The 6 Steps of Cannabinoid Conversion

Madison Heady

Have you ever heard about the cannabinoid conversion process! Wait, why is there a process? What's going on here?? The proper conversion of cannabinoids from hemp is critical to produce quality CBD and other hemp-derived cannabinoid products. Sounds like it could be complicated at first I know, but don't worry, we will walk through it step-by-step.

Why Do We Need Cannabinoid Conversion?

To start, it's important to understand that CBD, THC’s, and all other cannabinoids extracted out of hemp all have the same chemical formula! The chemical formula for them is C21H30O2.This is the reason we are able to safely and swiftly convert back and forth so easily! Think of cannabinoid conversion as the same building blocks but different houses being built. So the idea of what we are trying to achieve right now is deconstruction the old house, brick by brick, and reassembling the house into a different shape!

Hemp plants have over one hundred different cannabinoids in them, but most of them exist in too small a percentage to produce products in mass quantities. In addition to product needs, scientific research requires substantial quantities for study. Future medical and recreational uses benefit from the availability of converted cannabinoids versus relying on synthetic compounds which could produce inaccurate results.

Hemp Plants

Hemp plants are defined as any cannabis sativa plant(and no, not like sativa and indica strains, but the scientific classification of the plant itself that contains <0.3% THC-A/THC-9. The 2018 farm bill that states that all cannabis products that are derived from the hemp plant are legal. This law may also be up to the states discretion, some states have completely outlawed certain cannabinoids, some states you need a license, and still in others the producers/manufacturers may need a certain license themselves.

CBD Extraction

Alright! Now that we have our hemp we need to extract all of that CBD. There are a few ways to cultivate CBD from a hemp plant, but for the time being, let's just keep it short. CO2 extraction is the most efficient and safest way to extract high amounts CBD or other cannabinoid compounds like THC. We won't cover the extraction process in this article, so let's assume we now have all of our CBD out and it's in a distillate form. We can now start to refine it by isolating the CBD itself. After we have isolated our CBD distillate we are off and ready to go for our conversion process! Strap on your PPE and let’s go!

The Cannabinoid Conversion Process - Step-by-Step

We will use a conversion of CBD to THC-8 as an example case.

Step 1: We must get our stuff wet!

Pure CBD isolate can either be in a broken down crystalline powder or chunky crystals so we must dissolve it in a solvent. Most solvents that are used are just stronger acids, in the chemical definition sense (as in bases or acids). The word acid is conditioned in us to sound scary, but as an example, vinegar's chemical name is actually acetic acid that is just diluted a bit.

Step 2: Now that our CBD is fully dissolved into a liquid form, we can move on to beginning the process of turning CBD into other cannabinoids!

Into our big batch of liquid CBD we will need to add a strong acid. We will be doing this because we need to bust open all of those molecules and break apart those atom bonds. Once the acid is added in, the mixture must sit on a stirring plate. Some recipes also require heat to be applied. A lot of the time these mixtures will be constantly stirred for anywhere from 3-18 hours.

During this time you want to constantly test what you are working with because you want to watch the levels of CBD vs THC-8. You must watch this very closely, as the reaction continues the levels of THC-8 are going to increase, and the second it starts to drop then STOP! This portion is now done. As an interesting side note, the amount of water present in the original mix can change how much of what compound you get. If there is more water, then more THC-8 is formed, if less water is present than more THC-9 is formed.

Step 3: Now it's time to neutralize all that acid!

To make sure that we neutralize all of the acid in our lovely mix we must go through a thorough washing process so we make sure it's all gone. Most washing usually uses a few easy ingredients: distilled water, brine water (highly concentrated salt water), and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Most of these washes usually go through a separation funnel, wash, and repeat! A good 4 wash  system used is:

  1. Distilled water & sodium bicarbonate
  2. Distilled water
  3. Brine water
  4. Distilled water

Always, always, always TEST after the 4th wash!! We want to make sure all of the acid is out of our mix! If there are still trace amounts of acid left around, send it through another wash cycle!

Step 4: Remove the solvent we started with!

The best way to remove solvent easily and efficiently is a rotary evaporator. A rotary evaporator is a neat little machine that consists of a glass chamber that is gently heated and the solvent evaporated and is vacuumed out. Sometimes this is also called purging. As the solvent slowly evaporates you should start to be left with predominantly THC-8. There will also be trace amounts of other cannabinoids like THC-9, CBN, and CBD left over that didn't convert. And as always! LAB TEST your product!! These lab tests may seem tedious, but it will save a lot of time in the long run. It will also save you from having to trash your whole project at the end as well. 

Step 5: Almost there! Time to purify and remediate the extracts!!!

This is a very short step. All we are going to do in this step is to make sure we are following the laws we discussed earlier. What we need to do is simply just make sure that there is <0.3% THC-9/THCA in our batch. One way that many labs remove excess THC-9 is by chromatography. The process for chromatography is a fancy way of filtering and taking out things you don't want in your solutions. If you do end up having to remove excess THC-9, a good way to resolve the situation is to either simply repeat the last few steps and convert it to THC-8. Another easy solution would be to convert it to CBN which can be achieved by a low and slow heating process.

Step 6: Don't forget the most important step. Lab Test Your Product!

No one wants to end up accidentally having to throw away a project that took a lot of blood sweat and tears over a lab test that never happened lol. But! Congratulations! We made it! 

So to wrap things up. We learned that the conversion process isn't nearly as spooky as it sounds and that cannabinoid conversion is not a synthetic process. We also learned a few fun facts and fun words to impress your friends with yet again!

WARNING: this information is provided for educational purposes only. Please do not try to replicate these processes. Leave it to the scientist!

The 6 Steps of Cannabinoid Conversion
Ever wonder how CBD is converted into other cannabinoids found in hemp? The 6 steps to converting cannabinoids are made simple!
The Green Dragon CBD
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The Green Dragon CBD
The 6 Steps of Cannabinoid Conversion
July 31, 2023
CBD Education