The Extraction Issue
Extracts are quietly taking over the cannabis industry. While flower remains the top-selling product category at retail, products made from extracts — including edibles, vapes, concentrates and topicals — now account for almost 60% of legal cannabis sales in the United States. It’s a sector of the market that is only getting bigger, particularly as the scientific understanding of cannabis and extraction grows.
From the various methods of extraction and refinement to the latest innovations in products, Marijuana Venture takes an in-depth look at the market trends, best practices, equipment manufacturers, leading minds and scientific process of extraction.
It’s hard to imagine a company more committed to the scientific process of cannabis extraction than Spherex, a business founded six years ago by Niccolo Aieta, who has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and speaks passionately about the need to normalize cannabis consumption.
In addition to its home state of Colorado, Spherex’s vape products are now available in California and Oklahoma, and the company’s expecting to launch in Canada later this year.
Claim to Fame: “Revolutionary” is a word that’s probably over-used in cannabis, but Spherex’s latest innovation, Phyx, might actually fit the description.
Phyx is an infused sparkling water with no cannabis taste or smell and 2.5 milligrams of THC. It might sound simple — and even underwhelming in the context of high-potency concentrates — but it took two years to develop a shelf-stable beverage with just cannabis oil and water that didn’t taste horrible, Aieta says.
“It was really challenging,” he says, “but the net effect is pretty amazing.”
The nano-emulsification process used to manufacture Phyx gives it a more predictable dose response curve than traditional edibles — “meaning you drink a little, you feel a little; you drink more, you feel more,” he says. “And if think you’ve had had too much, you come down rather quickly as opposed to the typical edible horror story.”
Methodology: With Aieta’s expertise in supercritical fluid technology, there wasn’t much of a question that Spherex would use CO2 as its primary extraction solvent.
But rather than going to an equipment manufacturer already working in the cannabis space and asking them to build a bigger machine, Spherex looked for a company that was already producing machinery of that scale. That brought Aieta to Thar Process, a Pittsburgh-based company that manufactures supercritical equipment for a wide range of industries.
“We went to them with our parameters and said, ‘Can you build a machine that does this?’ And they said yes.”
With the right equipment and people and a commitment to the process of understanding cannabis extraction, Spherex scaled up from extracting 40 pounds a month to 4,000 pounds a month.
“We could go infinitely large on our extraction processes and feel 100% confident that if there’s a problem, we can solve it with our current methodology,” he says.
Philosophy: “We know it’s going to be long, we know it’s hard, we know that it’s going to be complicated. But you kind of go where the data leads you.”