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Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2019 Sep 23;4(3):183-194. doi: 10.1089/can.2018.0067. eCollection 2019.

Extractions of Medical Cannabis Cultivars and the Role of Decarboxylation in Optimal Receptor Responses.

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Centre for Molecular Design and Preformulations, and Division of Experimental Therapeutics, Toronto General Research Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, Canada.
Multi-Organ Transplant Program, Toronto General Hospital, Toronto, Canada.


Introduction: Phytocannabinoids, characteristic compounds produced by medical cannabis, interact with cannabinoid (CB) receptors (CB1 and CB2) as well as other receptor systems to exhibit their corresponding pharmacological effects. In their natural form, CBs such as Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and cannabidiolic acid are inactive at these receptors, while their decarboxylated forms (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, respectively) are potent ligands at CB receptors. Thus, extraction and processing of medical cannabis for active constituents are important. Purpose and Methods: Patients consuming medical cannabis often have limited alternative treatment options and in recent years, medical cannabis extracts have been popular as a substitute for dried cannabis plants, despite limited studies on these derivatives. We investigated three disparate cannabis cultivars and compared four chemical extraction methods head to head, viz. Soxhlet, ultrasound-assisted supercritical fluid, and microwave-assisted extractions, for their efficiency. We further characterized the chemical compositions of these extracts. Results: Microwave extraction consistently produced completely decarboxylated phytocannabinoid extracts. Factors such as temperature and exposure time play important roles in the decarboxylation of phytocannabinoids, thereby generating pharmacologically active CBs, and these conditions may differ for each cannabis cultivar. Conclusion: Chemical consistency and potency due to active compounds are in turn important in producing consistent and reliable medical cannabis extracts and their derivatives. These processes must be subject to higher levels of scientific rigor as the patient population around the world are seeking the help of such extracts for various clinical conditions, and as medical cannabis industry is receiving acceptance in various countries.


cannabinoid receptors; decarboxylation; extraction; medical cannabis; phytocannabinoids

Conflict of interest statement

L.P.K. was a cofounder of CannScience Innovations, Inc. and currently there are no conflicts.

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