Greeley-CO-based Vantage Hemp produces pharma-grade CBD under strict Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) protocol. Photo: Jean Lotus
By Jean Lotus
As CBD’s price has dropped and the popular cannabis-derived compound has become omni-present for consumers, one Colorado company has distinguished itself by producing medical-grade CBD.
In a multi-million dollar lab outside Greeley, Vantage Hemp, founded in 2019, employs 36 people extracting compounds from Colorado-grown hemp with CO2 and propane-based methods under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards required by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA has approved CBD for use in the anti-seizure drug Epidiolex, and the Vantage Hemp crew predict more generic and other drugs will use CBD in the future, once clinical trials have been completed.
“CBD is a drug, it has pharmacological effects,” Deepank Utkhede, 48, the company’s chief operations officer, told Let’s Talk Hemp. “[CBD] binds to receptors in the body and elicits a pharmacological effect,” he added.
The FDA’s approval of CBD as a drug split the regulatory path between regulating CBD as a pharmaceutical and as a food supplement — leading to a regulatory limbo for CBD in food and cosmetics. Meanwhile, the CBD horse has long left the barn and popular use of the compound has exploded in everything from kombucha to chocolate to cosmetics.
Vantage buys hemp from Colorado farmers, seeking biomass with CBD levels of at least 7%. The company has to maintain tight controls for remediating out heavy metals because
“Colorado has a lot of lead in the soil,” Utkhede observed.
The company is also careful about safety, designing their Greeley facilities with multiple safety protocols.
“Accidents can happen, a valve will fail and release CO2. We want our operators to be safe. We have a 30-ton tank of CO2 out in back and work with propane. They are literally playing with fire. That’s what scared us the most when we got into this business.”
Working closely with the local fire marshal, the company designed a state of the art safety protocol that communicates with first responders and shuts down systems in case of valve failures or other incidents.
“We are not some company extracting CBD in a barn,” he added.
With the popularity of controversial delta 8 THC, fewer CBD extractors are bothering to follow good manufacturing practices, which further separates Vantage from the competition, the company believes.
“There’s a race to the bottom in terms of the pricing of isolate,” Utkhede said. “What used to cost $1,500 three years ago now brings in $300, which barely covers the cost of extracting it.”
CBD is no longer the final active ingredient, but a “raw material in conversion to delta-8,” he added. “They’ve driven the price down. If you’re going to treat CBD as a raw material you don’t need the GMP status.”
Delta-8 THC, a mild intoxicant derived from hemp, is popular as a CBD add-on in cannabis prohibition states. It’s also illegal in many states, including Colorado.
Although there are an estimated 3,000 U.S. CBD companies — and varying substances claiming to be the product can be found in almost every convenience store and gas station, Vantage has bet on the scientific uses for CBD as research catches up with the workings of the endocannabinoid system.
“We are producing quality at the pharmaceutical grade so that the patients who take products made with raw materials are getting what they deserve,” Utkhede said.
“We see the future for CBD in the pharmaceutical industry and cosmetics that want a high quality product.”
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Jean Lotus is a Colorado-based award-winning journalist and hempreneur who writes about the American West and sustainable food and technologies.