Today, ABSTRAX aims to lead the way in flavor science in the cannabis industry. With continued focus and hard work, we are determined to become the number one company in the industry that designs experiences for cannabis products and cannabis-inspired products. We cherish our collaborations with Terpenes and Testing Magazine as they continue to look deeper into our scientific advantages. In the past, they have asked us about our cutting-edge analytical science and our cannabis manufacturing capabilities. [1,2] Now, we are taking a step further into the analytical portion of the business and how we turn data, numbers, and figures into cannabis-oriented experiences.
Our good friend Jason came to us recently and asked, “How does ABSTRAX turn its GCxGC data into sensory pleasing products?” For new readers, we have developed a piece of analytical instrumentation that we call our GCxGC. This is a gas chromatography machine that runs into another gas chromatography machine, that then runs into a plethora of other detectors like a mass spectrometer and more.
These analytical instruments allow us to detect what compounds are in a flower or an extract. Unlike quality control (QC) labs in every cannabis legal state that are required to perform analytics with roughly similar equipment, we do exploratory analytics. It’s comparable to a Mars Rover mission versus a commercial airline flight; they are performing totally different jobs. For further reference, a QC lab is required to test down to ppm (parts per million, or 10-6) and in some states (parts per billion, or 10-9) of certain standards which are precise, pre-known, targets. Due to recent advancements in analytical chemistry technology, we were able to design our instrumentation to detect down to ppq (parts per quadrillion or 10-15)!
Now that everyone has some preliminary background on how closely we are looking at a given sample, we can explain why we have two GCs. A normal GC in a QC lab will yield peaks and valleys on a chromatogram. We originally used this type of equipment, but the product was consistently missing crucial, unique, and identity-specific attributes. We knew we were not detecting all compounds present and were very skeptical of the potency of each compound. Therefore, we needed more separation between the peaks and valleys.
The only way to do so is to detect down further and increase separation by introducing another plane by using two dimensions instead of one dimension. Therefore, our 2D-GC performs separation on size like a normal GC and then separates by polarity, ensuring we get the most separation possible. This is especially important in a cannabis matrix (like a flower), as many of the sensory, experience-oriented molecules are very similar to one another in chemical structure, but yet very different to your nose and brain.
We now have a better understanding of the data being produced so we can discuss how this data is converted into an experience. Let’s say we want to recreate Sherbinski’s famous Gelato, but this one is different. This is his new primo, single batch, indoor, personal Gelato. The first thing we do is get the best sample to analyze while the product is in its prime, the time at which Sherb would want someone to experience this product. Let’s assume all the previous preparation work is already done. The preparation work would include designing and running standards, refining the analytics tools, and creating a giant library of raw materials for R&D and manufacturing to pull from. These steps can be featured in papers on their own. We collect this data, which we refer to as the “secondary metabolite fingerprint” of the cultivar. With this data and all the previous data we’ve collected, we’ve designed a program called “Terplytics™”, which we designed with expert flavorists (contributing the sensory data) to predict the flavor and fragrance of the samples based on the analytics.
This program goes further to run calculations of the data against our current, giant library of raw materials to create a first revision formulation. Our in-house flavorist creates this formulation and submits it to our sensory panel, or cannabis connoisseurs, for review. We then work in collaboration between the formulation flavorists and the cannabis connoisseurs with the original feedstock (Sherb’s small batch Gelato in this case) to create the flavor in its intended end use for the optimal experience. The number of revisions can easily go into 10s of revisions depending on the type of experience we are trying to capture. Thankfully, we’ve gotten this positive feedback loop dialed into a fine science.
After explaining this process to Jason, he asked the same question any good scientist would, “Why?” Why are we so motivated to look deeper into this specific chemistry of cannabis? Frankly, the cannabis flavor and aroma are just as unique as the psychoactive high and both contribute to the experience of cannabis. This experience has enchanted me and the other founders of ABSTRAX.
As we were starting up shop, we felt that the science of flavor and aroma in cannabis and terpenes left something to be desired. We realized we had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dive deeper into the unexplored science of our favorite plant on the cusp of the end of prohibition. It’s the right science, at the right time, in the right place, with the right people. As we started walking down this road, we found like-minded individuals who are excited by the possibility of being pioneers in a new industry.
Like any specialized flavor house, we are extracting our subject matter all the time. We’re extracting 1000s of pounds of cannabis at our manufacturing lab in Long Beach. Occasionally, we are asked if we think that the cannabis absolutes, extracts, or essential oils we create are lacking something. Our motivation is not what the plant is lacking. On the contrary, we are searching for the unique nuances in cannabis that we or our clients love the most. We’re curious to know what type of experience we can create if we emphasize it or frame it better. Or is it possible to make this already wonderful experience even more enjoyable? An additional motivation is that we are finding and creating a lot of good data, and in the back of our minds, we remain hopeful that some of the science we are doing today will someday contribute to the overall understanding of the medicinal benefits of cannabis and potentially future medicines inspired by cannabis.
Unsurprisingly, after creating these extremely niche and unique flavors with all this intensive science we are again asked, “why?” Simply put, we extract and study cannabis every day to create new exciting functional fragrances and flavors inspired by cannabis. This benefits our partners in the cannabis industry in addition to the rest of the world watching the cannabis industry for some inspiration for new consumer packaged goods.
Like any other flavor house, our formulations are used in a variety of products from infused paper for educational content for budtenders, to new age beers and tequilas, to infused joints, and beyond. Other products customers have engineered our products into include: cosmetic fragrances, topical products, beverages, medicated and non-medicated edibles and candies, nutraceuticals, smokable products (like pre-rolls and vapes), and even analytical standards.
References Koby K. The Discovery of “The Gas” is Revolutionizing the Terpene and Cannabis Industries. Extraction Magazine. May-June 2020.  Koby K. The Mystique of Cannabis “Gas” & The Equation That Changed Everything. Extraction Magazine. Sept-Oct 2020.