Why Is Hemp & Cannabis Residual Solvent Analysis Important?

Consumers want their hemp and cannabis products to be as clean as possible. In some cases, making sure that your products are clean is the only way to succeed in the hemp and cannabis industries. Ensure you know everything you should know about residual solvents, and learn how cannabis and hemp analytics can keep solvents out of your products.

What are residual solvents in hemp and cannabis?

The FDA defines residual solvents as “organic volatile chemicals that are used or produced in the manufacture of drug substances or excipients, or in the preparation of drug products.” Simply put, residual solvents are leftover chemicals that are used in the preparation of pharmaceutical or supplement products.

In the case of the hemp and cannabis industries, residual solvents are chemicals left behind during the Cannabis sativa extraction process. To liberate oils such as cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant matter that produced them, it’s necessary to use solvents, which are chemical agents that separate two distinct substances.

While some Cannabis sativa extraction solvents are essentially harmless, others can cause neurological damage, cancer, or lung damage when ingested. As a result, it should be every hemp and cannabis producer’s goal to ensure that their products do not contain any residual solvents.

Common types of cannabis and hemp residual solvents

Practically every Cannabis sativa extraction method leaves behind residual solvents. Some of these solvents, however, are much more harmful than others. The most harmful residual solvents found in hemp and cannabis products have petrochemical origins, and these substances include:

  • Butane
  • Benzene
  • Propane
  • Acetone

In addition, ethanol, which remains one of the most common cannabis and hemp extraction solvents, is usually derived from petroleum. Even if ethanol is derived from corn or another origin material, this residual solvent remains harmful.

Certain other hemp and cannabis extraction methods also leave residual solvents behind, such as:

  • CO2 extraction
  • Water extraction

Yes, it’s true. Even water-based extraction methods can leave residual solvents behind. The solvents left behind by CO2 and water extraction are, however, not considered to be anywhere near as dangerous as the residual solvents left behind by butane, acetone, ethanol, and other petroleum-based hemp and cannabis extraction media.

What classes of residual solvents are there?

Analytics labs generally separate residual solvents into three classes based on their potential to harm. These classes include:

Class 1

Class 1 solvents should never be present in finished hemp and cannabis products. Solvents in this category cause environmental damage or have been identified as carcinogens.

Since it is very hard to fully remove these substances from finished products, they should not be used in hemp and cannabis extraction at all. Examples of Class 1 solvents include butane and propane.

Class 2

Class 2 solvents should only be contained in finished hemp and cannabis products in very small concentrations. Substances in this category may be known to cause cancer in animals but not in humans, or they may be reversible neurotoxins. Ethanol is an example of a Class 2 solvent.

Class 3

Class 3 solvents are substances with negligible toxicity. These substances are not known to be detrimental to human or animal health.

While it’s always ideal to remove residual solvents from cannabis and hemp products as completely as possible, Class 3 solvents can remain present in finished products without posing significant contamination risks. Examples of Class 3 solvents include CO2 and water.

Why can’t hemp and cannabis products contain residual solvents?

There are two main reasons that hemp and cannabis products should not contain residual solvents:

Consumer trust

The presence of high concentrations of residual solvents is usually a sign of sloppy production standards. Trustworthy hemp and cannabis producers use solvents that do not harm their customers, and if a producer does not have access to safer extraction processes, it is expected that they will ensure their products have been properly purged of any dangerous residual solvents.

Rumors that a brand’s products contain residual solvents can lead to significant losses in reputation. Using safe extraction processes that don’t leave residual solvents behind, however, improves the growth potential of hemp and cannabis brands by inspiring trust.

Regulatory compliance

The California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) has set strict limits on the concentrations of residual solvents that may be present in recreational or medical cannabis products. For instance, cannabis products sold in California may only contain 1 microgram or less of “Category 1” solvents like benzene, chloroform, or ethylene oxide.

While “Category 2” solvents like butane, ethanol, and hexane can be present in slightly higher concentrations, the state of California makes it clear that high concentrations of residual solvents are not tolerable in cannabis products. Other states have imposed similar regulations.

At present, the federal government has not produced any regulatory guidance regarding residual solvents in hemp products. As the FDA prepares to classify CBD as a supplement, however, it’s likely that strict residual solvent regulations will be put into place to protect hemp consumers.

Due to existing and future regulations, both hemp and cannabis brands are advised to prevent residual solvent contamination to the best of their ability. Brands that take residual solvents seriously will prosper by avoiding unnecessary regulatory complications. 

How do you make sure your hemp and cannabis products don’t contain residual solvents?

There are a variety of ways to reduce the concentrations of residual solvents in your hemp and cannabis products. The methods you can take to prevent solvents from entering finished products vary depending on the type of solvent you use and the specifics of your production setup.

The most surefire way to reduce the risks posed by residual solvents is to upgrade the solvents you use. While even a tiny amount of butane or ethanol is enough to make a finished hemp or cannabis product unsafe, finished products can contain reasonably high concentrations of CO2 without becoming dangerous.

To gradually reduce the concentrations of residual solvents in your products, you’ll need to perform regular testing. Reputable cannabis analytics labs can supply you with accurate hemp or cannabis residual solvent analysis, and you can compare subsequent tests to determine if the methods you’ve chosen are addressing residual solvent concentrations in your products.

Keep residual solvents out of your hemp and cannabis products

With the wide availability of safe extraction methods and the comprehensive residual solvent analysis services provided by reputable hemp and cannabis analytics labs, there’s no excuse for offering products that contain residual solvents. Brands that keep up with the times and embrace the rapidly approaching standardization of the hemp and cannabis industries will thrive, and brands that stubbornly cling to inferior production processes will disappear.

Ensure your place in your industry’s future by embracing the benefits of residual solvent analysis today.

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