Step into the world of cannabis with Jack Naito and two other cannabis industry veterans, Devon Reid (Vape Jet), and Sean Duffy (Media Bros), as they delve into the ever-evolving landscape of emerging cannabis markets.
In this discussion, the trio debunks common myths that have plagued the cannabis industry and offer advice for new businesses, providing valuable insights for consistent and sustainable growth. By exploring the challenges of new markets, the truth about terpene content, the importance of process control, the craft of vape cartridge production, and the myths surrounding color remediation, Jack and his fellow experts provide fresh perspectives that can enhance your processes and drive success.
Jack, the President of Luna Technologies Automated Solutions for Cannabis Extraction, leads a company that offers Automated Solutions for Cannabis Extraction. Luna Technologies specializes in state-of-the-art extraction equipment and has established itself as the industry's benchmark for safety, quality, consistency, and customization.
Sean, CEO of Media Bros, leads a company that provides premium color remediation media for cannabis extraction. With a methodical approach backed by extensive market research and strategic planning, Sean offers valuable insights into the ever-changing cannabis industry.
Read what this gathering of some of the finest minds in cannabis had to say, and see how you can apply it to your own process to increase customer satisfaction and fine-tune your workflow.
The State of New Markets :
As the industry expands and new markets emerge, the dynamics of the cannabis space have undergone significant changes. With perspective from Oregon’s recreational cannabis journey, Sean lends perspective to what’s coming for other states. "The market space has changed," Sean begins. "Current needs require us to focus more on the business of extraction, processing, and producing end-consumer products to the point where they can remain viably competitive."
Recently, one of the primary drivers of change is the drop in the cost per gram of oil. Sean attributes this decline to consolidation, competition, saturation, and supply. In response to this trend, producers are shifting their focus toward explaining the efficiency of their products.
“We have 40-something separate markets in the US,” Jack says. “Do you think in the new markets that's the case too? It seems like margins aren't squeezed as much in those.”
“Yeah, the margins are definitely not as squeezed in new markets,” Devon begins. However, established markets, such as California, Colorado, and Oregon, still significantly influence, Devon explains. Professionals from these established markets often lend their expertise to help new businesses set up in emerging markets.
Reflecting on the rapid pace of change in new markets, Jack suggests that knowledge and experience from established states quickly permeate these emerging regions. He posits that businesses in new markets have the advantage of making profits more rapidly due to high demand and relatively higher prices. However, prices will likely stabilize and drop as knowledge and expertise flow in.
The Truth About Terpene Content
Regarding terpenes in cannabis extracts, there's a common misconception that more is better. However, as Devon explains, this legacy viewpoint doesn't necessarily hold, especially when processing extracts for cartridges. Devon points out that variability between different cartridge manufacturers can lead to harsh flavors and leaky cartridges if there are excessive amounts of terpenes.
Jack emphasizes that terpenes are not only harsh on the taste buds but also caustic, explaining that the more terpenes you add, the harsher the experience becomes.
“And it’s expensive,” Devon states. “Having these conversations with customers, I get a lot of feedback like, ‘Oh, we want to do 20% terpenes in this oil.’ Okay, well, you can try that,” he says sarcastically. “There's definitely cartridges that are designed to handle that. And you know, some people have good effects with that. But if you bring it down to 5%, you can make four times as many cartridges.” This increased production capacity doesn't compromise the quality of the end product.
From their experiences with legal and black market pitfalls, Devon and Jack agree that it's less about the number of terpenes and more about the quality and profile of the terpenes being used. The focus should be on selecting the right combination of terpenes that deliver the desired flavor and effects while maintaining product stability and customer satisfaction.
The Importance of Process Control
In the cannabis industry, maintaining consistency and quality throughout the supply chain and manufacturing process is essential. Jack emphasizes the importance of process control, emphasizing the need for consistency from cultivation to extraction and post-processing.
According to Jack, achieving consistent growth starts with the cannabis strain itself, where it is critical to anticipate consumer tastes, ensure product diversification, foster relationships with farmers, and plan for year-after-year growth. The extraction process also plays a vital role, in determining the terpene profile and components carried into subsequent stages.
Devon agrees, acknowledging that the post-processing phase presents opportunities to compensate for any variables encountered during cultivation and extraction. Devon suggests that downstream processes like decarboxylation and terpene formulation can ensure consistency from batch to batch and year to year. He also points out that starting with a live resin product helps retain most of the terpenes from the growing process while cautioning against the common practice of decarboxylating bulk extract and directly filling cartridges, as it can lead to the loss of terpenes due to the violent nature of the decarb process.
Relying on mechanical and chemical processes can help achieve control, even with the existing limitations. The physical act of THCa crystallization and the separation from the non-crystallized components exemplify simpler and more effective control mechanisms.
The Craft of Vape Cartridge Production
Creating a perfect strain-specific vape cartridge may require a different process than most producers are used to, but it's certainly achievable. The key lies in separating and decarbing the crystals, mixing in a measured amount of sauce (not just using all of it) to ensure optimal flavor. Leftover sauce from the extraction process can be added to distillate for vape production, resulting in a product that tastes almost as good as fully live resin.
Devon spotlights the control vape cartridge producers have over their offerings: "You can sell it at a different price point to attract different customers and have different SKUs for different pocketbooks."
In new markets, Jack highlights the presence of experienced cannabis producers who have been creating high-quality products but on a smaller scale. As consumer preferences shift towards quality, technological advancements like automated extractors and equipment make it easier to produce high-quality products at a more affordable price for producers.
Sean mentions how labs reach a point where they need to scale their craft production. Extraction automation, reliable media, and automated vape cartridge-filling systems become crucial in maintaining the quality that makes a producer successful in the first place. The ability to replicate the craft consistently and scale effectively are where innovative automation solutions like Vape-Jet play a vital role.
“So these products always exist in new markets, they're just usually a really high price point,” Jack summarizes. “Then consumer preference shifts toward higher-quality products, and then the technology starts coming into that marketplace, like our extractor and [Vape-Jet] equipment. It makes producing those high-quality products at a lower price point easier. Then, [high-quality products] gain popularity."
The Challenges of Color Remediation (CRC) in Cannabis
Color remediation presents a unique set of challenges that can impact a customer’s perception of product quality and safety. "In the early days of CRC, people would just say, 'throw some silica into the CRC column, nuke the product as it's coming out, and then you end up with limonene and pinene terpenes and that's it,’" Sean explains. This misinformed approach contributes to the negative perception of butane hash oil (BHO) extract and CRC products, leading to a general skepticism toward filtration.
"If you have a mistake—you over-process or under-process at any point—it'll affect all of your processes," Jack adds. The importance of precision and attention to detail at each stage of production cannot be understated.
Sean also stresses the responsibility of industry professionals to prioritize cleanliness and safety throughout production. "It's important for all of us to pay attention to what's happening from the upstream and downstream process[es] and then help provide the cleanest, safest possible product in that space," he asserts. By focusing on quality and safety, valid arguments against the use of color remediation techniques will ultimately lose their ground, paving the way for a more informed industry.
The Value of Data
As our trio notes, the value of data is becoming increasingly recognized by industry professionals. "Data speaks volumes, and I think that's something people are becoming increasingly cognizant about," Devon says. He mentions the reporting feature of Vape-Jet, which tracks crucial information such as temperature, time, and images of filled cartridges. However, users only recently began questioning how to utilize these reports effectively to monitor production and detect potential issues.
Jack shares a similar experience, explaining, "We data log everything... 30 parameters once every 5 seconds.” For a long time, this wealth of data went unused. It was only in the past 18 to 24 months that people started recognizing the value of this data, either for process improvement or compliance purposes.
Sean brings attention to the importance of data in the context of color remediation in cannabis (CRC) in Canada. He explains that there is a demand for Certificates of Analysis (COAs). While the cannabis industry doesn't have HPLCs (high-pressure liquid chromatography) like other industries, Media Bros does meticulously test their products.
“We saw that in Canada immediately,” Sean explains. “We test all of our products, not just by examining the product itself, but we run biomass through it. We actually run it in some cannabinoid product to make sure that co-solvents in there, such as the terpenes, THC or CBD or whatever is being processed, that those are all finalized.” Yet, even though Sean’s team provides this data on every single batch of product, nobody really asks for the information.
Dispelling Myths: The Myths of Color Remediation.
Color Remediation (CRC) is frequently debated in the cannabis industry, with various myths surrounding its use. “[For] every single myth out there, there is a grain of truth, right?” Sean asks rhetorically. "The genesis of [CRC] myths can be traced back to the beginning, where inexperienced operators were trying to make good-looking oil out of oxidized biomass and using whatever they thought could improve it."
However, operators unintentionally overprocessed the biomass in this hasty process without fully understanding the effects. Silica, for example, acts as a potent remediator, capable of extracting and absorbing various compounds. Consequently, only specific flavor profiles, such as limonene or pinene, prevailed in the THC products, making all products taste similar.
This led to a misconception that CRC was responsible for stripping away desirable aromatics, resulting in a less desirable product. “All of those really nice aromatics from the high-quality weed that existed are no longer present,” Sean says. “And in people's minds, they just equated that as being somehow bad. No one wanted a dab or a cart that just tasted like pine sol.” Sean further explains that some processors responded to this perception by offering alternative products like live resin carts or fresh rosin carts, claiming they didn't use CRC or used it correctly. Unfortunately, this created a negative image for those who were using poor CRC methodologies. These early experiences shaped the narrative around CRC, leaving room for misunderstandings.
Jack views CRC as just another filtration process within the cannabis extraction realm: “Filtration CRC is just another filtration process. It's a different method using an adsorbent media instead of traditional filters.” Filtration is a common practice across various extraction methods, and CRC employs an adsorbent media instead of traditional filters. It's important to remember that filtration is a fundamental step in the extraction process, regardless of the technique used, Jack says.
While it's true that CRC cannot magically transform low-quality biomass into top-tier products, “you can certainly take good biomass and make it worse by improper extraction techniques," Sean says. Devon agrees, stating that fundamental changes occur during the extraction process, so adding CRC is just another step to enhance the final product: "If adding CRC makes for a better end product, that should always be the focus."
The group agrees that understanding the nuances and dispelling the myths surrounding CRC is crucial to foster informed discussions and decision-making within the cannabis industry.
The Myths of Extraction and Filling Temperatures
When it comes to BHO extraction, there are numerous myths floating around. Jack points out that many of these myths arise due to the lack of industry data and improper temperature measurements. "Half the myths around BHO that we deal with regularly are just because the data doesn't exist in the industry and no one is collecting it," Jack says.
According to Jack, one of the biggest myths is about extraction temperature. Many folks in the industry measure their temperature indirectly, and there are numerous steps where the temperature can change before it goes back to the chiller where measurements occur, Jack explains. "So you’re collecting data really indirectly; collecting data by looking at the chiller every once in a while saying, ‘okay, I'm extracting at -80°, my chiller set temp is -80°.’ Really, that's not the case at all because there's a ton of heat gain and energy transfer between your actual extraction and your chiller."
Jack also notes that many believe lower extraction temperatures result in higher-quality products. However, there's a threshold temperature where the product quality stops increasing or increases very slowly. Below that threshold, the yield drops dramatically. Jack explains, "Everyone wants to extract at -120º. Technically, our chillers will go down to -120º Fahrenheit, but the problem is at -120º your yield drops dramatically, and there's really no increase in product quality."
Devon agrees that lower extraction temperatures may not be worth the hit to overall yield. Devon also explains that automating the process may not necessarily translate from a manual process, and "you may actually shoot yourself in the foot." Proper measurement and data can lead to higher-quality and more efficient extraction processes.
The Myth of Craft Cannabis and Automation
"There's this myth in the industry that you can't make a high-quality craft product with automation,” Jack says. Many believe that a high-quality craft product requires the expertise of a knowledgeable extractor who can make decisions based on their understanding of the biomass and the extraction process. Jack explains that the myth doesn't hold up when you dive into the details. The actions of an experienced extractor are essentially the same as what automation does. They observe the process, often using indirect methods, and make decisions based on that information.
However, there are limitations to human decision-making. Sean states, “the error rates start going up because of human factors." Extractors must balance multiple variables, such as pressures and temperatures, which becomes challenging.
Automation, on the other hand, can measure these variables accurately and make decisions much faster. Automation doesn't diminish the role of a craft extractor, either; it simply enhances their capabilities. "All we're really doing is building people's decision trees into logic and having it follow that," Jack clarifies. Sean agrees, adding, "You're really not taking anything away from the craft extractor. You're just saying, ‘hey, let me just allow you to make this repeatable.’"
Devon highlights the cost of manual labor and the need for quality control without process control. Without control over the extraction process and other crucial factors, Devon explains, manual intervention becomes necessary at every step. However, with controlled processes, automation ensures consistent results, saving money, reallocating labor, and reducing errors.
When processes are predictable, automation becomes a catalyst for growth and exploration. "If you do things the same way every single time, it becomes predictable,” Devon says. “And then once you have something predictable, automation will allow things to explode in a good way."
The Myths of Vape Cartridge Filling
"There's no such thing as the artisanal-filled vape cart, it doesn't exist." Sean begins. While the oil itself may be artisanal, the filling process should not be treated as a boutique or handcrafted endeavor, Devon elaborates. It is a skill or task, at best, lacking the expressive nature found in other aspects of the cannabis industry, such as extraction or growing. Instead, vape cartridge filling is a necessary step that requires precision and knowledge.
One challenge that arises during the cart filling process is the homogenization of oil. Devon shares his experiences of troubleshooting issues with bubbly or oxidized cartridges and highlights the significance of proper mixing and homogenization. One common culprit? A hot plate with a magnetic stir bar, a piece of equipment found in almost every lab.
Uneven heating causes problems. "The bottom of whatever jar you have gets superheated, and the stir bar won't spin because it's magnetically coupled, and it doesn't have torque," Devon explains. In an attempt to overcome this, operators often increase the heat and speed of the stir bar, which leads to undesirable consequences.
When the stir bar creates a vortex in the oil, it incorporates air, and if the oil is superheated, oxidation occurs at an accelerated rate. This results in the loss of terpenes released into the surrounding environment, creating the world’s most expensive air freshener. Additionally, the absorbed air in the oil causes the vape cartridges to develop an unattractive champagne-like appearance.
Moreover, prolonged exposure to heat on the hotplate increases the oxidation rate to the point where the oil may turn red, rendering it unattractive to potential buyers. Devon shares an anecdote about cartridges turning red within a day or two due to improper mixing practices. He advises against relying solely on hotplates for oil mixing, stating, "That's maybe not the best way to do that."
“A lot of what we talked about today is how lack of data in the industry has led to many inefficiencies. You have to start looking at margins a little closer, and what can you do to increase margins or maintain your margins in a tough market where prices are dropping. All of our products help do that. At Luna, we do that by putting in an automated solution for extraction where you can reduce your operating costs by moving labor to more effective areas like in food processing.”
“It's all about data, data, and control. [Data] gives you unprecedented insight into the process of filling cartridges. So, even though it's not something that I would call ‘craft,’ having the ability to see what's happening in there is still going to give you an idea of what's happening and what needs to maybe change.”
“At Media Bros, we really emphasize simplifying and demystifying that CRC process. Processing through a Luna, through our media, and right into a Vape-Jet is the shortest distance from biomass to cart. Eventually, the market will realize, ‘I'm in a really competitive space. I need to create the best possible products, and they need to taste good, they need to look good, and they need to present well.’ That's my biggest takeaway: all of these components need to work well together. Good process flow will save you.”
By embracing the challenges of emerging markets, addressing terpene content concerns, prioritizing process control, mastering vape cartridge production, and improving color remediation, Jack, Devon, and Sean see immense potential for cannabis companies focused on product quality and business scalability.
So, step forward, embrace innovation, and let Luna Tech be your partner on the journey to cannabis industry success. Together, we can shape a brighter future and redefine what's possible.