Diluents, Phytol and the Importance of Transparency

Posted by Max Brown on

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive at Extract Consultants is, “What diluent products do you offer and recommend?” While diluents have remained a hot topic in the news the past year (for all the wrong reasons), we wanted to take a moment to further explore diluents, and discuss what they are, what to look for, and what to avoid.

What are Diluents?

You may find diluent products marketed under many names: Liquefiers, Modifiers, Bases, Terpene Diluents—but simply put, diluents are a way to alter the viscosity of a distillate or oil product. A challenge many vape producers are familiar with is maintaining a proper flow of the product within the cartridge. Diluents can be used to lower or raise oil viscosities to obtain desired flows and consistencies. Depending on your desired product application and usage, this can be accomplished with diluent compounds such as MCT, PG and even terpenes.

In less scrupulous cases, diluents may also be used to “cut” or limit the amount of primary distillate product, unbeknownst to the consumer. To make matters worse, some manufacturers are not transparent about what’s really inside their products.

Tragically, some diluent products have been discovered to contain toxic levels of certain compounds when ingested or inhaled. In the wake of the e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak last year, FDA and CDC lab testing discovered squalene and vitamin E acetate in cannabis vape cartridges. Researchers in Oregon even found pine resin being used as a cannabis extract adulterant. The undisclosed squalene and vitamin E acetate additives were also found in high concentrations in some diluent products. Both compounds have been associated with lipoid pneumonia – one of the indicators of EVALI. While state and federal research and testing surrounding EVALI is on-going, the crisis was a wake-up call to the industry and consumers alike.

What About Phytol?

Those looking for a diluent solution will no doubt have heard about phytol. Phytol is a terpene found in many plants, including cannabis. It is of particular interest because, in stark contrast to many other terpenes, its nearly odorless and colorless. Synthetic phytol is clear while natural phytol has a green tint. With these ideal characteristics, it is no surprise to see phytol listed as component in terpene diluent products. We sell both natural and synthetic isolated phytol terpenes. It can also be found in some of our terpene blends at the level it naturally occurs in cannabis.

So, What’s the Problem?

Recently, we have been made aware of industry stakeholders placing an immediate stop-order on any vape products that list phytol as an ingredient. It is our understanding that this decision is based on the results of a soon-to-be published toxicology study shared with Health Canada on “the safety of added phytol in vaping oils." While the results of the study are still to come, it is worth recalling the basic principle of toxicology coined nearly 500 years ago, “The dose makes the poison.”  To put it another way, any chemical—even water or oxygen—can be toxic if too much is ingested.

Percentages Matter

When creating any terpene product, percentages are critical. A diluent product made from a blend of botanical terpenes including phytol may sound like an appealing natural solution, but if phytol makes up the majority of the blend, it in effect stops being a “blend” of terpenes and is effectively phytol. High concentrations of singular compounds like this can become problematic when used at diluent add-back rates. The result can be a final product with elevated and potentially toxic levels of a singular compound, such as phytol, and we suggest caution.

Transparency is the Key

All of this leads to the importance of suppliers and manufacturers commitments to transparency. When shopping for diluent or terpene products, suppliers should provide a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) upfront. If they don’t, you should demand one or go elsewhere. Safety Data Sheets provide necessary safety information on chemical substances and mixtures. It is important to be aware, however, that not all SDSs are created equal. The regulations on what ingredients are required to be listed can vary by country of origin. Furthermore, some suppliers in the US may not disclose hazardous ingredients or percentage ranges in their SDSs by claiming trade secrets or proprietary ingredients. A good SDS will provide a list of hazardous materials and their percentages, giving you a better understanding of the entire composition.

Awareness and transparency are vital to the growth and prosperity of our industry, and to ensure the strongest levels of consumer safety. At Extract Consultants, our priority remains providing the highest quality products possible, backed by our experienced team of sensory experts, flavor chemists and regulatory experts. Our products come with complete regulatory and safety data sheets.

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