Cannabis Oils Extraction At Caliva; An interview with Michael Vu
Ambitious oil extraction and refinement program combined with advanced technologies including flash chromatography crafts the finest cannabis oils in California
Caliva invests enormous amounts of care, science and savvy into its most important job — growing extremely high-quality cannabis. The commitment to excellence gets reinforced every day, from customers and patients who champion our plants’ aromas, flavors, textures and effects.
But we don’t just grow cannabis; we also withdraw from the plant cannabinoids like THC and CBD, as well as powerful terpenes, through extraction processes. And then we work with industry partners searching for premium oils and formulations for their products.
The extraction process within the cannabis industry too often is an afterthought, leading to inferior oils — to products that make moot all of the hard work that went into the grow.
Extraction is not a secondary sideshow at Caliva. We invest as much research and development into extraction as we do for growing. And it shows. Our extraction program is increasingly popular with partners across California. It is expanding, too.
We talked with Caliva’s VP of Science and Research Michael Vu, one of the leaders of Caliva’s ambitious extraction program. Michael studied biochemistry and molecular biology at UC Davis, and worked in a variety of technology ventures before pivoting to Caliva. Among other things, Michael performed lab work on cancer cells at Stanford; developed his wet lab techniques at one of the premiere cardiothoracic surgery labs in the United States; spent three years working on biomedical diagnostic assays, robotics and product development at a biomedical startup in Davis; and co-founded a medical marijuana dispensary in Vallejo.
At Caliva, Michael spent 2.5 years building the lab, extraction and science teams and now collaborates with scientists and UC Davis professors to encourage innovation and data-driven decision-making within the blossoming and fast-evolving cannabis industry.
The First Step in Cannabis Oils Extraction — on a Large Scale
C: Where does the extraction process begin?
MV: Everything starts with the grow, but once the flower is ready for extraction it enters a different phase from flower destined for retailers. For extraction, we also work with trusted partners for high-quality, third-party trim as well. All of the flower — our own, and flower from third parties — is first sent out for pesticide analysis. That is an important first step.
C: Once the flower is approved it is ready for extraction, right? Tell us about Caliva’s technology.
MV: Yes, the first hurdle is the first of several tests, and once we have approvals it is time to begin the process. The technology, developed by our science partners, is I think the first of its kind in California, and one of the biggest in the state. Most C02 extraction technologies are limited to 20 liters at a time, but our investments permit 300 liters at a time, which is invaluable for efficiency and consistency.
C: How long does this take?
MV: The first extraction gives us a crude oil reflecting between 90 and 95 percent of the cannabinoid and terpene profile in the cannabis, which beats the industry norm of between 70 and 80 percent. This process takes awhile — normally between 8 and 10 hours for us, while the industry norm is between 16 and 24 hours. It takes a long time to pull the maximum amount of cannabinoids from the plant as possible, and our technology not only gets the job done with more speed, it also produces oils with more complete cannabinoid and terpene profiles.
C: So the first extraction leverages advanced C02 technology. What happens next?
MV: Testing! We then test all of our crude to interrogate its contents.
C: Does testing show you unwanted things, as well as cannabinoid profiles and levels?
MV: Absolutely. There are plenty of extraneous and harmless things that we just do not want in our final product. Like chlorophyll. Testing tells us everything.
Flash Chromatography Helps Perfect Caliva Cannabis Oils
C: How do you dial-in precisely what you want with the oil?
MV: A cool technology called flash chromatography. This technology is similar to the distillation process in that it isolates cannabinoids like THC from the rest of the oil. But instead of using heat and vacuum to pull cannabinoids from the oil, flash chromatography isolates cannabinoids based on their solubility levels. It’s fairly complicated, but basically you are dragging cannabinoids through columns full of silica, a process that in the end finds and harvests cannabinoids based on their solubility rather than their boiling points.
C: Why do you go with flash chromatography rather than the more typical distillation method?
MV: Quality. Efficiency. It is more expensive, and rarely used with cannabis — the process is more typically used commercially with compounds that sell for between $100 and $1,000 a gram, and cannabis oil does not approach those per-gram wholesale prices. But it is a superior technology. Because it rejects heat and vacuums, we believe the cannabinoids emerge less disturbed. More potent and whole. So we invested heavily in this elite technology and are thrilled with the results.
Caliva’s Arsenal of High-Performance Technologies for Cannabis Oil
C: Any other technologies used along the way?
MV: Plenty. Are you ready for some acronyms? We use HPLC, or high-performance liquid chromatography, which measures cannabinoid levels in flower. We leverage GCMS, also known as gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry, to test terpenes. And we also will be turning to LCMS — that’s liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry — to test a third time for pesticides. The final pesticide test, done in-house, will let us get our oils to market with great speed once it is implemented. Otherwise, it gets sent out for testing and can take between 7 to 10 days to get results. This will let us be much more efficient about harvesting and getting product out the door to partners.
Market Advantages of Caliva’s Cannabis Oils
C: Does all of this technology help give the extraction team more confidence about the strain profiles?
MV: Absolutely. We do so much intricate testing, and keep such detailed records, that we understand precisely what kind of terpene and cannabinoid profile we want in our Blue Dream oil, for example. So while we do isolate the terpenes and cannabinoids from one another during our many processes, we then recombine them, in their purified states, to create ideal expressions of our many strains.
C: Do you see this as a market advantage?
MV: A lot of California cannabis companies care deeply about quality and consistency, and due to our technology we deliver that every day. We are gonzo about quality and consistency. And we also are able to provide partners with the full range of possibilities — from oils that, while extremely high in quality, do not arrive with all of the bells and whistles that make our most advanced oils the best in California, to oils that take advantage of the many things we can do with our wide range of technologies. And these oils are truly as good as it gets with cannabis oil.