Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Charlotte's Web cannabis buds and leaves arrive at the Realm of Caring's lab in vaccum sealed bags and stored in bins to protect them from light, which can cause them to chemically degrade, October 25, 2014.
Slow-growing plant yields marijuana designed for kids

Low in THC, the compound that gives users a high, this specialized plant is in high demand.

First Published Nov 10 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 03 2014 07:02 pm

Colorado Springs • Preparing Charlotte’s Web is a protracted, tedious process that starts at "the grow," two massive greenhouses on 56 acres of spring-fed land at an undisclosed location in the mountains.

It’s harvest time and the greenhouses are full of towering plants.

At a glance

Join us for a Trib Talk

On Monday at 12:15 p.m., reporter Kirsten Stewart, marijuana grower Josh Stanley and others join Jennifer Napier-Pearce to discuss Colorado’s experience with medical refugees.

You can join the discussion by sending questions and comments using the hashtag #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Colorado’s sunny climate allows the nonprofit Realm of Caring Foundation to grow marijuana year-round. It gets two harvests a year, but hopes to ramp up production to three to four harvests through a light deprivation strategy that causes the plants to flower in winter.

About a third of each greenhouse is devoted to Charlotte’s Web, a shorter, squattier plant that grows more slowly than other varieties. The plant is high in cannabidiol (CBD) but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component of marijuana that creates a high in users.

It’s in such high demand by parents of ill children, typically kids with epilepsy, that Realm can’t immediately supply them all.

"It keeps cutting into our THC growing, which has been necessary to move families off the waiting list," said 34-year-old Joel Stanley, one of six brothers running the foundation. "But we are walking a fine line" financially, he said, because Charlotte’s Web is sold almost at cost.

It takes 13 to 14 workers to tend the plants. Dogs roam the property, which is fenced and under 24-hour camera surveillance.

After the plants are harvested, they are hung to dry and cured like tobacco. They are trimmed, weighed and vacuum sealed into food-grade bags for shipment to dispensaries. 

Everything is labeled and carefully inventoried, and every part of the plant is used, including the stems as fertilizer.

Charlotte’s Web is sent to Realm’s lab, an industrial kitchen in Denver overseen by 32-year-old Jesse Stanley.

story continues below
story continues below

Buds and leaves are stripped from the stems and soaked for hours in grain alcohol to extract the cannabinoids, Jesse Stanley explained. The resulting dark amber-colored liquid is strained through a fine mesh to remove all plant material and poured into a rotary evaporator to remove the alcohol. 

A device used in chemical laboratories, the "rotovap" allows for liquid solvents — in this case, a CBD extract — to be quickly and gently removed without excessive heating. The end product is a gummy substance thicker than pancake syrup.

"We can do about a liter-and-a-half an hour," said Bryson Rast, a lab technician the Stanley brothers hired away from the pharmaceutical and nutritional supplement industries. 

The brothers also just acquired a high-performance liquid chromatography machine, which they’ll use to validate samples, or measure the amount of CBD and THC in each batch. Currently samples are sent out for testing, which is expensive, said Jesse Stanley. 

When the samples return, he dilutes them with olive oil.

"It’s primitive the way we do things, but accurate," he said. "Quality control is our goal."

Colorado Springs physician Margaret Gedde who is tracking children who are using Charlotte’s Web, said there are other growers that sell low-THC products.

"But so far nobody has stepped up like the Realm of Caring has to provide this to kids and do it in a way that is safe," said Gedde. "They grow it safely and test the batches so we know the actual milligrams and it can be accurately dosed."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.