PURE THC for three bucks a gram? A Cannabis Market Disruptor? An ”Alchemy for the Masses” solution to today’s high prices for quality smoke? Some tarnish on the Holy Grail? A wonderful bunch of new possibilities? Or maybe just a novelty for this post-legalization era?
Lots of different ways I could approach this subject. Let’s start with the science, then get into all the possibilities and fun extrapolations.
One of the simpler processes in my 1972 book Cannabis Alchemy was the isomerization of CBD to THC. One simply needs to reflux a solution of solvent, acid, and cannabis containing CBD, or pure CBD and the CBD will turn to THC, which is then separated from the solution and purified.
The reason that pure THC has remained so elusive is that the isolation and purification of CBD is far from simple. The method described in my 1971 book utilized very sophisticated equipment and processes to extract and isolate the CBD. Equipment such as the Parr Bomb!
Well, guess what! There is a huge glut of pure powder and crystal CBD on the market these days, and the prices of CBD products are plummeting. When chemists first isolated CBD from hemp in this modern market, it sold for $100,000 per kilo. Today, CBD crystals are now available online for as little as $3 per gram, if you buy a whole kilo for $3,000. A single gram is only $8.50. retail. Delivered via US mail. Right to your front door.
The CBD is produced from very low THC marijuana plants, now called “hemp” by government definition, and is legal to buy most everywhere. Farmers are planting and harvesting thousands of acres of hemp, mainly to fuel the CBD craze sweeping the world. Pre-rolled, high-CBD, hemp cigarettes are available at gas stations. There are hundreds of brands of pills, lotions, gummys, capsules, essential oils, etc. now available just about everywhere.
The prices of most medical and recreational cannabis products are tied, albeit somewhat loosely, to the amount of THC the product contains. If today’s traditional cannabis products were to be valued according to the THC, and that THC was derived from “hemp”, the cost of cannabis products would be a small fraction of today’s prices.
A gram of pure CBD converts to a gram of THC, a beautiful thin red oil. Cost? About $3.00. And I’ll bet that if one were to spend a half day on the phone and email, you could find one of the CBD guys who would sell a kilo for half that.
A ounce of fine cannabis contains about 7 grams of THC. Value of THC in an ounce of equivalent? About $20.
Edibles? 10 mg of THC made from CBD produced from hemp? About .03 cents.
Cost of a one milligram microdose? About a quarter cent!
So how does one convert the CBD?
There are a number of methods on the net; some simple … some far more sophisticated. Let’s start with the ultra simple method a buddy of mine used in his kitchen.
- One gram of CBD is dissolved in 10ml 200 proof ethanol.
- 1 drop of concentrated sulfuric acid is added to the mixture.
- The mixture is refluxed (gently boiled while collecting the vapors) for 2 hours.
- The solution is then added to an equal volume of cold water containing 1/4 tsp. of baking soda.
- 10 ml of hexane is added to the solution, gently mixed, and allowed to separate into layers.
- The top layer, which has turned to a beautiful cherry red, is siphoned off. This is repeated several times until the solution is exhausted.
- Evaporation of the hexane yields the product – a very bright, very pretty, thin red oil.
- The final traces of hexane can be removed in a vacuum oven.
Viola! A gram of kick-ass cannabis extract.
Then my friend tried another method. He dissolved the CBD crystals directly in hexane, added the h2so4, refluxed, then poured the sauce into 3 volumes of water which contained a 1/4 tsp of Arm + Hammer. The solution was extracted several times with hexane, yielding a beautiful red solution, followed by translucent cherry colored oil on evaporation.
There didn’t seem to be a lot of differences between the two batches – none that I could tell anyhow.
None of this was lab tested, and I recall reading somewhere that an isomerization with ethanol may not result in a full conversion. Graywolf just told me that variances in the process can result in production of CBN as well as THC.
So there is much more research to be done in this area. Research done in a lab with controls and testing. And, after what I am about to cover, there is a lot of room for development by adding back organic terpenes, and in using high CBD oils that contain a favorable combination of terpenes and other natural elements.
Now, the obligatory disclaimer. This is all presented for the sake of information. Never perform any operation involving volatile solvents unless you are a trained chemist, working in a professional laboratory with adequate safety features. In other words: Do not do this.
Everything necessary to do the CBD isomerization can be bought online or at local stores. Very safe instructions utilizing common kitchen equipment can be found in my book Cannabis Alchemy, which can be purchased thru Amazon … or downloaded for free at several sites online. You gotta search for the download sites online. Save twenty bucks!). Those Alchemists choosing to follow standard lab technique simply need to put together a reflux / distillation rig.
And always remember, when removing noxious chemicals via a washing process, do it several times.
So, now to answer the question on everyone’s mind. How was the high?
In a couple of words: Very strong. Very disappointing. But perhaps with a lot of promise.
For many decades, Alchemists had sought the holy grail of pure THC. They employed many different tools and techniques in the quest to remove every other non THC element that was extracted from the plant, sometimes getting real close. (I have never witnessed nor heard of anyone making pure THC thru extraction and refinement. I’m sure it can be done … and I would love to smoke it side by side with THC produced by conversion from pure CBD.)
But the pure THC, when made via synthesis of pure CBD, just wasn’t that good to smoke, especially when compared to modern bud and strong extracted oil products. Lots of high. No euphoria.
I find it ironic that the holy grail of many Alchemists ( me, anyhow) for many decades was absolutely pure THC. Without the other natural goodies, it just ain’t all that wonderful at all when smoked by itself.
It’s very strong, very Sativa-like, smooth to smoke, and has a taste somewhat reminiscent of burnt plastic. The high might be absolutely wonderful in micro-doses (how the hell could i ever tell that!) but it isn’t that good to smoke compared to fresh bud, or oil which contains at least a few other of the natural goodies from the plant, or hash or other more natural smokables. It is the last thing that gets smoked on my table, after someone’s curiosity is satisfied by finally smoking the pure thing.
I haven’t tried adding back any terps. I’m thinking that perhaps the organic terps that are naturally present in cannabis, and also come from other plants, might put some of the goodness back into the high. D-limonene, pineine, mycerine, and maybe a few others are available commercially. I’m kind of wary of adding anything back to oil, given the vaping illness from additives that recently made the news.
I’m thinking that one may be able to make a far more pleasurable smoke by isomerizing high CBD organic hemp oil. It should still contain much of the other organic goodies present in the plant, which should be very similar to (the same as) those found in oils extracted from recreational marijuana.
Because the CBD glut has produced pure crystal CBD for $3 per gram, it should be easy to find high quality CO2 extracted oil from hemp with a CBD content of about 70% for maybe $2 per gram wholesale. Hopefully that 30% of the extract that is neither CBD or THC will be the same as the natural goodies that make THC pleasurable in really good isomerized oil from natural cannabis.
Now that organic hemp flowers are being sold according to strain, and several popular recreational strains have been bred down to the .3% THC necessary to be called “hemp”, there is room for some Alchemical fun and experimentation. Certain strains that advertise high CBD may have the necessary terpenes and other goodies that would yield a wonderful oil after isomerization.
(Real simple processes. I’d have done it already, but I’ve been very busy working on my new project: retirement!).
The cost of CBD is so low because the farmers can use commercial farming techniques and equipment, and grow hundreds of acres in a traditional farming environment. I believe that the cost for a farmer to produce CBD is a bit more than it costs to buy CBD right now, due to the downward commercial pressures of the glut. But the incredibly low prices of CBD show how cannabis could be priced were it to be treated as a regular agricultural commodity.
It certainly will be interesting when Wal-Mart grows a few thousand acres and offers us commercially-grown, machine processed, cheap-assed cannabis, which I know will be nowhere near the quality of what our craft growers are producing these days. I’m just hopeful that smokers will have developed enough connoisseurism that the really good stuff will continue to exist.
My solution? Completely deregulate the plant. Treat it like potatoes or kale. Let everybody and anybody grow it, sell it, trade it, etc. Let the dispensaries compete with the farmer’s markets. I want to see everybody grow it in the strip between the sidewalk and the street. Free the plant that’s provides freedom of mind.
Again, feedback always wanted. Who can make an oil out of modern CBD that is wonderful to smoke for just a few bucks per gram. The possibilities are out there.
A last afterthought: in 1996, after heroes like Dennis Peron had fought for years to get medicinal cannabis legalized in San Francisco, some doctors were far more comfortable writing a prescription for Marinal than they were for writing a recommendation for medical cannabis. Lots of AIDS and HIV patients were given prescriptions for the synthetic THC. And nobody liked them at all.
No euphoria, lots of sativa-like anxiety and nervousness, and little desire to take another pill. I tried them. Ugh. About all they did was create an instant and huge desire for some natural cannabis. Could it be some sort of terpene withdrawal? Who knows.
Thanks for reading everybody.