CBD Supply Chain: How Does It Actually Work?

To understand more about where your CBD comes from, it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with the CBD supply chain.

While it will differ depending on your provider, as some will do more in-house than others, there are several key steps that every CBD product should go through.

CBD products have been growing in popularity over the last few years. A report from Global Market Insights forecasts that the European CBD market could be worth $15.4bn by 2028.

Behind the scenes, a well-performing CBD supply chain is at the heart of this success story. This is how a supply chain for CBD works – it all starts with hemp from the Cannabis sativa plant.

1. Harvesting high-quality hemp

To grow industrial hemp in the UK, the provider must have an industrial hemp licence from the Home Office. 

Fibre and seeds with a THC content of 0.2% or lower can be cultivated. Meanwhile, the buds or flowers are illegal to possess or sell and must be destroyed – they contain too much THC.

We’ve previously written about how CBD flower is not legal in the UK if you want a more in-depth look at the rules and regulations.

THC is the cannabinoid present in the drug cannabis that is responsible for psychoactive effects. It’s a controlled substance in the UK under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Harvesting high-quality hemp is dependent on a wide range of factors including soil quality, time of year and use of fertilisers or pesticides.

2. Expert extraction

Extracting CBD from industrial hemp involves either carbon dioxide (CO2) or ethanol. 

This is usually done by a company which specialises in extraction.

If using pressurised CO2, it is called a supercritical extraction process because it first needs to be converted from a gas into a different state, acting as both a liquid and a gas.

Typically, this is the process used rather than one involving ethanol as there are many benefits. For example, it’s arguably a more efficient process. Also, for our Muslim readers, we’ve written about whether or not CBD oil is halal or haram when the extraction process involves ethanol.

3. Manufacturing

Time to get creative! The CBD manufacturer may specialise in one type of CBD product, or a wide range.

They could produce CBD oils – the most popular CBD product type in the UK – or gummies, teas, vapes, isolates, and cosmetics. There’s a wide range of possibilities since CBD is so versatile.

Manufacturers must take great care during production though – there’s a lot of hard work involved to make truly high-quality CBD products.

Man wrapping a box forming part of the CBD supply chain

4. Packaging, shipping and warehousing

We’re at the halfway point in our CBD supply chain, so now is a good time to talk about some other important parts of the overall process.

Depending on how many links there are in the chain, there will be plenty of need for careful packaging, shipping and warehousing between each step. Recently, we wrote about the best practices for how to store CBD oil – the importance of keeping it away from light, away from moisture and at low temperatures. That’s all true of packaging, shipping and warehousing too.

5. Trustworthy testing

It’s crucial that CBD products go through a comprehensive testing process. 

The most important criteria to test for is the presence of THC – only trace amounts should be present by this stage and Isolate products should have none at all.

ISO-accredited labs should have a detection limit of 0.01% for maximum accuracy, ensuring that any CBD product that goes to market has no more than 1 mg of THC per pack.

We’ve recently written about everything that can be detected by a reliable testing lab before a certificate of analysis is issued.

6. Novel food application

In the UK, CBD products require a validated novel food application from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) before they can go on sale.

This involves preparing a dossier of manufacturing and product information. Want to know more? We regularly update our comprehensive guide to CBD novel food applications.

7. Wholesale distribution

At this stage, a wholesale manufacturer can share their fully-tested products with brands. This is a key business-to-business (B2B) part of the supply chain for CBD.

Some of the things brands need to think about include how to communicate the potential benefits of their CBD products and develop strong relationships with their customers.Did you know that we offer a best-in-class white label service?

8. Selling CBD

This is the final part of the CBD supply chain, the business-to-consumer (B2C) element.

Whether it’s online or offline, through a brand’s own store or via another retailer, CBD products need to be straightforward to access. 

Quality is paramount, so detailed information should be provided to let consumers understand what’s in the product before purchasing. Retail stores will look for certain assurances when they stock other brands’ CBD products. So, read our blog to find out what retail stores want from your CBD product.

Crucial characteristics to look for in a CBD supply chain

These are some of the key traits you want to see in a CBD supply chain:

  • Transparency: Whether it’s about how low the THC content is in industrial hemp, or specific details in the novel food application and certificate of analysis. Accurate, up-to-date information without any gaps should be provided for everyone to see.  
  • Quality: Many CBD customers are interested in healthy living and wellness. They’ll only want to see the highest-quality ingredients in the products, with no unnecessary additions. Only source organic CBD from well-trusted sources.
  • Consistent supply: The wholesaler should have a proven track record of strong manufacturing capability and access to the required raw materials. Otherwise, their supply capabilities could suffer, they could take shortcuts or miss deadlines.

When too much control over the CBD supply chain is relinquished, that’s when things can go wrong for some providers – the reliability of their output is compromised.

Final thoughts – the CBD supply chain: how does it actually work?

We hope this article has provided a clear picture of how the CBD supply chain works. 

Whether you’re a consumer, or thinking about starting a CBD business in the UK, it’s worth thinking about and scrutinising. We’ve also prepared an in-depth article on what customers want from your CBD product. 

In terms of our CBD supply chain, we offer a well-controlled, global approach to procuring and developing raw materials. That means we can provide the very best quality products – please get in touch to find out more.

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What Is A CBD Certificate Of Analysis And How To Read One

If you’re wondering what a certificate of analysis is and how it relates to CBD, here’s an in-depth guide about why it matters and how to read one.

A CBD certificate of analysis is a document produced by a third-party laboratory to analyse the contents of a cannabidiol product.

The most important purpose of the document is to detect how much THC – if any – the product contains. We’ll explain why shortly.

For the certificate of analysis to be authentic, it should be from an ISO-accredited lab, ideally with a 0.01% detection limit.

From top to bottom, this is how to read a certificate of analysis for a CBD product.

The header

At the top of the certificate of analysis, you should find information about the third-party testing lab used to examine the product.

At first glance, that may not seem like something worth reading, but it’s very important. 

It should provide the proof you need that the testing certification was not completed in-house, but by an independent lab without any conflicts of interest.

The header should include the lab’s name and address, plus their licence and accreditation details. In short, it provides enough information so that you can research or contact them.

Some will have a QR code – if you scan this with your smartphone, you may find further information that will help you verify the CBD certificate of analysis’ authenticity.

If you can’t see everything you’re looking for, then try the footer on the certificate.

Cannabinoid types

This is a list of the different cannabinoids present in the CBD product. 

If you were only expecting to see CBD itself here, that may be the case when testing CBD isolate as it’s at least 99% pure CBD. Otherwise, there will be other cannabinoids present.

There are many active cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. CBD is one of them and THC is another – this is the one responsible for psychotropic effects. 

When CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, other cannabinoids come with it. By refining it carefully, the CBD can be separated from everything else to varying degrees.

The UK law on CBD oil makes it clear that a CBD product can only contain up to 1 mg of THC per pack. Whereas CBD isolate won’t contain any, other legal CBD products may have very slight trace amounts of THC – but not enough to produce a ‘high’.

Many CBD products will also contain small amounts of other cannabinoids – such as CBDA, CBG or CBC – for example, if it’s a broad-spectrum distillate. We’ve recently written about CBD distillate and how it differs from CBD isolate

Many CBD consumers are happy to see other cannabinoids present in their products. It has been claimed that there could be a ‘full entourage effect’ – with different cannabinoids working together to potentially produce stronger overall effects. 

So, throughout this section on a certificate of analysis, expect to see several cannabinoids mentioned.

Example of a certificate of analysis

Weight percentage

To the right of each cannabinoid, you’ll usually see a percentage. 

These figures reveal the percentage by weight of each cannabinoid from the lab tests, out of the overall weight of the product.

If you don’t see a percentage, you may see the letters ND instead. It means ‘not detected’ – there may be some of this cannabinoid in the product, but so little that there isn’t enough to analyse.

Concentration

This is measured in milligrams per gram or mg/g – it is the concentration of each cannabinoid as part of the entire product.

Again, the letters ND next to a cannabinoid means that it wasn’t detected. If it says ND in the weight percentage column, there should be one in the concentration column too.

Heavy metal analysis

This is the first part of the safety testing results section – just note that not every CBD certificate of analysis has this.

It should reveal the concentration, and there is also an ‘ingestion’ statistic. The latter is the maximum amount of heavy metals – such as mercury – that is safe to consume, presented in micrograms (0.000001 gram, or one-millionth of a gram). 

If there are any traces of heavy metals, then the tested concentration should be far below the number in the ingestion column.

Pesticide analysis

Again, not every certificate of analysis will have this part of the safety testing section. 

An upper limit of potential acceptable consumption is shown by parts per billion (ppb) – but of course what you really want to see next to each pesticide tested for, are the letters ND.

Limit of detection or quantification

These may appear on the certificate of analysis as abbreviations – LOD or LOQ.

It’s a statistic used to confirm the accuracy limit or reliability of the weight and concentration measurements.

As mentioned, we recommend that CBD manufacturers use third-party labs with a detection limit of 0.01% so that there’s no margin for error.

Footer

On some versions of a certificate of analysis, a few of the details we mentioned from the header may be down here – for example, contact information or a QR code.

There should be a signature – this will be from one of the most senior members of staff at the lab.

There may also be a key, explaining any abbreviations used in full.

Final thoughts: What Is A CBD Certificate Of Analysis And How Do You Read One?

We hope this run-through has answered all your questions. Now you know how to read a CBD certificate of analysis.

Remember, if you want to see a certificate of analysis from a CBD provider, any reputable company should make it accessible to consumers. If you can’t find one, just ask for it.

It’s worth taking care and researching any new CBD product you buy in advance. In the Centre of Medicinal Cannabis report CBD in the UK, several products available in shops were tested – some had too much THC and some had high amounts of heavy metals.

One product had no CBD at all – some providers are, wittingly or unwittingly, mislabelling their products. It just shows the importance of only buying high-quality CBD products from reputable providers. For any further information about reading a certificate of analysis, or to ask about specific products, then please contact us.

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What Is CBD Distillate And Is It Better Than CBD Isolate?

If you’re already familiar with CBD isolate then you may be thinking, what is CBD distillate? Or, what is the difference between CBD isolate and distillate exactly?

These are good questions – there are many similarities between the two, but also some crucial differences to be aware of.

Both these forms of CBD come from the Cannabis sativa plant – read our blog to learn more about what CBD is and how it works – and they go through a very complex extraction and refining process to purify them.

As with other types of high-quality CBD that have less than 1 mg of THC per pack, both the distillate and isolate varieties are considered legal CBD oil under UK law.

So, what is CBD distillate exactly? And what is the difference between CBD isolate and distillate? Read on for answers to these questions and many more.

What is CBD distillate?

CBD distillate is very pure cannabidiol, with many impurities removed via a distillation process. 

With any kind of distillation, you’re aiming to extract the most important elements from a mixture.

In short, distilling involves heating liquids – boiling and condensing them to separate a specific substance or component. 

One of the most popular examples of distilling is to extract drinking water from the sea – humans have been doing that for thousands of years.

Another example is alcoholic spirits – these are extracted from raw materials such as fruits or grains.

How do you make distillate?

The starting point for distillate is raw hemp. Anyone growing this in the UK needs an industrial hemp licence from the Home Office

The seed types must be approved by the Home Office and have a THC content not exceeding 0.2% in order to be cultivated. The CBD flower is not legal in the UK to possess or sell and must be destroyed.

There are four key parts to a CBD distillation process:

1. Extraction

This involves either carbon dioxide (CO2) or ethanol. If using CO2, then it is called a supercritical extraction process.

Ethanol is already a liquid, while CO2 first needs to be converted from a gas into a different state, acting as both a liquid and a gas at the same time.

The purpose of the extraction phase is to remove unneeded compounds from the hemp, such as plant waxes.

2. Winterisation

Extraction leaves behind crude CBD. To further remove impurities, you can ‘winterise’ it – this is an alcohol wash followed by a period of freezing, often for 24-48 hours.

This serves the purpose of solidifying remaining impurities, for ease of separation from the pure CBD.

3. Decarboxylation

Moving now from freezing to heating, at this stage you have CBDA or cannabidiolic acid. For CBDA to become CBD, a carboxyl group will be removed.

Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction which helps achieve this by removing the carboxyl group and releasing CO2

By heating the extract to high temperatures for an extended period of time, decarboxylation will occur.

4. Distillation

Using different flasks to remove the final impurities, the distillate is heated in a vacuum.

The vapour is condensed and collected – the result is CBD distillate!

How to use distillate

What is it used for? In this purer form, there are four main use cases that CBD distillate is well suited to:

  • Oils: Not every CBD oil is a distillate, but distillates are purer alternatives to standard oils – you may find that they have a very natural, faint flavour
  • Edibles: Similarly, CBD distillate often has little discernible taste – so by using it in CBD edibles, you can receive CBD without altering the flavour of the food you consume
  • Vapes: A vape cartridge using CBD distillate will be as additive-free as possible 
  • Cosmetics: CBD distillate in topically-applied creams is less likely to have an earthy colour or smell

What is CBD distillate broad-spectrum?

There are two types of CBD distillate worth knowing the difference between – full-spectrum and broad-spectrum: 

  1. Full-spectrum CBD distillate includes more compounds beyond pure CBD – notably, there will usually be very slight trace elements of THC present
  2. Broad-spectrum CBD distillate should have no detectable THC, while it can still include other great cannabinoids and natural terpenes from the hemp plant

For example, our CBD broad-spectrum distillate includes some other cannabinoids – CBG, CBC and CBDA – which may work together to potentially provide the ‘full entourage effect’.

The full entourage effect is seen as a good way to maximise any possible benefits from CBD – different cannabinoids may complement each other to produce stronger effects.

What is the difference between isolate and distillate?

We’ve previously written an in-depth guide about CBD isolate. It is the purest form possible of natural CBD, usually more than 99% pure, taking the form of a powder or crystalline solid.

Like CBD distillate, in isolate form it’s very versatile – you can take it in oil form, add it to food and drink, use it in cosmetics, and so on.

CBD isolate is made in a similar way to CBD distillate, via a complex extraction process to remove other compounds and impurities. 

The difference is that the extraction process goes even further until essentially only pure CBD molecules remain.

Is distillate better than isolate?

In short, whereas CBD isolate is over 99% pure, broad-spectrum CBD distillate is around 80-90% pure.

If that’s the case, then why would you choose CBD distillate over an isolate alternative? Well, it comes back to the full entourage effect again.

Some people prefer to have the purest CBD possible, with absolutely nothing else included – they are more likely to buy it in isolate form. 

Others prefer to enjoy the potential full entourage effect of multiple cannabinoids combining to produce stronger effects, in addition to CBD – in this scenario, distillate is the best choice.

Is CBD distillate better than CBD isolate? The answer is subjective – it completely depends on your preferences.

Summary: What is CBD distillate?

CBD distillate is very pure cannabidiol, with many impurities removed via a long distillation procedure.

It goes through a complex process of extraction, winterisation, decarbonisation and distillation to reach this state.

In contrast to CBD isolate, which is the purest form available, CBD distillate also includes some other minor cannabinoids. 

Many believe these work together in combination with CBD to produce the full euphoric experience, with perhaps stronger benefits. For more information about CBD distillate, or any of our other products, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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