Solve et Coagula
As we seek to refine and concentrate the medicines found in plants, care must be taken each step of the way. Shortcuts at any stage will result in a compromised end product: poor growing conditions or use of toxic pesticides will render the plant unfit for medicinal use, improper solvent selection will extract the wrong materials from the plant, incomplete refinement will produce a crude product. The following guide describes the Lux Botanics approach to the craft of medicinal concentrates.
Plants are nature’s alchemists, expert at transforming water, soil and sunlight into an array of precious substances, many of them beyond the ability of human beings to conceive, much less manufacture.
Step 1 - The living plant produces the medicine.
We source our plants from small scale farms, where the growers are able to provide the kind of meticulous care and attention necessary to grow truly medicinal plants. Our hemp is organically grown on farms in the mountains of North Carolina. After harvest, the hemp is air-dried, cured, and the trichome rich flowers and “sugar leaves” are separated from the stalks, stems, and waxy shade leaves. The CBD content of this material is over 10%.
Step 2 - Extraction of the medicine
The plant material is soaked in a solvent that allows the active medicinal components to dissolve into a liquid while leaving behind the unwanted portions of the plant. There are many solvents available to the extraction chemist, each with their own benefits and limitations. In our processes, we use water, organic alcohol, or liquid CO2, as these are capable of dissolving the compounds we’re seeking, while also being generally less toxic and damaging to the environment compared to other options. For our in-house hemp oil extraction, we soak the hemp flowers and sugar leaves in a super cold ethanol bath at -70*C. This dissolves only the cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes while leaving behind the waxes, fibers, and chlorophyll in the plant material. We also partner with AgGrist for liquid CO2 extraction of some of our plant material, which allows for more options in subsequent purification steps in our process.
Step 3 - Separation
Once the medicinal compounds are dissolved into the solvent, we must remove the liquified medicine from the depleted plant carcass. We therefore filter the liquid solvent/medicine solution through a large vacuum filter. With our hemp extract, this yields a thin reddish gold liquid and dry crispy green hemp flowers that no longer have their sticky glistening trichomes.
Step 4 - Evaporation
With the medicine now dissolved in clean and clear solution, we must now reduce the solvent and concentrate the medicine. Since most of the medicinal components we seek have a higher boiling point than the solvent they are in, we can achieve this concentration by evaporating away the solvent. For our ethanol extracted hemp oil, we use a type of still called a “rotary evaporator” to evaporate the ethanol, which is condensed and collected for reuse. Once all of the ethanol is removed, we are left with a cannabinoid-rich dark red-brown oil with a CBD content over 50%. This is often called a “Full Spectrum Extract”, although extraction with other solvents or at different temperatures can yield other desirable phytochemicals. We make some of our products with this Full Spectrum Extract, but most of our products require a higher degree of purification.
Step 5 - Distillation
At this stage of our hemp processing, we seek to separate the various components of the Full Spectrum Extract. So we perform a second distillation in an apparatus called a “short path still”, which is much like a typical alcohol still or alembic, but utilizes a vacuum to lower the boiling point of the materials. This allows us to distill apart the terpenes, cannabinoids, and other fractions without degrading them through overheating. If the extract we’re distilling contains light terpenes, like the CO2 extracted hemp oil, we can separate and collect these. The “hearts” of this distillation run yields a thick golden "distillate" cannabinoid oil that is over 75% CBD. We use this cannabinoid distillate in many of our products, since it contains the full spectrum of cannabinoids but is relatively odorless and tasteless. The terpenes we collect are blended back into some of our products to provide flavor, aroma, and medicinal effect.
Step 6 - Crystallization
In some cases, we need to take on final step towards purification by isolating single compounds that we’re seeking. In the case of hemp oil and CBD, we sometimes need to have the CBD without THC. To achieve this purity, we perform several cleaning steps to remove unwanted non-cannabinoid compounds from the distillate, such as a saline wash, treatment with absorbent clay, enzymatic breakdown, activated carbon filtration, etc. As purity increases, the CBD begins to crystallize out of the distillate oil. Ultimately, we encourage this by dissolving the distillate into a new volatile solvent such as pentane or heptane and then cool it down carefully. The CBD is less soluble in this heptane than the other components, so CBD "isolate" crystals begin to form and can be filtered out from the solvent. These crystals are then vacuum dried to remove all remaining solvent, which yields an over 99% pure CBD isolate.
Step 7 - “Coagula” or “Conjunctio”
Once we have refined and purified the medicinal aspects of our plants, we can finally recombine the parts into the specific forms of medicine we want to create. The different forms represent various routes of administration, from ingestion to inhalation, to topical application. We blend full-spectrum extracts, distillate, and isolate with carrier bases, flavorings, and complimentary medicinals to create products that deliver the medicines in an enjoyable manner.