Tag Archives: process

How to Vet Suppliers in Cannabis Product Manufacturing

By Amy Davison, Amy Davison
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The quality of your edible cannabis product can only be as reliable as the components that comprise it. The three types of components include active ingredients (such as CBD oil), packaging components  (such as the bottles that hold finished product) and inactive ingredients (such as coconut oil). When evaluating a potential supplier for these three areas, a risk-based method follows a vendor selection process that highlights critical ingredients and also adequately assesses excipients. With this approach, the vetting process for a supplier is based on the impact the potential ingredient or component will have on the quality and purity of the finished product.

Choose only those suppliers who can provide certification that the packaging components are food-grade or food-safeThere are three basic categories to guide vendor assessment. Is the supplier providing 1) a packaging component with product contact, 2) an excipient, or inactive ingredient, or 3) the active ingredient? Regardless of the category, due to the factious nature of cannabis, it is important to first verify with a vendor that it will sell its products to a company in the cannabis industry. Once that is determined, the evaluation process may begin.

Packaging Components

Sourcing validation is a critical initial step in the production process. (image credit: Lucy Beaugard)

Packaging components, such as bottles and caps, are considered primary packaging because they have direct contact with the finished product. Suppliers of the primary packaging must be able to provide assurance that their goods do not contain additives that are harmful to consumers. Therefore, choose only those suppliers who can provide certification that the packaging components are food-grade or food-safe. Reputable vendors will also be able to provide a certificate of compliance, also known as a certificate of conformance, which states that the component meets specifications required for that part. Many cannabis regulations require finished products to be sold in child-resistant packaging, so the supplier will need to provide child-resistant certification for the packaging components, if applicable.

Excipients

Excipients are ingredients that are added to a product for the purposes of streamlining the manufacturing process and enhancing physical characteristics such as taste and color. Some examples could include coconut oil, starch and alcohol. Though they do not have the same critical nature as active ingredients, their potential risk to a finished product is generally greater than that of a packaging component. As such, there are additional factors to consider for an excipient vendor. Verify with the supplier that it can provide the following documentation. While governing regulations may not require some information, the data included in these documents are important to ensure the quality of your finished product.

  • Certificate of Analysis (or, certificate of conformance), for each lot of material. The information on a certificate, including the tests performed, specifications and test results must be sufficient to determine if the material is acceptable for use in the product.
  • Allergen Statement. This statement is important to accurately include or disclaim allergens on the finished product label.
  • Residual Solvent Statement. Solvents are commonly used to bolster the manufacturing process for a material. In order to maintain acceptable levels of residual solvents in a final product, it is necessary to also consider the toxicity and level of each solvent in the raw material.
  • Heavy Metals Certification. Since metals pose a risk to consumer safety, it is important to know what amounts, if any, are being contributed to your product by raw materials.

Because changes in an excipient can impact your finished product, make every attempt to obtain a commitment from a supplier to notify you if changes are made to the excipient’s specifications.

Active Ingredients

Cannabis oil is the ingredient that, when the edible cannabis product is consumed, is biologically “active.” Thus, it is considered to be the active ingredient in cannabis products. Since cannabis oil has a direct impact on the quality of a product, it is critical that the oil supplier be appropriately evaluated. One of the main considerations for a cannabis oil supplier is whether the supplier is willing to host initial and periodic audits of its manufacturing facility. Such audits are crucial in assessing the capability of the vendor to comply with regulatory requirements and established procedures – can the supplier consistently provide quality material? The answer to this question is too important to risk for you and your customers.As anyone working in the industry has experienced, anything related to cannabis is placed under an unprecedented critical lens.

Additionally, verify the oil supplier will provide key documentation, such as that listed above for excipients, to support the quality and purity of the oil. And last but not least, ensure the information reported by the supplier is adequate to meet the requirements of your finished product.

Evaluation guidelines and criteria such as these should be added to standard operating procedures to ensure consistency and quality across all products. As anyone working in the industry has experienced, anything related to cannabis is placed under an unprecedented critical lens. The importance of consumer safety and bolstering industry integrity is paramount. Sourcing validation is a critical initial step in the production process that can directly impact a company’s success and longevity in the cannabis industry.

Safety & Efficacy: Ensuring Dosing Accuracy for Infused Products

By Amy Davison, Amy Davison
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Complications with dosing inaccuracies in the cannabis industry has always been a hot topic. In 2014, The Cannabist tested several Colorado infused products only to find that the results were different from what was indicated on the label. While the industry has come a long way at the state level since then, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association this past November found that 26 percent of CBD products sold online contained less CBD than the label. Similar to when you buy a bottle of wine or ibuprofen, people should be able to trust product labels.

Process validation in action at the Stratos facility
Process validation in action at the Stratos facility
(image credit: Lucy Beaugard)

There are processes that cannabis-infused product manufacturers can adopt to solve this issue. Incorporating process validation establishes reproducible customer experiences while in-process controls create product consistency and potency reliability. These operational and compliance techniques originated in the pharmaceutical industry and will undoubtedly become the future gold standard for best practices with cannabis manufacturers.

Product testing alone cannot assess quality for an entire lot or batch of product; therefore, each step of the manufacturing process must be controlled through Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). Process validation is an aspect of GMPs used by the pharmaceutical industry to create consistency in a product’s quality, safety and efficacy. There are three main stages to process validation: process design, process qualification and continued process verification. Implementing these stages ensures that quality, including dosing accuracy, is maintained for each manufactured batch of product.

Validation: Step 1

Process design, the first phase of process validation, defines the manufacturing process based on previous product development and process research. The appropriate equipment, instruments and materials are selected as part of process design. Both standard operating procedures for equipment and operations as well as batch records for manufacturing steps are also finalized during this phase. The batch record must include critical process parameters (CPP), the parameters that must be maintained in order to produce product that consistently meets specified criteria. Mixing speed and time, temperature, pressure and flow rate are examples of common CPP. Training production personnel is also defined and performed as part of process design. Operators are trained on operating procedures and batch records in order to learn how to make the product successfully.

Process validation can help ensure accurate dosing.
Process validation can help ensure accurate dosing. (image credit: Lucy Beaugard)

Validation: Step 2

Process qualification, the next stage of process validation, is performed to evaluate the capability of a process for reproducible and robust manufacturing. Because reproducibility of a process cannot be fully assessed with a single batch, evaluation is typically performed on a minimum of three separate batches. For each batch included in the process qualification, the frequency and number of samples are increased over normal sampling to provide a more thorough assessment of each batch. The testing includes visual inspection for defects as well as quantitative tests such as weight or volume and potency. In addition to composite sampling, which is performed by combining samples from multiple time points throughout a batch (e.g. beginning, middle and end) to assess a batch as a whole, stratified sampling is performed. Stratified samples are taken from specified points throughout a batch, and rather than being combined, the samples are tested separately to indicate consistency throughout a given batch.

The Stratos product lineup- validation helped produce each of these consistently.

In addition to evaluating the reproducibility of a process, tests for robustness are performed during process qualification to demonstrate how changes in a process may impact the product. It is important to use different operators for performing manufacturing steps to ensure changes in personnel do not affect product quality. Switching out equipment and instruments will also reveal any sensitivities in a process. For example, when a different oven, mixer or tablet press is used, are the appearance, texture and potency impacted? If the product remains the same, that points toward the process being robust. Challenging the CPP will also provide important feedback regarding a process. If a step requires a temperature range of 50° – 70°C, it is recommended that the process be tested at the low end and high end of the range, to ensure the final product meets all required specifications. If the range assigned to a unit’s gross weight is 500 g ± 5%, then testing at 475 g and 525 g will offer more insight into how much variance the process truly can withstand.

Validation: Step 3

Once the process has been assessed for reproducibility and robustness, it transitions to continued process verification, which is the third and final stage of Process Validation. Performance of quality checks during each batch for the life of a product is part of this final stage. For infused products such as tablets, these checks include appearance – the tablets are the color and shape indicated by the batch record and they include the required imprint(s); weight – the tablets are within the specified weight range, which indicates correct tablet size and consistency of ingredients; hardness – tablets will dissolve/disintegrate for proper dosing; and friability – tablets will withstand stress of routine handling.

As your company grows in manufacturing volume, each of these three steps will become critical to safeguard against any inconsistencies. As we know in this industry, our most valuable asset is our license and success can be negatively impacted based on meeting compliance. Dedicating an internal role within quality and compliance will serve to future-proof your business against additional rules and regulations that are likely to come.

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German Drugs Agency Issues New Cannabis Cultivation Bid

By Marguerite Arnold, Marguerite Arnold
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german flag

Lessthan a week after Cannabis Industry Journal reported that BfArM had finally cancelled the first German tender bid for cannabis cultivation, and after refusing to confirm the story to this outlet, the agency quietly posted the new one online, at 3.45pm Central European Time, July 19.

First Thing’s First

For those who have not seen it yet, here is a first look at the “new” bid auf Deutsch. It is basically identical to the last one. For the most part, Europe is shaping up to be a high volume ex-im market.For now, that is all that exists. However,a move is on in Europe to translate the bid into English. Why? To hold BfArM accountable. And to help educate all the foreign and for the most part, non-German speaking investors who want to know what is required to get the bid in the first place. The process last time left a great deal to be desired.

Bid Redux

Apart from this, however, very little seems to have changed from the last time. Notably,the amount to be grown domestically is the same. This means that the government is deliberately setting production below already established demand.

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

Why?

As has become increasingly clear, the German government at leastdoes not want to step into the cultivation ring. Further,because they are being forced to, the government wants to proceed slowly. That means that for at least the next couple of years, barring local developments, it is actively creating a market where imports are the only kind of cannabis widely available – for any purpose. And in this case, strictly medical. With many, many restrictions. Starting with no advertising.

Import Europe

For the most part, Europe is shaping up to be a high volume ex-im market. This was already in the offing even last year when Tilray announced the constructionof their Portuguese facilities last summer, and Aurora and Canopy began expanding all over the continent, starting in Denmark, but hardly limited to the same.

These days it is not the extreme west of Europe (Spain and Portugal) that are the hot growingareas, but the Balkans and Greece. Cheap labour, real estate and GMP standards are the three magic words to market entry.

Can This Situation Hold?

There are several intriguing possibilities at this point. The simple answer is that the current environment is simply not sustainable.

In an environment where the clearing firm for all German securities has refused to clear any and all cannabis related North American public cannabis company stock purchases from Germans (and just updated the list to include companies like Growlife), citing “legal reasons,” it is clear the “fight” (read banking and finance) has clearly now landed in Europe.

The significance of all of this?

Clearly, it is two-fold. The first is to deleverage the power of financial success as a way of legitimizing the drug if not the “movement.” Further, if Germans want to profit from the legal cannabis market it is going to be very difficult. See the bid last year beyond this new development.

That means everyone else is going to have to get creative. The industry, advocates and patients have seen similar moves before. Patient access and profitability are not necessarily the same thing.An increasing numbers of companies are finding ways around being cultivators to get their product into the country anyway.

What Now?

The only problem with such strategies, just like banning German firms from competing in the bid, is that “prohibition” of this kind never works.

It will not keep cannabis out of Germany. The vast majority of the medical cannabis consumed by patients in Germany will come from the extremes – of east and western Europe – with Canadian, Dutch and even Danish stockpiles used as necessary. It will also not discourage the domestic cannabis movement here, which is critical as ever in keeping powerful feet to the fire.

It will also not discourage German firms from entering the market – in a variety of creative ways. Most German cannabis companies are not public, and most are setting themselves up as processors and distributors rather than growers.

So in summary, the bid is back. But this time, it is absolutely not as “bad” as ever. An increasing numbers of companies are finding ways around being cultivators to get their product into the country anyway.

As for raising money via public offerings? There are plenty of other countries where the publicly listed, now banned North American companies can raise funds on public exchanges (see Sweden and Denmark) as they target the cannabis fortress Deutschland.

german flag

German Authorities Will Issue New Cannabis Cultivation Bid

By Marguerite Arnold, Marguerite Arnold
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german flag

According to Kermit the Frog, it’s never easy being green. It is also tough to be “first” in the cannabis biz. Anywhere.

One of the most remarkable features of the first years of state-level legalization in the U.S. was the sheer number of mistakes by the authorities in issuing licenses and bids for state-sanctioned cultivation and dispensation once the voters had forced legalization. There were several state-level “redos” and lots of legal mumbo jumbo thrown around as the green-rush kicked off at the state level.The real news? There is going to be a completely new one.

Fast-forward a couple of years and it is clear this is not just an issue of the confused state of legalization in the U.S.

Canada too, on a federal recreational level, has moved forward in fits and starts. And even though a fall start date to the market has now been enshrined into law, the continued moving target of the same has been a topic of fraught conversations and bargaining ever since the country decided to move ahead with full Monty recreational.

Across the pond, things are not going smoothly on the cannabis front. In the first week of July, the much stalled medical cultivation bid in Germany finally came to a limpid end. It remains to see if there will be any legal “bangs” as it whimpers away.

The real news? There is going to be a completely new one.

A Do-Over

According to documents obtained by Cannabis Industry Journal, the Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (or BfArM) issued letters to original bid respondents in the first week of July. The letters appear to have been sent to all parties who originally applied to the first bid – far from the final top runners.

The translation, from German reads:

“We hereby inform you that we have withdrawn the above-mentioned award procedure…and intend to initiate a new award in a timely manner.”

The letter cited the legal decision of March 28 this year by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court as the reason the agency cannot award the contract. Specifically, because of “necessary changes to the tender documents…inparticular with regard to time, we have decided to cancel the procedure altogether and initiate a new award procedure.”

Per the letter, the new procedure will be published in the Official Journal of the EU. No date was mentioned.

An Expensive Surprise and a Global Response

Conventional wisdom in the industry about the fate of the first bid has been mixed since last September when the first hint of lawsuits against the procedure began to circulate. Highly placed sources within the industry have long had their doubts about the bid’s survivability, although nobody will talk on the record. The bid process is supposed to be secret.However, it is clear that another bid will be issued

Furthermore, for the last 9 months, BfArM has maintained that the agency would go full-steam ahead with the original tender. None of the major firms contacted by CIJ about this notification would confirm that they had received a similar letter, nor would they comment.

However, it is clear that another bid will be issued. Further, this time, it is also obvious to the extent that it was not before, the applicants will indeed hail from all points of the globe. On top of that, those who are qualified to respond and who missed it last time are unlikely to sit the bid out this time around.

German Parliament Building

It remains unclear of course, what the response of the finalists to the first bid will be. Including, theoretically,legal action forpotential damages. BfArM was, technically, held at fault by the court. This means that all the companies who made it to the previous “final round” have now suffered at a minimum, an expensive time delay where other outlays of cash were also required. That includes the leasing and retrofitting of high security real estate, but of course,is not limited to the same. If any of these firms do not obtain the bid in the second go around, will they sue?

At press time, there were no cannabis industry companies willing to comment on the matter as this is still a “secret” process – even if it now apparently has come to an end for this round.

Who Is Likely To Be a Major Contender This Time?

German firms who were sleeping the last time this opportunity arose (or brushed it off as a “stigmatized” opportunity) are not likely to sit the second tender offer out. Especially given advancements in legalization if not the industry both in Europe and globally in the period of time the bid has stalled.

Add to that Canadians, Dutch, Israeli and Uruguayan firms, and the mix of applicants this time is likely to be the who’s who of the global cannabis industry. Americans are still not qualified to participate (with experience at least). Why? No federal reform.Domestic cannabis will not be harvested in Germany until at least 2020. 

It is also likely to be even more expensive. Not to mention require easy and quick access to European-based or at least easily confirmable pools of cash. It is conceivable that successful applications this time around will not only have to prove that they have a track record in a federally legal jurisdiction but will also have to be able to quickly access as much as 100 million euros. And there are not many cannabis companies, yet, who can do that, outside of the presumed top 10 finalists to the bid.

Will Bid Respondents Be Limited To “Just” the Cannabis Industry?

It is, however, absolutely possible that this time around the bid could include a more established pharmaceutical player or two who realizes that the medical market here has absolutely proved itself. Within the space of a year, according to the most recent “market report” on the industry (from the perspective of one of the country’s largest statutory insurance companies – Techniker Krankenkasse), there are now just over 15,000 patients.

Cannabis, in other words, is no longer an “orphan drug.” It is also still, however, considered a narcotic. For that reason, seasoned European and German players may upset the market even more with an entry via this tender bid.

Here is what is certain for now. Domestic cannabis will not be harvested in Germany until at least 2020. And until that time, it will be a growing, but import-based market.

extractiongraphic

The Four Pillars of Cannabis Processing

By Christian Sweeney, Christian Sweeney
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extractiongraphic

Cannabis extraction has been used as a broad term for what can best be described as cannabis processing. A well-thought-out cannabis process goes far beyond just extraction, largely overlapping with cultivation on the front-end and product development on the back-end1. With this in mind, four pillars emerge as crucial capabilities for developing a cannabis process: Cultivation, Extraction, Analytics and Biochemistry.

The purpose and value of each pillar on their own is clear, but it is only when combined that each pillar can be optimized to provide their full capacities in a well-designed process. As such, it is best to define the goals of each pillar alone, and then explain how they synergize with each other.

At the intersection of each pillar, specific technology platforms exist that can effectively drive an innovation and discovery cycle towards the development of ideal products.Cultivation is the foundation of any horticultural process, including cannabis production. Whether the goal be to convert pigments, flavors or bioactive compounds into a usable form, a natural process should only utilize what is provided by the raw material, in this case cannabis flower. That means cultivation offers a molecular feedstock for our process, and depending on our end goals there are many requirements we may consider. These requirements start as simply as mass yield. Various metrics that can be used here include mass yield per square foot or per light. Taken further, this yield may be expressed based not only on mass, but the cannabinoid content of the plants grown. This could give rise to a metric like CBD or THC yield per square foot and may be more representative of a successful grow. Furthermore, as scientists work to learn more about how individual cannabinoids and their combinations interact with the human body, cultivators will prioritize identifying cultivars that provide unique ratios of cannabinoids and other bioactive compounds consistently. Research into the synergistic effect of terpenes with cannabinoids suggests that terpene content should be another goal of cultivation2. Finally, and most importantly, it is crucial that cultivation provide clean and safe materials downstream. This means cannabis flower free of pesticides, microbial growth, heavy metals and other contaminants.

Extraction is best described as the conversion of target molecules in cannabis raw material to a usable form. Which molecules those are depends on the goals of your product. This ranges from an extract containing only a pure, isolated cannabinoid like CBD, to an extract containing more than 100 cannabinoids and terpenes in a predictable ratio. There are countless approaches to take in terms of equipment and process optimization in this space so it is paramount to identify which is the best fit for the end-product1. While each extraction process has unique pros and cons, the tunability of supercritical carbon dioxide provides a flexibility in extraction capabilities unlike any other method. This allows the operator to use a single extractor to create extracts that meet the needs of various product applications.

Analytics provide a feedback loop at every stage of cannabis production. Analytics may include gas chromatography methods for terpene content3 or liquid chromatography methods for cannabinoids 3, 4, 5. Analytical methods should be specific, precise and accurate. In an ideal world, they can identify the compounds and their concentrations in a cannabis product. Analytics are a pillar of their own due simply to the efforts required to ensure the quality and reliability of results provided as well as ongoing optimization of methods to provide more sensitive and useful results. That said, analytics are only truly harnessed when paired with the other three pillars.

extractiongraphic
Figure 1: When harnessed together the pillars of cannabis processing provide platforms of research and investigation that drive the development of world class products.

Biochemistry can be split into two primary focuses. Plant biochemistry focuses back towards cultivation and enables a cannabis scientist to understand the complicated pathways that give rise to unique ratios of bioactive molecules in the plant. Human biochemistry centers on how those bioactive molecules interact with the human endocannabinoid system, as well as how different routes of administration may affect the pharmacokinetic delivery of those active molecules.

Each of the pillars require technical expertise and resources to build, but once established they can be a source of constant innovation. Fig. 1 above shows how each of these pillars are connected. At the intersection of each pillar, specific technology platforms exist that can effectively drive an innovation and discovery cycle towards the development of ideal products.

For example, at the intersection of analytics and cultivation I can develop raw material specifications. This sorely needed quality measure could ensure consistencies in things like cannabinoid content and terpene profiles, more critically they can ensure that the raw material to be processed is free of contamination. Additionally, analytics can provide feedback as I adjust variables in my extraction process resulting in optimized methods. Without analytics I am forced to use very rudimentary methods, such as mass yield, to monitor my process. Mass alone tells me how much crude oil is extracted, but says nothing about the purity or efficiency of my extraction process. By applying plant biochemistry to my cultivation through the use of analytics I could start hunting for specific phenotypes within cultivars that provide elevated levels of specific cannabinoids like CBC or THCV. Taken further, technologies like tissue culturing could rapidly iterate this hunting process6. Certainly, one of the most compelling aspects of cannabinoid therapeutics is the ability to harness the unique polypharmacology of various cannabis cultivars where multiple bioactive compounds are acting on multiple targets7. To eschew the more traditional “silver bullet” pharmaceutical approach a firm understanding of both human and plant biochemistry tied directly to well characterized and consistently processed extracts is required. When all of these pillars are joined effectively we can fully characterize our unique cannabis raw material with targeted cannabinoid and terpene ratios, optimize an extraction process to ensure no loss of desirable bioactive compounds, compare our extracted product back to its source and ensure we are delivering a safe, consistent, “nature identical” extract to use in products with predictable efficacies.

Using these tools, we can confidently set about the task of processing safe, reliable and well characterized cannabis extracts for the development of world class products.


[1] Sweeney, C. “Goal-Oriented Extraction Processes.” Cannabis Science and Technology, vol 1, 2018, pp 54-57.

[2] Russo, E. B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects.” British Journal of Pharmacology, vol. 163, no. 7, 2011, pp. 1344–1364.

[3] Giese, Matthew W., et al. “Method for the Analysis of Cannabinoids and Terpenes in Cannabis.” Journal of AOAC International, vol. 98, no. 6, 2015, pp. 1503–1522.

[4] Gul W., et al. “Determination of 11 Cannabinoids in Biomass and Extracts of Different Varieties of Cannabis Using high-Performance Liquid Chromatography.” Journal of AOAC International, vol. 98, 2015, pp. 1523-1528.

[5] Mudge, E. M., et al. “Leaner and Greener Analysis of Cannabinoids.” Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, vol. 409, 2017, pp. 3153-3163.

[6] Biros, A. G., Jones, H. “Applications for Tissue Culture in Cannabis Growing: Part 1.” Cannabis Industry Journal, 13 Apr. 2017, www.cannabisindustryjournal.com/feature_article/applications-for-tissue-culture-in-cannabis-growing-part-1/.

[7] Brodie, James S., et al. “Polypharmacology Shakes Hands with Complex Aetiopathology.” Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, vol. 36, no. 12, 2015, pp. 802–821.

Epidiolex-GW

Epidiolex Gives GW Pharmaceuticals Boost In Global Markets

By Marguerite Arnold, Marguerite Arnold
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Epidiolex-GW

GW Pharmaceuticals scored a significant victory in the United States with its cannabis-based epilepsy drug Epidiolex in mid-April. The company received approval from a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel for its use in treating two forms of drug-resistant epilepsy.

The drug was granted “orphan drug” status in the EU a year ago.Will this be enough to move the conversation forward about cannabis as medicine in the United States? 

So what does the future hold for this drug and a company, which has visited this space before? Remember Sativex?. The Company now faces real competition from a raft of companies moving into this space from just about everywhere – both from Canada and of course Europe itself.

The FDA Might be on the Verge of Approving its First Cannabis-Based Drug

It is not like this is either the FDA’s or GW Pharma’s first discussion about the medical efficacy of cannabinoids. Sativex, a mouth spray containing THC, was never granted approval in the United States for the treatment of MS – although it received such approvals in Europe.

Epidiolex-GWIf the FDA approves Epidiolex (made from CBD), it will be the first cannabinoid-based drug approved in the United States by the federal agency.

Will this be enough to move the conversation forward about cannabis as medicine in the United States? What will happen in the EU?

A Divergent and Highly Different Drug Market

Will the FDA finally approve at least one form of a CBD-based drug? The chances are that Epidiolex might finally move the agency to approve. However,this is not, despite the hype that the company has made in the press about this, the first cannabinoid-based drug to be approved in the United States. It might be, however, the first drug based on actual natural cannabinoids rather than synthetic ones that it approves for some purpose. Both Cesamet and Dronabinol (or Marinol) are synthetic cannabinoid drugs approved for several conditions from chronic pain caused by chemo to Parkinson’s.

GW logo-2But those who are hoping that this drug approval might open the floodgates at the FDA for startersshould take a pew. While Sativex was not approved in the United States, it was made available after 2011 for MS patients, particularly in Germany, which has the highest rate of MS of any European country. The problem? It was just too expensive for most people to afford – since their insurance would not cover it. And doctors were even more resistant to prescribing than they are now. So even getting a prescription was almost impossible.

That conversation was different in Europe post-2013, and there were people who managed to get a doctor to write a prescription not to mention afford the eye-watering prices sans insurance coverage.

That said, given the choice between whole plant meds, most people still prefer bud cannabis to the spray variety. And in Europe right now, that is what is on the table.

What Will This Mean in the US vs Europe?

In the US, the first thing that FDA approval will mean is drug sales for only one branded drug. That is the cynicism at play here. Furthermore, it also neatly dodges the THC issue.

In Europe? Particularly Germany? This development is not likely to make much of a dent. GW is competing with every single Canadian producer with flower-based oil – and on both the medical and non-medical CBD front. That also now includes local producers. Further, this is a market which prizes genericized drugs over name brands. In France, the distribution of Sativex was held up, primarily because of the row over cost. And who would pay.

It is also unlikely that the FDA approval in the United States will change the discussion either in the US on a federal level – or in Europe.

The most important place this news already made a dent? GW Pharma’s stock price – at least temporarily. It is also a spot of good news the company really needs. In February, the company’s GWP42006 drug designed for focal seizures (drug resistant epilepsy) failed to outperform placebo results and wiped 5% off the company’s stock.

HACCP

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) for the Cannabis Industry: Part 3

By Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Kathy Knutson, Ph.D.
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HACCP

Parts One and Two in this series have defined Good Manufacturing Practices, introduced Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and explained the first HACCP step of hazard analysis. A food safety team will typically work from a flow diagram to identify biological, chemical or physical hazards at each step of processing and packaging. Once the hazard is identified, the severity and probability are debated. Hazards with severe consequences or high probability are carried through the HACCP plan as Critical Control Points (CCPs).

Critical Control Points definedHACCP is a do-it-yourself project.

Where exactly will the hazard be controlled? CCPs are embedded within certain steps in processing and packaging where the parameters, like temperature, must be met to ensure food safety. Failure at a CCP is called a deviation from the HACCP plan. The food safety team identifies where manufacturing problems could occur that would result in a product that could cause illness or injury. Not every step is a CCP! For example, I worked with a client that had several locations for filters of a liquid stream. The filters removed food particles, suspended particulates and potentially metal. We went through a virtual exercise of removing each filter one-by-one and talking through the result on controlling the potential hazard of metal. We agreed that failure of the final filter was the CCP for catching metal, but not the other filters. It was not necessary to label each filter as a CCP, because every CCP requires monitoring and verification.

Identification of a CCP starts more documentation, documentation, documentation.

Do you wish you had more reports to write, more forms to fill out, more data to review? No. Nobody wants more work. When a CCP is identified, there is more work to do. This just makes sense. If a CCP is controlling a hazard, you want to know that the control is working. Before I launch into monitoring, I digress to validation.

CCP validationThis is where someone says, “We have always done it this way, and we have never had a problem.”

You want to know if a critical step will actually control a hazard. Will the mesh of a filter trap metal? Will the baking temperature kill pathogens? Will the level of acid stop the growth of pathogens? The US had a major peanut butter recall by Peanut Corporation of America. There were 714 Salmonella cases (individuals) across 46 states from consumption of the contaminated peanut butter. Imagine raw peanuts going into a roaster, coming out as roasted peanuts and being ground into butter. Despite the quality parameters of the peanut butter being acceptable for color and flavor, the roasting process was not validated, and Salmonella survived. Baking of pies, pasteurization of juice and canning all rely on validated cook processes for time and temperature. Validation is the scientific, technical information proving the CCP will control the hazard. Without validation, your final product may be hazardous, just like the peanut butter. This is where someone says, “We have always done it this way, and we have never had a problem.” Maybe, but you still must prove safety with validation.

The hazard analysis drives your decisions.

Starting with the identification of a hazard that requires a CCP, a company will focus on the control of the hazard. A CCP may have one or more than one parameter for control. Parameters include time, temperature, belt speed, air flow, bed depth, product flow, concentration and pH. That was not an exhaustive list, and your company may have other critical parameters. HACCP is a do-it-yourself project. Every facility is unique to its employees, equipment, ingredients and final product. The food safety team must digest all the variables related to food safety and write a HACCP plan that will control all the hazards and make a safe product.

Meeting critical limits at CCPs ensures food safety

The HACCP plan details the parameters and values required for food safety at each CCP.The HACCP plan identifies the minimum or maximum value for each parameter required for food safety. A value is just a number. Imagine a dreadful day; there are problems in production. Maybe equipment stalls and product sits. Maybe the electricity flickers and oven temperature drops. Maybe a culture in fermentation isn’t active. Poop happens. What are the values that are absolutely required for the product to be safe? They are often called critical limits. This is the difference between destroying product and selling product. The HACCP plan details the parameters and values required for food safety at each CCP. In production, the operating limits may be different based on quality characteristics or equipment performance, but the product will be safe when critical limits are met. How do you know critical limits are met?

CCPs must be monitored

Every CCP is monitored. Common tools for monitoring are thermometers, timers, flow rate meters, pH probes, and measuring of concentration. Most quality managers want production line monitoring to be automated and continuous. If samples are taken and measured at some frequency, technicians must be trained on the sampling technique, frequency, procedure for measurement and recording of data. The values from monitoring will be compared to critical limits. If the value does not reach the critical limit, the process is out of control and food safety may be compromised. The line operator or technician should be trained to know if the line can be stopped and how to segregate product under question. Depending on the hazard, the product will be evaluated for safety, rerun, released or disposed. When the process is out of control, it is called a deviation from the HACCP plan.

A deviation initiates corrective action and documentation associated with the deviation. You can google examples of corrective action forms; there is no one form required. Basically, the line operator, technician or supervisor starts the paperwork by recording everything about the deviation, evaluation of the product, fate of the product, root cause investigation, and what was done to ensure the problem will not happen again. A supervisor or manager reviews and signs off on the corrective action. The corrective action form and associated documentation should be signed off before the product is released. Sign off is an example of verification. Verification will be discussed in more detail in a future article.

My thoughts on GMPs and HACCP were shared in a webinar on May 2nd hosted by CIJ and NEHA. Please comment on this blog post below. I love feedback!

extraction equipment

The Ever-Growing Importance of Protecting Cannabis Extraction Innovations

By Alison J. Baldwin, Alison J. Baldwin, Brittany R. Butler, Ph.D., Brittany R. Butler, Ph.D., Nicole E. Grimm, Nicole E. Grimm
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extraction equipment

With legalization of cannabis for medicinal and adult use occurring rapidly at the state level, the industry is seeing a sharp increase in innovative technologies, particularly in the area of cannabis extraction. Companies are developing novel extraction methods that are capable of not only separating and recovering high yields of specific cannabinoids, but also removing harmful chemicals (such as pesticides) from the concentrate. While some extraction methods utilize solvents, such as hydrocarbons, the industry is starting to see a shift to completely non-solvent based techniques or environmentally friendly solvents that rely on, for example, CO2, heat and pressure to create a concentrate. The resulting cannabis concentrate can then be consumed directly, or infused in edibles, vape pens, topicals and other non-plant based consumption products. With companies continually seeking to improve existing extraction equipment, methods and products, it is critical for companies working in this area to secure their niche in the industry by protecting their intellectual property (IP).

extraction equipment
Extraction can be an effective form of remediating contaminated cannabis

Comprehensive IP protection for a business can include obtaining patents for innovations, trademarks to establish brand protection of goods and services, copyrights to protect logos and original works, trade dress to protect product packaging, as well as a combination of trade secret and confidentiality agreements to protect proprietary information and company “know-how” from leaking into the hands of competitors. IP protection in the cannabis space presents unique challenges due to conflicting state and federal law, but for the most part is available to cannabis companies like any other company.

Federal trademark protection is currently one of the biggest challenges facing cannabis companies in the United States. A trademark or service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that distinguishes the source of goods or services of one company from another company. Registering a mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides companies with nationwide protection against another company operating in the same space from also using the mark.

As many in the industry have come to discover, the USPTO currently will not grant a trademark or service mark on cannabis goods or services. According to the USPTO, since cannabis is illegal federally, marks on cannabis goods and services cannot satisfy the lawful use in commerce requirement of the Lanham Act, the statute governing federal trademark rights. Extraction companies that only manufacture cannabis-specific equipment or use cannabis-exclusive processes will likely be unable to obtain a federal trademark registration and will need to rely on state trademark registration, which provides protection only at the state-level. However, extractors may be able to obtain a federal trademark on their extraction machines and processes that can legitimately be applied to non-cannabis plants. Likewise, companies that sell cannabis-infused edibles may be able to obtain a federal trademark on a mark for non-cannabis containing edibles if that company has such a product line.

Some extraction companies may benefit from keeping their innovations a trade secretSince the USPTO will not grant marks on cannabis goods and services, a common misconception in the industry is that the USPTO will also not grant patents on cannabis inventions. But, in fact, the USPTO will grant patents on a seemingly endless range of new and nonobvious cannabis inventions, including the plant itself. (For more information on how breeders can patent their strains, see Alison J. Baldwin et al., Protecting Cannabis – Are Plant Patents Cool Now? Snippets, Vol. 15, Issue 4, Fall 2017, at 6). Unlike the Lanham Act, the patent statute does not prohibit illegal activity and states at 35 U.S.C. § 101 that a patent may be obtained for “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.”

For inventions related to extraction equipment, extraction processes, infused products and even methods of treatment with concentrated formulations, utility patents are available to companies. Utility patents offer broad protection because all aspects related to cannabis extraction could potentially be described and claimed in the same patent. Indeed, there are already a number of granted patents and published patent applications related to cannabis extraction. Recently, U.S. Patent No. 9,730,911 (the ‘911 patent), entitled “Cannabis extracts and methods of preparing and using same” that granted to United Cannabis Corp. covers various liquid cannabinoid formulations containing very high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), THCa and cannabidiolic acid, THC and CBD, and CBD, cannabinol (CBN), and THC. For example, claim 1 of the ‘911 patent recites:

A liquid cannabinoid formulation, wherein at least 95% of the total cannabinoids is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa).Properly crafted non-disclosure agreements can help further ensure that trade secrets remain a secret indefinitely.

Although the ‘911 patent only covers the formulations, United Cannabis Corp. has filed a continuation application that published as US2017/0360745 on methods for relieving symptoms associated with a variety of illnesses by administering one or more of the cannabinoid formulations claimed in the ‘911 patent. This continuation application contains the exact same information as the ‘911 patent and is an example of how the same information can be used to seek complete protection of an invention via multiple patents.

An example of a patent application directed to solvent-based extraction methods and equipment is found in US20130079531, entitled “Process for the Rapid Extraction of Active Ingredients from Herbal Materials.” Claim 1 of the originally filed application recites:

A method for the extraction of active ingredients from herbal material comprising: (i) introducing the herbal material to a non-polar or mildly polar solvent at or below a temperature of 10 degrees centigrade and (ii) rapidly separating the herbal material from the solvent after a latency period not to exceed 15 minutes.

Claim 12, covered any equipment designed to utilize the process defined in claim 1.

Although now abandoned, the claims of this application were not necessarily limited to cannabis, as the claims were directed to extracting active ingredients from “herbal materials.”

Other patents involve non-toxic extraction methods utilizing CO2, such as Bionorica Ethics GMBH’s U.S. Patent No. 8,895,078, entitled “Method for producing an extract from cannabis plant matter, containing a tetrahydrocannabinol and a cannabidiol and cannabis extracts.” This patent covers processes for producing cannabidiol from a primary extract from industrial hemp plant material.

There have also been patents granted to cannabis-infused products, such as U.S. Patent No. 9,888,703, entitled “Method for making coffee products containing cannabis ingredients.” Claim 1 of this patent recites:

A coffee pod consisting essentially of carbon dioxide extracted THC oil from cannabis, coffee beans and maltodextrin.

Despite the USPTO’s willingness to grant cannabis patents, there is an open question currently regarding whether they can be enforced in a federal court (the only courts that have jurisdiction to hear patent cases). However, since utility patents have a 20-year term, extractors are still wise to seek patent protection of the innovations now.

Another consideration in seeking patent protection for novel extraction methods and formulations is that the information becomes public knowledge once the patent application publishes. As this space becomes increasingly crowded, the ability to obtain broader patents will decline. Therefore, some extraction companies may benefit from keeping their innovations a trade secret, which means that the secret is not known to the public, properly maintained and creates economic value by way of being a secret. Properly crafted non-disclosure agreements can help further ensure that trade secrets remain a secret indefinitely.

Regardless of the IP strategy extractors choose, IP protection should be a primary consideration for companies in the cannabis industry to ensure the strongest protection possible both now and in the future.

Soapbox

Clear vs. Pure: How Fallacies and Ignorance of Extraction Misrepresent the Cannabis Flower

By Dr. Markus Roggen
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Demand for cannabis extracts, in particular vaping products, is at an all-time high. People want good oil, and they want to know something about the quality of it. It is therefore time to take a step back and consider the process from plant to cartridge. What is the current industry standard for cannabis extraction, what constitutes quality and where might we need to make some adjustments?

Right now, “clear” oil is hot. Customers have been led to believe that a pale gold extract is synonymous with the best possible cannabis concentrate, which is not necessarily the case. Producing a 95% pure THC extract with a translucent appearance is neither a great scientific feat nor a good representation of the whole cannabis flower. Moreover, it runs counter to the current trend of all-natural, non-processed foods and wellness products.

“My carrots are organic and fresh from the farmers market, my drink has no artificial sweeteners and my honey is raw, but my cannabis oil has undergone a dozen steps to look clear and still contains butane.”Cannabis is a fascinating plant. It is the basis of our livelihood, but more importantly, it enhances the quality of life for patients. The cannabis plant offers a plethora of medicinally interesting compounds. THC, CBD and terpenes are the most popular, but there are so many more. As of the most recent count, there are 146 known cannabinoids1. Cannabinoids are a group of structurally similar molecules2, including THC and CBD, many of which have shown biological activity3.

Then there are terpenes. These are the smaller molecules that give cannabis its distinct smell and flavor, over 200 of which have been identified in cannabis4. But wait, there’s more. The cannabis plant also produces countless other metabolites: flavonoids, alkaloids, phenols and amides5. All these components mixed together give the often-cited entourage effect6,7.

Current industry standards for cannabis oil extraction and purification stand in marked contrast to the complexity of the plant’s components. Due to an unsophisticated understanding of the extraction process and its underlying chemistry, cannabis oil manufacturers frequently produce oil of low quality with high levels of contamination. This necessitates further purifications and clean up steps that remove such contaminants unfortunately along with beneficial minor plant compounds. If one purifies an extract to a clear THC oil, one cannot also offer the full spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes and other components. Additionally, claiming purities around 95% THC and being proud of it, makes any self-respecting organic chemist cringe8.

Precise control of extraction conditions leads to variable, customized concentrates. THC-A crumble, terpene-rich vape oil, THC sap (from left to right).

The labor-intensive, multi-step extraction process is also contrary to “the clean-label food trend”, which “has gone fully mainstream”9. Exposing the cannabis flower and oil to at least half a dozen processing steps violates consumer’s desire for clean medicine. Furthermore, the current practice of calling supercritical-CO2-extracted oils solvent-less violates basic scientific principles. Firstly, CO2 is used as a solvent, and secondly, if ethanol is used to winterize10, this would introduce another solvent to the cannabis oil.

We should reconsider our current extraction practices. We can offer cannabis extracts that are free of harmful solvents and pesticides, give a better, if not full, representation of the cannabis plant and meet the patients’ desire for clean medicine. Realizing extracts as the growth-driver they are11 will make us use better, fresher starting materials12. Understanding the underlying science and learning about the extraction processes will allow us to fine-tune the process to the point that we target extract customized cannabis concentrates13. Those, in turn, will not require additional multi-step purification processes, that destroys the basis of the entourage effect.

The cannabis industry needs to invest and educate. Better extracts are the result of knowledgeable, skilled people using precise instruments. Backroom extraction with a PVC pipe and a lighter should be horror stories of the past. And only when the patient knows how their medicine is made can they make educated choices. Through knowledge, patients will understand why quality has its price.

In short, over-processing to make clear oil violates both the plant’s complexity and consumers’ desires. Let us strive for pure extracts, not clear. Our patients deserve it.


[1] Prof. Meiri; lecture at MedCann 2017

[2] ElSohly, Slade, Life Sciences 2005, 539

[3] Whiting, et. al., JAMA. 2015, 2456

[4] Andre, Hausman, Guerriero, Frontiers in Plant Science 2016, 19

[5] Hazekamp, et. al., Chemistry of Cannabis Chapter 3.24; 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

[6] Ben-Shabat, et al.; Eur J Pharmacol. 1998, 23

[7] Mechoulam, et al.; Nat Prod Rep. 1999, 131

[8] Medical and Research Grade chemicals are generally of purities exceeding 99.9%

[9] Bomgardner, Chemical & Engineering News 2017, 20

[10] Winterization is the industry term for what is correctly referred to as precipitation.

[11] Year-over changes to market shares in Colorado 2015 to 2016: Concentrates 15% to 23%; Flower 65% to 57%, BDS Analytics, Marijuana Market Executive Report, 2017

[12] Further reading about the whole extraction process: B. Grauerholz, M. Roggen; Terpene and Testing Magazine, July/Aug. 2017

[13] Further reading about optimizing CO2 extraction: M. Roggen; Terpene and Testing Magazine, May/June 2017, 35

extraction equipment

Implementing a HACCP Plan in Cannabis Processing

By Aaron G. Biros, Aaron G. Biros
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extraction equipment

Hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) is a robust management system that identifies and addresses any risk to safety throughout production. Originally designed for food safety through the entire supply chain, the risk assessment scheme can ensure extra steps are taken to prevent contamination.

The FDA as well as the Food Safety and Inspection Service currently require HACCP plans in a variety of food markets, including high-risk foods like poultry that are particularly susceptible to pathogenic contamination. As California and other states develop and implement regulations with rigorous safety requirements, cannabis cultivators, extractors and infused product manufacturers can look to HACCP for guidance on bolstering their quality controls. Wikipedia actually has a very helpful summary of the terms referenced and discussed here.

Dr. Markus Roggen, vice president of extraction

The HACCP system consists of six steps, the first of which being a hazard analysis. For Dr. Markus Roggen, vice president of extraction at Outco, a medical cannabis producer in Southern California, one of their hazard analyses takes place at the drying and curing stage. “When we get our flower from harvest, we have to think about the drying and curing process, where mold and bacteria can spoil our harvest,” says Dr. Roggen. “That is the hazard we have to deal with.” So for Dr. Roggen and his team, the hazard they identified is the potential for mold and bacteria growth during the drying and curing process.

The next step in the HACCP system is to identify a critical control point. “Correct drying of the flower will prevent any contamination from mold or bacteria, which is a control point identified,” says Dr. Roggen. “We also have to prevent contamination from the staff; it has to be the correct environment for the process.” That might include things like wearing gloves, protective clothing and hand washing. Once a control point is identified, the third step in the process is to develop a critical limit for those control points.

A critical limit for any given control point could be a maximum or minimum threshold before contamination is possible, reducing the hazard’s risk. “When we establish the critical limit, we know that water activity below 0.65 will prevent any mold growth so that is our critical limit, we have to reach that number,” says Dr. Roggen. The fourth step is monitoring critical control points. For food manufacturers and processors, they are required to identify how they monitor those control points in a written HACCP plan. For Dr. Roggen’s team, this means using a water activity meter. “If we establish the critical control point monitoring, water activity is taken throughout the drying process, as well as before and after the cure,” says Dr. Roggen. “As long as we get to that number quickly and stay below that number, we can control that point and prevent mold and bacteria growth.”

One of the cultivation facilities at Outco

When monitoring is established and if the critical limit is ever exceeded, there needs to be a corrective action, which is the fifth step in a HACCP plan. In Dr. Roggen’s case, that would mean they need a corrective action ready for when water activity goes above 0.65. “If we don’t have the right water activity, we just continue drying, so this example is pretty simple,” says Dr. Roggen. “Normal harvest is 7 days drying, if it is not dry enough, we take longer to prevent mold or bacteria growth.”

The sixth step is establishing procedures to ensure the whole system works. In food safety, this often means requiring process validation. “We have to double check that our procedure and protocols work,” says Dr. Roggen. “Checking for water activity is only a passive way of testing it, so we send our material to an outside testing lab to check for mold or bacteria so that if our protocols don’t work, we can catch those problems in the data and correct them.” They introduced weekly meetings where the extraction and cultivation teams get together to discuss the processes. Dr. Roggen says those meetings have been one of the most effective tools in the entire system.

Dr. Roggen’s team identified worker safety as a potential hazard

The final step in the process is to keep records. This can be as simple as keeping a written HACCP plan on hand, but should include keeping data logs and documenting procedures throughout production. For Dr. Roggen’s team, they log drying times, product weight and lab tests for every batch. Using all of those steps, Dr. Roggen and his team might continue to update their HACCP plans when they encounter a newly identified hazard. While this example is simplistic, the conceptual framework of a HACCP plan can help detect and solve much more complex problems. For another example, Dr. Roggen takes us into his extraction process.

Dr. Roggen’s team, on the extraction side of the business, uses a HACCP plan not just for preventing contamination, but for protecting worker safety as well. “We are always thinking about making the best product, but I have to look out for my team,” says Dr. Roggen. “The health risk to staff in extraction processes is absolutely a hazard.” They use carbon dioxide to extract oil, which carries a good deal of risks as well. “So when we look at our critical control points we need to regularly maintain and clean the extractor and we schedule for that,” says Dr. Roggen.

Gloves, protective clothing, eyewear and respirators are required for workers in the extraction process.

“My team needs respirators, protective clothing, eyewear and gloves to prevent contamination of material, but also to protect the worker from solvents, machine oil and CO2 in the room.” That health risk means they try and stay under legal limits set by the government, which is a critical limit of 3,000 ppm of carbon dioxide in the environment. “We monitor the CO2 levels with our instruments and that is particularly important whenever the extractor is opened.” Other than when it is being opened, Dr. Roggen, notes, the extractor stays locked, which is an important worker safety protocol.

The obvious corrective action for them is to have workers leave the room whenever carbon dioxide levels exceed that critical limit. “We just wait until the levels are back to normal and then continue operation,” says Dr. Roggen. “We updated our ventilation system, but if it still happens they leave the room.” They utilize a sort of double check here- the buddy system. “I took these rules from the chemistry lab; we always have two operators working on the machine on the same time, never anyone working alone.” That buddy check also requires they check each other for protective gear. “Just like in rock climbing or mountain biking, it is important to make sure your partner is safe.” He says they don’t keep records for employees wearing protective gear, but they do have an incident report system. “If any sort of incident takes place, we look at what happened, how could we have prevented it and what we could change,” says Dr. Roggen.

He says they have been utilizing some of these principles for a while; it just wasn’t until recently that they started thinking in terms of the HACCP conceptual framework. While some of those steps in the process seem obvious, and it is very likely that many cannabis processors already utilize them in their standard operating procedures and quality controls, utilizing the HACCP scheme can help provide structure and additional safeguards in production.