Extraction, isolation and purification of tetrahydrocannabinol using supercritical fluid extraction

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The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was obtained from Cannabis sativa L. plant material using supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) and solid phase extraction (SPE). SFE was utilized at different pressures (15–33 MPa), temperatures (40–80 °C) and ethanol (EtOH) as co-solvent (0–5%). The effect of extraction parameters on response variables (yield and THC content in raw extract) was evaluated. Keeping both temperature and co-solvent concentration constant at 60 °C and 2% respectively, the highest THC content in raw extracts reaches 37.85% at 33 MPa and 36.18% at 15 MPa. One extract with high THC content was selected and submitted for purificationisolation by SPE. One final fraction with a 90.1% of THC was obtained using a single SPE step. This fraction was analyzed by GC, RP-HPLC and NMR to verify the THC purity. A sequential SFE-SPE process allows to obtain high purity THC from the cannabis plant, which is suitable as quality control material or analytical standard.

The resulting experiment data were analyzed by response surface methodology (RSM) according to the parameters described in Section 2.4. Table 2 shows the ANOVA results used to evaluate the fit of the
second order model on the extraction yield data. ANOVA shows that just one extraction parameter has a significant effect on extraction yields, the linear coefficient of %EtOH (p-value = 0.027).

An adjustment to the second order model is introduced using the Akaike information criterion to obtain an equation that best describes the effect of the extraction parameters on the extraction yield. Since the only factor that influence significantly the extraction yield is the co-solvent,
the adjusted model has the linear and quadratic coefficient for the ethanol effect. Eq. (2) shows the resulting second order model equation for the extraction yield from the Cannabis sativa L. plant by SFE (with only significant coefficients):

Yield (%) = 8.19 + 4.91EtOH – 0.42EtOH2 (2)

Table 2 shows the coefficient of determination R2 , the R2 adjusted and the absolute average deviation (AAD). The statistical indicators (R2 = 83.6, R2 adjusted = 81.5 y AAD = 9.1) indicate that the new
second order model represents adequately the experimental data. RSM analysis shows that the ethanol addition as co-solvent in SFE is the principal factor which significantly influences the extraction yield. This co-solvent effect was evident at 24 MPa and 60 °C. At this pressure and temperature the extraction yield using neat SC CO2 was 13.06% (extract number 14). However, the addition of ethanol at 2 and 5% increased yields, reaching 16.77% (the average value of extract numbers 15 to
19) and 18.27% (extract number 13), respectively. These results may be explained by an increase of higher polarity compounds extracted from the vegetal matrix (e.g. phenols and sugars). This effect has previously been reported by Rovetto and Aieta [22], they observed that ethanol, used as a co-solvent, improved the overall extraction yields.

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