Extraction is a precise process. It's like gourmet cooking, but backwards—you start with a whole product, choose which ingredients to pull out and then follow a process to break the stuff down. Sundial’s VP of Processing, Sasha Okyere, has spent years perfecting his system for producing medical-grade extracts. His fascination with purity has made him an expert on all the variables that add up to the most effective and reliable end product.
One thing many people don’t realize is that the work of creating an outstanding extract begins months or even years before the processing takes place. "Your output depends on your input," Okyere says, and he devotes as much care to the selection and care of Sundial’s plants as he does to the extraction procedures.
“You can go about extracts in two ways,” he explains. “One way, the way that most companies I’m aware of do it, is they use extraction as a strategy to recover resources. If they’ve grown something that doesn’t make the standard to be sold as dry flower, maybe the buds are too small, or the THC content is too low, then they take those ‘unusable’ plants and break them down to pull out the THC and CBD. It’s great for the bottom line, but not the best way to get a really targeted product.” Okyere can direct a clean and efficient recovery for those in-demand cannabinoids, but his real passion is for a purpose-driven process.
“I like to start with the end result, the effects you want to deliver in the end product. Then you work backward from there. Which compounds are sought-after for that particular sensation? Which strains are rich in those compounds?” Not only has Okyere led a search around the globe for the most unique and powerful cultivars, but he’s studied each of his target plants systematically, experimenting with every aspect of their care, from lighting, nutrition and timing of the growing stages, to the unique curing time that optimizes the best features of each cultivar. With every crop, he oversees in-house testing and gains new insights into what it takes to help nature express its potential.
Once Okyere and his team have cultivated rich raw materials, they begin a meticulous process to draw out the valuable compounds. In a recent education session for Sundial staff, he explained how their gorgeous plants become beautiful distillates.
“Extraction by definition means separating a substance from its source. It’s the same for cannabis compounds as it is for coconut oil—you start with mechanical separation, like breaking up the fruit to get at the meat, then you run it through a series of sieves or filters to get pieces that are small enough to process in your chemical separator.”
Chemical separation happens when you use a sealed vessel with a medium, typically carbon dioxide (CO2), ethanol or hydrocarbons, and manipulate the temperature and pressure to make the medium “grab” onto a certain type of molecule. Then you pull the medium out, return it to room temperature and pressure, and it releases the extracted substance. Sundial extracts, which are produced for the recreational and medical markets, are made with CO2 extraction, following the medical standard. Some companies typically only run their material through two cycles, once with settings to pull pure CBD distillate, and a second set for pure THC distillate.
Okyere’s process goes above and beyond, collecting every significant therapeutic substance from each variety of plant. Cannabinoids like THCA, and terpenes like linalool, limonene and myrcene, all get their turn to be separated from the plant matter. On average, it takes four or five passes through the extractor at different temperatures and pressures to complete Okyere’s plan.
“We don’t leave anything on the table,” he says. “I’ve talked to other extraction companies, and they refuse to copy our procedure. They just can’t afford to spend that much time processing.” In spite of costs somewhere around five times that of a simpler extraction, Sundial has committed to this intensive process because it works.
“When we produce a strain-specific vape cartridge, it contains the exact THC, CBD, and therapeutic terpenes that came from that plant.” The next step is the “winterizing” process, which involves a slow, cool trip through the extractor to remove the plant’s fats or waxes from the extract. The fats are believed to cause damage to consumers’ lungs1, and they can also clog the vaping pen. Some illegal manufacturers may resort to adding potentially dangerous substances to their extracts, like vitamin E acetate2 or glycerins3 (vegetable glycerin [VG], polypropylene glycol [PPG] or polyethylene glycol [PEG]). These additives are ostensibly used to thin out the fats, manage the flavour or extend the shelf life of illegal vaping products. Sundial’s process creates a smooth-vaping, robust extract without the need for any additional ingredients.
Finally, Sundial's pure plant extracts get sealed into vape cartridges. This is another step where an obsession with detail pays off. By filling and capping within thirty seconds of completing the extract, Okyere makes sure that ambient oxygen and air pressure don’t start to degrade the material. His preservative-free, additive-free extracts come from pesticide-free plants, and there's nothing but cannabis in each and every vessel.
“We use nothing but the plant,” Okyere says. When asked whether vape pens contain carrier oils, like the olive oil or coconut oil commonly used in cannabis drops that consumers take by mouth, he explained that added oils are not allowed in vapes. Sundial’s process doesn’t just satisfy Okyere’s drive for quality, but also adheres strictly to all the regulations set out by Health Canada and the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis board.
Sundial turns an equal amount of care to choosing the materials for its vape cartridges and batteries. Product Manager Leanne Smith says that she chose higher quality glass cartridges over plastic because they won’t absorb the concentrates or leech chemicals into the liquid. “It’s the same with the heating unit,” she says. “We chose a ceramic heating element instead of a quartz coil or cotton wick.” Precision-engineered ceramic heating elements are porous so that they can soak up the cannabis extract. This allows the unit to do a great job of atomizing the extract (mixing it with air for smooth inhaling and satisfying clouds). The soaked element will also never burn dry like wick and coil constructions sometimes do. In all, ceramic is popular for providing precise temperature control, working well with thick or thin concentrates and producing an evenly-heated, clean-tasting vapour. The cartridge also has a comfortable ceramic mouthpiece, a convenient 510 universal thread to connect to your choice of batteries, and is labelled with the company logo and strain name, so you always know what you’re vaping.
The batteries that come on Sundial pens are the highest quality lithium-ion. They're USB rechargeable, and UL certified for safety. These high-end batteries avoid the problem that comes with some cheaper units of accidentally burning the extract and leaving a nasty-tasting residue in the cartridge.
At every fork in the road, Sundial has endeavoured to go the extra mile for the best experiences with its extracts and vape pens.
“In my career, I’ve participated in every step of the cannabis journey, from growing to processing,” Okyere says. His devotion to understanding and optimizing every pixel of the big picture has become a guiding force to the company. He’s the kind of person who would never back down from taking the long way to quality, no matter how complicated it gets. Grinning, Okyere says, “I love the challenge.”
 Davidson K, et al. Outbreak of Electronic-Cigarette-Associated Acute Lipoid Pneumonia—North Carolina, July–August 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(36):784-786.
 New York State Department of Health. (2019). New York State Department of Health Announces Update on Investigation into Vaping-Associated Pulmonary Illnesses. Retrieved from https://www.health.ny.gov/press/releases/2019/2019-09-05_vaping.htm. Accessed on 17 Oct 2019.
 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Review of the Health Effects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems; Eaton DL, Kwan LY, Stratton K, editors. Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 Jan 23.