Welcome to Aurora Cannabis, a Canadian company that’s redefining what constitutes an efficient, high-capacity cannabis-production facility. Take a tour of its massive cultivation locations, including a gargantuan 800,000-square-foot greenhouse, and learn how this licensed producer continues to expand internationally.

Inside Aurora Cannabis: The World’s Biggest Grow

Danny Danko/ High Times

Northern Lights

Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Edmonton at the foot of the Canadian Rockies, Aurora Cannabis Inc. looks well-poised to take a sizable chunk of the multibillion-dollar legal cannabis industry both in Canada and worldwide. Spearheaded by CEO Terry Booth, the company is publicly listed (TSX: ACB) (OTCQX: ACBFF) and now has several hundred employees—an intriguing combination of business-savvy suits and cannabis-obsessed cultivators and processors.

Aurora is federally licensed through the Canadian Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation program to grow and sell cannabis and now has four state-of-the-art facilities throughout the country. What’s interesting is that its operations are new, purpose-built constructions—specifically designed and built for cannabis growing rather than repurposed existing warehouses or retrofit buildings. The layouts are designed for maximum efficiency, and their closed-loop HVAC systems allow them to produce clean and safe medical cannabis free of pesticides, molds or any microbial infections.

Aurora also has a policy of not utilizing cold pasteurization via cobalt-60 irradiation. Although some other licensed producers may use this radioactive process to sterilize their products, the team at Aurora prefers to preserve its terpenes from heat and its flowers from radioactivity in order to retain all of the medical potential of the crops. Although Aurora tests all its products in an on-site laboratory, Booth tells me, “We also have samples of all our cannabis sent to a Health Canada–qualified independent third-party laboratory for testing and analysis as well.” It’s important to ensure the cleanest possible product, and the team at Aurora remains devoted to maintaining the quality and integrity of its output.

Inside Aurora Cannabis: The World’s Biggest Grow

Danny Danko/ High Times

Lit Products

Aurora provide several dozen strains of flowers with high THC and CBD levels, as well as buds with a variety of THC-to-CBD ratios in five- and 10-gram increments, with all products shipped using earth-friendly cornstarch packing peanuts.

The company also sells supercritical CO2-extracted THC and CBD drops made by blending whole-plant extract with MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil to attain a targeted potency. Booth explains: “MCT is a healthy, colorless, odorless oil that is found naturally in coconut oil. MCT oil is broken down easily and efficiently by the body, which means that the client receives the maximum effect of our THC and CBD drops in a relatively short time frame.”

A unique product offered by Aurora, its Double-Milled Decarb capsules, is a smoke-free way to receive activated cannabinoids for patients who choose not to smoke or vaporize their flowers or oils. Flowers are decarboxylated to fully activate cannabinoids and then powdered to produce a capsule that can be eaten directly or added to food or drinks. You can buy them filled or purchase your own filler and capsules to make your own at home.

All of Aurora’s cannabis and cannabis-derived products are available at a flat-rate compassionate pricing of just $6 per gram for patients in financial situations that qualify for the government-subsidized program established in 2013. Also available is a variety of vaporizers, including desktop versions and discreet vape pens.

Aurora’s mobile app takes convenience a step further, allowing patients to view products in real time and order their cannabis medicines with a click of a button on their smartphones using fingerprint authorization. It’ll even send push notifications the instant that favored products are made available! Deliveries take between one and three business days depending on location, and the company is planning same-day delivery in the near future.

Inside Aurora Cannabis: The World’s Biggest Grow

Danny Danko/ High Times

Mountain High

Our first stop was in Alberta to visit and tour Aurora’s 55,200-square-foot facility known as Aurora Mountain, nestled in beautiful Mountain View County near Calgary. Here, over 100 employees produce and process an astounding amount of cannabis in many different forms—over 10,000 kilograms per year! As I’m gearing up in head-to-toe protective garb to maintain sterility, chief cultivator John Barnet explains to me the protocol and process.

Plants are grown in pro-mix and drip-fed with a solution of nutrients mixed into fresh Canadian mountain water once per hour for 10 hours during the daytime light cycle. No pesticides of any kind are ever utilized, resulting in an integrated-pest-management system that relies heavily on beneficial insects. These carnivorous predators and nematodes attack any vegetarian bugs and their eggs in order to keep plants clean, healthy and thriving.

Aurora also avoids problems with powdery mildew using preventative measures that include meticulous quality control and employing strains with natural resistance to humidity-related issues. Barnet’s background in osteopathy inspires him to “treat the plants like people,” and he’s passionate about providing the right environment for them at all times. I quickly see that he and his crew cater to each strain’s specific requirements, even with thousands of plants to maintain.

The propagation area housing mother plants and clones is lit with LEP (light-emitting plasma) and MH (metal halide) lighting. The advantages of being located in the pro-business province of Alberta include low tax rates and low electrical costs. Tissue-culture techniques are employed as well for efficiency and decontamination along with traditional cloning practices.

The 10 flowering rooms range in size from several hundred to several thousand plants. Each is maintained in ultra-sanitary conditions requiring clean trays, benches and floors. The individual enclosed rooms contain their own recycled air, with no fresh air brought in from outside.

Plants are harvested, trimmed, dried, packaged and shipped directly to patients. Climate-controlled vaults for storage contain packaging designed to protect the product from light, heat and humidity.

Inside Aurora Cannabis: The World’s Biggest Grow

Justin Cannabis/ High Times

Sky’s the Limit

Our next stop was at an enterprise the likes of which I’ve never seen in all my years of visiting grow facilities. Located near the international airport at Edmonton, the Dutch-designed hybrid greenhouse known as Aurora Sky, still in the process of being built, boasts a mind-blowing 800,000 square feet! It took a helicopter ride over the site for me to truly determine the enormity of this $100,000,000 endeavor.

Conservatively projected to grow over 100,000 kilograms of cannabis per year, the facility employs high-tech European greenhouse agriculture technology for speed and automation. It includes a massive propagation bay, three vegetative bays that are 17,000 square feet each and 16 flowering bays that are each 35,000 square feet.

With an 8,000-plant mother room and 40,000 plants per bay, the numbers are simply mind-boggling. Add to that two massive storage vaults, multiple drying and packing rooms, space for a tissue-culture project, a hot-water storage tank and a 50-foot-deep, 102-million-gallon pond the size of 17 Olympic pools, and you begin to understand the magnitude of this endeavor.

Aurora’s commitment to cost-effectiveness drove the design of the greenhouse to utilize self-cleaning antireflective glass with snowmelt technology for optimal natural-light intake. The huge hot-water tank, warmed by hyper-efficient European boilers, pumps radiant heat through tubes, and an advanced HVAC design using forced air provides uniform climate control. A separate condensation system prevents humidity-related issues such as powdery mildew.

Inside Aurora Cannabis: The World’s Biggest Grow

Justin Cannabis/ High Times

The bays are laid out with one lamp per every 25-26 square feet of footprint to act as supplemental lighting and help produce an even canopy over NFT (nutrient film technique) benching with one plant per square foot secured in rockwool medium. There’s a 1-to-4 ratio of HPS (high-pressure sodium) to LED lights. The LEDs are sealed water-cooled units from the Dutch manufacturer Oreon, providing 53 percent more efficiency than HPS and an eight-year lifespan. Total power usage is 28 megawatts, and the facility can be seen from space!

Automation is key to Aurora’s good manufacturing practices, as founding cultivator Chris Mayerson explains to me: “For both quality and cost-effectiveness, we seek to have as little human contact with our plants as possible to avoid contamination. Automated bench washers clean the growing areas and cranes lift up beds to move them as necessary. Robots space out our plants, and an automatic visioning system seeks out and identifies pests and diseases. We use no pesticides at all—just bio-friendly bugs.”

Aurora Sky’s post-production area alone is staggering in size. Fifteen drying rooms employ a cold-harvesting method that keeps the ambient temperature no higher than 9°C (48°F). Like a giant humidor, the rooms contain only filtered air and lock in terpenes and flavonoids for optimum quality.

A team of mechanical twister machines auto-trim the flowers and send them to the packing room, which can produce 50 sealed bottles per minute accurately. Air in the containers is replaced with CO2 and nitrogen to preserve freshness almost indefinitely.

Inside Aurora Cannabis: The World’s Biggest Grow

Justin Cannabis/ High Times

Home Cultivation

For those seeking to grow their own, Aurora recently acquired the BC Northern Lights and Urban Cultivator grow-box companies. While other licensed producers may seek to undermine and delay home-cultivation rights, Aurora sees an enticing market for personal grow equipment among the Canadian public and plans to even provide clones for sale to its customers who choose to produce their own marijuana.

CEO Booth explains: “We’ve always advocated for people’s ability to make their own choices and are very supportive of the Supreme Court’s Allard decision, which confirmed patients’ rights to grow their own medical cannabis. Similarly, we believe that, after implementation of consumer legalization in Canada, individuals who choose to grow their own cannabis should have access to cultivation solutions that are in controlled environments, safe and can produce high-yielding, high-quality cannabis.” Furthermore, the grow-box buyer can sample stains from Aurora before growing them in order to be sure they’re cultivating the varieties they want.

BCNL and Urban Cultivator, operating for 17 and eight years, respectively, provide state-of-the-art indoor-gardening appliances with touch-screen technology and advanced automation. They’ve earned a reputation as the leading grow-box brands in the world and have been encouraging and helping people to grow their own cannabis as well as microgreens, vegetables and herbs.

Neil Belot, Aurora’s chief global business development officer, says, “These transactions are an important step in our strategy to serve the home-gardening market in Canada for patients who choose to grow their own medical cannabis, and ultimately for adult consumers who choose to grow their own after Canada’s federal government legalizes adult usage, which is anticipated by July 2018. For over a decade, BC Northern Lights products have been widely recognized as the gold standard for home cannabis production, and we look forward to integrating our offerings to deliver a truly unique and full-service customer experience.”

“We are delighted to be part of the Aurora family,” says Tarren Wolfe, co-founder of BCNL and Urban Cultivator. “This will enable us to address a much larger audience of people who have been empowered by the Allard decision to operate a home garden and are seeking access to the equipment, genetics and educational support services to do so. In teaming up with Aurora, we will work with an industry-leading team of cannabis-branding specialists and sales and marketing professionals to bring BCNL to the next level. In addition, Aurora’s licensed-producer status means the company will soon be able to provide a fully integrated package, including starter materials such as clones, offering one-stop shopping for people who choose to grow their own cannabis at home.”

Inside Aurora Cannabis: The World’s Biggest Grow

Blue Dream; Justin Cannabis/ High Times

Aurora’s Glow

With its commitment to quality and cost control; its fast, free and discreet shipping throughout Canada; and its newest facility projected to produce over 100,000 kilograms of cannabis per year, Aurora Cannabis Inc. looks certain to gain strength in the highly competitive marijuana-production marketplace on a global scale. Aurora’s acquisitions, investments and recent expansion into supplying multiple international partners in Europe, Australia, South America and beyond will certainly change the future of cannabis cultivation and distribution worldwide. Like its namesake, the aurora borealis, this “electric” company seems destined to continue shining for years to come.

This feature was published in the July 2018 issue of High Times magazine. Subscribe right here.

The post Inside Aurora Cannabis: The World’s Biggest Grow appeared first on High Times.

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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. organic hemp seedsTypically 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?

colorado growing operationWe 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 CBD Oil Extractside 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.


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?

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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 thereCannawell.

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. mjna message boardWe 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.