How Cannabis Goes from Plant to Usable Medicine

by Sudarsan

Cannabis has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as a plant with medicinal properties. The cannabinoids in cannabis are said to relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and even help people sleep. It is alleged to be so effective the three-dozen states have legalized cannabis as a medicine.

Have you ever wondered how cannabis gets from field to pharmacy shelves? The process of turning it from a freshly harvested plant into a usable medicine is complicated, to say in the least. It is also something that the medical cannabis industry is still learning to do. As you might expect, the industry is far from maturity.

Raw Flower as Medicine

The easiest way to get cannabis into the hands of patients with medical cannabis cards is to provide them with raw flower. In essence, you harvest the plant and sell it directly to a retailer after putting it through minimal processing. It is up to patients what they do with it.

In many states with medical cannabis programs, smoking marijuana flower is not legal. However, patients can buy flower and use it to make their own edibles. The process involves grinding the plant material down, heating it to extract the desired compounds, and then adding those compounds to everything from butter to cookies.

Processing Cannabis

Visit a medical cannabis pharmacy and you will discover that the vast majority of products they sell are not raw flower products. They are things like vape liquids, oils, tinctures, and edibles. All of the products are made using a variety of ingredients to which CBD or THC is added.

Obtaining CBD and THC requires processing. How does this work? First, processors have to extract what cannabis plants are willing to give up. A processor might invest in extraction equipment from Houston-based Cedarstone Industry. Their equipment utilizes CO2 or some sort of solvent to extract soluble components, usually in the form of crude oil.

Next, cannabinoids and terpenes must be removed from the crude. This is done through distillation. There are number of different ways to distill, including short path and wiped film distillation. The goal is to create distillates with high concentrations of the desired cannabinoids.

Finally, the cannabinoids are combined with terpenes before being added to the finished product. In a vape cartridge, you have both THC and propylene glycol. A processor may add certain terpenes to give the liquid a distinct and pleasant aroma.

Different Cannabinoid Profiles

At this point, it is important to note that processors create different cannabinoid profiles for their products. In other words, medical cannabis isn’t a single product or medicine.
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It’s not even a single plant. Processors use both industrial hemp and marijuana to create medical cannabis products.

Some medical conditions qualifying for medical cannabis are best treated with CBD. In such a case, the patient would use a medication derived from hemp rather than marijuana. CBD is found in hemp in abundance. On the other hand, a person using a THC medicine is using a product derived from marijuana.

Also note that processors work with other cannabinoids. CBD and THC are not the only two games in town. Several dozen of the more than a hundred cannabinoids found in cannabis plants are being investigated for their medical benefits. Processes have learned that some CBD and THC medicines offer better results when other cannabinoids are added. And of course, terpene profiles can enhance medical cannabis products as well.
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The final step in the process is retail. Processors sell their products to dispensaries and pharmacies who then sell them to customers. That is the entire thing in a nutshell.
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