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The Ten Steps to Cannabis Processing Success

Cannabis processing success hinges important touch points on the road to products such as vape cartridges, concentrates, edibles, and pre-rolls.

With cannabis products, it’s all about the process.

The ultimate goal of any cannabis cultivator is to transform raw plant material into an array of products without losing any of the flower’s heady characteristics. This doesn’t just give consumers what they want, it also ensures their loyalty when they see your products on cannabis dispensary shelves.

According to data collected by industry consulting service CannabizTeam, portable and discreet cannabis products—such as vapes, pre-rolls, edibles, and concentrates—are growing in popularity. In fact, 2021 retail sales of vapes in Colorado, California, Oregon, Michigan, and Washington totalled $2.6 billion. In terms of revenue, that’s second only to flower.

That data underscores the importance for optimized cannabis processing. In this blog, we’ll examine the 10 most crucial touchpoints for any successful cannabis processing operation.

But first…

What Is Cannabis Processing?

Cannabis processing is the transformation of raw hemp and cannabis plant biomass into the ingredients used for vape cartridges, concentrates, edibles, and topicals. Cannabis processing also readies flower for cannabis pre-rolls.

The process takes place through a scientifically tuned method that begins in the field or grow room and ends in the testing laboratory. Along the way, successful cultivators and processors follow time-honored steps such as drying, cleaning, curing, extraction, and more.

Products Made from Cannabis Processing

There’s no shortage of products sparking consumer frenzy in the cannabis industry. A quick trip to your local dispensary reveals products that serve every imaginable consumer preference. Everything from smokable pre-rolls to topical salves is the result of cannabis processing.

  • Flower/Pre-roll: Flower is the cannabis plant processed into its purest form. Once it has been cultivated, harvested, dried, and cured, flower makes its way to the end consumer in various packages or as pre-rolls, ready-to-use products pre-rolled by cannabis companies or dispensaries.
  • Cartridges, Concentrates, Extracts: All three of these products use cannabinoid- and terpene-rich cannabis oil, which is separated from the raw plant material via an extraction method. Products that fall under this category include vapes, tinctures, and sublingual strips.
  • Edibles: Here you’ll find cannabis-infused food and drinks made from cannabis flower or from pre-processed concentrates. This includes hard edibles such as chocolate and gummies, as well as liquid edibles like sodas and alcoholic beverages.
  • Topicals: These CBD-infused products are non-psychoactive and are used to relieve physical discomfort via direct contact throughout the body. Lotions, balms, and oils are among the most popular cannabis topicals.

Now that you know what processing is and the products it delivers, on to the 10 steps to cannabis processing success.

Step 1: Clean Biomass

If you start with subpar cannabis plant material, you will end up with subpar cannabis products. It’s as simple as that.

Generally, biomass refers to the stalks, stems, and leaves of the plant; in other words, it is the full biology of a cannabis plant. Sourcing clean, high-quality cannabis biomass comes down to trusting your supplier and being able to identify the genus and species.

Plant material that is completely unadulterated and contains predictable potency levels ensures a product that’s both viable and safe for consumption. When examining the biomass, take note of:

  • Plant identity: Genus and species
  • Physical appearance: Size and density
  • Chemical makeup: Chemical constituents and marker compounds
  • Plant health: Free from heavy metals, pesticides, mold, bacteria and chemical residues

Step 2: Clean Processing Equipment

Plant pathogens can seriously compromise your ability to process top-notch cannabis products, so maintaining a clean environment is crucial. A cannabis processing facility that’s anything but sparkling clean leads to contaminants finding their way into your end product, and when your end product is rife with impurities, consumers will run to the competition.

Sanitation processes, such as Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP) and overarching Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), are key to the safe production of cannabis products. For your cannabis processing facility, seriously consider outfitting your team with “dry” superheated steamers to clean tools and surfaces, industrial vacuum systems to collect debris, and HVAC cleaning and sanitation equipment.

Step 3: Drying

After removing the fan leaves from the cultivated plant and thoroughly trimming the biomass, you arrive at the drying stage. During this step, cannabis plants are typically hung upside down in smaller, more manageable sections.

Most cultivators agree that the ideal temperature for drying cannabis is between 65 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity levels around 45 to 55 percent. In addition to maintaining the right temperature and humidity, it’s important to remember that drying is most successful when it takes place in total darkness. This is because UV light from either the sun or artificial lights can damage the cannabinoids and terpenes in the flower, and those are precisely the compounds that require extra special care during this process.

Drying cannabis takes 7 to 10 days. You’ll know the plants are thoroughly dried when stems snap at the slightest bend.

Step 4: Curing

Curing cannabis is another step on the journey toward maximum flavor, aroma, and potency. This spot in the post-harvest process sees cultivators and processors loosely packing cannabis buds into airtight containers, like tubs, steel drums, or mason jars (mostly used by home growers). Curing cannabis works much like the aging process of wine or cheese: it amps up the intensity, and thus, retail appeal.

Cannabis should be cured in a darkened room with a temperature set at roughly 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity at 60 to 65 percent. You should burp the containers periodically in order to release any built up carbon dioxide and moisture from the buds. In approximately three weeks to a month, your cannabis will be ready for consumption or further processing.

Step 5: Packaging

Dynamic packaging is essential for a successful cannabis product. Packing doesn’t just protect your product from the elements, it projects your brand’s identity. It can also demonstrate that your product understands its customers and resonates with their values and needs. Cannabis packaging helps your product:

Stand out: The cannabis industry is flooded with competitors vying for valuable real estate on retail shelves. Captivating packaging makes your product shine and can tell a unique story about your brand.

Build brand recognition: Let’s face it. Some customers make a purchase because they instantly recognize their favorite brand. Packaging that incorporates your company logo in appealing colors increases the chances customers will remember your product and return to it in the future.

Relay crucial information: One of the most important aspects of the cannabis retail industry is the clear delivery of crucial information, such as strains and potency levels. Packing can share this information with customers so they don’t have to do any extra research.

Stay protected: Functional packaging protects your cannabis product from the environment, keeping it fresh and free from impurities.

Step 6: Extraction

Extraction refers to the process of selectively removing a cannabinoid and terpene compounds from raw plant material using a chemical solvent. While the type of solvents can vary, cannabis industry extractors typically extract using methods such as hydrocarbons (butane or propane), CO2, and ethanol.

No matter the solvent, the goal is always to remove compounds from the biomass and use those compounds to produce concentrates and other naturally derived cannabis products. A proper extraction facility outfitted with sterling equipment that adheres to strict safety guidelines forms the base of any cannabis processing center.

Stand out: The cannabis industry is flooded with competitors vying for valuable real estate on retail shelves. Captivating packaging makes your product shine and can tell a unique story about your brand.

Build brand recognition: Let’s face it. Some customers make a purchase because they instantly recognize their favorite brand. Packaging that incorporates your company logo in appealing colors increases the chances customers will remember your product and return to it in the future.

Relay crucial information: One of the most important aspects of the cannabis retail industry is the clear delivery of crucial information, such as strains and potency levels. Packing can share this information with customers so they don’t have to do any extra research.

Stay protected: Functional packaging protects your cannabis product from the environment, keeping it fresh and free from impurities.

Step 7: Homogenizers

Homogenization within cannabis processing is a critical part of both the manufacturing and testing of cannabis products. Cannabis extracts, such as concentrates and oils, go through a homogenization process for the same reason milk is homogenized: to reach a smoother texture and more desirable overall look, while standardizing the composition of particles.

Cannabis companies that utilize high-pressure homogenizers during processing end up with products that feature:

  • Smoother textures
  • High-gloss finish
  • Enhanced color
  • Uniformity
  • Improved water bonding
  • Reduced need for additives
  • Longer shelf life

Homogenization also plays a role in the testing and analysis of cannabis products. In order to assess potency, lab technicians must first homogenize a cannabis sample so all its particles are evenly dispersed and can be trusted as an accurate and reliable representation of the cannabis product as a whole.

Step 8: Automation

Cannabis industry leaders have exposed the benefits of automation for many years. In cannabis processing, automation is manifested in lighting, climate control, water treatment, environmental monitoring, trimming, grinding, batching, packaging, and more.

Across cannabis cultivation concerns, automation works to:

From the grow room to the processing facility, automation has transformed the cannabis industry.

Step 9: Testing and Safety

States are legalizing cannabis for medicinal and recreational use at an incredible pace, and new legal guidelines are being introduced every year. As these numbers grow, so does the need for accurate testing and safety adherence. Testing is also a legal requirement.

For large-scale cannabis processing centers, accurate testing ensures that products are safe for human consumption. Cannabis testing equipment measures for THC potency, CBD levels, and more, while also measuring for various substances, including synthetics, heavy metals, contaminants, and microbial contamination from elements like bacteria, yeast, and mold.

Step 10: Personnel and Staff

Cannabis has quickly grown more mainstream. As a major consumer product in both the recreational and medicinal markets, it is projected to deliver an economic boom to the tune of $90.4 billion by 2026.

As such, your cannabis processing center should operate like those in mainstream industries. This means hiring and maintaining a staff of professional individuals who are just as passionate about cannabis as you are.

Bonus Step: Using Machines Developed Exclusively for Cannabis Processing

A recent phenomenon in the cannabis industry is the availability of equipment that has been purpose-built for the production and processing of cannabis products. Just a few years ago, cultivators and processors were forced to use machinery that was built for other industries, such as food and beverage.

Now, thanks to accelerated cannabis legalization, the production of cannabis-specific equipment has become a cottage industry.

Green Vault Systems proudly counts itself as one of the first manufacturing companies to build and sell equipment specifically for you, the cannabis cultivator and processor. From batching to processing, we help you stay true to the task at hand.

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