When I look at and compare cannabis companies I always start by looking at their public documents. After some time trying to decipher how the companies operate, I inevitably get annoyed at the lack of detail in both their financial statements and on their websites. At this point I turn the scientific literature behind their products to glean some insight into the operations they don’t want to communicate with their shareholders. For some context, I started this analysis with the intention of comparing some of the companies on this list with others speckled throughout, since they fall into a similar category of companies that primarily sell processed cannabis products.
Every company I come across claims to have the best, patented/patent pending technology, for extraction/delivery of cannabinoids. Do any of these companies talk about and compare their methodology to the alternatives? No, they don’t, and they don’t want you to compare them either. The valuations of small cannabis extract based companies are heavily reliant on the perception of superior technology or product. We certainly aren’t valuing those companies based on their current earnings.
The specific information I want from these companies I’ll never find unless they report it, I can’t overcome that barrier. I can overcome the knowledge and publication paywall barriers they put in front of the scientific bases for their companies. For these reasons, I have decided to evaluate these companies and their methodologies to highlight the real impact of their claims.
When you’re reading any scientific claims, it’s important to be skeptical of the information until you can independently evaluate their claims based on the published data. When looking at the published data, you must also critically evaluate their experimental design and interpretation of the data. For a layperson, these precautions may seem unreasonable, since evaluation of the factors outlined will involve unfamiliar concepts. I can only recommend that you remain skeptical when confronted with biological related claims made by companies.
The more I delved into this topic the more complicated it became. How do I break down all the various techniques, and each variation of those techniques, companies can use to make cannabis oil? Not easily, I’ve decided to break this analysis down into several parts.
Let’s look at the different ways to get the drugs (cannabinoids+terpenes) we want to extract out of the plant. RTI uses a patented MAP process that is actually called Microwave Assisted solvent Extraction (MASE). The ‘solvent’ part is very important. RTI’s patent only covers a Microwave Assisted Extraction (MAE) using solvent. There are other Microwave Assisted Extraction techniques not covered by the patent. This is a link to a publication comparing the different MAE techniques, their advantages and disadvantages. You don’t have to join researchgate to download the article, just close the prompt, the table you want to look at is at the top of page #9. Below the table the article confirms that the patent only covers MASE. It’s important to note that the table is only meant to compare different techniques, some at a smaller scale. The science and economics of scaling chemical reactions/extractions is very complicated, there could be dozens of reasons as to why certain cannabis producers prefer one extraction process over another. “Radient’s technology promises a significant advance in both quality and efficiency of cannabis extract production,” said Terry Booth, CEO of Aurora”. Not really, according to the paper linked the quality is around the same as a regular solvent extraction like Soxhlet. The paper doesn’t cover the technique being used on cannabis, maybe it is better in cannabis, they tell us it is, do we believe them? I’m forced to go with the literature dealing with other plant natural products since they won’t give me their data.
We’re now going to compare a couple of other processes to MAE. To do this we’re going to look at a very odd PhD dissertation, 3rd link from the top, I can’t link the article. He used aspects of physics and chemistry, microwaves and optics, and combined it with biochemistry, purification of plant natural products, to create the basis for RTI’s technology.
In his PhD thesis he noticed that using the MASE technology he could extract the same amount of gentiopicroside from gentian in 60 seconds as the Soxhelt solvent extraction could in 60 minutes. He claims Ultrasonic assisted extraction took 30min with 20h Soxhelt solvent follow up to reach a similar ‘material composition’ to 4min with MASE or 10h with Soxhelt. I added these as examples of what alternative technique developed in the future could use as the basis of their extraction technology and for the comparison to MASE. It also gives us a very rough comparison of the speed of these extractions at a lab bench scale.
Supercritical CO2 extraction is the most common among the large LP’s. Luckily, I found a paper describing the process using 500g of ground cannabis in a 5L extraction vessel over a period of 2 hours (the machine apparently had 2 extraction vessels of this size). They managed to get 0.185g of oil per gram of material used, which is 18.5% of dry weight. The total THC content of oil sample was just under 70%, meaning they extracted 12.95% total THC of dry weight. The raw plant sample was determined to contain 16.63% total THC by dry weight, that’s around 77.9% extraction efficiency of total THC give or take with minor rounding and standard deviation on values (CBD content was low in the sample, so I only included THC results). They claim they calculated a 89% extraction efficiency, I’m not sure how they calculated that. They’re not calculating that value based on (total THC yield)/(theoretical total THC yield), that’s how I got to my 78% (CBD content was too low to account for the difference). It’s important to keep in mind that these values change with scale, those values we will never see.
RTI’s main advantage over the industry as it stands is speed. To my knowledge no other company has adopted a different MAE, or comparable technology to compete with speed. Now we must ask ourselves, what is the value of speed? If speed is limited by scale, at what scale does size overtake speed in production volume for a different technology? Is speed irrelevant because you can saturate the market with oil produced through a slower (maybe cheaper? Need that data) method? How diverse is the use of cannabis oil?
I can only talk about short-path distillation in context to what companies like EAT are doing with it. It’s a post-isolation process to purify cannabinoids or terpenes from impurities found in cannabis extract. This is the only extraction method, technically post-extraction, discussed that removes terpenes from the concentrated oil. They’re claiming they can bump up that ~70% total THC content in your raw oil to 85-90%. Is it worth it? Maybe, InMed claims they have E. coli spitting out cannabinoids like hot cakes. Do you need to make the plant extract purer if you can just outsource the labor to a different biological organism? Scabs going to take all those poor plants jobs! Alternatives are everywhere, new alternatives are being developed. We’re living on the cusp of a bio-revolution, we do not know what we could see entering this area.
I must cut myself off here for now, I fear this article is already too long. If you made it this far welcome to the world of varying shades of grey, book jokes aside, very few black and white conclusions can be made when delving into the world of proprietary and exploratory science. I’m still focused on that list of companies I linked at the start along with others I haven’t mentioned yet.