Cannabis and hemp derived concentrates are a rapidly growing product category. Formed by extracting cannabis using a variety of methods including ethanol, butane hash oil and CO2, concentrates find their way into consumer packaged goods as ingredients for infused products or as stand-alone products such as resins, rosins, distillates and hash.
Precision Extraction Solutions (Precision) was founded in 2014 to provide equipment and services to cannabis and hemp processors. In October 2021, Agrify (NASDAQ: AGFY) purchased Precision in a $50M cash and stock deal. The move positions Agrify to offer end-to-end infrastructure solutions for cannabis cultivators and processors.
We interviewed Nick Tennant, SVP of Innovation at Precision, now a division of Agrify. Nick founded Precision after seeing a need for quality equipment in concentrate processing. Prior to Precision, Nick was involved in a vertically integrated cannabis business in Michigan where he gained experience in cultivation, extraction and retail.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Nick Tennant: I’ve been in cannabis about 17 years now. I had family in Colorado and California who I started to interface with around 2006. Around 2008, Michigan passed their cannabis law, and we were one of the first businesses to get licensed. The subsequent five years from that law getting passed, up to 2013, I did pretty much everything in terms of commercial cannabis – cultivation, retail, edible manufacturing, you name it. Concentrates didn’t really exist in a meaningful way; the products definitely were there, but the technology wasn’t. I looked at technology at the time and it was very primitive, so we made a shift to focusing on concentrates. We launched Precision in 2014 and we basically shot out of a cannon, doing a million dollars in sales in our first 90 days. Since then, we grew the company up to 60 employees and substantial amounts of revenue. We sold Precision to Agrify in October of this year.
Green: Tell me about that transition from a cannabis products company to an equipment manufacturer.
Tennant: It was a gradual transition. As I started to see the extraction niche expand, I really started to put more time and resources into it. When we launched Precision and were met with such success in just the first 90 days, I knew that I had to abandon everything else I was doing to focus on this. My former partners took over the businesses, like the grows. We worked out individual circumstances regarding how I was going to leave those businesses and focus full time at Precision.
Green: So, big news recently with the acquisition, congratulations on that! Tell me about Agrify and why a deal with Agrify made sense to you.
Tennant: The strategic rationale is that we are providing an end-to-end infrastructure solution. They have the horticultural aspect, an excellent public vehicle, and plenty of cash on the balance sheet to continue to scale the business and acquire additional constituents within the cannabis infrastructure. Getting to the point where you can exit the businesses, it’s a long road, and our business is very niche. We were seeking to partner with t a bigger player in the industry with more resources that would help us to scale what we were trying to do, and Agrify was the perfect fit.
Green: You’ve got several areas of focus at Precision ranging from ethanol extraction, distillation, and butane hash oil (BHO) extraction. Where are you focusing the business going forward?
Tennant: Going forward we want to provide that end-to-end one-stop shop infrastructural solution for any cannabis products company. We want Agrify to become the dominant and fastest growing player in the cannabis industry for infrastructural solutions, whether that’s horticulture or extraction. We’re continuing to expand our product portfolio into other niches so that if you’re building a cannabis facility, you only need to come to one company and the process is as simple as possible.
Green: What kinds of products are you seeing the consumer gravitate towards?
Tennant: I think that cannabis will remain to be very artisanal because of the uniqueness of the plant. If you look at similar industries, I could compare it to craft beer or winemaking. I think that hydrocarbon and water hashes will continue to play a substantial role. I also think that ethanol and distillate-based products will hold market share just like the Budweiser and Kendall Jacksons of the world.
People love the native sort of essence of the plant, that this is a plant sort of bestowed upon us by the universe with all these unique healing and restorative properties. I think that trying to capture those properties and that native essence of what’s going on within the genome of the plant and translate that into a product is going to be the theme that continues to dominate, and I think that for several reasons. For the same reason somebody will go to Whole Foods, and they’ll buy the local organic grown fruit or vegetables, people are going to gravitate towards artisanal cannabis products. People that consume cannabis, generally speaking, are more naturalistic or homeopathic than most.
Green: Precision has technology for a range of extraction methods where the focus has been on cannabis. Are you seeing any new markets outside of cannabis?
Tennant: Yes. We’ve dealt with varieties of different botanical extraction companies over the years, but they’re a very small segment of our business. We’re a cannabis business. Non-cannabis extraction may make up less than 1% of our business so it’s very small.
Green: What trends are you following in the cannabis industry?
Tennant: Consolidation, I would say, is a big one. MSOs are consolidating and buying up the small players. The second major trend is regulation, and what’s going on in DC. Beyond that, you obviously have new states coming online, shifting consumer trends, things like that. I would say these last two are less impactful from a macro standpoint, but nonetheless, still things that we follow.
Green: Following up on consolidation, do you see a demand for larger systems now?
Tennant: I’d say 95% of what we do is under 2000 pounds a day, which we consider artisanal. You’re not going to see large scale production consolidation because you have fragmentation by state. It would be most efficient for a cannabis manufacturer to manufacture everything in one location but it’s just not possible with the state laws. It’s very fragmented. Somebody like a Trulieve might have 20 different manufacturing operations, all running similar processes. Perhaps we will see more upon national legalization and the opening of state borders.
Green: What in your personal life or in the cannabis industry are you most interested in learning about?
Tennant: I am constantly learning. That’s just how my brain is, and the type of person that I am. I’m interested in a variety of topics, but I think I’m most interested in how capital markets are going to materialize and substantiate around the federal legalization because we’re in this weird space of cannabis. It’s weird, because you have a boom industry that’s generating massive amounts of revenue and massive amounts of tax dollars, but you must remind yourself that there is no real liquidity in this market, meaning you can’t finance things. A typical cannabis company that wants to go out and get capital is getting rates between 16 to 18%. There’s just a capital restriction since cannabis is a Schedule I substance, and these large lenders don’t want to play into that.
The question in my head and the big catalyst for the entire industry is: what happens when we get a descheduling, decriminalization and/or legalization on a federal level? How does that affect the large funds sentiment to deploy this zero-interest rate capital that we’re seeing in the rest of the world? We’re seeing it in mortgages. We’re seeing it in every aspect of the world. There’s free money printing, but it’s not flowing into cannabis because those federal laws are prohibiting it as such. Ultimately, as more infrastructure comes online, these companies are not going to have to scrape by to build a $3 million lab. They can finance it at a reasonable interest rate, and the infrastructure can come online.
That’s going to be better for the consumer. There will be more infrastructure, more products, more research and development, more retail locations. Everything gets better, more convenient, and more robust. I would think that finance interest rates are the largest lever within the industry right now, and because of that, you’ll likely see cannabis capital markets go pretty crazy when legalization comes around.
The cannabinoid industry has faced an uphill battle from the beginning due to a lack of reliable scientific awareness about cannabinoids, fueled by decades of the hemp plant’s status as an illegal Schedule 1 drug. Today, scientists finally are free to explore the hemp plant’s 115+ cannabinoids and their relationships with the body’s endocannabinoid system. One cannabinoid, THCV, is currently undergoing scrupulous research.
ECS Brands is an established provider of whole-plant extracts. In the first-ever clinical trial for an organic THCV-rich extract, ECS received support from the National Institutes of Health and guidance from the Mayo Clinic to assess its potential for weight loss, anxiety treatment and other therapies using Nitro-V Hemp Extract, an ECS Brands product containing high concentrations of THCV, CBDV and other cannabinoids. Early outcomes of the 90-day, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled human study were recently released. 100 out of 100 people lost weight, making no changes to exercise while taking the product for 90 days.
We interviewed Arthur Jaffee, Founder & CEO of ECS Brands. Prior to founding ECS, Arthur was co-founder of Elixinol, a company manufacturing and distributing industrial hemp-based products. Arthur took Elixinol public on the Australian stock exchange in 2018.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Arthur Jaffee: I originally was planning on starting a fitness equipment company. I got introduced to my partner at Elixinol, Gabriel, who my old physical therapist at University of Colorado said I had to meet. By the end of our lunch meeting, we shook hands in agreement to partner up on the fitness equipment concept. The timing happened where he got this opportunity to distribute CBD just following our handshake partnership. I didn’t know what it was at the time. He asked me if I wanted to join and get involved. I did my research into the benefits and discovered CBD’s anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective benefits, which for me was relevant given my football experience. I quickly realized what the vast potential CBD could offer with inflammation, neuroprotection and so many of the health and safety concerns arising from contact sports at the time. So, ultimately the opportunity presented itself through a friend of a friend in Australia who had a supply chain in Europe. This was right when CBD first appeared in the media in 2014. It was almost like it just fell into my lap.
I’ve been fortunate to really see that transition, and the evolution of the industry. Back then was probably the most valuable time because growth was so slow. Nobody knew what CBD was back in 2014. The primary demographic was cancer patients and epilepsy patients which presented a significant challenge to develop sales and marketing materials and communicate compliantly. Our first hire was a Medical Doctor to communicate in a more compliant fashion. I had to learn everything there was about the science and the medical research that existed at that time. For me, that was very valuable.
The valuable learning experiences from the early days of the industry is what laid the foundation today with ECS brands where we are focused on education promoting awareness of the endocannabinoid system to take it a step beyond just CBD because in order to understand what constitutes a quality product, or why CBD can have all these various benefits for people, you must first understand how the body is naturally configured to receive and respond to these amazing phytochemicals such as CBD. CBD is just one of hundreds of phytonutrients that the human body is designed to use. The endocannabinoid system is so significant in the grand scheme of things, because once you start accepting that the system is your overarching regulatory system in the body, we can start to look at the endless therapeutic potential.
Green: Being an early player in the CBD space, how would you say you’ve evolved over time to where you’re at today?
Jaffee: Innovation. That’s what really drove me to start ECS brands. Back in 2014, I originally co-founded Elixinol. After we took Elixinol public on the Australian exchange in the very beginning of 2018, there was a shift in direction away from innovation. Nearly all emphasis was placed on just doing what we’re doing better – meaning improving margins. In such a new and young industry and being a pioneer, you don’t get many opportunities to discover and create something for the first time. So, the past three years with ECS brands is with a heavy focus on innovation and technology.
Green: How do you think about innovation for the endocannabinoid system?
Jaffee: One of the early discoveries for me that was most inspiring, was research that evaluated endocannabinoid receptor sites, basically little keyholes for cannabinoids to perfectly fit in – that are made for cannabinoids. When evaluating the number of receptor sites in different individuals experiencing stress and illness it showed there was a higher concentration of receptor sites in those that were sick and experiencing systemic stress. To me, that was that was powerful because if that doesn’t communicate the body’s need for cannabinoid nourishment to heal and restore back to homeostasis as a natural and involuntary response really motivated me to play a part in getting quality cannabinoid products out to the masses and specifically those in most critical need. Our first interaction with cannabinoids is in mother’s breast milk, the cannabinoids that our bodies naturally produce. After breastfeeding, our diets are completely stripped of virtually all cannabinoids, leaving the endocannabinoid system starving, and likely leading to many of the most common and chronic health deficiencies that causes detriment to so many. Rather than cannabinoids, we then get introduced to pharmaceuticals. The writing is on the wall – this must get accepted and integrated into our society.
When it comes to innovation surrounding the public system it requires research and requires scientific evidence. It requires functional products because you can have all these great benefits, but if you don’t have efficient and effective ways of delivering these chemicals to the body, it can almost be meaningless. It’s a delicate balance between consumer appeal, functionality and efficiency when it comes to the delivery into the body. We’re focusing on delivery systems, making things more bioavailable and integrating other natural botanicals that react and influence the system in similar ways as there are more than just cannabis-derived cannabinoids that can create positive impact and ultimately alter the way that the endocannabinoid system can regulate.
Green: An important aspect of innovation is clinical validation. How do you think about clinical trials and designing clinical trials for products?
Jaffee: Clinical trials are instrumental and required to validate claims because otherwise, it’s just speculation. Directional application without the clinical evidence to support in the appropriate way is setting yourself up for failure. Designing a clinical trial is just as important as performing the trial. If it’s not set up right, it can be a waste of time and money. Trials really need to be held to the gold standard of double-blind placebo controlled and thoughtfully organized.
We did organize a clinical trial at the beginning of this year, and it was incredible. We learned so much about a unique extract of ours that’s naturally rich in THCV and CBDV. We intentionally set it up to be a very broad and encompassing study. I personally wanted to see the different mechanisms and how the endocannabinoid system responded and worked together with other systems in the body. We evaluated a broad range of measurements, with complete safety tox study – blood panels to test every organ – measuring kidney enzymes, liver enzymes, ALT, AST, ALP, bilirubin, albumin, creatinine as well as cholesterol – with HDL, LDL and triglycerides, GFR and Complete Blood Count. We also measured blood sugar hemoglobin A1C and five major inflammatory markers of IL-1, IL-6, C-Reactive protein, Homocysteine and TNF. In addition to performing a full safety run-up of the product, we also measured weight, BMI, girth, questionnaires for anxiety, appetite, pain, mood and finally – we bought brand new Fitbit Versa 3’s for all 125 study participants which gave us objective measurements for REM sleep, deep sleep, awake time, systolic/diastolic BP, SpO2 blood oxygen levels and daily caloric output values – which was really cool because it provided tangible objective evidence that participants weren’t going out and secretly exercising. So, we had 100 people taking the product and then 25 on placebo.
Green: Was this a safety trial?
Jaffee: Yes. The primary endpoint study was safety. That’s how we enrolled participants – as a general product safety study for a natural product. I decided to include a lot of additional efficacy measurements, including weight loss, measuring body mass index as well as heart rate for all the blood markers that we looked at. In addition to that we purchased brand new Fitbit Versa 3’s for the entire study group, which was great because they gave us objective measurements for three different sleep readings, deep sleep, REM sleep and rest asleep as well as lower output and blood oxygen levels.
We saw everything kind of working together. We saw deep sleep improve 300% within two weeks. We saw blood sugars come down significantly from those that are considered high, pre-diabetic ranges of hemoglobin A1C. You saw inflammatory markers reduce to normal levels, with 92% efficacy, which basically just means that those who were experiencing inflammation by means of these major inflammatory markers, after 90 days, 92% of subjects were reduced to nominal ranges. So, it was really fascinating to see how, with all the different measurements. that we can correlate different objective measurements. Then, we did subjective measurements too. We had standardized questionnaires for anxiety and pain, as well as an internally developed appetite and cravings questionnaire.
Green: Based on the results of that safety study, are there particular disease states you want to target going forward?
Jaffee: Moving forward, we are interested to look at each blood sugar and Hb A1C. I think one of the most exciting and popular successes of the study was the fact that we had 100 out of 100 participants lose weight without diet and exercise. Because we incorporated the Fitbit, we were able to obtain objective evidence that participants weren’t going and secretly working out. The Fitbit provided a caloric output value. It is basically an algorithm taking the number of steps taken, stairs climbed, heart rate, movement, etc. to populate a caloric expenditure value, which remained completely stable in our study population. Subjects were specifically instructed NOT to change any lifestyle behavior – specifically diet, exercise, and sleep, and that if any changes were to occur naturally that was acceptable. What this ultimately told us is that diets changed, and metabolisms increased, and we were able to support that notion with the appetite and cravings questionnaire that we had participants fill out where cravings did reduce and desire for sugary foods reduced 63%. These were questions that we internally developed for the appetite and cravings questionnaire, which were based on feedback that we received prior to the study.
Green: What are in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?
Jaffee: It’s changed a little bit over the years. My biggest passion I would say is performance. I think the hemp plant has so much to offer when it comes to superior nutrition and healing. Once I learned about the benefits and the potential of hemp with its food applications and specific protein composition – the powerful oxygenating properties of Hemp Seed Oil, the brain health properties it encompasses, and of course the cannabinoid potential… It got me very motivated to commit myself to this plant. It wasn’t long before learning all the incredible industrial applications and solution the plant also offers – such as plastics, textiles, biofuel, building materials – and as an environmental science major – learning about these amazing applications got me that much more excited, but knowing and trusting that CBD would be the first stepping stone in an industry that needs to evolve into all the amazing sustainable applications because it’s all it’s all very real. It will get there, but it won’t be easy.
Green: Thanks Arthur, that concludes the interview.
Conduction heating is a method used in most dab rigs and vape pens that relies on heating concentrate or flower on a metal surface to vaporize cannabis compounds for consumption. Care must be taken with conduction heating to avoid overheating the material, resulting in combustion or decomposition. Convection heating (think of heating food in an oven) can also be used to vaporize cannabis compounds and has the benefit of being able to control the heating temperature of the material more precisely.
Hanu Labs recently announced the launch of their Hanu Labs EVO Petra. The tabletop device leverages their convection heat-based Perpetual Heat Thermal Technology, which avoids combustion while efficiently extracting the desired compounds from cannabis flower or concentrates.
Prior to becoming the CEO of Hanu, Ricardo worked in sales at Jetty Extracts where he helped to build the Northern California territory. Ricardo is also a classically trained French chef who used to run a cannabis tourism company in California.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Ricardo Willis: I moved to California in 2016. I was a professional chef at the time and had just finished up my master’s degree after eight years of schooling. My business partner and I decided we wanted to get into the cannabis space. So, we started a cannabis tourism business. Cannabis tourism wasn’t in the Bay Area at the time. We were kind of first and we were about two years ahead of legalization. We ran a few tours and we started to get into the cannabis game. I found out I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about cannabis. So, I decided to go and work for Jetty Extracts and that eventually led to where I’m at today.
Green: What was your motivation for joining Jetty?
Willis: Education. I knew about flower, but I did not know as much about the manufacturing process. I was first exposed to concentrates in San Francisco and I was really fascinated by it. I wanted to learn more, because I knew that this was going to be the wave at the time. Coming from the east coast, I had never seen a vape pen. So, I come out to Cali, and I see all these different dabs and I’m like, “I need to know more about this.” Jetty was an opportunity for me to educate myself while also helping them build their Northern California division that had only been around for a few years, and they were trying to expand. It was a great opportunity working for those guys, I learned a lot.
Green: I got a chance to see the Petra in action last night. It’s a bit different from your standard dab rig. Can you talk about the standard dab conduction heating versus the Petra and convection heating?
Willis: Think about your standard dab rig in the sense of taking a hot plate and dropping your dab onto that hot plate. It just sits there and begins to bubble and then evaporate from the heat. With the Petra, you take in all those same components, but you’re putting the concentrate into this mica-encapsulated chamber, where you have an all-glass air path that is one of the best surfaces for heating, and one of the safest. Those components with our perpetual heating system allow the dab rig, when we drop that nail in or we drop a basket for flower, that convection air circulates around the actual product. The oil begins to sublimate, or the vapor begins to make it through the flower, and it releases all those molecules that are found in the cannabis plant. And because of our glass air hydro tubes, when you pop those on, it basically filters it through water, and gives you one of the fastest and cleanest hits you’ve ever experienced.
Green: You mentioned flower as well as concentrates. Am I correct in hearing that you can also use flower with the Petra?
Willis: Yes. Dual functionality was one of the things found in our original model, the Vape Exhale that we first released nine years ago. I think that that’s very important for products. If a customer is going to spend anywhere between $300 to $500 retail, you need to give them more bang for their buck. Being able to vaporize flower and concentrates fits for the markets that we’re going into. People are consuming flower and concentrates at about the same percentage rate. So, we want to make sure that our devices can give the customer the ability to do both, either at home or on the go.
Green: So, you worked in the cannabis tourism industry. One of the trends we’ve got coming up in California is consumption lounges. How do you see the consumption lounges evolving over time? What are the challenges you see in California?
Willis: It’s a little different in Southern California versus Northern California. We’ve had consumption lounges in San Francisco, as well as Oakland for the past three years. We outfitted the entire lounge with VapeExhales at Barbary Coast, one of our early clients that we work with, which is downtown San Francisco. For us, we knew this is a space that would be thriving.
I’m a big fan of the lounges, because I think people need a safe place where they can go to smoke. Those lounges offer that to people. It also gives them a chance to experiment with different technology and actually test it out before purchasing. Because of my hospitality and restaurant background, I’m always looking for the opportunity for people to become repeat customers. If you offer these things like consumption lounges, instead of people going to bars, they end up at your lounge after work. I think that is something that’s going to continue to grow.
I do think some of the challenges are going to be around single servings. A person doesn’t need to buy a full gram. Maybe they just need to buy a quarter of a dab or something like that. Companies will need to identify those potential pain points in that process, and then offer those smaller products that can be enjoyed while at the lounge.
Green: There’s a certain experience around the Petra. Where it’s really like a centerpiece of the table. How did you think about designing the user experience and designing around that conviviality?
Willis: That’s a great question. For the Petra, what we decided to design was slightly different from the VapeExhale. With the VapeExhale, the purpose of the device wasn’t super obvious, but the Petra has more of a centerpiece design. I’m a big fan of technology, so when I was designing the Petra, I was thinking about the KitchenAid mixer. That may seem strange, but the KitchenAid mixer is something that as a cook, either at home or in a restaurant, they own these things literally for 20 years. It has a very long product life. I wanted the Petra to be the same. I wanted it to look more like an appliance, I wanted it to be built with stability and durability so that when the customer purchases that product, it becomes a centerpiece that they can set up. If your grandkids come in, they see your vaporizer, it becomes more of an educational opportunity, and less about feeling embarrassed about your cannabis pieces. So, for me, design is all about ease of use, but also being appealing to the eye. The Petra is its own show, and it deserves to make a splash.
Green: What in your personal life or in cannabis are you most interested in learning about?
Willis: I am very interested in the customers. I started off in customer service when I was around 16 years old. The one thing that I learned is that the customer is the most important part of the sales cycle. I think that sometimes people focus on the B2B side and making our business partners happy, but my focus is, and always will be on the customers. I need to understand what customers want and how they want it. I’m intrigued by the science behind customer acquisition and want to learn more about how to make my customers happy. If they want cheaper pricing, I’m going to find a way to develop products to give them what they want at the price point they want. There is always going to be a customer who wants premium, or mid-tier or a customer who just wants something fully functional. Maybe they want something that provides the right experience for them, and they don’t have to break the bank to get it.
Green: Thanks Ricardo. That concludes the interview.
Three years ago, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to legalize and regulate cannabis. We’ve covered various aspects of cannabis regulation since, but now with a few years of data readily available, it’s time to step back and assess: what can we learn from three years of cannabis recalls in the world’s largest legal market?
Labelling Errors are the Leading Cause of Canadian Cannabis Recalls
Our analysis of Health Canada’s data revealed a clear leader: most cannabis recalls since legalization in October 2018 have been due to labelling and packaging errors. In fact, over three quarters of total cannabis recalls were issued for this reason, covering more than 140,000 units of recalled product.
The most common source of labelling and packaging recalls in the cannabis industry (more than half) is inaccurate cannabinoid information. Peace Naturals Project’s recall of Spinach Blue Dream dried cannabis pre-rolls this year is a good example. Not only did the packaging incorrectly read that the product contained CBD, but the THC quantity listed was lower than the actual amount of THC in the product. The recall covered over 13,000 units from a single lot sold over 10 weeks.
In another example, a minor error made a huge impact. British Columbia-based We Grow BC Ltd. experienced this firsthand when it misplaced the decimal points in its cannabinoid content. The recalled products displayed the total THC and CBD values as 20.50 mg/g and 0.06 mg/g, respectively, when the products contained 205.0 mg/g and 0.6 mg/g.
Accurate potency details are not just crucial for compliance. For many customers, potency is a deciding factor when selecting a cannabis product, and this is especially important for medicinal users (including children), people who are sensitive to certain cannabinoids and consumers looking for non-psychoactive effects. In this case, at least six consumer complaints were submitted to Peace Naturals Project, the highest number for any cannabis recall in Canada.
Pathogens are the #2 Cause of Cannabis Recalls in Canada
Pathogens are the second most common cause of recalls in Canada, claiming 18% of total cannabis recall incidents. And while that doesn’t sound like much compared to the recalls caused by labelling errors, it affects the highest volume of product recalled with over 360,000 units affected.
A primary cause of allergens and microbiological contamination of cannabis products is yeast, mold and bacteria found on cannabis flower (chemical contaminants like pesticides can also be a major concern). Companies like Atlas Growers, Natural MedCo and Agro-Greens Natural Products have all learned this lesson through costly recalls.
These allergenic contaminants pose an obvious health risk, often leading to reactions such as wheezing, sneezing and itchy eyes. For people using cannabis for medical conditions and may be more susceptible to illness, pathogens can cause more serious health complications. Moreover, this type of cannabis recall not only drives significant cost since microbiological contamination of flower could easily affect several product batches processed in the same facility and/or trigger downstream recalls, but also affect consumer confidence for established cannabis brands.
Preventive control plan requirements for cannabis manufacturers mandate that holders of a license for processing that produce edible cannabis or cannabis extracts in Canada must identify and analyze the biological, chemical and physical hazards that present a risk of contamination to the cannabis or anything that would be used as an ingredient in the production of the edible cannabis or cannabis extract. Biological hazards can come from a number of sources, including:
Incoming ingredients, including raw materials
Cross-contamination in the processing or storage environment
Cannabis extract, edible cannabis and ingredient contact surfaces
Insects and rodents
To mitigate risks, addressing root causes with preventative measures and controls is essential. For instance, high humidity levels and honeydew secreted by insects are common causes of mold on cannabis flowers. Measures such as leaving a reasonable distance between plants, using climate-controlled areas to dry flowers, applying antifungal agents and conducting regular tests are necessary to combat such incidents.
Of course, placing all the necessary controls into action is not as simple as it may sound. Multiple facilities and a wide range of products in production mean more complexity for cannabis producers and processors. Any gaps in processing flower, extracts or edibles can result in an uncontrolled safety hazard that may lead to a costly cannabis recall.
These challenges are not just limited to cannabis growers. The food industry has been effectively mitigating the risk of biological hazards for decades with the help of food ERP solutions.
Avoid Recalls Altogether with Advanced ERP Technology
An effective preventative control plan with regular quality checks, internal audits and standardized testing is important to minimize the threats evident from Canada’s recall data. If these measures ever fail, real-time traceability systems play a pivotal role in the event of a cannabis recall by enabling manufacturers to trace back incidents to the exact point of contamination and identify affected products with surgical precision.
Instead of starting from zero, savvy cannabis industry leaders turn to the proven solutions from the food industry and take advantage of data-driven, automated systems that deliver the reliability and safety that the growing industry needs. From automated label generation to integrated lab testing to quality checks to precision traceability and advanced reporting, production and quality control systems are keys to success for the years ahead.
Botanical extraction is not specific to cannabis and hemp, and it is anything but new. Rudimentary forms of plant extraction have existed throughout history and evolved with high-tech equipment and scientific procedures for use in pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and botanicals.
In food production, examples of hydrocarbon extraction processes are commonplace. Nut, olive and vegetable oil production use solvents to extract the oils. Decaffeinated coffee uses hydrocarbon extraction to remediate the caffeine, and making sugar from beets, or beer from hops, also requires solvents.
As such, the FDA has set guidelines for the amount of residual solvents considered safe for consumers to ingest. Yet, without FDA guidance in cannabis and hemp, many products aren’t being tested against these standards, and consumers will ultimately pay the price.
Understanding solvent remediation technology and processes
If we use ethanol extraction as an example, the extraction process is relatively simple. First, we soak the biomass in denatured or food-grade ethanol, ending up with a final solution that is 90-95% solvent. Then, we perform a bulk removal of the solvents, which takes out most, but not all, of the solvent. The next and final step should be to strip the remaining solvents from the extract entirely.
But, in order to do so effectively, you need the right equipment, and unfortunately, this is where many producers fall short. Many producers use a vacuum oven to apply heat while reducing the headspace pressure to lower the solvent’s boiling point and evaporate it off.
However, it’s a static environment in a vacuum oven, which means the material is stagnant. So, the process may effectively remove the solvents close to the surface, but solvents deep inside the material tend to get trapped without some type of agitation or mixing.
The appropriate final step to complete solvent remediation is wipe-film distillation, which feeds small volumes into a column, which is then wiped into a very thin film and heated under vacuum pressure. Although the equipment necessary is costly, this last step removes any residual solvents from the product to create a safe, effective and consumable product.
Residual solvents present huge risks
As stated, many of the same solvents used in cannabis and hemp extraction have been considered safe in food production for decades. Reviewing chemical data sheets, many of the acceptable limits on solvents were determined for ingestion, which is fine for edibles and tinctures, but many cannabis and hemp products are intended for inhalation or vaporization.
Unfortunately, some solvents can have negative health impacts, especially for those using cannabis or hemp for medical purposes or with compromised immune systems. Plus, as a therapeutic and recreational substance, consumers may be consuming more than the recommended amount, as well as using the products several times a day. Unfortunately, long-term exposure or repeated inhalation of these residual solvents hasn’t been thoroughly researched.
For example, inhaling ethyl alcohol (ethanol) can irritate the nose, throat and lungs. Extended exposure can cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness. Repeated exposure can affect the liver and nervous system.
In the food industry, hexane is approved for extracting spices or hops, and this solvent is widely used in cannabis and hemp extraction. However, if used in an inhalable product, chronic exposure to hexane could be detrimental, with symptoms including numbness in the extremities, weakness, vision problems and fatigue.
Consumers deserve transparency
In the industry’s earliest days, companies were tight-lipped about their processes, the chemicals they used and how they removed them. Everyone thought they had the “secret sauce” and didn’t want to share their approach. Today, companies are more open about what they use, how they process it and providing that necessary transparency.
Lack of quality and consistent regulations in these industries creates confusion for the consumers and loopholes for producers. Some producers test for everything under the sun, and some producers know exactly which labs will pass their products, regardless of test results.
While the regulatory bodies are distracted by the amount of THC that might linger in products, getting sick is overshadowed by the risk of getting high. In the meantime, consumers are left to their own devices to determine which products are safe and which are not.
Although testing mandates and regulations will help clean up the industry, until then, consumers need to demand full-panel COAs that not only show cannabinoid potency but also accurately display the test results for residual solvents, pesticides and heavy metals.
Automated extraction equipment and technologies are rapidly becoming the standard in the extraction sector of the cannabis industry. Like most evolving industries, manual and operator driven processes are what starts an industry, but with explosive growth, demand for increased safety, efficiency and repeatability grows. Specifically within the cannabis industry, we’re noticing a rising demand for higher quality extracts and a safer, more repeatable environment for cannabinoid extraction. These are all reasons for the industry making a shift towards automated extraction equipment and technologies.
What Automation Looks Like in Cannabis Extraction
Automation in the cannabis industry doesn’t necessarily mean implementing robotics and creating operator-less facilities; It typically refers to automated process control. Traditional, older technologies are manual and operator-driven. This means the equipment operator is in control of all parameters of the process, which leads to inconsistencies throughout the process caused by human error. As the extraction process has many steps: ethanol holding, chilling, extraction agitation, extraction discharge, extraction solvent removal, particle filtration, semi saturated solution storage, and so much more that involves valves, pumps and controls between each piece of the process, it becomes difficult to control such a tedious process manually. When all of these processes are controlled and monitored using proper automation technology, facilities can safely ensure that each batch is run following the same process and parameters accordingly. This is critical for product consistency, a concern for manufacturers and many end-consumers. As the cannabis industry grows, matures and makes its way closer to federal legalization, product safety and consistency become a top-priority for everyone involved.
Greater Quality Control of End-Products
Consistency and repeatability are just as important for cannabis processors as they are for standard food or pharmaceutical processors. Deploying a manual process of equipment operating and monitoring leaves far too much room for human error, and doesn’t provide the level of control needed for the industry as it continues to progress toward stricter product regulations and requirements. On the other hand, an automated extraction process ensures that the same solvent ratios are used batch-to-batch, the same extraction temperatures and recipe parameters are implemented, the same pump and process flow rates are deployed, and all processes are repeatable, predictable and scalable while producing a safe, consistent product.
The benefits of automated extraction are directly tied to establishing greater efficiency in processes. Efficiency can be experienced via less scrap product from unmanaged batches and/or less labor to operate and control the process. Automation means allowing a recipe-driven control system monitor and control the process, eliminating process bottlenecks that have been notorious for destroying productivity in manual extraction operations.
As Cannabis Extraction Processes Become Automated, They Become Safer.
A team is what drives any business forward. The safety of that team needs to be a top priority for any business leader. As cannabis extraction processes become automated, they become safer. With less equipment interaction, the likelihood for human error that could lead to safety hazards significantly decreases. Properly programmed automation can establish advanced system interlocks that check multiple points throughout the process for irregularities, and can halt a machine based on these irregularities it detects. That level of process monitoring and control is only available when automation and PLC logic controls equipment.
Data Collection and Validation
When we tie all the benefits of extraction automation together, it makes for a far more attractive system than traditional,manual processes that we’re used to seeing in the cannabis industry. In addition to the major benefits listed above, automation gives a superior level of data collection for process improvements and process validation which is key in cGMP or EU-GPM facilities. This is the future for every processing facility in the arena of cannabis. As the industry matures, it will continue to become more competitive. Facilities with automation will have the capacity to maximize their process efficiencies, produce a far superior and more consistent end–product and will have a competitive advantage in the extraction sector.
Vaping is a multi-billion dollar cannabis product category representing more than 20% category share in the US, according to a recent Headset.io report. The 2019 vaping crisis, whereby lung injury and several deaths were caused by the adulteration of vapor pen cartridges with vitamin E acetate, highlighted the importance of safety and emissions testing for vapor pen products. In addition to volatile organic compounds, metals and ceramics contained in the heating elements of cartridges are also a concern. While the FDA has a robust program for emissions testing in nicotine products, they do not currently regulate cannabis. Cannabis vaping is currently regulated at the state level in the United States.
Cannabis vaping is popular among minors owing to its discrete nature. In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 14.7% of teens reported vaping cannabis in 2018. In a separate research study, University of Michigan researchers found that teens vaping cannabis were two times more likely to experience respiratory issues than teens who smoked e-cigarettes.
We spoke with Corey Mangold, CEO and founder of PurTec Delivery Systems, to learn more about cannabis vaping safety and their PurGuard technology. Prior to entering the cannabis space, Corey founded a software company in 1998. He also founded the advertising agency Gigasavvy in 2008, which he recently exited from in March 2021.
Aaron Green: How did you get started in the cannabis industry?
Corey Mangold: I got started in the cannabis industry in 2016. My daughter was away at college in San Luis Obispo and got pregnant and was going to have a baby, which obviously I was excited about. I decided to have her come down to Southern California and start a company together, as I’ve done multiple times in my career successfully. I wanted to show her the ropes, and teach her everything from finance to HR, to business development, marketing – everything it takes to be successful – and give her the tools that she would need to be successful for her life.
Green: What kind of things were you into before 2016?
Mangold: I founded my first company in 1998 in the software industry and had that company up until 2005. In 2008 I started another company called Gigasavvy, a nationally recognized advertising agency out of Irvine, California, which I successfully exited in March of 2021.
When deciding to start a company with my daughter, we were interested in the cannabis industry – I think everybody was back in 2016. In 2016, I had started using cannabis again after probably about a 16- or 17-year hiatus. I was using a vape because I had children in the house. I went to literally anywhere I could and bought every type of cartridge on the market. What I found was that their user experience was not like what it was on the nicotine side of vaping. I reached out to associates of mine who had been manufacturing vapes since 2011, starting with the blue e-cigarette, and we engineered a unique device that was proprietary and completely unlike anything on the market. It was incredible, and still to this day, I think it’s probably the best 510 thread cart on the market. We launched that under the Orchid Essentials (CNSX: ORCD, OTC:ORVRF) brand in California and Oregon.
Green: Is that cart something that you sell to other brands as well, or is it purely for the Orchid brand?
Mangold: Yes, purely for the Orchid brand, but it’s what inspired me to start PurTec Delivery Systems. After a few years of struggling in this industry because we didn’t have the access to capital needed – Orchid is a US company traded on the Canadian Stock Exchange (CSE:ORCD, OTC:ORVRF) – and dealing in a substance that’s federally illegal, there was no access to any traditional financing, be it factoring or inventory financing. We were literally creating as much product as we could every month and then selling out almost instantly, and then waiting till the next month to get money in from all our accounts to make more. We had to slug it out. We did get into a little over 500 stores in California and Oregon, but it was just a battle, and I didn’t really want to be touching cannabis.
In 2020, I had a breakthrough in my strategy. I was watching the TV show Gold Rush and I watched one of the guys go and have to buy a new wash plant. He pulls up to this dealer’s yard that sells wash plants and tractors. I saw this dealer had a lot of inventory and clearly a lot of money, and I realized the place to make money was selling the shovels, not really digging for gold. I said to myself if I have the best shovel out there, why am I digging? I should just be innovating new shovels and selling shovels. Hence, I started PurTec Delivery Systems and now for the last year and a half have been 100% focused on developing advanced vaporizer technologies.
Green: Tell me more about PurTec.
Mangold: I founded PurTec with the sole intention of creating safe vaporizers for consumers. We conducted an 18-month safety study in Switzerland with our partners, on vaping devices in the market. I learned a lot of things that I already knew but wanted to see it proven by independent laboratories and by PhDs and MDs, and really see what was so concerning to me. For the last year and a half, we have sought to develop a safe line of vaporizers. I’m very cognizant about what’s going on in my body and want to know what’s going on internally with these products. I don’t think anyone would be using them if they knew what was really going into their lungs.
Green: What are some of the things that consumers should be thinking about when it comes to vape safety?
Mangold: Consumers should be thinking about all the different aspects from inhaling vaporized heavy metals to ceramics. Ceramic particle inhalation is one of my biggest concerns. I think it’s been ignored. I think all the manufacturers know about it and I think it’s been swept under the rug. I think it’s one of the threats that we have. There should be regulatory bodies that are out there protecting consumers like the FDA, hence why I believe federal legalization is so important, because if the FDA was involved not even one of these products would be on the market because the first thing the FDA would do would be very extensive emissions testing to find out what compounds and potential toxins are entering into your body.
Green: There’s clearly a need for safety and regulation in the space, but from where you’re sitting, is there a demand? When consumers go into a store, one of their main focuses is: what’s the THC content? How do you see consumer demand for safety and how do you think about building that awareness?
Mangold: I don’t think there is consumer demand yet. The consumer demand right now is for getting medicated and having fun or getting whatever relief or primary reason you use cannabis. I can point to a direct correlation with the opioid epidemic. No one knew they were as horrible as they are, and doctors were prescribing them left and right, and everyone thought it was okay. People think these cannabis products are okay because they’re on the shelf in every licensed dispensary, and the California Department of Health and the Department of Health in every other state and country has been involved to some degree. So, consumers think that they’re safe. The problem is they’re likely not just like we weren’t with opioids.
I don’t think the consumer demand will be there for quite some time until we start seeing a lot of long-term health impacts where we start seeing people getting lung disease, we start seeing people getting iron lung, different potential brain issues from inhaling adhesives and heavy metals. I think once the health impacts are seen clinically – just like we saw with the opioid crisis – once that was really in the forefront, everybody saw with their own eyes, and then they were aware that there was a problem. So, I think that it’s important to become aware of the potential health impacts, but I think it will take quite some time before that happens.
Green: It sounds to me like you want to get ahead of the industry on this because if it does go federally legal, there will be more stringent requirements. How do you think about that from a product design and development perspective to get ahead of a problem that exists but isn’t reflected in current regulations?
Mangold: The best thing we can do right now in the cannabis vape industry is to look at what the nicotine vape industry is doing. It is controlled by the FDA and there are standards for vaporizers in other parts of the world that are very stringent, like the AFNOR standards, which are in the European Union regulations for vaporizer safety.
What we do is we find the most stringent standards in the world, and we test our products to those standards. If the standards get stricter, we can develop our products and re-engineer them to meet those new requirements. Right now, all our products are emissions tested at AFNOR standards and over-engineered even for those standards. We also are constantly working on reduction of potentially hazardous materials: reductions of heavy metals; only using proven safe and effective materials and FDA approved materials like SAE 316L surgical stainless steel; and using improved ceramics that are not as brittle as the ceramics being used by almost every single manufacturer out there. There’s a lot of things that can be done. It takes supply chain management, understanding the technology and having strong solid teams of scientists and doctors that know this stuff much better than anyone else in the industry does, and leveraging their expertise.
Green: You recently launched a safety feature for minors. Can you tell me more about that?
Mangold: Yes. Two weeks ago, we launched a new software application called PurGuard. PurGuard is a massive innovation and is the first of its kind that we’re aware of. It’s a piece of software that pairs with any device, whether it’s a disposable pod system or a 510 cartridge. You then pair it to your phone and take a picture of your government ID. Then the camera looks at your face, runs quick facial recognition and runs an age check through the largest age-checking platform API in the world. Then based on location and legal age of the user’s location – some states are 18 and different countries have different rules – it validates your ability in your market to be consuming that product. This technology works in 180 different countries.
Once that occurs and the device is ready for you to use, we have another feature that we’ve developed. There is an auto-lock feature that we have where if you’re a parent, like me, and you have kids in the house, you can turn your device to auto-lock right from your phone. When you walk away from your phone and are 10 feet away, your Bluetooth connection will break, and it will automatically lock the device and so your child can’t walk into your bedroom and take your device.
This technology is important to us. Consuming cannabis is horrible for the health of minors. There are serious mental effects on brain growth that occur from using cannabis at a young age because the brain is still developing up until about the age of 23 to 25. So, it’s not safe for them to be using. Of course, I’m sure we all smoked when we were in high school, but the ease of use of vape and the discretion, I think allows minors to use significantly more cannabis than previous generations did 20, 30, 40 years ago. It’s a massive problem right now and I think it’s just a matter of time before the FDA requires such protections. This industry can only survive if we protect minors. So, we’re getting ahead of the curve and setting the standard.
Green: What kind of hardware does PurGuard work with?
Mangold: PurGuard works with every single type of device that we manufacture: 510 thread cartridges, disposables, and pods. If it’s a 510-thread cartridge, the battery has to be a PurTec battery, and the cartridge has to be a PurTec cartridge. They communicate to each other through certain technologies, and it can even recognize what oils are in the cartridge or the pod or the disposable. Moreover, we can tell what strain it is, when it was manufactured, what the potency levels are and more. It records all the usage statistics. We’ve also proven with our hardware, the actual milligram contents being consumed per hit, or draw based on volume, and draw duration. We can track and report to people and say, “Hey, you’re consuming 100 milligrams of THC a day, that’s too high, you need to slow down and maybe go down to 50 milligrams a day.” That will be what is required as it is being required in the nicotine industry under the FDA pre-market tobacco applications (PMTA). When the FDA comes into cannabis, they’re going to want to see the same thing. They’re going to want to know that cannabis products are not promoting people to use more, and they are trying to get people to use less. It doesn’t mean stop using it, but use it in moderation, like everything in life. You shouldn’t be drinking a bottle of whiskey a day. You probably shouldn’t be smoking a pound of weed a day either. Everything in life is moderation and this application not only protects minors but also teaches us about our consumption habits.
Green: A theme here is “skating where the puck is going to be.” What kind of trends are you looking at right now in the industry?
Mangold: The biggest trend I see right now in the industry is disposables. We’ve seen that the trends in cannabis consumption trail behind the nicotine industry by 2-4 years. We see a lot of our customers and potential customers shifting into disposables and are now seeing a very large spike in sales of disposables. I think that’s a big trend, but with that comes another major issue: we now have lithium-ion batteries being thrown away at astonishing rates and going into landfills. PurTec has an answer for that that we’ll be launching here in the next four to six months That will be I think the biggest innovation in regards to eco-friendliness within the vape industry. That’s where I see things going right now.
Green: What are you most interested in learning about?
Mangold: The thing that interests me most, and what I’m most interested in learning about is regulations. Not the regulations themselves, but how regulations are drafted. I’ve sat in several meetings with rules committees for different regulatory bodies throughout the United States and it is laughable. I was recently in a state I’m not going to mention. I asked them what scientists and what doctors they have consulted with and they said none. I just found that dumbfounding. The state regulatory bodies are making decisions without doing due diligence and without bringing in subject matter experts in some cases.
I’m very interested in learning about how we can change our regulatory bodies. Taxpayers pay these salaries and their job at the end of the day is to protect consumers. I think that these cannabis regulatory bodies need to be way more involved with their state’s Department of Health, as well as with the FDA, and National Institute of Health and looking at this as a holistic approach. How do we protect consumers? This is a drug. It’s like anything else out there. If you’re selling tomatoes that were sprayed with a certain pesticide, you must do the research and you have to know what’s in that product before you start putting it in people’s hands. Otherwise, you may have people dying left and right. So, I’m very interested in learning more about regulatory bodies and how they need to evolve and hopefully I can help push them into evolving sooner rather than later.
Green: Great, that concludes the interview, Corey.
Russell is the CEO of NES Technology Holdings, a technology development and marketing company that operates Vapor Distilled and LifeTonic Brands. NES Technology Holdings has invented a technology portfolio of more than 160 granted and pending patents that cover inventions across several high-value industries, including cannabis, beverage, fragrance and nutraceuticals. The company is currently in license acquisition diligence processes with 7 of world’s 10 largest fragrance companies and has received a joint venture offer from a $3 billion fragrance company to produce perfumes with its extraction technology. It is also launching ionized cannabis beverage products that provide effects as quickly as alcohol in Nevada and Colorado this fall.
Vapor Distilled invented and commercialized an evaporative extraction process with 40 international patents granted and pending that, along with CO2 extraction, is one of only two fundamentally new extraction processes invented in the last 50 years. Instead of using solvents or hydrocarbons to extract oils from plants, evaporative extraction directly evaporates essential oils from plants and condenses the evaporated compounds into an extract. The process takes less than two seconds to complete and extracts higher levels of volatile terpenes than existing extraction methods. Vapor Distilled has built a fleet of commercial-scale extraction machines and has supplied some of the cannabis industry’s largest brands. The company is currently licensing its evaporative extraction technology within the perfume industry and is marketing an aroma hop extract to replace the dry hopping step when making beer.
LifeTonic invented a drug delivery technology with 56 patents pending and granted, that turns oil-based plant compounds like CBD and THC into electrically charged cannabinoid ions that dissolve completely in water without emulsifiers or additives. When cannabinoids are ionized, absorption is significantly enhanced and their effects can be felt in minutes. The effects of a LifeTonic ionized CBD beverage can be felt by most people in less than 5 minutes, whereas the effects of a LifeTonic ionized THC beverage can be felt by most people in less than 8 minutes. For reference, typical onset times for cannabis beverages are 30 minutes or longer. LifeTonic beverage technology will allow cannabis beverages to work as quickly as alcohol, enabling cannabis to become a social drink.
We spoke with Russell Thomas, CEO of Vapor Distilled and LifeTonic about his cannabinoid evaporation process and rapid onset beverage technologies. Thomas is a career entrepreneur and inventor with 21 years of experience inventing and protecting intellectual property. Russell’s team has generated more than 160 granted and pending patents. Prior to entering the cannabis industry, Thomas worked in the cleantech industry.
Aaron Green: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
Russell Thomas: I came to the cannabis industry from the cleantech industry where I worked on technologies that improved the fuel economy of vehicles. I saw opportunities in the cannabis industry to improve cannabis extraction, which was one of the most important supply chain verticals in cannabis. Every product, from edibles to beverages and vape products, requires a cannabis extract. Any product that needs to be accurately dosed requires an extract. The old way of making edible products with cannabis butter was simply not viable as the industry matured, and most people were rapidly moving away from smoking cannabis and embracing vape products. Even with the entire industry almost completely dependent on extraction, no fundamental innovation was occurring. The primary ways that cannabis was being extracted were chemically intensive. The cleaner methods, such as CO2 extraction, were slow and expensive for terpene recovery. I saw this as a great opportunity to provide a better solution within a primary funnel of the cannabis supply chain.
We commercialized an extraction technology that evaporates cannabinoids directly from plant material in the form of vapor, and then recondenses that vapor back into an essential oil. The entire process takes less than two seconds to complete and preserves fragile terpenes. That technology, called Evaporative Extraction, is the foundation of Vapor Distilled.
Green: What timeframe was that roughly?
Thomas: We capitalized our company in 2015 and began selling wholesale extracts in 2017.
Green: Can you talk more about the evaporative extraction process?
Thomas: Our process works in a similar way to a cannabis vaporizer, but on a massive scale. Our extract is literally recondensed cannabis vapor. In one step, we extract, refine, and activate cannabinoids. On one end, plant material goes in the machine, and on the other end, extract and depleted plant material comes out. Our total extraction time is less than two seconds if you measure the time from when the plant material goes into the extractor and when the extract is condensed.
A continuous feed of dry plant material is introduced into a heated air stream. The air stream pneumatically conveys the plant material through a series of turbulent, heated evaporation chambers. Upon entering the evaporation chambers, volatile plant compounds are instantaneously distilled from the plant material. A centrifugal separator removes the depleted plant material from the air stream. The air stream is rapidly cooled, causing the volatile plant compounds to condense into an essential oil.
We achieve nearly total activation of THCA to THC simultaneously during extraction and, on average, we extract approximately two to four times more terpenes than a conventional extraction process. The cannabis industry is rampant with exaggeration about terpenes, but we are the only cannabis company negotiating a joint venture with a $3 billion fragrance company to produce perfumes, and I think that says a lot about our process.
Green: Is the extract coming out then as an oil?
Thomas: Our extract comes out of our machines as a fully-activated, high-terpene content, full spectrum oil. Unlike the THC crude that emerges from other processes, our extract requires no further distillation, activation or refinement. You can put it straight into a product.
Green: How about terpene recovery?
Thomas: This is by far what we do best. We excel with the recovery terpenes and volatile compounds from plant material. From day one, we noticed that our evaporative extraction process yields about two to four times more terpenes by mass compared to traditional extraction methods.
While we started as a cannabis company, we recently received a compelling joint venture offer from a $3 billion fragrance company to produce perfume products with our technology. We are also under NDA with 7 of the world’s 10 largest fragrance companies to complete diligence processes to license our extraction technology.
As part of our licensing diligence process, we are performing paid fragrance extraction research for three multi-billion-dollar fragrance companies. Our evaporative extracted fragrance extracts are presenting a broader and more complete range of volatile compounds compared reference samples. We are also seeing substantially improved yield of volatile fragrance compounds. Combined, this gives us the advantage of being able to produce more extract at a lower cost, while also producing a superior product. This combination is how licensees can take market share away from any fragrance company that does not have access to our technology, and it is why we are seeing so much rapid traction in this area.
We have also extracted hops with our technology. If you’ve ever smelled a traditional hops resin, it smells good, but the smell doesn’t fill the room. If you put just a drop of our hops extract on any surface, the entire room will smell strongly of a premium IPA beer. It’s so potent you don’t want to get it on your hands or clothes because you will smell like beer for hours. It’s powerful and wonderful stuff!
Green: What is your business model?
Thomas: At our core, we are a technology development and licensing company. We first identify what we believe to be critical verticals and bottlenecks in high-value industries, then we develop and patent highly differentiated and disruptive technology solutions that we believe exist nowhere else. We then demonstrate both market fit and viability at scale through proof-of-concept sales of branded and high-profile, white-labeled products produced with our unique technologies. Finally, we systematically license and exit the various portions our IP portfolio though the orchestration of highly competitive bidding processes that promote both defensive and strategic acquisitions of our technologies. We are currently at the final phase of our model with licensing our extraction technology, and we are receiving offers as part of a competitive bidding process.
Green: Okay, let’s change gears here and start talking more about LifeTonic and your cannabinoid ionization technology. Can you talk high level about the onset times of cannabinoids in different matrices and media?
Thomas: Through LifeTonic, we invented 56 international patents granted and pending cannabinoid ionization technology that compresses the normal onset time of cannabis beverages from 30 minutes down to just a few minutes. Our cannabinoid ionization technology can also be used as a rapid onset vape alternative when sold in a breath spray format. We are currently selling hemp-based versions of these products through LifeTonic.com, and we are bringing THC versions of these products to market in Nevada and Colorado this fall and winter under the brand name LifeTonic.
All conventional and even nano-emulsified cannabis edibles and beverages take a long time to work. A cannabis chocolate can take 45 minutes to two hours before the effects kick in. Cannabis gummies are faster, but it still takes half an hour to 45 minutes to feel the effects. The very best nano-emulsified cannabis beverages take about a half an hour to work on average, if you are lucky. That long of a time delay effectively eliminates the social aspect of consuming cannabis, so most people instead choose to vaporize or smoke cannabis.
If you look at the largest investments that have been made across cannabis, some of the most prominent have been made by alcohol companies. Constellation Brands invested nearly $4 billion into Canopy Growth, with a mission to find an alternative to alcohol in cannabis. Molson Coors has partnered with Hexo and AB InBev has partnered with Tilray, both with that same mission. Even after all this effort and investment, cannabis beverages represent just a sliver of the market because current cannabis-based beverages take too long to work. The fastest ones on the market, on average, take around a half hour to kick in.
Imagine going to a bar and knowing that every time you got a shot of tequila or a shot of whiskey it’s going to take thirty minutes or more for the effects to even begin to kick in. That would be terrible. That would be the end of social drinking. Unfortunately, that is how a conventional cannabis beverage works.
You can’t really get a social drinking experience with cannabis yet, so most people vape it because it’s fast. But a lot of people don’t want to smoke something; in fact, they don’t want to inhale at all. So, we saw beverages as a huge opportunity. How do we make cannabis beverages work as fast as alcohol? That’s what our ionization technology delivers. From all the people we’ve surveyed – hundreds of people – they say that they reliably feel an onset within about seven to eight minutes with our technology. That is just about as fast as a shot of tequila or whiskey.
“With our partners, we will be featuring LifeTonic beverage products on tap in a cannabis cocktail lounge right off the Las Vegas strip, where social consumption rules are welcoming.”What we’ve done is very different from available nanoemulsion technologies. All those technologies try to mix oil and water, and oil and water don’t mix. In a nanoemulsion, you mix cannabis, a carrier oil, an edible detergent and water, and then you run it all through an ultrasonic homogenizer that breaks the cannabinoids and oil into microscopic droplets suspended in water. There are a lot of styles of nanoemulsions, from spray-dried nanoemulsions to liquid liposomal encapsulations, and they all confer certain absorption benefits when compared to straight-up oil absorption. But still, even the microscopic oil droplets suspended in water are quite large compared to what we have done, and still take quite a long time to digest.
We looked at the cannabis molecule and we said, “You know what? If we can put a strong negative charge on it, if we can ionize it, then we can make it behave more like a dissolvable salt instead of an oil.” When we treat it this way, the cannabis molecule dissolves completely in the water without emulsifiers or additives. When something is dissolved, there is no nano-emulsion droplet size. It is single molecules dissolved water. A single ionized cannabinoid molecule is about 1,000 times smaller than an average nano-emulsion droplet – and this greatly enhances absorption. The onset speed of ionized cannabinoids compared to nanoemulsions is measurable as just a few minutes instead of a half hour or more.
We have 56 granted and pending patents on LifeTonic’s ionization technology. We can ionize THC, CBD, CBG and CBD – most cannabinoids are compatible. There are also several herbal products that are compatible with our ionization technology, like the curcuminoids in turmeric, which are normally very hard to get into water. We can also ionize the eugenol that is in cloves. Ionized eugenol is an intoxicant, so we have big plans for alcohol alternatives outside of cannabis.
We’re using this technology to enter the Nevada cannabis market with one of the largest dispensary chains and cannabis product manufacturers in Nevada. With our partners, we will be featuring LifeTonic beverage products on tap in a cannabis cocktail lounge right off the Las Vegas strip, where social consumption rules are welcoming. We’ll craft every kind of cocktail you can imagine, only without alcohol. All these beverages will work in a matter of minutes to provide the first true social drinking experience with cannabis. After you enjoy a beverage, you may purchase a package of ionized THC beverage powder sachets in the cannabis cocktail lounge or at any of the dispensaries within our distribution network. You can pour the powder into any beverage, and it becomes a friendly, fast-acting THC beverage that will get you high, but not leave you with a hangover. We will also be selling a breath-spray format that works almost as quickly as vaping.
Green: What kind of validation studies have you done?
Thomas: We have conducted several broad market studies for our ionized products and almost all people report a profound onset within a few minutes. We have not completed a formalized clinical trial, but we are closing a major funding round that will allow us to do so. We plan to begin controlled pre-clinical trials focused mainly on ionized CBD because it’s far easier to get FDA approval for clinical trials on CBD than for THC. Our studies will monitor a couple dozen volunteers with a functional MRI and watch the change in the brain using our oral spray and beverage products compared against a standard CBD tincture control. We know that we’re going to see fast action because everybody who uses it says that a feeling develops in minutes.
Green: What geographies are you active in and exploring?
Thomas: CBD and hemp products from our extraction technology have been sold in every US state and parts of Europe. Additionally, hemp-based CBD and CBG versions of our ionized products and ionized turmeric products have been sold in several states through our LifeTonic.com, our ecommerce site. We have also sold white labeled versions of our ionized products through partner brands. We will be launching THC versions of our ionized products with our partners Nevada this fall. We expect THC versions to also be available in Colorado this winter.
Green: So, you are creating the powders on site?
Thomas: Yes. We manufacture ionized CBD, CBG, eugenol and turmeric beverage powders on site. We also manufacture and fast acting ionized sprays. These products are sold through our own retail site and we white label for other brands. Per our long-term licensing strategy, these sales establish market viability through sales. Selling products and establishing market viability prior to licensing significantly increases the value of our licenses and exits. It’s very important to answer the question: Do people buy it and do people love it? So far, we like the feedback!
On the THC side, we manufacture ionized products through partners in each cannabis state that we enter. We manufacture the ionizing base here in Colorado, then we ship it to other states where our partners add the THC and package it in LifeTonic-branded packaging. The analogy is that we sell a proprietary Coca-Cola formula without the caffeine, then our partners add the caffeine and bottle it in Coca-Cola branded bottles. In this way, we ensure that the hardest part of our process is controlled house to ensure consistency and quality across all states. It also allows us to be a non-plant touching business, since we only sold upstream base products that did not contain THC. We pick the best manufacturing and distribution partner in each cannabis state and grow from there.
Green: What’s the one thing you’re most interested in learning about?
Thomas: Increasing the bioavailability of cannabis. I have been most passionate about making cannabis work as quickly as alcohol and giving people an alternative to inhaling it through smoking or vaping. That’s definitely what we’ve been most excited about as a company.
On June 29, 2021, Cannabis Industry Journal is hosting the Cannabis Extraction Virtual Conference. From Noon to 5 pm EST, you’ll get access to five veterans of the extraction market discussing a variety of topics related to the ins and outs of extracting cannabis and hemp.
Hear from subject matter experts who will share their perspectives on cannabis and hemp extraction, supercritical CO2 extraction, post-processing, risk management, hazards and controls, optimization, closed loop hydrocarbon extraction, machine learning algorithms and more.
Alex Hearding, Chief Risk Management Officer at the National Cannabis Risk Management Association (NCRMA) will kick things off with a session exploring the Hazards and Controls of Extraction with Liquified Petroleum Gases. Dr. Markus Roggen, Founder & CEO of Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures, will follow that up with a discussion surrounding the kinetics and thermodynamics of cannabis extraction.
Other talks from the Cannabis Extraction Virtual Conference include:
The Quest to Discover the Limits of CO2 Extraction
Jeremy Diehl, co-founder & CTO of Green Mill Supercritical
The Future of Cannabis Concentrates: Developments in Hydrocarbon Extraction and Manufacturing
Michelle Sprawls, Laboratory Director at CULTA
Process Scale Up in the Cannabis/Hemp Industry
Darwin Millard, Committee ViceChair on ASTM International’s D37.04 on Processing & Handling of Cannabis
There are many factors that can lead to the challenges people face when scaling up their processes. These challenges are not unique to the cannabis/hemp industry, but they are exacerbated by the consequences generated from decades of Reefer Madness. In my time operating in the cannabis/hemp space, 15+ years, I have seen established equipment vendors and sellers of laboratory supplies, like Sigma-Aldrich (now Millipore-Sigma), Fisher-Scientific, Cerilliant, Agilent, and others, go from reporting individuals inquiring about certified reference materials to setting up entire divisions of their companies to service the needs of the industry. Progress. But we are still a fledgling marketplace facing many challenges. Let’s look at a few specific to process scale up.
Darwin Millard will deliver a presentation on this topic during the Cannabis Extraction Virtual Conference on June 29. Click here to learn more.Equipment Availability: Lack of available equipment at larger and larger process scales can severely impact project timelines. Making not only equipment acquisition difficult, but also limiting the number of reputable equipment manufacturers you can work with.
Non-Linear Expansion: NEVER assume your process scales linearly. Perhaps one of the most avoidable mistakes during process scale up. You will quickly find that for many processes you cannot just put in a larger unit and expect a proportional increase in output. This is because as process equipment increases so to must utilities and other supporting infrastructure, but not only that, process vessel geometry, proportions, and design are contributing factors to process efficiency as your scale of operations increases.
Hazardous Material Quantities: Just as important to the process as the equipment are the solvents and reagents used. As your scale of operations increases so does your demand and production of hazardous materials; solvents including carbon dioxide (CO2), ethanol, and liquid petroleum gases (LPG) like Butane and Propane are obvious hazards, but so too are the refrigerants used in the chillers, fuels used to power generators, steam created to heat critical systems, and effluents and wastewater discharged from the process and supporting systems. Not every municipality wants thousands of gallons of flammable substances and hazardous waste being generated in their backyard…
Contractor/Vendor Misrepresentation: Finding out in the middle of you project that your contractor or equipment vendor has never set up a system at this scale before is never a good feeling. Unfortunately, contractor and vendor misrepresentation of qualifications is a common occurrence in the cannabis/hemp space.
If all this was not bad enough, all too often the consequences of improper planning and execution are not felt until your project is delayed or jeopardized due to misallocation of funds or undercapitalization. This is especially true when scaling up your production capacity. Now let’s look at some ways to avoid these mistakes.
The Rule of 10
When scaling up your process, NEVER assume that a simple linear expansion of your process train will be sufficient. It is often the case that process scale up is non-linear. Using the Rule of 10 is one way of scaling up your process through a stepwise iterative approach. The Rule of 10 is best explained through an example: Say you are performing a bench-top extraction of a few grams and want to scale that up to a few thousand kilograms. Before jumping all the way to your final process scale, start by taking a smaller jump and only increase your bench-top process by a factor of 10 at a time. So, if you were happy and confident with your results at the tens of grams scale, perform the same process at the hundreds of grams scale, then the thousands of grams scale, tens of kilograms scale, and so forth until you have validated your process at the scale of operations you want to achieve. By using the Rule of 10 you can be assured that your process will achieve the same yields/results at larger and larger scales of operation.
Scaling up your process through an iterative approach allows you to identify process issues that otherwise would not have been identified. These can include (but by no means should be considered an exhaustive list) improper heat transfer as process vessels increase in size, the inability to maintain process parameters due to inadequately sized utilities and/or supporting infrastructure, and lower yields than expected even though previous iterations were successful. However, this type of approach can be expensive, especially when considering custom process equipment, and not every processor in the cannabis/hemp space is going to be in the position to use tools like the Rule of 10 and instead must rely on claims made by the equipment vendor or manufacture when scaling up their process.
The Cannabis/Hemp Specific Process Equipment Trap
How many times have you heard this one before: “We have a piece of process equipment tailor-made to perform X,Y,Z task.”? If you have been around as long as I have in the cannabis/hemp space, probably quite a few times. A huge red flag when considering equipment for your expansion project!
Unless the equipment manufacturer is directly working with cannabis/hemp raw materials, or with partners who process these items, during product development, there is no way they could have verified the equipment will work for its purported use.
A good example of this are ethanol evaporation systems. Most manufacturers of evaporators do not work with the volumes of ethanol they claim their systems can recover. So how did they come up with the evaporation rate? Short answer – Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer, and Fluid Mechanics. They modeled it. This much surface area, plus this much heat/energy, with this much pressure (or lack thereof), using this type of fluid, moving through this type of material, at this rate of speed, gets you a 1000-gal/hr evaporator or some other theoretical value. But what is the real rate once an ethanol and cannabis/hemp solution is running through the system?
For a straight ethanol system, the theoretical models and experimental models are pretty similar – namely because humans like alcohol – extensive real-world data for ethanol systems exist for reference in designing ethanol evaporators (more accurately described as distillation systems, i.e. stills). The same cannot be said for ethanol and cannabis/hemp extract systems. While it is true that many botanical and ethanol systems have been modeled, both theoretically and experimentally, due to prohibition, data for cannabis/hemp and ethanol systems are lacking and the data that do exist are primarily limited to bench-top and laboratory scale scenarios.
So, will that 1000-gal/hr evaporator hit 1000-gal/hr once it is running under load? That’s the real question and why utilizing equipment with established performance qualifications is critical to a successful process scale up when having to rely on the claims of a vendor or equipment manufacturer. Except this is yet another “catch 22”, since the installation, operational, and performance qualification process is an expensive endeavor only a few equipment manufacturers servicing the cannabis/hemp market have done. I am not saying there aren’t any reputable equipment vendors out there; there are, but always ask for data validating their claims and perform a vendor qualification before you drop seven figures on a piece of process equipment on the word of a salesperson.
Improper design and insufficient data regarding process efficiencies on larger and larger scales of manufacturing can lead to costly mistakes which can prevent projects from ever getting off the ground.
Each aspect of the manufacturing process must be considered individually when scaling your process train because each element will contribute to the system’s output, either in a limiting or expansive capacity.
I go further into this topic in my presentation: Challenges with Process Scale Up in the Cannabis/Hemp Industry, later this month during Cannabis Industry Journal’s Extraction Virtual Conference on June 29th, 2021. Here I will provide real-world examples of the consequences of improper process scale up and the significance of equipment specifications, certifications, and inspections, and the importance of vendor qualifications and the true cost of improper design specifications. I hope to see you all there.
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