Infusion vs Extraction

by: Preston Whitfield @ Source Hemp

What is Hemp?

Hemp as defined by law is the Cannabis plant with less than .3% THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the compound found in the cannabis plant that is attributed to the ‘high’ from smoking or ingesting marijuana. THC along with CBD are called Cannabinoids, which are chemicals found in the cannabis plant that exhibit varied effects. There are more than 100 known cannabinoids that have been identified.  Hemp has historically been known for its Industrial applications such as rope, canvas, textiles, paper and hemp seed foods. However, since the resurfacing of hemp in the US, the cannabinoid profile of the plant has come into focus and has played a major role in the reintroduction and popularization of Hemp in the US and now globally. 

Prior to the US re-emergence of hemp, marijuana had become legal in many states across the country and with that came breeding programs to create different varieties to accentuate particular aspects of the plant such as height, flowering times, yields and cannabinoid and terpene profiles. Armed with this experience and knowledge from the marijuana industry, with the legalization of hemp these same principles were applied to focus on the increased level of cannabinoids, terpenes and growth habitat while keeping the THC below 0.3%. Cannabidiol or CBD has become the most popular hemp cannabinoid because it has historically been the most abundant cannabinoid in Hemp. CBD has been known to help with reducing tremors associated with ailments such as Epilepsy and Parkinson’s and most notably reducing pain and inflammation. Though CBD is the most popular today, with increased science and research, we can look forward to the understanding of the benefits of the other 100+ cannabinoids and advancements within the Hemp Industry

    These cannabinoids have effects in humans (and all mammals) because we all have an Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is a biological system that is composed of cannabinoid receptors (CBRs) found throughout the central and peripheral nervous system, digestive systems and Immune system. Within the ECS, our bodies create their own cannabinoids called Endocannabinoids which are endogenous lipid-based neurotransmitters that bind to the cannabinoid receptors. The purpose of the ECS is to help maintain homeostasis among all the systems in our body. Homeostasis is the state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions that create optimal functioning for the organism and includes many variables, such as body temperature and fluid balance, being kept within certain pre-set limits. We can think of the ECS as being the regulator or thermostat for our bodies. Just as our temperature cannot be too hot or cold or have too much or too little fluids in our body, the ECS is there to maintain the narrow parameters that each system needs to operate efficiently. Though our bodies produce endocannabinoids, because of the increased chemical toxins in our environment and increased processed foods in our diet our ECS has been taxed by working harder to keep our bodies regulated due to the exposure of these unnatural conditions. It has been said that because of these two factors that most humans are considered Cannabinoid-deficient.

There are a few plants that produce cannabinoids, known as Phyto-cannabinoids, but none more prolific than the Cannabis plant. Phyto-cannabinoids from the cannabis plant can help supplement our Endocannabinoids and provide some relief to the heavy burdens of chemical toxins that have taxed our endocannabinoid system. These cannabinoids on the cannabis plant are found mostly in the resinous flower. 

In addition to cannabinoids, another valuable component of the cannabis plant are its Terpenes. Terpenes are the aromatic oils that give each variety of cannabis its unique fragrance and flavor. There are over 100 different terpenes that have been identified in cannabis, though each variety will have different combinations of these creating its own unique smell and flavor profile. Not only does terpenes give fragrance and flavor but they also work synergistically with cannabinoids to create differentiating effects. As have been found with Essential Oils, some terpenes, like those in lavender may promote relaxation while others like citrus may promote an uplifting and energizing effect.  

Beyond cannabinoids and terpenes, cannabis has a multitude of other constituents that create their unique effects. One of these are Polyphenols, which are micronutrients that are packed with antioxidants that have been known to help with digestive issues, weight management, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease and cardiovascular disease. Another is Flavonoids which are a group of plant metabolites thought to provide health benefits through cell signaling pathways and antioxidant effects. Fatty Acids are also found in cannabis and have important roles in signal-transduction pathways, cellular fuel sources, the composition of hormones and lipids, the modification of proteins and energy storage within adipose tissue (specialized fat cells) in the form of triacylglycerols. These are some of the top beneficial elements found in cannabis, however there are other phytonutrients that are not listed here and are still being discovered. 

So how do we get the cannabinoids from the plant into our body? Consume it! Yes, you can eat the hemp flowers and get some benefits, however people are mostly using ingestible, topical or inhalable products. Let us explore what these products are.  Some examples of ingestible include food-based products, capsules or tinctures. Food-based products include food, snacks or beverages of which the most common being drinks, gummies, chocolates, butter, coconut oil and any products that can be made with these ingredients.  Tinctures are a liquid based product containing an extracted hemp oil with a carrier oil and usually comes in a 1- or 3-ounce bottle with a pipette to administer a calculated dosage. Topicals are products that are applied directly to the skin which have shown success in helping with localized pain related to Arthritis, bruising and muscle related pains. Topicals have also been known to help with skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, bug bites, skin rashes and minor burns including sun burn.  Examples of topical applications include lotion, massage/body oils, lip balms and ointments such as salves and balms. Inhalation has been adopted from the marijuana industry and include products such as raw flower (looks and smells like marijuana), extracted oils for vaporizing and concentrates for dabbing. Inhalation offers fast relief but in contrast has a negative connotation and potential negative health impacts due to smoke inhalation.    

When it comes to Cannabinoid Hemp Products, understanding how these products are made are just as important as the ingredients that they are made from. Each product will have a list of ingredients, one of those which will be a Hemp Oil that will provide the CBD and/or other cannabinoids. Understanding how this oil was derived, extracted, refined and how it is classified will give you the knowledge of what is in the product. You may hear the terms such as Isolate, Broad Spectrum, Full Spectrum and Whole Plant, so let us discover what is meant by these terms. While many companies have adopted a similar terminology, the Industry has not created true definitions for these terms, so we must investigate and understand what process is being used when referring to different products. 

Whole Plant- is the term used when referring to a Cannabinoid Hemp oil that has all the constituents that are naturally occurring in the plant including cannabinoids, terpenes, polyphenols, lipids, fats, waxes, chlorophyll and other phytonutrients. This is as close to an exact replica of the plant in an oil form.  This oil in its raw form will have a pungent cannabis smell and a dark green color. Lipid Infusion, which we will discuss later, is the only way that we have found to achieve this Whole Plant oil.  

Full Spectrum is the term used when referring to a Cannabinoid Hemp oil that has most of the constituents that are naturally occurring in the plant including cannabinoids, terpenes and other phytonutrients but the oil has been refined to remove the chlorophyll, fats and waxes. With this further refinement comes some loss of cannabinoids and terpenes.  This oil in its raw form will have a slight cannabis smell and have a light amber color and will be in solid or liquid state based on the temperature. Warmer oil will be liquid and cooler oil may be solid.

Broad Spectrum is the same as Full Spectrum but with additional refinement the THC is removed. This is often referred to as THC-free Distillate or T-Free Distillate. With this further refinement comes more loss of the plant’s phytonutrients. This will be used in the formulation of products in which the desired final product will not have any THC which is a benefit to those who have to take drug tests and cannot have any amounts of THC found in their system such as government employees, pilots and commercial drivers.

CBD Isolate is the refinement of the oils listed above to a point where the only thing left is the pure Isolated molecule, in this case CBD. This is usually presented as crystal like structures or is crushed into a powder like sugar. To get to this Isolate takes the most refinement and requires the use of a chemical like Pentane to separate the other molecules from each other. 

Extraction vs. Infusion

Extraction is “the process of removing something, especially by force”. Herbal Extraction has been done for centuries to get the medicinal benefits of a plant into oil form. Extraction requires a solvent that is passed through the plant material, which breaks open the cellular structure and releases certain constituents while leaving others behind. The main solvents used in the Hemp Industry include hydrocarbons (hexane, butane, propane), ethanol or CO2. With each solvent there are varied results and quantities of the constituents extracted. For example, CO2 is a poor solvent to remove terpenes, but ethanol and hydrocarbons do a better job. Though extractions have been performed for centuries, until recent years, ethanol has been the main solvent used, CO2 and hydrocarbons are recent adaptations.    There are pros and cons for each method, a subject that we will explore in future articles. 

Infusion is “the act of adding one thing to another to make it stronger or better”.  In herbalism, infusion is the process of manipulating a plant source of botanical phytocompounds so that its active ingredients bind with another material. Herbal Infusions date back to the BC era with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Lipid Infusion is the result of combining the plant matter with an oil of your choice and putting it into a vessel that is heated to a certain temperature. The fat (also known as lipid) acts as a magnet and attracts all of the plant’s phytonutrients to the lipid. After a certain amount of time, the oil is then separated from the plant material which results in an infused oil that is less potent that its extraction counterpart however has captured much more of the plant’s phytonutrient potential. 


So what is the main differentiator in Extraction and Infusion? With any of the products that are produced from any of the Extraction techniques discussed, the solvent is no longer present in the finished material and what you are left with is some fraction of the raw plant oil.  This results in a more potent ratio of cannabinoids however it is missing some of the plants beneficial compounds that are present in the raw plant material. With Infusion, most of the oil that is used to remove these compounds are still present in the final product along with most of the plant’s phytonutrients. This results in a final product that has a less potent Cannabinoid ratio than the extracted oil but a fuller profile of these phytonutrients.  Lipid Infusion does not use any harsh chemical or solvents and is a much safer and gentler method of extraction and results in a much more efficacious final product. That being said, there is a reason and valid purpose for each of the extraction modalities. 

Another thing to note is the plant material that any of these processes start with is especially important. The cannabis plant is a bioaccumulate, meaning that the plant will take into itself whatever is present in its soil or other growing media. Extraction is concentrating the plant material in an oil, if there are toxins in the plant such as fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, these will be transferred into your finished oil. So it is important to have traceability back to the farming methods and practices to have full knowledge and transparency of what has been used to grow this crop and is in the products that you are using. 

The Entourage Effect

Another common term that you may come across when learning about Hemp products is The Entourage Effect, which is the theory that all the compounds in Cannabis work together, and when taken together, produce a better effect than when taken alone. There is a famous saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and that is exactly what is meant by the Entourage Effect. Taking a product that has as close to a replication to the starting plant material will quantify in better efficacy, just as nature intended. 

The human body was adapted to eating plants for food and medicine. Our body recognizes what we eat as food and processes it through the digestive system so that the body can use the nutrients properly to support our bodily functions. On the other hand, when we eat something that the body does not recognize as food, like any toxins, it will be cleansed by our liver and expelled from our body. Over consumption of toxins will ultimately tax our liver and cause damage, such as in the case of taking too many pharmaceutical drugs, aspirin and even alcohol which could lead to liver toxicity or worse, liver failure. 

Here is an example, In the BC era, Ancient Egyptians used Willow bark as a remedy for aches, pains and fevers. Thousands of years later, in the 1800’s a French pharmacist isolated the compound from the Willow bark that reduced the pain called Salicylic Acid, but when administered to patients, they experienced nausea and vomiting, and some even went into a coma. A buffer was needed to ease the effects of this acid on the stomach, yet this was never an issue when consuming the natural Willow bark because the plant naturally has the buffers and the body recognizes this as a plant and is able to digest and use it properly. In 1899 Bayer began to distribute this to physicians to give to their patients, then in 1915 it started being sold over-the-counter as aspirin. Today it is widely known that taking too many Aspirin can cause liver damage and other health issues, however the use of willow bark to treat the same issues has never recorded to have any adverse effect. 

 In summary, We have found that Lipid Infusion is a simple, gentle, ancient technique that provides a more robust and efficacious product without the use of harmful solvents. This leaves the end user with getting the full benefit of the whole plant, just as nature intended.