Industry News

ITALIAN AND EUROPEAN HEMP EXTRACTION AND TESTING

A December 2016 law made the cultivation of industrial hemp legal without specific authorization in Italy. While limited to EU certified cultivars [1], farmers are now permitted to grow hemp. These varieties, used for fibers and seeds, have been cultivated for centuries in Italy. In 2017, Easyjoint made CBD flowers readily available on the Italian market with the introduction of ‘Cannabis Light’.

Currently, the only regulated aspects of the Italian hemp industry concern how the product is labeled and the quantification of THC content. The regulatory framework has yet to be developed, and cannabis currently occupies an ambiguous legal status where the flowers are commercially referred to as “collectors’ items”, decorative plants, or for technical use only. As a result, testing for contaminants is not mandatory and the market is flush with low quality and even dangerous products. Growers only test for CBD and THC content to make label claims and demonstrate legality. At the same time, cannabis-testing labs are in their infancy and lack standardization across facilities. With these motivations in mind,Materia Labs was founded, dedicated to the analytical testing of hemp.

In a market over saturated with hemp flowers, CBD extracts and oils are poised to take center stage. With extracts, quality is even more critical, as contaminants can become more concentrated. [2] An analysis of the overall quality of CBD oils in Italy and Europe demonstrate no correlation between percentages claimed on the label, the presence of contaminants and THC content (ICCI study). [3] The current supply of quality extracts fails to meet market demands, resulting in consumer’s depending on Swiss, American, or even ‘homemade’ products.

The 0.2% THC legal limit in Italy and Europe has limited hemp extracts to states where licenses are granted (ex. Germany and the Czech Republic). As a result, nearly all of the extraction of legal hemp is ‘homemade’ and non-professionalized, limiting both quality and safety. The demand for third-party extraction by farmers with unsold hemp is very high and absorbed by non-professionalized home operators. While some companies have developed processes that avoid THC concentration and market good quality products, the productivity is not enough to meet the demand.

Italian extraction equipment solutions remain limited, with only producers of CO2 and fluorinate gas equipment. Due to a great tradition in medicinal plant extraction (Aboca, Indena, Epo and many more), as soon as the regulatory framework is clear, the industry is poised for rapid growth. In Europe equipment changes from state-to-state; Germany is the main producer of distillation equipment and France leads in chromatography instrumentation.

The best strategy is vertical integration that includes high quality raw material (given the agricultural potential of Italy), equipment and a specialized testing lab to maintain product safety.

References

[1] Plant variety database – European Commission (v.3.0). http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/plant_propagation_material/plant_variety_catalogues_databases/search/public/index.cfm?event=SearchVariety&ctl_type=A&species_id=240&variety_name=&listed_in=0&show_current=on&show_deleted=. Accessed March 4, 2019.

[2] Pavlovic R. et al. “Quality Traits of “Cannabidiol Oils”;: Cannabinoids Content, Terpene Fingerprint and Oxidation Stability of European Commercially Available Preparations”,Molecules, 2018, Volume 23(5): pii: E1230. [journal impact factor = 3.098; cited by 3] [3] Warning for consumers of CBD and cannabis oils sold on the EU market – ICCI. https://www.icci.science/en/article/news/warning-for-consumers-of-cbd-and-cannabis-oils-sold-on-the-eu-market/. Accessed March 4, 2019.

About the Author

      • Giuseppe Desando graduated in Pharmacy at the University of Siena (2016).
      • Researcher and subsequently Junior project manager at the Galenica Senese Pharmaceutical Industry for production of high CBD extracts without THC. (2016-2018)
      • Scientific Manager and technical Director at Fl-group, distribution company of Medical Cannabis (2018-Actual)
      • Co-founder at Materia Medica Processing S.r.l. and Materia Lab branch, dedicated start-up in the Hemp world, focused on production of CBD extracts and Full analytical service (2018-Actual)

About the author

Dr. Giuseppe Desando