Why We Take Pesticide Testing So Seriously

At Avitas, we cultivate a lot of our own flower and take great care to grow it using organic methods, but our grow is small, and we make a lot of oil, so we also work with local farms to source terrific starting material. Every so often we get a shipment of gorgeous flower that looks and smells great, but we have to send it back because it tests positive for pesticide. This breaks our hearts. However, we’re committed to bringing you the cleanest, most extraordinary extract possible and sometimes that means making some tough choices.

The Process

Before we place an order for a new shipment, we have farms sign an affidavit stating that they don’t use banned pesticides and if their crop tests positive, we return the flower and get refunded. Once we receive a shipment, we immediately send a sample out for testing, and nothing goes in our equipment until we get a clean result back. We’ve returned many shipments, and it doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but we still check every lot.

It’s Complicated

Sometimes a farm’s flower fails the test even after they’ve used every possible precaution and grown their flower using only the best of organic methods. This is where it gets complicated. Sometimes when growing outdoors, farmers are affected by what’s been planted in their fields in prior years. Pesticide doesn’t just go away once a harvest comes in. They can stay in the soil and can continue to affect what’s grown for many years to come. Sometimes, even when a farm is on clean soil, a nearby farm might spray their crops with conventional pesticides.  In agricultural regions like Washington and Oregon, crops like hops, apples, and wheat have much looser rules about what pesticides can be used, and natural factors like wind could mean that even with the best intentions, sometimes they fail the tests.

Why It Matters

One reason even a tiny amount of pesticide on the plant might be a more significant problem in finished oil is that the extraction process concentrates all the good stuff AND the bad stuff too. But a bigger worry is the complete lack of any scientific knowledge regarding the safety of inhaling smoked or vaped pesticides. Toxicity tests for pesticides only look at what might happen if you eat trace amounts in your food, and sometimes they look at skin contact or inhalation of vapors for worker safety. Many pesticides are by their very nature highly toxic and can convert to new molecules when heated at high temperatures. One particularly problematic pesticide that is used illegally on cannabis is myclobutanil. This molecule degrades into cyanide gas when it’s heated, so we want to make very sure that doesn’t end up in our oil!

Sure, our process is rigorous, but we care about what we put into our bodies, and we think you do too. We always test for pesticide, and never add any flavors, additives, or fillers to our pure golden goodness. After all, that’s the Avitas promise.

All Aboard the Terpene Train

At Avitas we think about terpenes a lot. They’re a crucial part of how we make the best cannabis oil cartridges in the industry. You may have read about our oil production techniques and how we remove cannabis plant terpenes at the beginning of each batch and then hand blend those same terpenes back in before that batch of oil is complete. But do you know why? Today, we wanted to dive in and explore just what terpenes are and why cannabis terpenes are a vital part of great cannabis extract.

Talking Terps

Herb defines terpenes as “...oils that give cannabis plants and flowers their unique smell.” However, terpenes are not just found in cannabis plants. You know those essential oils that that one person in your life won’t stop raving about? They’re packed with-- you guessed it--terpenes. Terpenes interact with our bodies in some amazing ways. For instance, tea tree oil is filled with terpinen-4-ol, γ-terpinene, and limonene all of which work together to bring you the antibacterial punch of tea tree oil. Lavender oil is similarly stuffed with terpenes including linalool, which gives lavender its unique scent and flavor. Lavender oil is thought to be soothing and may help people sleep or aid anxiety.

Cannabis Terpenes

In cannabis plants, the terpenes appear mainly in the same place we find the cannabinoids: the flower’s sticky resin glands. There are over a hundred terpenes found in cannabis plants, but the six most common are myrcene, linalool, caryophyllene, limonene, humulene, and pinene. They each have unique characteristics and when combined in different ways, give each strain its unique features and aroma. This is why we think it’s so important to preserve all of them, so our finished oil tastes and feels like the flower from which it was made. However, there’s also another, a less well-understood reason for the preservation of terpenes in cannabis oil cartridges.

The Entourage Effect

You may know about the main cannabinoids like THC and CBD and their role in cannabis. However, it’s clear that it’s not just the cannabinoids that work such wonders in our bodies: terpenes and other phytocompounds work in concert with the cannabinoids to impart medicinal and psychoactive effects. This phenomenon is what’s known as the “entourage effect.” Essentially, it’s the combination of everything working together that’s important—not just isolating a single active ingredient which is typical for modern pharmaceutical formulations. For more information on the entourage effect and its possible ramifications, check out this great article from Leafly. Since there are so many different terpenes that appear in different amounts, and many other compounds also present, there’s still a lot to learn about how they interact with each other and in our bodies.

From aroma to effectiveness, cannabis terpenes turbocharge our experience. That’s why we believe it’s so important to preserve and reintegrate them into our world-class cannabis oils and extracts. We never use terpenes from other plants or lab-synthesized terpenes the way other brands may because we believe that the whole plant is essential and we want you to have the best vaping experience possible. That’s just the Avitas way.

Beyond THC: Taking a Deeper Dive into Cannabinoids

The depth and breadth of cannabis are still being plumbed. Believe it or not, there are over 113 cannabinoids in this wonder plant and scientists are still trying to understand how they all work both by themselves and together. These compounds interact with our endocannabinoid system (bet you didn't know you had one of those, huh?) which consists of a constellation of cell receptors and molecules scattered throughout our bodies. This complex system is involved in many aspects of our wellbeing: memory, stress and pain response, sleep, appetite, energy balance and metabolism, and immune function to name a few. This system interacts with both the endocannabinoids that naturally occur in our systems and the cannabinoids that are found in cannabis. So just what are these compounds and why do our bodies love them so much? Let's dive in, shall we?

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)

THC is what most people think of and reach for when buying cannabis. We've all heard that this is the compound that gets people high and keeps them there, but there's more to this chemical than meets the high. Even though CBD (more on that later) is usually the cannabinoid that's most associated with therapeutic benefits, THC may also have a positive impact on things like insomnia, inflammation and more. THC is a psychoactive compound that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system and brain. However, too much THC is not necessarily a great thing. Always go low and start slow when first trying a high THC product. Everyone's body chemistry is unique and can react in negative ways to different strains.

THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)

This is the form the plant makes, which is then converted to THC during the aging process or when smoked or vaped. Even though these molecules are very similar, THCA is non-psychoactive and plays a very different role than THC in the body. This compound exists in both fresh and dried cannabis flower buds mainly but also leaves. THCA potentially has a whole host of benefits and is still being studied to more fully understand its role in the human body.

THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin)

THCV is a fairly rare psychoactive cannabinoid that may affect how THC interacts with the body. Some studies have shown that THCV may be good for aiding glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity and might even have a more euphoric effect than THC, but further research is needed before we can draw any solid conclusions about this elusive cannabinoid. It occurs in small amounts in some varieties--growers are definitely working on selecting for strains that have higher levels of this so it can be studied further!

CBD (cannabidiol)

Other than THC, CBD is probably the most well-known cannabinoid on the block. It can be found in "CBD-rich strains" which typically contain varying amounts of THC--these are regulated within the legal state's cannabis markets and medical patients typically seek out specific ratios that work for their conditions. Another common source for pure CBD is industrial hemp, which contains essentially zero THC. Similar to THC, it is the degradation product of CBDA, which is the form the plant makes. However, it's quite different from THC in many ways, one main one being that it's non-psychoactive. It may also have multiple therapeutic benefits and is used in many formulations like oral tinctures. CBD may work best when paired with some THC (even very tiny amounts of THC present have been shown to allow CBD to work better). It's also good to know that this compound counteracts some of the "high" of THC when they're consumed together.

There are many more cannabinoids to explore and this brief summary of four compounds has barely scratched the surface of this amazing plant. More research and study is required to uncover all of the benefits of our pure golden goodness and we're looking forward to learning more about the intricacies of our beautiful plants.

Six behind-the-scenes things Avitas customers should know about

There are lots of topics I want to write about on this blog, but it will take a little time to cover all of them individually.  In the meantime, I put together an overview of some of the things we do behind the scenes that other extractors either aren’t doing at all, or are not devoting nearly the amount of energy or resources that we are.  The sentences with an *asterisk* I definitely plan to write more in-depth entries.  As always, if there are questions you have, leave them in the comments!

  1. We’re fanatics about testing everything for pesticides as it comes into our facility
    1. many people claim to have 100% organic products, but analytical labs report finding banned pesticides in many products on the shelf (between 40-80% in WA and 20-30% in OR have some sort of detected banned pesticide!*)
    2. this comes at considerable cost to us, as each test is over $300. When I discuss results with the scientists at the analytical labs, they tell me they don’t have other extract labs testing their trim material.
  2. The only chemicals in our extract and process labs (aside from organic cannabis) are:
    • pure COcarbon dioxide (comes in pressurized tanks)
    • Food-grade ethanol (fancy talk for highly pure EverclearTM)
    • Purified reverse-osmosis water
    • Solid CO2 (carbon dioxide) + rubbing alcohol (for our cold traps, does not contact product)

–we don’t use cutting agents like PG, VG, artificial flavors* or other fillers.

3. We carefully keep each harvested strain as a separate batch*

  • Sometimes we get a large batch, sometimes we get a small batch – that’s part of being reliant on a perishable/seasonal feedstock! To ensure the finished oil smells, tastes and experiences as close to the actual flower as possible, we don’t mix strains in our extractors.  That means our finished batch sizes are variable and it’s not always possible to find the exact same product month after month in your favorite retailer.

4. We enhance our finished oil with the full spectrum of terpenes collected in-house from each batch

  • previous blog post was written about terpenes, but the summary is: most companies who claim to have “terpene-enhanced” product are not getting them from cannabis and most folks have no idea where the source of these additives might be coming from*…..

5.  We spend more than most companies in research and development (R&D) of our procedure, tracking the cannabinoids and terpenes, fine-tuning our processing steps to optimize and improve the overall product.

  • We have a full-time PhD chemist leading our scientific team
  • We don’t currently have the expensive in-house analytical equipment, so it’s necessary to partner with outside analytical labs, which comes at no small cost to us, but it’s important to us that we feel confident we’re offering a clean and safe product*.

6.  Multi-point quality control checkpoints integrated along the process line*

  • I already discussed the additional pesticide screening before extraction above. We also check each batch for:
    • viscosity (how “thick” the oil is – for example, honey is very viscous, while water is much less)
    • color/clarity on visual standard scale
  • cartridge performance and reliability*: we have personal relationships with the overseas manufacturers of the cartridges and have been testing out many different iterations to ensure they have a smooth product delivery each time.

As you can see, we utilize top-level science and clean, organic processes to create a premium product for our customers and patients.