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Cannabinoids are natural compounds obtained from the Cannabis sativa plant. The most utilized among these compounds are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, a psychotropic substance) and Cannabidiol (CBD, a non-psychotropic substance, mainly deployed for nutraceutical purposes) which can be obtained directly from the plant or by extraction. These components can be used both for medical and non-medical uses.

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Both THC and CBD help with medical conditions such as pain, nausea anxiety, inflammations, and many more. When it comes to cannabinoid products, the pharmaceutical industry can focus on different market segments such as prescription, consumer health, nutraceutical, and so on. Applications are to be found in the form of, but not limited to, creams, tablets, capsules, and powder.

Production processes for making cannabis and cannabinoids

After growing, harvesting, cutting, and drying of the raw material is the first step in order to get a good quality cannabis biomass after which the extraction process starts. There are several extraction methods, three of them being light hydrocarbon extraction, ethanol extraction, and CO2 extraction. This will deliver crude cannabis oil. The next step is distillation, which separates THC from terpenes, lipids, impurities, and solvents. Then. the cannabinoid isolate is mixed to break apart the chemical bonds of the cannabinoids and reduce the size of their particles. A good method for this is homogenization, where all particles undergo the same mixing forces, this leads to less variation in the end results. This step will produce a quality distillate that will meet pharmaceutical-grade standards and that can be used in a wide variety of products.

Depending on the desired end product, the post-processing is started to – for example – reduce the THC level or start a process in which the extracted and distilled oil can then be made into creams, pills, or edibles. Finally, (sterile) filling, capping and labeling are the last steps of the production process and need to be in line with pharmaceutical regulation to ensure quality.

The production, distribution, and consumption of cannabinoids are regulated individually in each country and international laws and regulations vary greatly. This makes for a fragmented legal landscape when it comes to cannabis-derived pharmaceutical products. In the majority of the EU, there is a THC limit in CBD products of around 0.2 percent.

Faster CBD distillation

Cold ethanol (-40 C) can be used as a solvent to extract cannabidiol. For this method, ethanol is fed into an extractor, together with the cannabis biomass and extraction takes place for a few hours, after which the mass is recirculated to reach a high extraction level. In contrast to other methods of extraction like CO2 extraction, a pressurized system is not needed for cold ethanol extraction.

With cold ethanol extraction technology, all lipids are left behind during the extraction process, which allows cannabinoid processing facilities to reduce the extraction process down from several days to just a few hours.

Several steps of the production process with more traditional ways of extraction, like winterization, solvent recovery, and decarbing, usually take up to 3 to 5 days. Cold ethanol extraction skips these steps and takes less than a day to go from extraction to distillation. Check out the below video on Devex CBD extraction technology for more information.

CBD supplements in gummies

Gummies are a good alternative for taking CBD. A current trend to reduce the production time in making gummies is starchless depositing. With this,  the long drying period that is common with starch depositing, where filled trays need to rest for well over 24 hours in a drying room while the starch removes the water from the product, are a thing of the past.

Starchless depositing has been a standard procedure for hard candy for many years and with the help of silicon molds, gelatine gummies can be deposited without starch as well. The silicone molds are moistened using a release agent and jelly is deposited into the molds. Demolding can start after a mere 20 minutes as the jelly has a dry matter content from the beginning.

This leads to a limited risk of cross-contamination. In order to better respond to GMP standards, starch-free depositing for gummies is gaining more and more traction in the pharmaceutical cannabis market.

Formulation and filling of cannabis oil

To get to the end-product be it capsules, extract syringes, vape cartridges or any other form, the cannabis extract (oil, distillate or isolate) is mixed in the formulation process step with for example olive oil or terpenes. Here, calculations are done to determine how much extract is needed to reach the target medicinal potency of cannabinoids per dose.

The subsequent packaging and labeling production steps include bottling, filling, capping. Labelling and cartoning. When it comes to medicinal (or recreational) products that will be ingested, an (aseptic) filling machine that meets industry hygiene requirements is crucial. Pharmaceutical standards call for 316L grade stainless steel, PTFE and Viton. The machine needs to meet GMP requirements for sterile manufacturing in the pharma industry and be able to pre-sterilize vials, syringes, or ampoules, ensure safe sealing. Ultrasonic technology for one can help get rid of all kinds of microbe, E.coli, or other bacteria on a vial ampoule or oral liquid bottle in the process.

Cannabis Making Equipment in Action

High pressure homogenizer

Distillation equipment

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