At the center of the Pacific Ocean, America’s 50th state has finally begun producing medicinal pot in this Polynesian archipelago. Take a trip inside Aloha Green Apothecary, the first state-licensed facility cultivating and selling medical marijuana for the patients of Hawaii.
Pot in Paradise
Nobody knows when marijuana first appeared in Hawaii, but the remote islands have been inextricably linked to the legend of the pakalolo, or numbing leaf, for centuries. The combination of rich volcanic soil, plentiful sunshine, tropical breezes and abundant rainfall proved irresistible to resourceful locals looking to produce their own tropical cannabis. Guerrilla weed growers thrived in their camouflaged hilltop plots, growing cannabis crops year-round for the insatiable appetites of the laid-back island populace.
Over time, strains brought to the islands from across the oceans adapted and acclimated to Hawaii’s unique environment and were passed down from generation to generation. These exotic varieties, such as Kona Gold, Puna Budder and, of course, the legendary Maui Wowie, inspired generations of surfers and hippies looking for the signature “electric” buzz. Old-timers still rave about the uplifting aspects of these sativa-dominant strains, eagerly reminiscing about their mildly hallucinogenic high with no “ceiling”—a toker could keep puffing and puffing and yet still reach new heights of blissful euphoria.
Recent research has found that these varieties are especially rich in THCV, dubbed the “sports car of cannabinoids” by Steep Hill Labs, due to the quick onset and relatively short duration of psychoactive effects. Strains with higher levels of THC come on quite strong and can induce panic and anxiety in some users if they aren’t careful. Some patients also report that THCV works as an appetite suppressant, which, if true, imparts this compound with tremendous potential from a pharmaceutical perspective.
Hawaii’s marijuana history, however, took a turn for the worse in the 1980s with Operation Green Harvest, a decades-long campaign that saw federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies using assault helicopters, masked officers with AK-47s and more in an attempt to eradicate domestic cannabis cultivation and lock up farmers. This aggressive effort devastated the islands’ cultivation community as well as pot consumers, and many say the misguided fiasco helped lead to an epidemic of hard-drug use and a methamphetamine crisis that continues to this day. The dark days for Hawaiian dankness would continue for years until the voters finally decided to make a change.
Although Hawaii legalized medical marijuana for qualified patients and caregivers in 2000, it wasn’t until almost 20 years later, in 2016, that the state finalized the rules governing its dispensary program. These new regulations require eight state-licensed dispensaries to grow, manufacture and sell their own products to eligible patients with a valid state registration card. The one I’m visiting, Aloha Green Apothecary, opened in 2016 with a traditional Hawaiian blessing ceremony in downtown Honolulu on the beautiful island of Oahu. Everything it sells must be lab-tested for cannabinoid profile, pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, moisture content, microbial impurities and solvents (when applicable).
The strict guidelines also require an FBI background check for all employees or visitors, which means that for the first time in my cannabis-cultivation reporting career, I have to apply for permission from the government to visit a legal grow. As Aloha Green’s director, Helen Cho, assists me through the process, I joke about how the times have changed: When I first started covering clandestine indoor pot farms for High Times almost 20 years ago, I sometimes had to ride in the trunk of a car or wear a blindfold. Now I was politely asking the feds to allow me to pay a visit to a licensed facility!
Aloha Grows Green
Aloha Green Apothecary produces its flowers and extracts on the island of Oahu on land that was formerly part of the massive Dole Plantation. I drove out to meet this dedicated team of locals to find out more about their commitment to creating quality medicine using locally sourced materials. Upon approach, the tropical landscape gave way to a well-protected seven-acre plot surrounded by ample security fencing and cameras. The rich, dark-red volcanic soil and bright sunshine reveal this as a place where agriculture has thrived for ages and will continue to do so.
My tour begins with Aloha Green’s head grower, Daniel Richardson, excitedly explaining his philosophy for growing artisanal cannabis for the community of patients in Hawaii. The goal is to tread lightly, making use of as much local material as possible while taking advantage of the natural environment by using greenhouses to grow some of Aloha Green’s flowers. By reusing whatever they can, the Aloha team strives to treat the community and their patients with the respect they deserve.
In fact, Aloha Green is the first state licensee to use several greenhouses to grow its flowers, which has cut the cost of production by a third—all the more important as Hawaii has the most expensive electricity in the United States. The company also has plans to convert to solar for much of its power usage in the future as well. Aloha’s growers are even experimenting with cover crops such as clover to provide nitrogen while also acting as a mulch to conserve water potentially lost to evaporation. Wood chips on top of the growing medium acts as insulation from water loss as well.
Moms and Clones
Mother plants at Aloha Green are nurtured under fluorescent and HID (high-intensity discharge) lighting and hand-fed with a nutrient solution to keep them thriving. Mother-plant vegging rooms are climate-controlled with fans, ensuring that air is circulating and not stagnant. The moms are grown in large containers so that their roots can find plenty of space and expand. This ensures that the plant up top stays healthy and continues to create new growing shoots from which to take and root clones.
Clones root in plugs in meticulously labeled plastic trays with clear lids under fluorescent lighting tubes to maintain heat and humidity for ultimate rooting success. They’re cut from healthy mother plants, dipped into rooting-hormone gel and then gently secured into their individual rooting cubes. The larger fan leaves are then trimmed down to alleviate the pressure on the cutting to maintain life. Once they’re showing healthy white roots from the bottom of their plugs, they’re ready to plant into larger pots filled with premixed growing medium and move into the vegetative stage of growth. Lower branches and leaf growth are removed to increase airflow beneath the canopy to avoid possible humidity buildup.
Light, Soil and Water
In all, there are four indoor flowering rooms and four greenhouse sections at Aloha Green for a total of eight separate growing chambers. The indoor plants are grown under Gavita double-ended HPS (high-pressure sodium) 1,000-watt lights on a staggered flowering schedule and harvested every two weeks. Plants in the greenhouses are supplemented with lighting as well when sunlight isn’t sufficient.
For the growing medium, the team at Aloha Green make their own “supersoil” mix. It’s a combination of rich local soil plus compost from a nearby school. Because of the many microclimates on Oahu, the soil Aloha Green uses is unique and diverse with 10 of 12 soil varieties on the island represented. Volcanic pumice is added instead of perlite to loosen up the soil. This airy loam is then amended with local Hawaiian chicken manure, worm castings, fish waste, and seaweed. The company has even experimented with turning macadamia-nut shells into biochar.
Aloha Green’s goal is to use no added nutrients, and it utilizes drip emitters to provide mostly plain water directly to the root zone. Local mulch from the wood of the monkeypod tree keeps the soil surface cool and reduces water waste from evaporation. Ideally, Aloha Green will reuse its soil over and over in a closed-loop system that improves the growing medium with each growing cycle. Each plant is tagged from seed to harvest with its strain name and germination date, and wooden stakes are used to hold up branches that become weighed down with heavy flowers.
The water itself comes from a 1,000-foot-deep well tapped on the premises. The water is filtered naturally through lava rock and comes out with very low levels of any minerals or contaminants. Multiple drippers in each growing container also provide redundancy in case of a clogged tube or emitter. Wet walls and swamp coolers reduce heat in the greenhouses on really hot days and desiccant-based dehumidifiers remove moisture in the air when necessary. Plants sit on trays that allow airflow underneath the canopy to reduce the probability of mold or mildew collecting in moist air pockets. Excess water and nutrient solution easily drain out of the bottom of the containers to prevent the pots from sitting in stagnant liquid.
Chief operating officer Tai Cheng and director of integrated strategy Helen Cho explain the strict governmental regulations to me, which include requirements to grow all plants indoors, lab-testing all of the products and using only state-approved pesticides on the crops. In fact, as Cheng tells me, “We can’t have testing show more than 1 ppm [part per million] in the finished product of any banned pesticides, which is essentially the same as none. We’re also not allowed to use beneficial bugs because they are not available in abundance on the island. Strict [agricultural] controls don’t allow for them to be delivered. So we have the strict pesticide regime of Oregon without the help of beneficials.”
Aloha Green growers use beans as indicator, or trap, plants, and rosemary and other deterrent plants to repel insects as well. Workers and visitors alike wear full-body protective suits including booties and hoods to avoid any potential contamination, and yellow sticky pest strips are everywhere in order to get an early warning as to any potential pest invasions. A strict integrated pest-management system ensures that the flowers and concentrates produced here are clean and pass their tests with flying colors.
As the plants at Aloha Green approach maturity, they’re aggressively flushed with plain pH-balanced water. Head grower Daniel Richardson emphasizes the importance of a proper flush in order to produce flowers that can be considered proper medicine for patients. He insists that whether Aloha Green’s end product is used for flowers, concentrates, edibles or tinctures, it’s clean and free of excess chlorophyll and nutrient-salt buildup.
As I walk around the growing chamber next to be harvested, I can see the fall colors of the fan leaves on display. These fading hues are a sure sign of a successful flush, and the end result will be buds that burn cleanly to a wispy white ash—perfect for connoisseurs and patients alike. The properly flushed plants are now in the final stretch, during which their trichome gland heads will swell with essential oils in preparation for harvest.
When the time to take down a roomful of vegetation has been determined, the plants are pre-trimmed while still alive. Large fan leaves are removed by hand from each plant in preparation for the drying process. Then branches are individually hung to dry in rooms environmentally controlled by Argus climate systems. Sensors maintain specific temperature and humidity while UV light kills off any potential pests or mold spores, and Airocide filters purify the air.
The indoor harvests are all hand-trimmed dry prior to curing, while the yield from the greenhouses is machine-trimmed using industrial Twister units and then dried on individual racks. Trim and leaf leftovers are set aside for ethanol extraction to make RSO (Rick Simpson Oil) for oral ingestion. The company also produces oil, shatter, rosin wax, balms and tinctures, so there’s something for every patient on the shelves of Aloha Green Apothecary.
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1. What is CBD? What is CBD Oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring constituent of industrial hemp/cannabis. Its formula is C21H30O2 and it has a molecular mass of 314.4636. It is the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, and is being scientifically investigated for various reasons.
CBD oil is a cannabis oil (whether derived from marijuana or industrial hemp, as the word cannabis is the latin genus name for both) that has significant amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) contained within it. Our CBD products and extracts are derived from industrial hemp, so they could be considered CBD-rich hemp oil, hemp derived CBD oil, CBD-rich cannabis oil, or plainly “hemp extracts” since they typically contain much more than just CBD. Again, cannabis doesn’t mean marijuana, but is the genus name, and general umbrella term which all forms of marijuana and hemp fall under. The form of cannabis we use for our CBD and hemp extracts is industrial hemp; we do not sell marijuana.
2. If a hemp extract is 40% cannabinoids, what’s the other 60%? What’s in your hemp extracts besides the naturally occurring cannabinoids?
Our Kentucky hemp extracts contain over 80 different phyto-cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), CBC, CBG, CBN, etc.. In addition to the cannabinoids naturally present in our agricultural hemp extracts, there are also many other types of natural molecules and phyto-chemical compounds such as amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins (including B1, B2, B6, D), fatty acids (including omega 3 & 6), trace minerals (including iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, potassium), beta-carotene, chlorophyll, flavanoids, ketones, nitrogenous compounds, alkanes, glycosides, pigments, water, and terpenes. The most common terpenes in our hemp extracts are Myrcene, Beta-caryophyllene, Terpinolene, Linalool, alpha-Pinene, beta-Pinene, Nerolidol og Phytol, trans-alpha-Bergamotene, Limonene/ beta-Phellandrene (Co-elution), and alpha-Humulene.
3. What’s the difference between Hemp and Marijuana?
Scientifically, industrial Hemp and Marijuana are the same plant, with a genus and species name of Cannabis Sativa. They have a drastically different genetic profile though. Industrial Hemp is always a strain of Cannabis sativa, while marijuana can be Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, or Cannabis ruderalis. The major difference is how industrial hemp has been bred compared to a marijuana form of Cannabis sativa. Typically speaking, industrial hemp is very fibrous, with long strong stalks, and barely has any flowering buds, while a marijuana strain of Cannabis sativa will be smaller, bushier, and full of flowering buds. However, newer industrial hemp varieties in the USA are being bred to have more flowers and higher yields of cannabinoids and terpenes, such as our Kentucky hemp we’re now using!
99% of the time marijuana has a high amount of THC and only a very low amount of CBD. Hemp, on the other hand, naturally has a very high amount of CBD in most instances, and only a trace amount of THC. Fortunately, the cannabinoid profile of hemp is ideal for people looking for benefits from cannabis without the ‘high.’ Hemp is used for making herbal supplements, food, fiber, rope, paper, bricks, oil, natural plastic, and so much more, whereas marijuana is usually used just recreationally, spiritually, and medicinally. The term cannabis oil can refer to either a marijuana or hemp derived oil, since marijuana and hemp are two different forms of cannabis.
In the USA the legal definition of “industrial hemp,” per Section 7606 of the Agricultural Appropriations Act of 2014, is “INDUSTRIAL HEMP — The term ‘‘industrial hemp’’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
4. Are hemp derived cannabinoids such as CBD as good as CBD from marijuana?
The short answer is yes. CBD is CBD, whether from marijuana or hemp. Most marijuana has a very low non-psychoactive cannabinoid profile (like CBD, CBC, CBG), so most of the time hemp would be much more preferable for anything besides THC. Marijuana is usually very high in THC (gives people the high) but usually very low in other non-psychoactive cannabinoids.
Nowadays in the USA, many farmers are growing industrial hemp flowers that are just as beautiful, odor-producing, and terpene rich as the best marijuana strains, such as our partnered farmers in Kentucky.
5. Why don’t you source your Hemp and CBD from within Colorado?
We feel that the hemp program in Kentucky is more well suited for our company in regards to growing hemp, and that because it’s 100% compliant with Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill (and the 2016 Agricultural Appropriations Act), procuring it from there is perfectly legal at the federal level. Kentucky’s ecology is perfect for hemp just as it is for tobacco. The growing season is longer than in Colorado, and the soil is richer, so the quality of the hemp and the yields are better.
6. What’s the percentage of cannabinoids and CBD in your product?
Our raw extracts have varying percentages of cannabinoid and cannabidiol (CBD) content, the range being 10%-99%. Each product has a unique formulation and uses varying ratios of our extract types. Our CBD Isolate is over 99% pure CBD.
7. What is the best method of use?
For our dietary supplements we can only recommend them for internal consumption. Our CBD isolate is for research purposes only. If you don’t like the flavor of the oil supplements, you can mix with something sweet like apple sauce or honey to cut through the flavor.
8. What’s the ideal serving size for me, and how often should I take it?
There is no easy answer to this. Our starting recommended serving size is 15 drops but we generally recommend experimenting to see what feels best to you. Some prefer 5 drops, some prefer over 50 drops per day.
9. What is the safety of your hemp extracts? Are there negative side effects?
Hemp is considered by many to be generally safe. We’ve never seen or heard of any significant or negative side effects in our years in the industry. That said, we can’t rule them out. Please consult with your physician before using any dietary supplement including Hemp extract supplements.
10. Which of your CBD and hemp products should I get?
As a company who sells various dietary and food supplements, we can’t suggest any of our products for the prevention, treatment or cure of any disease or ailment.
When considering our different dietary hemp products, know that they all come in two strengths. Our Original Hemp blends (Classic Hemp Blend, Hemp Complete, Brainpower oil, & Signature Blend) all have 250+mg of cannabinoids per fluid ounce, and our concentrated blends have 1,500+mg per fluid ounce, six times the potency of our traditional oils. We’ve found that sometimes less is more, but nevertheless, some people like to take very large serving sizes of our hemp extracts.
The main difference between the four Original Blends is the additional herbal ingredients besides hemp. We suggest you research the separate components of each blend to determine which product may be most appealing to add to your dietary regimen. If you know it’s solely the hemp extract that you are looking for, with no additional ingredients, then Classic Hemp Blend or Classic Hemp 6x is what you’re looking for.
For dabbing and vaporizing or for research you can try our CBD Isolate.
THOSE WHO SUSPECT THEY MAY HAVE A DISEASE OR ARE SEEKING HELP FOR A DISEASE SHOULD CONSULT A QUALIFIED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL.
11. Why do people use Hemp Extracts and CBD? What are the benefits and uses of CBD?
In accordance with federal regulations we cannot make health claims regarding our dietary supplement products. We can only recommend our products for general wellness.
12. Is a standard hemp seed oil the same as a high-CBD hemp extract?
Absolutely not. Standard hemp oil, which can be found very cheaply at a grocery store, is a much different product than our CO2 hemp extracts (not from seed). Standard hemp oil is produced by cold pressing the seeds, whereas our hemp extract is a supercritical CO2 extraction of the hemp plant itself, not the seeds. Hemp seed oil is considered to be a great nutritive food, but it doesn’t have the naturally occurring terpenes, cannabinoids and other components that our extracts do have.
13. Do I need to move to Colorado to get your Hemp Extracts and CBD? Where do you ship?
No. We actually source our hemp from Kentucky, as it’s legal to ship across state lines. Many people are under the impression that the only way to acquire hemp extracts and CBD for themselves or a loved one is to move to Colorado or another cannabis-friendly state. Many major news outlets are misinformed and are unfortunately spreading the idea that you can only get CBD oil in the states where medical marijuana has been legalized. This is simply not the case though. Because our extracts comes from hemp instead of marijuana, we can and do ship to all fifty states, and no medical marijuana card is needed. There are some exceptions, like with Indiana, Missouri and South Dakota we can’t sell our concentrated products due to state legislation.
We also ship to Japan, Australia, the EU, Switzerland, and Brazil. For all EU orders contact our exclusive distributor there, Cannawell.
14. Is your Hemp Extract Oil similar to Rick Simpson Hemp Oil?
Not quite. Ours are from hemp and RSHO is usually using marijuana, a different form of cannabis than industrial hemp. Our industrial hemp extracts are more standardized and will usually have a much higher content of non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD than one produced through the Rick Simpson method. And oils produced through his method will usually have a much higher THC content, as it’s typically marijuana that is used for RSHO.†
Generally speaking, most marijuana producers and sellers (especially on the black market) don’t test for contaminants (metals, pesticides, bacteria, etc.). Rick Simpson Hemp Oil is actually more a method of extraction than it is a specific product. People use the Rick Simpson method with hundreds of different strains of marijuana, so the THC, CBD and other cannabinoid content of the final oil is always varying greatly, depending on the cannabis the consumers are acquiring. Usually what’s used for Rick Simpson oil is a strain with an inferior CBD content (and high THC), because that’s what the vast amount of marijuana is nowadays.
15. Where do you source your hemp and CBD from?
We have partners in Kentucky who grew a dedicated plot for us this year (2016) which is being used in our products now. We also currently source from Europe but we’ll be changing that soon.
16. What kind of testing/analysis is performed on your products?
We have an industry leading quality control system, and we have third party laboratories analyze all of our hemp extracts and our final products for cannabinoid potency, heavy metals, bacterial and microbial life, mycotoxins (fungus), and pesticides.
17. What is CO2 extraction? What’s the difference between subcritical and supercritical CO2 extractions?
CO2 extraction is an extraction process that uses pressurized carbon dioxide to extract phyto-chemicals (such as CBD, CBG, or terpenes, flavonoids, etc.) from a plant. CO2 at certain temperatures and pressures acts like a solvent, without the dangers of actually being one. It is the most expensive extraction method, and is widely considered the most effective and safest plant extraction method in the world.
Many hemp and CBD companies boast about their supercritical CO2 extractions, but that’s actually only one (and perhaps an inferior) method of using a CO2 extraction machine. There are also subcritical CO2 extractions, and ‘mid-critical’, a general range between subcritical and supercritical. Subcritical (low temp, low pressure) CO2 extractions take more time and produce smaller yields than super-critical, but they retain the essential oils, terpenes, and other sensitive chemicals within the plant. Supercritical, on the other hand, is a high pressure and high temperature process that damages most terpenes and heat sensitive chemicals, but can extract much larger molecules such as lipids (omega 3 and 6), chlorophyll, and waxes. A truly full-spectrum CO2 extract includes first performing a subcritical extraction, separating the extracted oil, and then extracting the same plant material using supercritical pressure, and then homogenizing both oil extracts into one. In the essential oil industry, an extract made using this specific process is referred to as a CO2 Total.
18. What is the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?
“The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of endogenous cannabinoid receptors located in the mammalian brain and throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems, consisting of neuromodulatory lipids and their receptors.” Wikipedia
There are two main types of receptors in the ECS, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the central nervous system and brains of mammals, and CB2 are generally found in the peripheral nervous system. There are two main cannabinoids mammals produce- 2AG and Anandamide (named after the Sanskrit term “ananda” which translates to “peace”).
For hundreds of millions of years every vertebrate on Earth has been equipped with this ECS, a crucial system in the body, and it has been known about in the scientific and medical communities since the 1980’s. However, it’s still not taught about in most medical schools.