It seems like everyone is trying to get into the CBD industry these days, but who has the time, expertise, and, most important of all, money to actually start a hemp farm, or build a manufacturing facility, or purchase extraction equipment? These endeavors are hugely expensive, costing millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars, and they require a level and breadth of scientific knowledge that few have.
But if you love CBD, you can still get into the business: this is where vertically-integrated manufacturers come in. They have their own farms, manufacturing facilities, and extraction equipment, and they wholesale sell their products in bulk to private labels for reuse. But, not all manufacturers are created equal. From seed sourcing to farming to extraction, the process of creating quality, distilled CBD is long, arduous, and complex.
In this article we break down everything that goes into it, and review the top manufacturers in the US.
The CBD manufacturing process in 5 steps
Before we dive into the top CBD manufacturers in the US, let’s go over what exactly goes into a finished CBD product. From raw hemp plant to refined, distilled, concentrated CBD oil is a long journey, and not many CBD manufacturers are fully vertically-integrated (meaning, they control everything from the farm to the extraction & distillation process).
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Farming
The final quality of a CBD product will largely come down to the quality of the raw hemp plant and the farming practices used to grow and cultivate the hemp. Manufacturers can get the processing, extraction, and distillation processes all perfect, but if the raw hemp is subpar then the final product will be subpar.
This is especially important because hemp is known to absorb toxins in the soil, so poor farming practices can lead to a compromised product (that’s also why lab-testing for those toxins is so important, more on that later).
Cultivation Practices checklist
Sun-grown or indoor:
- Sun-grown, or outdoor farming typically involves fewer pesticides and herbicides
- Outdoor farming is more sustainable (uses much less energy)
- Indoor farming allows for more aesthetic and refined cultivation
- Indoor farming allows more control over the different variables and potentially a more consistent product
- Organic farming typically uses fewer pesticides and herbicides
- Organic farming practices are more sustainable
Step 2: Processing
This simple step is how manufacturers take raw hemp and prepare it for extraction. How the hemp is processed will depend on the end-product, but generally processing involves drying the hemp flower and grinding them into a coarse powder. The more natural and sustainable-focused manufacturers may sun-dry their raw hemp, while others use low-temperature heating methods.
Step 3: Extraction
After processing, manufacturers will transport the dried and ground raw hemp to an extraction facility and remove all unwanted toxins and compounds, while preserving the terpenes, cannabinoid content of the hemp.
There are numerous different extraction methods, and most manufacturers have a proprietary extraction process using advanced filtration technology, but the majority of CBD manufacturers use a process called C02 extraction, which is generally considered the most reliable extraction method (though some argue that ethanol extraction is superior).
Step 4: Distillation
The amount of CBD and other cannabinoids in hemp is inherently variable, based on factors like the farming practices, soil, terroir, and more. The distillation process is how manufacturers ensure a consistent final-end product: using a variety of distillation and chromatography machines, chemists identify and isolate the prized cannabinoids, while removing anything unwanted.
Step 5: Lab-testing
This crucial step is how manufacturers verify the quality and consistency of the final product. Quality labs will test for a wide panel of potential toxins and measure the levels of all cannabinoids and terpenes.
3 Things to Look For in a Manufacturer
Ideally, a manufacturer will be able to walk you through each of the above steps and give you detailed information on how they farm, extract, distill, and test their products. But if you’re looking for the highest-quality, most reliable manufacturers, take it one step further and look for these 3 features:
1. ISO, GMP, and cGMP certifications
These certifications are granted to the cream of the crop manufacturers that are able to meet the highest quality standards. ISO 9001 is a strict, internationally recognized quality management system that is somewhat rare in the CBD industry.
GMP and cGMP certifications are granted by the FDA and are more common than ISO certifications. Among other things, these certifications ensure that the facilities meet strict hygiene, manufacturing, and laboratory controls. GMP and cGMP certified facilities undergo frequent rounds of inspections to ensure these qualities are met.
2. Seed to sale tracking
Many CBD manufacturers maintain a seed to sale tracking system that allows buyers to access meticulous records on cultivation, harvest dates, extraction, processing, and more, so they can track their final product back to its original seed genetics, farm, and production facility. This kind of transparency is critical in the largely unregulated CBD industry.
3. Updated Certificates of Analyses
Most manufacturers will provide Certificates of Analyses for the products they sell, but just having a COA isn’t enough: make sure that their COAs are frequently updated.
5 Best CBD Manufacturers
These are the manufacturers with the most prestigious certifications and facilities. They are all vertically-integrated, and most sell both raw materials and finished products.
As we mentioned above, Kazmira is currently the only CBD manufacturer with a coveted ISO 9001 certification, and they also have QA/QC and cGMP certifications. Their 200,000 sq. foot facility in Denver, Colorado produces as much as 1,000kg of CBD per month, and they produce three products:
- Zero-THC, broad-spectrum CBD
- CBD isolate
- Water-soluble CBD
They use a seed to sale tracking system, and their final products are third-party tested for toxins and contaminants.
Folium Biosciences is one of the stalwart names in the CBD industry, founded in Colorado in 2014, they operate a 300,000 sq. foot facility registered with the FDA. They’re a fully vertically integrated manufacturer that uses both ethanol and supercritical C02 extraction for their products, and even manufactures their own custom extraction and refinement equipment in Amsterdam.
Folium has the following certifications:
- Certification of Free Sale
- Manufactured Food Establishment License by the Colorado Department of Public Health
- GMP certification
- GPP certification
- Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient licensing (so they can claim pharmaceutical grade CBD)
- EU Pharmaceutical manufacturing license
3. Hemp Depot
Like Folium Biosciences and Kazmira, Hemp Depot is a vertically-integrated manufacturer that sells hemp seeds, clones, and oils. They offer a variety of products through their private brands Cibadol, Pure Pet, and Tru Organics, but they also offer wholesale and white label services. They’re also GMP and cGMP certified, and were one of the first 13 producers given a coveted license by the US Hemp Authority.
Hemp Depot is known for their commitment to sustainable practices as well, and they boast the highest-value yield per acre and the highest-value CBD per plant of any other CBD manufacturer, so if you’re looking for pure value, Hemp Depot is an excellent choice.
Global Cannabinoids owns a network of hemp farms in Oregon, North Carolina and operates the largest FDA and GMP certified CBD facility in the US. Like Hemp Depot, they received one of the first licenses from the US Hemp Authority. They’re known for their unique line of genetics that are specially-bred for higher levels of certain cannabinoids and terpenes:
- High-CBD, low-THC cultivars
- High CBG, low-THC cultivars
- High CBC, low-THC cultivars
Their processing and extraction facilities are top of the line, and they even test plants before and after harvest to ensure they’re using the finest quality hemp plants for their final product. Global Cannabinoids sells both finished products (capsules, oils, etc.) and raw materials (hemp flower, isolates, etc.).
Mile High Labs grows all of their hemp in either Colorado or Oregon, with an extraction facility in Loveland, Colorado. Along with Kazmira, they have a coveted ISO 9001 certification and GMP certification. They’re also the only CBD producer who is a member of the United Natural Products Alliance, a trade group with strict quality requirements.
They sell both finished products for private labels and raw materials.
The most important thing when choosing a CBD manufacturer for your private label is transparency: you need to get information from them on each part of the process, and ensure that they meet the strictest quality measures possible. There are plenty of solid CBD manufacturers out there, but the five listed above are ones that meet the highest standards.