CBD products have become one of the hottest things going since Washington legalized industrial hemp some years ago. You can buy CBD just about anywhere. There are topical oils for pain relief, tinctures to help you relax, and everything in between. With so much CBD flowing around the country, have you ever wondered how it gets from farm to retail store?
CBD is not a manufactured product in and of itself. It is actually a plant extract. It’s found in many kinds of cannabis plants, though nearly all CBD produced in the U.S. comes from industrial hemp. Growers across the United States produce acre after acre of industrial hemp that ends up being processed to generate extracts that ultimately become retail products.
- It Starts as a Plant
Industrial hemp is a species of cannabis plant. So is marijuana, by the way. Industrial hemp is very similar to marijuana with one glaring exception: it contains less than 0.3% THC. That is why industrial hemp is legal at the federal level while marijuana is not.
At any rate, retail CBD products start out as industrial hemp plants. All species of cannabis offer more than a hundred cannabinoids and dozens of terpenes. CBD is one of those cannabinoids. THC is another. In order to make CBD products, manufacturers must get the cannabinoids out of the plant. That is done through CBD extraction. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
- Cultivation, Harvesting, and Drying
The first step in creating CBD product is cultivating the plant itself. Growers have to be incredibly careful to ensure that THC levels remain below the federal threshold. Otherwise, they cannot sell their crops. They can’t even continue growing them. If industrial hemp exceeds 0.3% THC, it must be destroyed.
Crops nurtured successfully through to harvest are taken from the ground, processed, and dried. Drying can be accomplished in one of two ways: by hanging the plants in a barn for up to 10 days or running them through an industrial hemp dryer. CedarstoneIndustry, a Houston company that manufactures hemp-drying and CBD extraction equipment, says machine-drying is the method of choice for large-scale producers.
- Extracting the CBD
Once growers properly dry their product, it gets shipped to processors for CBD extraction. Dried plant material is placed in extraction equipment that pulls out all the cannabinoids and terpenes. CedarstoneIndustry says the three primary means of extraction are steam distillation, solvent extraction, and CO2 extraction.
Each extraction method has its positives and negatives. Steam distillation is the cheapest, but it is also the most inconsistent and inefficient. CO2 extraction creates the highest quality cannabinoids and terpenes. However, it’s quite expensive and requires a rather large footprint.
At any rate, extracted cannabinoids and terpenes are combined into CBD oils. From there, they are used as ingredients to make retail products. Some oils are bottled and sold straight up while others are added to edibles, topical creams and ointments, etc.
- Cannabinoid and Terpene Profiles
The most exciting step of the process might be experimenting with cannabinoid and terpene profiles. A manufacturer may hit on a winning formula for a CBD gummy and immediately send it to market. Meanwhile, scientists are experimenting with other profiles to see what they can come up with. Having more than a hundred cannabinoids and dozens of terpenes to work with opens the door to lots of possibilities.
Now you know how CBD gets from farm to retail shelf. The process is not necessarily complicated in principle, but there is a lot going on in practice. It takes skill and knowledge to produce CBD products that customers actually want.