is to imagine a tribe of people who are confined to an island on the South Pacific for hundreds of years (or longer). Over time, the most useful genetic variations passed down from parents to children would become the most common. For example, assume the inhabitants of our imaginary island might be more likely to survive and reproduce if they have dark hair and dark eyes. Over time, almost all of the population would have these traits. The traits would then be passed down from generation to generation, creating a population where nearly everyone has these common genetic traits. This is a simple example of natural selection creating a population of genetically similar people—that’s population genetics.
Now, imagine a hemp farmer whose farmland has been part of a family business for more than 100 years. The population genetics of the hemp plants grown on that land would become optimized for the goals toward which that farmer was working. Even the soil would become saturated with the vitamins and minerals necessary for growing specific genetic variations. Good hemp farmers understand this, and they use population genetics to create predictable results year after year. This is great if you’re buying products from farms like this. Unfortunately, the exploding popularity of hemp-derived products has dramatically increased the number of new hemp farms across the United States.
Challenges in Cultivating Specialty Cannabinoids
Established farmers are now forced to compete with these newer farms because of new hemp manufacturers failing to understand why some farms charge more money for their product. End consumers are even more oblivious to these nuances. As a result, they buy cheaper cannabinoid products assuming they’re getting the “same thing” as what’s in the more expensive bottle. True, some companies just overcharge for their products. But, what about the farms those products are coming from? A hemp farm with a multi-decade history of refining their population genetics will produce a far more potent, consistent, and superior crop than a farm that just switch from growing corn or cotton a few years ago.
Imagine how this would compound the problems we talked about in the previous section. Again, it’s the genetics first, followed by the cultivation, extraction, and manufacturing methods. What ends up on the product label is just for show.
Just as was the case for our imaginary island, every established hemp farm has its own population genetics. That is unless the farmers are simply buying generic seeds every year, without understanding the genetic “disposition” of those seeds, and hoping for the best when they plant it in the ground. This is more common than most people realize. Especially considering how new hemp farming is in the United States. Farmlands that specialize in cultivating corn, cotton, or other traditional crops have had time—in some cases, hundreds of years—to refine their population genetics. Most hemp farmers have not.
But that’s not all. New hemp farms haven’t even been farming long enough to develop a predictable strategy for consistently putting out a specific type (or quality) of crops every year. Some might not even understand why this matters or how to go about it. Again, you can’t out farm bad genetics. But over time, you can use good farming practices to create and refine a good population of crops. But it starts within knowing why population genetics applies to smart hemp farming practice. The same is true with any type of cannabis plant.
Specialty Cannabinoids and Farming Shortages
To further complicate the above problem, many hemp farms specialize in farming various types of plants using the same plot of land. How well isolated are these plant populations from one another? What happens if they have a sudden shortage in one variation, but need to fulfill an order from one of their manufacturing partners? Maybe some of them do the right thing and simply pass up the business. But, how many of them simply fulfill the order with a crop that was cultivated for creating a different type of cannabinoid product?
Are you starting to see why we spend all this money to inform consumers AND cannabis product vendors about this? Are you starting to see why paying less money for a “cheaper” product isn’t the best way to get your cannabinoids? The better-educated people are about how good cannabinoid products are cultivated, extracted, manufactured, and packaged, the more we can weed out (pun intended) the demand for subpar products.
Some hemp plant populations are specifically bred for producing “hard” products like rope, clothing, textiles, etc. Farmers who understand and apply population genetics get this, and that’s why the consistently produce reliable crops every year. Further, some hemp plant populations are genetically optimized for producing “soft” products, including CBD oils, CBD Powders, CBN and CBG products, and other types of specialty cannabinoids. Still other plant populations might be genetically optimized for recreational products, while others are genetically specialized for creating medicinal products.
Moreover, law enforcement bodies in the United States have been systematically destroying cannabis plants for decades. Many of these plants have been marijuana plants with higher than legal THC levels. But how many hemp plants have been the victims of “friendly fire” during the war on drugs? How much genetic diversity and how many hundreds (or thousands) of years of guided cannabis plant evolution have been wiped out by this “botanical genocide?” Hemp farmers and cannabis researchers could possibly learn a lot about studying plants in the wild.
The more we learn, the more likely it is that we can find ways to use these plants to our advantage. The more we learn about how cannabinoids work in the body, the more important it will be for hemp farmers and even medicinal marijuana farmers to create plants for specific purposes. Right now, the industry is growing fast than this can become common knowledge amongst consumers. But we hope it will, and that consumers will be willing to pay money for products that deliver on what’s in the label.
Specialty Cannabinoid – Levels, Quantities, and Quality
Depending on its genetic disposition, a cannabis plant can produce different levels, quantities, and yields of Specialty Cannabinoids. Yes, levels, quantities, and yields are three different things. Levels are genetically determined and indicate how (potentially) potent a plant’s yield ends up being.
Since levels are genetically determined, it can take generations of selective breeding to increase a plant’s levels for a certain cannabinoid. Hemp plants bred for LOW potency (i.e., low levels) of a certain cannabinoid will not produce highly potent crops—no matter how you cultivate or harvest them. Likewise, cannabis plants bred for HIGH potency (i.e., high levels) of a certain cannabinoid will not produce low potency yields—not matter how you cultivate or harvest them.
Remember, cannabinoids are produced in a plant’s trichomes. The levels for a specific cannabinoid for that plant are measured in terms of the percent of that cannabinoid in that plant’s trichomes. The total quantity for that plant, however, is determined by how much total volume you can produce from the plant.
For example, a plan with a five percent THC level might produce a total of two pounds of product. However, a plant with ten percent THC levels can produce the same amount of product by yielding only one pound. So, when it comes to total cannabinoid yield, weight is relative and doesn’t tell us the entire story. The level (potency) of the cannabinoid also matters.
This, again, is why it’s important for good hemp manufacturers to have stable and dependable relationships with farmers. If a hemp manufacturer makes its products using plants with high levels (potency) of CBD is suddenly (or temporarily) forced to buy from a farmer who breeds hemp plants for low levels (potency) of CBD, the end product will be completely different. Even if the extraction, manufacturing, packaging, and labeling are exactly the same. Even worse, some plants are breed to have higher levels of THC and some are bred to have very, very low levels. If you’re selling hemp-derived products in a state where THC is illegal, this is really, really, important.
If your manufacturer isn’t consistently buying from the same farms, you could end up with a product that has more than the legal limit of THC. It depends on how careful your manufacturer was in selecting who to get their crops from, and in rigorously testing their end products for THC levels.
Extraction and Yield for Specialty Cannabinoids
Levels and quantities don’t completely determine the quality of specialty cannabinoid products you end up with. Extraction methods, and the quality and precision of extraction equipment, determine the total yield of raw cannabinoids. To put this into perspective, think about the last time you carved up a chicken for dinner. Chicken carving isn’t simply a matter of having a sharp knife and a good cutting board. It’s a skill. Skilled chicken carvers get more meat from the chicken. Amateurs simply hack away, leaving a lot of meat unused, and dulling their knives as they struggle to cut through bone and other connective tissues.
It’s the same when you extract raw cannabinoids from the trichomes of a cannabis plant. Some extraction methods yield a lot less product. More importantly, some methods destroy or corrupt the chemical integrity of the cannabinoid before it even gets into the end product, on the shelf, and into the consumer’s cannabinoid system. Some manufacturing practices also yield a product that is much more “bioavailable.” Bioavailability has to do with how much cannabinoid you actually absorb compared to how much is in the actual product.
Take regular “One a Day” vitamins as an example. We typically assume that if we’re taking vitamins with 100% of our daily Vitamin C, we’re getting all the Vitamin C we need for the day. But, those vitamin capsules still need to get into our stomachs, where they’re broken down, and (hopefully) absorbed by the digestive system and administered to the places in our body where the Vitamin C becomes useful. When it comes to that, you might end up absorbing only 50% (or less) of what’s advertised on the label. That 50% represents the amount of bioavailable Vitamin C.
Think about this the next time you buy a product that’s made with cannabinoids like CBD, CBN, or CBG. How much of that cannabinoid is bioavailable? While this answer depends on the health of your gut microbiome, and some other factors, some of it depends on how the cannabinoids for that product were extracted from the plant that produced them.
The Real Price of Specialty Cannabinoids
Why pay fifty, eight, or one-hundred dollars for a product that gives you a measly ten percent on bioavailability scale? If you’re selling cannabinoid products and want your customers to get the maximum benefit from using your product (so that they’ll buy more), you need to ask this question.
Again, it all starts with the genetics of the plant from which those cannabinoids were extracted. By now, you know that a plant’s cannabinoid levels determine potency, and that potency and quantity are different metrics. You know that these levels and quantities are determined by the genetic population that plant came from. From there, the next question is total yield and bioavailability, and this depends on multiple factors including the cannabinoid extraction methods, and how the end products are preserved until being sold to the customer.
Good genetics, good cultivation, good extraction methods (and equipment), good manufacturing, and good storing and delivery methods will yield a consistently effective product. But, any weak links in this supply chain, or any last-minute (or temporary) improvising on the part of the farmer or manufacturer, and who knows whether your end product is worth more than a placebo.
That said, we’ll now look at some common cannabinoid extraction methods and weigh their pros, cons. As with any plant-based product, your specialty cannabinoid products are only as good as your extraction methods. But what makes a “good” extraction method? That depends on the goals of the manufacturer. There’s a popular equation you’ll find talked about amongst manufacturers and service providers. It’s commonly called the “Speed / Cost / Quality Trade-off.” It’s based on the belief that when you make one of these three things your top priority, you’ll inevitably have to sacrifice one of the other two…
This equation is hotly debated, but in most cases, the person who insists that you can have all three has little or no real-world experience in running businesses that are subject to this equation. In fact, while writing this section, I found one article on medium.com which made the naïve and poorly argued claim that the Speed / Cost / Quality Trade-off is a “fallacy.” If you take the time to read this article yourself, you’ll quickly realize that the person writing it doesn’t know much about the world of manufacturing, or entrepreneurship for that matter.
Specialty Cannabinoids – Speed, Cost, or Quality
When it comes to extraction methods, cannabinoid extraction methods, the Speed / Cost / Quality Trade-Off definitely applies. If you want a quality yield, you’ll most likely have to pay either a higher, or sacrifice speed (efficiency), or both. If speed is your priority, you’ll be forced to give something up on the quality end.
Why is this so important to understand? Because whether you’re buying specialty cannabinoid products from a manufacturer, or purchasing the products from a store or a website, you should not fall into the naïve trap that ANY company can give you a quality product at a low price. Buyers who believe this (whether they represent an end-user of the product or a retail purchasing agent buying from a manufacturer) end up making poor purchasing decisions because they fail to understand the economics of production.
So, when we talk about “good” extraction methods, it’s important to understand that each manufacturer will have their own definition of “good.” Some value speed, others prefer cost-effective methods, and others put quality first at the expense of speed and cost-effectiveness. Anyone manufacturer or product retailer claiming to offer all three of these at once is either deliberately misleading you, or oblivious to the economics of manufacturing work in the real world. That said, let’s examine five cannabinoid extraction methods, together with their pros and cons.
Extracting Specialty Cannabinoids With Hydrocarbons
This cannabinoid extraction method uses combustible chemical solvents (butane is a common one) to extract a highly concentrated cannabinoid oil. The cannabis plant material is placed into a glass test tube, then packed tightly create a vacuum. Once the tube is sealed (usually with a screen), the tubes are placed in a glass container, and butane is pumped into an opening on one end of the test tube and ignited.
This heats up the test tube, and the plant starts releasing it’s natural oils from its trichomes, releasing the cannabinoids with it. As these oils drip into a container until the drip stops. The oils are then put into a hot water container to evaporate any butane from within the oil. Once extracted, the raw product is further refined to create cannabinoid oils, waxes, hash, powers, glass shatter, and more.
How does this method measure up on the Speed / Cost / Quality scale? It’s fast, and the equipment is inexpensive compared to other types of cannabinoid extraction equipment. But this doesn’t tell the entire story. Hydrocarbons (butane, propane, etc) are also highly combustible. This means manufacturers who use this method have to work harder to remain compliant with safety standards. It also means that if the hydrocarbon combusts, it can destroy the plant materials and therefore cost the manufacturer money in lost product.
Extracting Specialty Cannabinoids With (Ethanol) Alchohol
This cannabinoid extraction method uses boiled grain alcohol (ethanol) which is boiled in a flask. Once this is done, the alcohol is condensed on a cooled-coil, and the coil drips the ethanol through the cannabis plant material, stripping away the cannabinoids from the plant. Since this method yields only a crude end product, further refinement is required to turn the extractions into the specialty cannabinoid materials mentioned above (cannabinoid oils, waxes, hash, powers, glass shatter, etc.).
How does this method measure up on the Speed / Cost / Quality scale? It’s fast, but it also extracts other chemical substances from the plant like chlorophyll and decarboxylates. These unwanted chemicals can be eliminated through further refinement of the extracted product. But, whether all these byproducts are removed depends on how thoroughly and consistently the manufacturer applies these additional methods. Even a natural chemical like chlorophyll can give the final product a bitter taste. Why would someone buy your product again after having that experience?
Extracting Specialty Cannabinoids With Olive Oils
This cannabinoid extraction method uses heat to activate the plant’s cannabinoids. Once the plant is heated, it’s placed in a bath of olive oil where the cannabinoids are extracted.
How does this method measure up on the Speed / Cost / Quality scale? First, it’s safer than the hydrocarbon methods because it doesn’t use highly combustible solvents (ethanol, butane, liquid nitrogen, etc.). This is also why it is cheaper since it requires less licensing and regulation. The sacrifice is in the product quality since heating the plant prematurely activates the plant’s cannabinoids. Of course, this also reduces the bioavailability of the cannabinoids.
Extracting Specialty Cannabinoids With Co2
This cannabinoid extraction method pulls cannabinoids from the plant using pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2). This method scores higher on the Speed / Cost / Quality scale because it yields the purest and safest end product and works quickly.
The only downside of this method is the cost, since the Co2 extraction equipment is expensive, ranging in the six and seven-figure cost range. In addition to the cost of the equipment, highly specialized and educated technicians must be hired to maintain and/or repair this equipment.
However, it’s important to remember that while products created using this method might be more “expensive,” the end-user is much more likely to get the full effect of the cannabinoids. So, when it comes to end products, “cost” is simply a matter of perspective.
Extracting Specialty Cannabinoids With Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is exactly what it sounds like—cannabinoid extraction through using small and precise technology. This method was originally created for the pharmaceutical industry in the first decade of the 21rst Century. Today, the cannabis industry is making the most widespread use of this technology. Just how precise is nanotechnology? It allows scientists to control and manipulate substances at an atomic and molecular level through ultrasonic liquid processing.
When a liquid, such as the liquid inside cannabis trichomes, is exposed to high-intensity ultrasound, it creates vacuum bubbles (pockets of low pressure) which expand and oscillate more and more intensely until they finally explode. This explosion releases micro-jets that break up particles on the cellular level, allowing the droplets to be suspended in water, where they’re then extracted.
Since nanotechnology is more precise, it yields more product and the products offer maximum bioavailability to the end-user. Cannabinoid products created using Nanotechnology (i.e., Nano CBD, etc) can yield products that are three, four, and five times more bioavailable in the human body.
This is one reason Spring Creek Labs and other cutting-edge hemp manufacturing companies started, in early 2020, to make the switch to using nanotechnology. But that’s not all. Nano specialty cannabinoids can deliver a quicker impact, giving the end-user a faster onset of effects. Now you have a good foundation of knowledge about specialty cannabinoids. This is a good time to talk about how a lack of knowledge has created problems in this industry.
Controversies About Specialty Cannabinoids
The 2018 Farm Bill made “Industrial Hemp” legal across all fifty states in the United States. This bill, however, did not clear up the ignorance and confusion that’s run rampant in the public consciousness regarding specialty cannabinoids and other hemp-derived products. One such controversial claims regarding the above-mentioned Entourage Effect. In 1998, two Israeli scientists—Shimon Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam—introduced their theory of the entourage effect. The theory argued that the chemicals found in cannabis plants could work together to produce a synergistic effect greater than the sum of the individual effects combined.
However, proving the validity of this theory has turned out to be controversial and complicated. Research has, so far, focused mostly on the isolated effects of THC and CBD. The combined effects of these have proven harder to evaluate. Of course, the internet is ripe with claims about THC seeming to demonstrate analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-emetic and properties and CBD seeming to demonstrate anti-anxiety, anti-seizure, and antipsychotic properties.
These claims are, however, still in question. Many CBD Manufacturers and Cannabis Product Vendors have landed themselves in legal trouble by talking about these claims on their websites and in their marketing materials. Bank and payment processing companies have also dropped cannabis AND hemp product vendors and manufacturers over such claims. In fact, in 2019, Spring Creek Labs had trouble with a payment processor simply for talking about the entourage effect—even though no medical claims of any kind were made.
Thankfully, many payment processing companies have relaxed their draconian business practices and started to welcome companies in the cannabis business. But, why all the drama? Are the payment processing companies stuck in the stranglehold of the deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies? Maybe. However, in many cases, this can be chalked up to ignorance and fear.
You see, many people in the United States (including people who should know better) still don’t understand the meaning of the term “cannabis.” Cannabis is a large family of plants with many highly-diverse species. The plant we commonly call “Marijuana” is simply a type of cannabis plant. Marijuana contains cannabinoids, one of which is THC. THC is the active cannabinoid found in marijuana products, and responsible for the euphoric feeling (aka, “getting high”) people get by smoking joints or eating pot brownies. Medicinal marijuana is now legal in some states, and recreational marijuana use is legal in a handful of states.
However, in many states, marijuana products are still illegal, including medicinal marijuana. Hemp products, on the other hand, come from hemp plants and contain a legal amount of THC (.02 or less). In other words, hemp-derived products are a completely different type of product than marijuana products, because they come from a completely different plant. True, both plants are in the cannabis family, and that’s where a lot of the confusion comes into play.
Common Confusions About Specialty Cannabinoids
Humorous, and sometimes infuriating, stories, still hit the news about people being arrested or harassed by cops for being in possession of hemp products. Likewise, companies selling hemp-derived products have been dropped by their banks or payment providers for “marketing an illegal substance.” Sometimes, this happens in spite of the company making explicit claims on their website and marketing materials that their products are hemp-derived and contain legal amounts of THC.
Clearly, these payment providers are unaware of the simple, scientific differences between the diverse species of cannabis plants. Other times, they’re probably just acting out of fear and playing it safe. Other critics of the Cannabis, Hemp, and Cannabinoid industries are simply laypeople with big mouths and opinions based in pure ignorance.
This is why Spring Creek Labs put out an article in 2019 explaining the cannabis nomenclature problem that is creating loads of drama for the cannabis, hemp, and cannabinoid industries. How long will these problems persist?
It depends on how quickly the people who manufacture, promote, and sell cannabis products start behaving like serious businesses. True, many of us are. However, the irresistibly money-making opportunities in this industry have attracted hundreds of thousands of enthusiastically ignorant “Wantrepreneurs” who don’t have a deep passion for these plants and the ongoing research about the impact of specialty cannabinoids.
Thankfully, rigorous research is still being done about the benefits of cannabinoids and the entourage effect. Some of the most popular research has been looking at how THC and CBD might work together. One claim being researched is whether CBD can block THC from binding to the CB1-R receptor, lessoning the “stoned” effects created by THC.
Researchers are hoping this combination of effects will allow THC to be administered for medical purposes, without the patient losing their ability to focus and think clearly while using these medicines. While loads of individual cannabis users will already tell us that this indeed happens, changing the minds of the regulating bodies is another matter.
What’s ironic is how many drugs that are now illegal were once sold over the counter to consumers. Are regulating bodies simply trying to avoid repeats of mistakes like these? Or, is there a vast conspiracy for pharmaceutical companies to keep a tight noose on this industry while they test their own products and prepare them for mass marketing?
That depends on who you ask. One thing is for sure though. Cannabis companies have to keep diligently educated people about the difference between the diverse species and cannabis plants, and about the chemicals they produce.
The synthetic cannabinoid, Marinol, is another example. Marinol is a pure, synthetic form of THC. When the drug was first introduced in the mid-80s, it was thought it would have the same effect as the cannabis plant as a whole.
However, it soon became clear that most patients were not responding the same as when THC is consumed by smoking or ingesting naturally-grown cannabis. Researchers soon realized that other compounds, such as CBD and various terpenes, play a larger role than previously realized.
Finding a Specialty Cannabinoids Manufacturer
Congratulations. You now know more about specialty cannabinoids and how they work than you did at the start of this article. Hopefully, you can use what you’ve learned to have better conversations about these controversial chemicals and about the rising popularity of cannabis products. We still have many things to talk about, including the exciting use of nanotechnology to create specialty cannabinoid products. But those are topics for another article.
What does the future hold for specialty cannabinoids? So far, the future looks bright. But there’s a long way to go before we stamp out all the confusion surrounding these chemicals and cannabis products. And the problem isn’t only being caused by the critics. Pro-Cannabis people need to do their job in understanding the confusion we just talked about and how to clear these up.
More importantly, we all must do a better job in explaining the process by which specialty cannabinoids are cultivated, extracted, manufactured, and packaged. As with any new industry, we’re facing challenges which very few people have ever had to deal with. Any weak link in the supply chain can lead to a subpar product ending up on the customer’s shelves, or in their medicine cabinet.
This is why Spring Creek Labs has taken the time to explain what specialty cannabinoids are, how they’re cultivated, how they operate in the body, and how they’re generally talked about by their users and by the people who manufacture and sell these products.
Most importantly, I’ve tried to explain the potential pitfalls of working with unstable manufacturing partners, and how quickly a weak link in the supply chain can dramatically alter the quality of your end product. These points are likely to become even more important as farming, extraction, and manufacturing technology becomes more advanced and more complicated.
What to Look for in a Speciality Cannabinoids Manufacturer
Again, specialty Cannabinoids are super popular and growing more so each day. But, do you know where your specialty cannabinoid products come from? Do you know how they’re farmed, extracted, manufactured, packaged, and delivered?
If not, you’re spending big money on what’s written on the product label. What really matters is how much of these wonderful chemicals end up in the end product, and whether they affect the end-user the way they’re supposed to. And that call comes down to how consistently dependable your supply chain is.
So, if you’re ready to join the fast-growing army of ambitious entrepreneurs who want to make specialty cannabinoids available to the public, you now know who you need to talk to. Your Hemp Manufacturing specialists at Spring Creek Labs are among the most committed people in the specialty cannabinoid business.
Call now, or fill in the quote form below, and tell them what kind of product you want to test with your customer base. Spring Creek Labs can get you started for just a few thousand capsules. Sure, if you’re a small outfit with only a couple hundred bucks in startup capital, even that might be too much. But, if you ask me, it’s worth investing money into a product you can feel proud promoting. If you want to be the best and build a business that’s still around when the cannabis craze has settled down, you’d be smart to put quality first from the very beginning.
If you agree with this, call your specialty cannabinoid manufacturing partners at Spring Creek Labs, or fill out the form below, and get ready to build a world-changing a partnership.