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Organic, Vegan, Non-GMO? Applying Nutritional Terms to Cannabis Products


Nutritional terms are something we see every day, so much so that they have almost started to blend in with everything else on the label. Organic, non-GMO, vegan, all-natural, raw, superfood, sustainable, etc., are words you’ll commonly see on a large percentage of consumable product labels. We tend to think only of food in relation to these terms, but they are also prevalent in the cannabis industry. For example, organic cannabis products can sell for two or three times more than conventional items, but the process of creating organic, non-GMO, and vegan cannabis products is complicated and expensive.

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Common Nutrition Terms and Their Meanings

Let’s start with some basic terms you may hear when talking about food and other comparable products, starting with organic. The original”ideal organicwas to eat only local, seasonal and sustainable products, but all of these terms have different meanings (although there is a lot of overlap) and it can sometimes be difficult to incorporate all of these components into the final product. The term organic refers to the production of consumer goods without the use of fertilizers, pesticides or other artificial agents. All exceptions are listed in the National list of authorized and prohibited substances.

Local refers to foods grown within a certain radius, which are also consumed relatively close to the site of production. The exact range varies from a few kilometers to around a hundred, depending on the product and local regulations. Seasonal means the food was grown “in season” and consumed when ripe, not imported. Sustainable, in the broadest sense, refers to how well something holds up over a longer period of time. In food, this means that the product has been grown in a way that does not deplete the land around it of its natural resources.

Then we have non-GMO, which can get a bit complicated in terms of application. “GMO” stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and is an umbrella term used to describe any plant, animal, or other organism whose genetic material has been engineered in an unnatural way. Non-GMO implies that the final product contains no lab-modified ingredients, but around 70% of products on supermarket shelves are actually GMO.

Vegan goes without saying, but for the sake of completeness, vegan items are made without using any type of animal by-products or animal testing. The line between what is exactly vegan and what is not may vary for some people. For example, some vegans still consume honey while many do not. Same with the eggs. Some have certain parameters to know when they will consume these products. For another example, I have hens at home, 8 hens, no roosters. So any eggs produced by my hens are unfertilized, non-viable, and would be wasted if not eaten by someone.

Likewise, raw foods are completely unprocessed, such as non-GMO, and “natural” has been considered by the FDA to mean “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or added to, a food that should not normally be in that food.” So gummies colored with beet juice or something like that, would still NOT fall into the natural category because juice color has been added to it and does not occur naturally.

Cannabis products that are organic, non-GMO and vegan?

An upcoming movement within the cannabis industry, #whatsinmyweed focuses on the connection between buying cannabis and buying edibles. In the cannabis and food industries, consumers are spending 60% to 109% more on organic, non-GMO, raw, natural and (healthy) options. It makes sense to see this crossbreed considering that cannabis and edibles are consumables, and if we’re promoting cannabis as a wellness substance, it’s illogical that it’s loaded with pesticides, metals heavy, mold and other harmful contaminants. to human health.

Long-time operators of the cannabis industry can attest to this, saying that craft organic options outsell much more, and at a much higher rate, than lower-end strains. This is also seen in the B2B sector, with growers struggling to sell low-end and mid-shelf flowers. The price of this grade, in some markets, has fallen to $100 to $200 a pound, and that’s IF a buyer is even found.

“The organic side really comes into its own,” said Liz Geisleman, CEO of 710 Spirits, a Denver company that sells organic and conventional solvents to extractors nationwide. “Organic cannabis is coming fast and furiously.”

And it’s not just the craft buds that fetch these higher prices. Edibles, topicals, and many other types of products are also exploring healthier alternatives. These days, you’re more likely to find gummies flavored with natural fruit juices rather than artificial flavors, or sweetened with real cane sugar rather than corn syrup. Obviously, a gelatin is a snack and not something we can think of as a health food, but eliminating the bad ingredients, even if only bit by bit, still makes a difference in the long run.

“Being organic is a bit of a slower approach,” said David Bernard, vice president of grow operations for The Green Organic Dutchman in Mississauga, Ont. “But once the systems are in place, you have a really sound method of producing cannabis, and over the years the margins increase.”

Manufacturing standards

When it comes to creating organic cannabis products, it all naturally starts with how the plant is grown. But with no real production standards in place and very few organic certifications, what exactly constitutes “organic cannabis”? It is important to note that while cannabis products cannot obtain a USDA certified organic label, business owners can still choose to adhere to these standards in their cultivation and production practices. The issue at this point is whether companies advertising “organic” products are self-regulating and actually committing to these standards.

Fortunately, there are a few exceptions to this lack of oversight. Organic recognition of marijuana (over 0.3% THC) by the USDA obviously won’t happen until it’s federally legal, but hemp (less than 0.3% THC) is legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, and in fact can carry the organic label. Additionally, at the state level, we are seeing greater pressure for organic standards in cannabis production, as demand continues to grow and local governments attempt to thwart the ever-thriving black markets with every means available to them. they dispose.

Take California, for example, where the state The Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently released information on the new OCal program, which aims to establish a regulatory framework to create “organic-like” standards in the cannabis industry. In Maine, the Organic Farmer & Gardener Association has launched a Certified Clean Cannabis (MC3) program that would offer third-party verification to cannabis companies that claim their products are organic. Georgia (medical), Washington State, and Massachusetts are also working to implement their own standards and regulations.

Organic Extractions

The next step in creating organic cannabis products, beyond the flower, is extraction and processing. Certain extraction methods, careless manufacturing, or even the use of the wrong cleaning agents can ruin a product and strip it of its organic label.

cbd extraction
Photo courtesy of Green Mill Supercritical

Choosing an extraction method is key, and hydrocarbons like butane are out of the question. This leaves: CO2, organic or solvent-free ethanol (such as cold pressing extraction); which all have their ups and downs. If we take solventless extraction, these methods are inherently organic, but they are slow and it is difficult to gauge what your final yield will be.

Organic ethanol is another option, but not very profitable. Organic ethanol can cost two to ten times more than conventional ethanol, so it’s not an option for many companies. “It’s not really profitable at this point to use organic ethanol,” said Smoke Wallin of Vertical Cos., a multistate marijuana operator in Agoura Hills, Calif., and CEO of its spin-off. off CBD derived from hemp, Vertical Wellness. “The market is there,” he says. “The future game for transformation is going to be significant growth on the organic side.”

Wallin’s company, and many others, opt for CO2 extraction simply because it’s the more affordable option that still falls under organic farming. During CO2 extractions, pressurized carbon dioxide is used to extract the natural phytocannabinoids and terpenes from the raw cannabis flower.

Final Thoughts

Right now, the future of cannabis lies in high-end, artisanal-style, organic, non-GMO, natural products. This pattern has already been observed in the food industry. Since the USDA began requiring companies to print nutrition information on their products, consumers have become increasingly aware of what they are putting into their bodies; and it’s no surprise to see this mindset spilling over into other industries, like cannabis.

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