GCS CEO, Christopher Tasker, BSc, MRes, explores how the oversupply of hemp biomass has led to producers finding new ways of monetising products. He discusses the emergence of delta-8-THC and the need for professional supervision of this kind of chemistry.
In the ever-evolving battle for profitability in the cannabis industry, everything and anything is being explored to differentiate from the competition and appease investors. CBD aka “cannabidiol” has been a buzzword for some time now in health and wellness circles.
The initial green rush seen in CBD production has seen a lull in the last two years. After the global loosening of CBD regulations, crop production skyrocketed. After hearing the successes of their CBD-producing colleagues, massive investments were made into upscaling CBD production globally. This global push to cash in on the green rush has caused an over-supply of hemp biomass.
The global oversupply has meant a depression in the prices of CBD biomass. This depression in prices and oversupply of biomass has meant that producers have had to explore alternative means of monetizing their products. The efficiency of hemp production as a source of CBD is debatable. Hemp is indeed a fine crop but with average yields of CBD between 1 to 8 per cent, a huge amount of refining is required to extract the precious cannabinoids. As is common with many hemp farms cultivating for CBD, the numerous other beneficial saleable products of the hemp crop have been overlooked.
Delta variants of THC
The delta-8 -tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC) trend has emerged as a solution to this oversupply of CBD biomass. An interesting chemical property of CBD meant that chemists could convert the unwanted CBD into isomers of THC.
What is an isomer I hear you say? Isomers are two or more compounds with the same formula but a different arrangement of atoms in the molecule and different properties. THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol is a compound that most in our industry will be familiar with. The molecular formula of THC is C₂₁H₃₀O₂. For the non-chemistry speakers, this means the THC molecule consists of 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 atoms of oxygen. The subtle difference between the two forms of THC boils down to as little as the positioning of a double bond. Some of you may have noticed that this is also the chemical formula for CBD.
Figure 1. The chemical structures of ∆8-THC and ∆9-THC. ∆8-THC has a double bond between the carbon atoms labeled 8 and 9. ∆9-THC has a double bond between the carbon atoms labeled 9 and 10.
The delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol that we are discussing today, is an isomer of THC. This base chemistry means that delta-8-THC can be synthesized from CBD which also shares this same C₂₁H₃₀O₂ structure (US EPA National Center for Environmental Assessment, 2009).
Figure 2. The chemical structure of cannabidiol (CBD)
With tonnes of waste CBD biomass flooding the market, creative chemists have been left with a high volume of CBD to play with and supported by some very relieved hemp producers. The emergence of the delta-8-THC trend has been triggered by some clever chemistry that advocates argue is a legal method of exploiting a loophole in the 2018 United States Farm Bill.
Both forms of THC share a very similar pharmacological profile and the marketability of the delta-8 form has been that it is less potent than delta-9-THC. This is true, delta-8-THC exhibits a lower psychotropic potency to delta-9-THC, a ratio of roughly 2:3 (Hollister and Gillespie, 1973). In the interests of brevity, this article will not delve deeply into the effects of delta-8-THC, but in short, the physiological effects are very similar to that of delta-9-THC. Of note is that research into most of these minor cannabinoids is yet to fully gain pace, so in actuality we know very little about these molecules and the true extent of their effects in the body. In the real world, most of these products that are claimed to contain delta-8-THC remain extremely difficult to verify.
A key drawback to this trendy new product is that there is likely more inside the product than just the delta-8-THC. Depending on the process used, any number of additional products may be formed and left residually in the product. In combination with lagging regulatory oversight in this market, it is very difficult to verify the legitimacy of these products. Although there is a legitimate chemical basis for these conversions and the utilisation of waste CBD, we are falling foul of several of the same issues we have previously seen in over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products. This new trend is almost a scaling up of many of the issues we witnessed when CBD first emerged into the legal space. Verifying these products is extremely difficult not just for consumers but also for analysts.
Figure 3. The many chemical conversion possibilities for CBD and their respective formation conditions (Golombek et al., 2020).
Like many processes in the field of cannabinoid chemistry, there are a host of other factors and products to consider. Something that we have discussed before at GCS is the presence of residual solvents in cannabis products. The same concerns ring true for the formation of delta-8-THC from CBD. Strong acids and solvents are required that if not appropriately neutralized can find themselves being consumed by unsuspecting members of the public. Be under no illusion, delta-8-THC is a molecule of great therapeutic potential, but this is by no means transferrable to the products that are being sold OTC to consumers.
It is fair to say that products that are being manufactured en masse using loopholes to maintain profitability are not the most reliable of sources. The driver here is profit, and with all the best intentions in the world, analysing and regulating this grey area of the market is invariably difficult. It has been a fantastic way to reutilise what would potentially be a waste product. However, chemistry of this kind needs to be professionally supervised.
The process for converting CBD into delta-8-THC can become extremely murky and there are numerous methods of balancing and refining the process. Everything from the purity of CBD through to the ratio of acid used in the conversion process. As with many chemical processes, if not appropriately controlled there are potentially explosive outcomes from uninformed production. In the eyes of many, delta-8-THC is a synthetic product made using CBD isolated from hemp. The claim that it is legal is a point of legal contention.
This issue highlights once again the disconnect between the academic perspective and the perspective of industry actors. The competitiveness of cannabis means that more and more companies are looking for loopholes to exploit or as some might describe it, finding a niche. What is clear though is that our industry is running out of ideas. Companies repeatedly look towards the plant for new trends and opportunities. People hold the greatest potential in the cannabis industry. To promote innovation and differentiation we have created a range of educational tools that empower companies to make informed and independent business decisions.
Global Cannabinoid Solutions
GCS have a Global network of cannabis academics to solve Industry problems. Existing knowledge is shared and developed to create unique and innovative education tools. You can explore its range of educational products and see how you can strengthen our industry, your business and society.
Golombek, P. et al. (2020) ‘Conversion of Cannabidiol (CBD) into Psychotropic Cannabinoids Including Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): A Controversy in the Scientific Literature’, Toxics. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI), 8(2). doi: 10.3390/TOXICS8020041.
Hollister, L. E. and Gillespie, H. K. (1973) ‘Delta-8- and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; Comparison in man by oral and intravenous administration’, Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 14(3), pp. 353–357. doi: 10.1002/cpt1973143353.
US EPA National Center for Environmental Assessment (2009) The Merck index: An encyclopedia of chemicals, drugs, and biologicals: Benzo[a]pyrene. Edited by M. O’Neil, MJ; Smith, A; Heckelman, PE; Obenchain, JR; Gallipeau, JR; D’Arecca. US EPA National Center for Environmental.
Flowr Corporation says strategy in Portugal paying dividends
Harvesting of high-THC strains is expected at its subsidiary’s Portugal facility by the end of January 2022.
Flowr Corporation’s CEO has commented that the company’s strategy in Portugal is paying dividends after improvements to operational expertise.
Holigen Holdings Limited in Portugal is expecting to harvest at least 300kg of indoor-grown medical cannabis in the first quarter of 2022. The company is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Canada-based The Flowr Corporation.
According to Flowr, Holigen is in the final stages of cultivating its strains BC Black Cherry and BC Strawnana, which have THC content levels above 29 per cent. The company expects to commence harvesting at its purpose-built indoor facility in Sintra, Portugal by the end of January 2022.
The Flowr Corporation CEO, Darryl Brooker, commented: “Our strategy in Portugal is appearing to pay dividends. We have worked very hard to improve the operational expertise at our indoor facility in Sintra and we are now seeing the results.
“The EU market is starved for premium medical cannabis and our team in Portugal, led by Tom Flow, is on the cusp of achieving a significant operational milestone for the company.
“We are very much looking forward to the near-term results in Portugal and see the EU as an under-valued and under-appreciated part of our business.”
The Flowr Corporation also announced it has completed its first shipment from Canada to Israel, consisting of premium cannabis across two strains for a total of (CAD)$825,000 (~£481,405), as part of a recent supply agreement.
The shipment is the company’s first into the Israeli market and the first significant international export, with additional exports to Israel expected later this year.
“We are extremely pleased to have completed our first shipment to Israel as part of our partnership with IMC and Focus Medical,” commented Brooker.
“As the Israeli medical cannabis industry continues to grow, we expect the market to be an important destination for us to grow our brand and distribution reach internationally.
“As a result, we view this first shipment and this partnership as an important next step to becoming a significant international producer of cannabis with a globally recognised brand.”
The shipment of cannabis was from Flowr’s K1 facility located in Kelowna, British Columbia.
The second shipment to the Israeli market is expected in the first half of 2022.
Cannabis cultivation agreements will work with Jamaican farmers
UK-based Apollon Formularies is aiming to increase the supply of medical cannabis through its new agreements.
A number of new agreements have been signed between Apollon Formularies and Jamaica’s Cannabis License Authority (CLA) licensed cultivators allowing access to high-quality flower.
Apollon has signed more than a dozen tripartite agreements with Jamaica’s CLA which will enable the company to use high-quality cannabis flower to accelerate processing and manufacturing. The medical cannabis products will be used for patients, clinical trials and export.
The company has also established the Apollon Kannabiz Cooperative which aims to ensure that Jamaica’s cannabis growers are not left out of the regulated medical cannabis system, allowing traditional farmers to move into the legal industry.
The company has stated it believes that the local farmers should not only “grow for us” but should also be given an opportunity to “grow with us”.
Jamaica’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Floyd Green, hailed the initiative at the official opening in Westmoreland, Jamaica, in October 2019: “Apollon is, indeed, cognisant of the need to develop a holistic sector, which does not overlook the traditional farmers.
“Indeed, let us allow our farmers to not just grow for the sector but to also grow with the sector in a meaningful and sustainable way.”
CLA director of enforcement and monitoring, Faith Graham, speaking at a recent Jamaica Information Service (JIS) think tank, commented: “By insisting on a standard for our licence holders and those interested in becoming a part of our local market, we are showing that we operate at an international level as we apply best practices for the global industry.
“The CLA operates a closed-loop system, characterised by a tripartite agreement that is fundamental to the industry maintaining its integrity. The tripartite agreement ensures that the ganja (cannabis) that is cultivated is sold to another licensee.”
Apollon Formularies Jamaica Limited CEO, Paul Burke, commented: “Apollon‘s goal is to reposition Jamaica’s medical cannabis industry, in terms of science, research and development, product manufacturing, affordable patient care, and legal export, while becoming an industry leader in the global pharmaceutical and nutraceutical medical cannabis space.”
“We are pleased that so many CLA-Licensed cultivators have signed tripartite agreements with the company indicating their interest and willingness to grow and provide substantial quantities of high-quality, freshly harvested cannabis buds to be used by Apollon to process and manufacture large quantities of medical cannabis products which will significantly accelerate and increase our inventory for patients, clinical trials, and export,” added Stephen Barnhill, MD, CEO of Apollon Formularies.
“We also recognise and appreciate the experience and dedication of traditional Jamaican ganja farmers and look forward to expanding the Apollon Kannabiz Cooperative to provide jobs and income to help local farmers have a better way of life for themselves and their families.”
Sativa Wellness receives food safety certificate for cannabis extraction
The certificate relates to the companies activities at its plant in Poland.
Sativa Wellness has received its ISO 22000 Food Safety Management System certification.
The certification is applicable to food safety relating to cannabis extraction at its Polish plant, which is fully licensed for medicinal CBD.
Sativa Wellness also successfully passed the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point requirements, including Good Hygiene Practice and Good Manufacturing Practice as one of the components of the HACCP requirements.
Geremy Thomas, executive chairman, commented: “We are pleased to again achieve further certifications to demonstrate the quality of the products we produce and the standards we adhere to.”
The company, which became a senior UK Department of Health and Social Care partner in the COVID-19 pandemic to provide antibody, antigen and PCR tests for travellers and at borders, says that during the audit, the certification scope “Production of plant extracts” was confirmed.
In Mat 2021, Sativa Wellness reported that its revenues increased by 377 per cent, up by £1.02m to £1.37m compared to the previous year, due to its COVID-19 related activities.
The ISO 22000 Food Safety Management System certification has been developed as a standard to acknowledge that the consequences of unsafe food can be serious.
ISO’s food safety management standard helps organisations identify and control food safety hazards to provide a layer of reassurance within the global food supply chain, helping products that people can trust cross borders.
HACCP is also a certification to help manage food safety hazards as food safety management procedures should be based on HACCP principles.