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.

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.

Limonene & the Wonderful World of Terpenes

Cannabis is so much more than a single cannabinoid. Believe it or not, there are over 113 cannabinoids in this wonder plant. Science hasn’t yet been able to plumb the depths of cannabis entirely, and there’s still a lot we don’t understand. According to the book Brave New Weed, we now know that “...it isn’t simply THC in cannabis that causes the high and delivers therapeutic effectiveness. Hundreds of other compounds—CBD, terpenes, phytochemicals, flavonoids, and other so-called minor cannabinoids—all work together to create an ensemble, or entourage effect.”

When we create our full spectrum oil, we bend over backward to make sure that we preserve that effect. At the beginning of our process, we painstakingly remove the terpenes and other compounds so that we can add them back into the purified oil, whole and hearty and ready to do their jobs. So just what are terpenes and why are they so important to preserve?

To help answer, let’s take a closer look at one terpene. A powerhouse of a chemical called limonene. If you’ve ever smoked a strain that reminds you of oranges or lemons, it’s likely that you’ve tasted this citrusy delight. In fact, two of our own oils, Lemon OG and Dragon OG, have very high concentrations of limonene. Cannabists everywhere love this terpene for its refreshing, uplifting, and creative effects. Not to mention, who doesn’t crave that citrus smell?

Above and beyond the effects mentioned above, limonene is also known to relieve stress and help soothe heartburn and gastric reflux. It’s also shown to have antifungal and antibacterial properties and to improve absorption of other terpenes and chemicals by way of the skin, mucous membranes, and digestive tract (a major piece of that whole entourage effect thing we’ve been talking about).

So, this explains why we make such a big deal about using our unique whole plant extraction technique and preserving our terpenes. It’s not just the THC or the CBD; the whole plant is key in bringing you the most holistic cannabis oil experience possible. We think it’s important to pack our golden goodness with the full wallop of this amazing plant and after you try it, we think you will too.

Serendipity & the Science Director: Amber Wise's Avitas Journey

At Avitas, we think it’s incredibly important that people understand the chemistry behind the cannabis. That’s why we’re transparent about our methods and are committed to integrity in everything we do from testing for pesticides to our full-spectrum extraction process in our oils. That’s why we try to go above and beyond in our scientific approach to cannabis, which brings us to our talented Science Director, Dr. Amber Wise.

An Unlikely Journey

A few years ago, if you’d told Amber she’d be the Science Director for one of the leading cannabis producer/processors in the Pacific Northwest, she wouldn’t have believed you, but now she laughs, “Nineteen-year-old Amber is really excited about what’s happening right now!” A little over a year ago, Amber, burnt out on academia and looking for a change, met our co-founder, Adam, at the Cannabis Science Conference in Portland. Adam was immediately impressed by Amber saying, “We’d been on the hunt for a Science Director for a while, and I was thrilled to run into Amber at the conference. I thought she’d be a great fit for Avitas.”

Amber brings a vast field of knowledge to our team. She has her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. She finished off her studies with postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco studying chemical exposure risk and toxicology and a stint as a science policy research intern chemical exposure, risk and toxicology with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Her command of chemistry is far-reaching and much-needed in our growing industry.

Cannabis + Chemistry = The Perfect Match

There are quite a few Ph.D.s in analytical labs, but it’s relatively unique to have a Ph.D. in this position at a producer/processor. Amber believes that as the industry continues to grow, having Ph.D.s in this area will become an industry standard. She explains, “There’s a real need for scientists--and good ones--in this industry. There’s so much basic research that needs to be done on everything from extractions, to profiles of strains, and genetics.”

She continues, “Most typical commodities have had tons and tons of scientific research done on its different properties, but cannabis is lagging way behind for a variety of different reasons.” She reveals that this has to do with the fact that cannabis research is still illegal at the Federal level and that though there are interesting studies ongoing abroad, most of the research that’s being done is within private industry, so very few people are particularly interested in sharing information because it’s proprietary. The secretive nature of cannabis research needs to change. Some of Amber’s focus is on networking. Reaching out both on a peer level, through educational seminars for budtenders, and giving talks at cannatech meetups. And, to be honest, it’s a lot of hard work.

Work Hard, Play Hard, Work Harder

That’s something nineteen-year-old Amber might not have counted on, but Dr. Amber Wise takes the challenge on with a smile. “There’s a lot of misconceptions from outsiders about the cannabis industry. We start early, have a very strict work schedule, punch in punch out. It’s not like we don’t have a good time. It’s just very professional.”

The cannabis industry still has a long way to go in terms of fully understanding the wonders of the cannabis plant. A great deal of research is still needed to help guide processes and procedures across the board, but we’re sure glad to have Amber onboard to help lead the way in chemistry as we continue on our journey.

If you ever have a science-related question about our process or products, Amber is happy to answer them--just send her an email!

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.