CBD, THC… Which Cannabinoids Are the “Next Big Thing”?

vial of cannabis oil

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2019 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.  

 

There’s no escaping it: right now, CBD is IN. Offering the medicinal appeal of cannabis without intoxicating effects, CBD is finding its way into absolutely everything. Even after the buzz subsides and the conversation becomes more realistic and nuanced, this cannabinoid is likely to remain a staple of the health and wellness industry. THC’s not going anywhere either, of course. But these are only two of over a hundred cannabinoids that have been discovered so far. Industry pros are starting to look to the horizon for what else this incredible plant has to offer.  

 

CBG (cannabigerol) is sometimes called the “mother cannabinoid” because almost all other cannabinoids start as CBG. Its acid form, CBGA, is the precursor to the three main branches of cannabinoid development. Enzymatic action determines the proportion of CBGA that will become THCA, CBDA, or CBCA, then UV light (a.k.a. heat) transforms them. 

 

Which Cannabinoids are Going to be the Next Big Thing?

(image credit: Science Direct) 

 

Since more CBG by definition means less THC, breeders have not had much incentive to maximize CBG until very recently (and with cannabinoid synthesis becoming cheaper by the minute, they might not need to). Cannabinoids tend to do a lot of the same things, but CBG appears to offer superior antibacterial, antispasmodic, and vasodilation action, potentially enough that it’s worth selecting for. Could CBG supplant CBD? It’s possible, but more likely it will stand alongside it in the cannabinoid medicine cabinet.  

 

Some growers, however, believe that CBG’s potential lies not in what it does but what it can become. Unlike with THC, the percentage of which determines whether a cannabis plant is a federally prohibited drug, there are no regulations limiting the CBG content of a cannabis plant, and it is easier to breed a high-CBG genotype compared to one that amplifies other minor cannabinoids. Harvesting CBG is easier, too. By adding the appropriate synthase, producers could then transform it into any number of other cannabinoids.  

 

On the other end of the cannabinoid lifecycle is CBN (cannabinol); it is created from the degradation of THC-A, which is caused by exposure to air and UV light. It has gained a reputation as the go-to cannabinoid for sleep. To put it another way, it’s why you get sleepy when you smoke old weed.  

 

CBN is poised for popularity because sleep issues are one of the main points of entry for medicinal or semi-medicinal cannabis use. It may also offer a host of benefits common to cannabinoids such as pain relief, anti-spasticity, and improved cell function. Yet it’s the somnolence that most formulators are after: 5mg of CBN was shown to be equivalent to a 10mg dose of Diazepam in inducing sleep. CBN is also intoxicating, but only mildly, and is especially effective when paired with a moderate dose of THC.  

 

There are a scant few products on the market that advertise high-CBN, which in this case means a ratio above 1mg CBN for every 10mg of other cannabinoids. Tinctures are a natural form factor given their speed of onset and relatively long duration (though they are still not as long-lasting as an edible). If you’re the sort of consumer who struggles to fall asleep but not to stay asleep, CBN could be a great option.  

 

THC-V (tetrahydrocannabivarin) is the flashiest up-and-coming cannabinoid. We’ve known about it since 1970, but only recently did it stand out from the crowd. It’s being called the diet cannabinoid or “skinny weed,” because it was shown to reduce appetite and weight in rats. It does this by suppressing the activity of the CB1 receptor. (THC and CBG, by contrast, are appetite stimulants because they are CB1 agonists). THC-V, like CBD administered with correct timing, acts as a THC ballast. It can also improve insulin resistance, which makes it promising for diabetes treatments.  

 

Additionally, THC-V offers a short-duration, clear and focused high (most likelyat sufficient dosages. From what little research we have, dosage seems key for all of its effects. Insulin resistance improvement and weight loss occurred at a daily dosage of 3mg/kg of body weight in mice, which would translate to over 200 milligrams for an average-sized adult. Right now that’s a tough mark to hit, but in the future market demands may offer potency at that level,or we may find the minimum effective dose in humans to be quite different.  

 

Like other weight-loss supplements, THC-V is unlikely to be a panacea. Its appetite-moderating effects may stem in part from reducing the pleasure derived from eating. It did not reduce food consumption in rats who were truly hungry, nor did it influence obese rats to lose weight. It is more appropriately viewed as a supporting player in the cannabis pharmacy. 

 

If you love CBD for its non-intoxicating therapeutic effects, you might want to check out THC-A (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid). THC-A is the acid form of THC, how it looks before the application of heat (decarboxylation). This cannabinoid is emblematic of the minimal-processing, whole medicine approach that is gaining increasing traction in the cannabis space. Research indicates it is a very powerful anti-inflammatory, even among cannabinoids. It has also demonstrated neuroprotective and anti-cancer effects. Large dosages can be taken without fear of inebriation, a major hurdle that THC faces. THC-A is already popular in medical circles, where it is derived by juicing fresh or frozen cannabis fan leaves. Devotees extrapolate that since other foods retain broader nutritional profiles in their fresh state, cannabis must do the same. It’s a keen argument. The recent popularity of live resin, an extraction done without first drying and curing the flowers, speaks to its commercial potential.  

 

Even huge CBD fans can recognize our cultural infatuation with the cannabinoid for the trend that it is. Eventually we will have to move away from the fad mindset. As stigma around cannabis relaxes and consumers become more comfortable with cannabis overall, they will become more educated and discerning in their preferences. The long arc is one of diversified cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, likely in combination with other bioactives. Many cannabinoids do similar things, because they are chemically similar. Certainly there are particular effects that are more pronounced in particular cannabinoids, but it would be a mistake to say that there is one cannabinoid that induces sleep and another that improves appetite. They are meant to work together 

What Does The Future of Cannabis Consumption Look Like?

future of cannabis consumption

Imagine a hosting a BBQ on a hot summer day five years from now. Parched, you open the cooler to find beers, sodas, and an assortment of distinctively-bottled CBG beverages. On the table, there’s a shaker of CBD-infused salt. And for dessert, S’mores with homemade marshmallows containing a few milligrams THC-V each, for the grown-ups only.    

This is one possible future, one on which many in the cannabis industry are betting their energy and resources. Alcohol has some negative effects: It can make people short-tempered, can impair coordination and decision-making, and it can be extremely addictive.  What if there was an alternative that offered healthy relaxation without all the downsides?  

The emerging cannabis user is often averse to smoking (and with vapes dealing with some major PR concerns at the moment, their future is uncertain). In the near future, consumption methods that feel clean and healthy will occupy a much larger part of the commercial space than they do today. Non-intoxicating, multiply-therapeutic topical applications are also poised to take off. Cannabinoids will become standard ingredients in many over-the-counter medicines, from ointments to cough drops.  

 

This is not to say that there aren’t huge challenges. Both cannabis and alcohol make you feel relaxed, but in different ways. If you think alcohol tastes bad, you should try cannabis extracts —  their bitterness is off the charts! How do we overcome delayed onset? Safety concerns? The answer to this is, : where there’s a will, there’s a way. Human beings’ attempts to make alcohol more palatable created an entire field: mixology. CBD’s move into grocery stores and pharmacies portends a mindset change, and it’s likely that this gentle, non-intoxicating cannabinoid will be the wedge that opens consumer minds to the cannabis pharmacopeia. Here at SōRSE we are already making progress on the main hurdles to convenient, normalized cannabis use. Don’t think about what can be done now; think about what you want the end product to be and overcome the challenges to make it happen.  

  

At the moment, however, cannabis innovation is outpacing regulation, leaving both consumers and producers in a risky limbo. Synthetic cannabinoids may offer a parallel route to legal consumption without the massive resource sink of farming. Novel analogs could sidestep the regulatory battles altogether, traveling the drug approval route instead. But make no mistake, CBD regulation is coming. It could happen in two years or five, but it won’t be long before there will be some manner of product safety and efficacy enforcement for hemp’s star cannabinoid.  

Will the regulatory framework expand to include THC? Perhaps. If it does, we can expect to see a similar shift to less intense, more palatable form factors. Despite the presence of many chic, low-dose options, the THC market is currently driven by one metric: milligrams per dollar. Now, the question for the THC business is,: Can you develop products for today’s market while planning for tomorrow’s? 

What’s the Difference Between Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, and Isolate?

cannabis plant and oil

Full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate refer to types of cannabis extracts, also called concentrates. The terms are intended to indicate the amount of plant-produced therapeutic chemicals present in addition to the primary cannabinoids (THC and/or CBD); they are a shorthand way of conveying the diversity of bioactives in a given extract. However, there is not consensus on, let alone regulatory enforcement of, definitions for these terms. In an industry with so much energy and so little alignment, it’s not surprising that there are widely differing interpretations flying around, yet the choice of extract is a foundational decision for producers.

To understand the relevance of phytochemical diversity to product development, why these terms were coined, and how they may be interpreted today, we must first discuss the Entourage Effect – and to discuss that, we must first explain the Endocannabinoid System (ECS).

The Endocannabinoid System

The ECS is an ancient network of neurotransmitters, their receptors and enzymes. It is present in all extant vertebrate species and some insects. It evolved a whopping 543 million years ago, right before the Permian Extinction, the event that nearly ended life on Earth. (Interestingly, the cannabis plant didn’t show up until 63 million years ago, in the late Cretaceous.) Humankind’s discovery of the ECS has happened gradually over the latter part of the last century, beginning in 1964 with the identification and synthesis of THC by Mechoulam and Gaoni, pioneering Israeli scientists. It was named by Italian biochemist Vincenzo Di Marzo (much of the most compelling and interesting research about cannabis comes from overseas, where research isn’t hobbled by federal scheduling), who initially outlined its influence in “eating, sleeping, relaxing, forgetting and protecting” in the early 90s. This system plays a critical role in almost every regulatory function of our bodies, that has been with us since before there were mammals, that survived a die-off of 90 percent of the planet’s species – and yet, due to persistent stigma around cannabis, we know relatively little about it.

Now that the curtain around cannabis is starting to lift, consumers are becoming more curious about which cannabis options work best for them and why. There is a lot of information out there, easily accessible through a Google search, but it is conflicting and muddled with anecdata. Most consumers do not have the time or inclination to deep-dive into cannabis science; they just want to know what they can expect. The problem is, the ECS is as unique as a fingerprint; everyone is different, and trial and error is inherent in the journey toward optimization. However, the chemicals produced in the plant alongside cannabinoids have more predictable and well-studied effects than the cannabinoids themselves. Knowing the phytochemical profile of a cannabis extract can help developers define and standardize their products at scale.

The Entourage Effect

The definition of the Entourage Effect is relatively simple: it is the theory that cannabinoids have more favorable action when delivered with a higher proportion of native phytochemicals such as terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids. This manifests as both amplification of positive effects (efficacy) and modulation of undesirable ones (tolerability). The term was coined in 1988 by Raphael Mechoulam (the same Israeli scientist who discovered THC) and its potential mechanisms were first illuminated by Dr. Ethan Russo in his landmark 2011 paper, “Taming THC.” Put even more simply, the Entourage Effect is a way of saying that, when it comes to cannabis, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The interactions between various cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are staggeringly complex; it will take decades of research to parse them. Fortunately, terpenes and flavonoids have at least as much scientific research behind them as ahead of them. They are already common additives in many commercial processed goods, especially cosmetics, and of course, food – plants make tens of thousands of different terpenes alone. They can also be synthesized.

The Entourage Effect is the reasoning behind extractions that seek to retain as much of the native phytochemical context as possible. However, this comes at the expense of standardization and palatability, so each use case will necessitate its own balance of values.

Creating Cannabis Extracts

Cannabinoids are produced most abundantly in the resin glands of the cannabis plant, called trichomes. To be used in processed beverages or topicals, these glands must first be concentrated, then their oils separated from plant waxes and other non-useful vegetative matter. There are two main categories of processes to do this: solvent and non-solvent. Various levels of technological sophistication exist within each category, and most finished extracts employ elements of both.

Solvent: In this method, a solvent is added to dissolve the cannabinoids, then evaporated, leaving a concentrated oil. Solvents can be further divided by polarity. Non-polar solvents, such as butane, dissolve only non-polar compounds from the plant, in this case the oils and other lipids making up the trichome heads. Polar solvents, such as ethanol, will extract both non-polar and polar compounds, including water-soluble compounds such as chlorophyll. These bring with them with strong herbaceous flavors, however many polar compounds are desirable from a therapeutic standpoint.

Non-solvent (Mechanical): Mechanical extraction processes vary from ancient hand-pressed hash to modern distillates. Using temperature or pressure changes, cannabinoid oils can be separated without the use of a solvent. Distillation uses the variability in boiling points of a plant’s constituent chemicals to yield very pure extracts. Solvent-extracted concentrates are evaporated and then condensed at precise temperatures. The resulting product typically tests at 85-97% purity.

Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum, and Isolate

Now that we have covered the reasoning and methods for creating cannabis extracts, here are the terms used to categorize them.

Full Spectrum means the maximum amount of helpful native phytochemicals are retained during extraction, including THC. There are no precise regulatory definitions, but the goal is to remove extraneous lipids while retaining an identical ratio of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids from the original plant source material. (This can only be verified by testing the material before and after the extraction.) True full spectrum extracts are more rare than one might expect; most extractions lose significant terpenes and flavonoids during processing because they are much more volatile than cannabinoids. Ethanol and very low heat (the RSO method or whole plant oil), or an extremely long vacuum extraction process can yield full spectrum extracts.

Broad Spectrum applies to extractions which aim to retain a large complement of phytochemicals, but without the THC. This allows for some Entourage Effect action without the stigma and intoxication that accompanies cannabis’ most notorious component. Hemp, defined as cannabis plants containing <.3% THC, forms the basis for most broad spec extracts. Broad spectrum can also be created by either adding terpenes, flavonoids, and minor cannabinoids to CBD isolate or by removing THC from full spectrum extract via distillation.

Distillate takes quite the opposite approach of full spectrum, seeking to remove everything but the cannabinoid(s) of interest. After undergoing solvent extraction, the concentrated oil is run through the short-path distillation process described above, often multiple times, to purify it. Some suppliers will advertise “full-spectrum distillate” but this is contradictory. If terpenes or other bioactives are reintroduced after distillation, the product is sometimes also called broad spectrum.

Isolate is the purest form of extracted cannabinoids, a crystalline powder with a purity of 99.9%. It is created through additional solvent processes after distillation. The additional processing steps are expensive, but due to the extreme purity of the final product, cheaper crude extracts can be used as starting material without concern for residues.

Choosing the Right Spectrum

Both full and broad spectrum concentrates offer the benefits of the Entourage Effect. At first glance, it may seem that using the most phytochemically diverse extract is a no-brainer: CBD is a weak actor on its own, but its action can be amplified with other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and sterols. If your CBD product is relatively low-dose, having a diversity of phytochemicals is even more important. Beyond their potential therapeutic effects, all these minor players also give cannabis its depth, creating a symphony of flavor and smell, and ultimately making the bitterness of cannabinoid extracts more palatable.

However, even a pleasant symphony of flavors can have a strong personality; it will never be a neutral canvas onto which flavor scientists can project their artistry. Rather, it is a dominating flavor of its own – and one that changes with every batch of extract. In emulsions, the diversity of chemicals, each with slightly different weights, is also a challenge. Full and broad spectrum extracts are wild cards, and in large-scale commercial applications, the variability that makes them beautiful also make them unpredictable in terms of flavor.

By contrast, distillates and isolates offer consistency and standardization; they are a known quantity. Without much personality of their own, one can use a wider variety of flavorings to make the formulation really shine, and they are far more consistent in emulsions (as long as the supplier is reliable). The consumer can also expect the same effects and sensory experience every time.

Choosing the correct starting material for product development is a careful balance of values. For most commercial purposes, purer extracts are desirable because they allow producers to standardize and iterate based on known, reliable effects. However, for the more wellness-focused, the benefits of a fuller complement of phytochemicals are worth the variability.

At SōRSE, we have often sought to strike a balance between standardization and efficacy. Many of our products are what I like to call “Designer Spectrum” – they reconstruct the phytochemical profile block by block to yield a consistent but fully articulated product – similar to molecular gastronomy, but for cannabis.

The Science Behind a CBD Product

Zach in the SoRSE lab

While the cannabis industry is unique in many ways, product producers still need to commit to rigorous scientific practices to create and maintain a quality product. In the rush to catch the CBD wave, it can be tempting to cut corners on research, expertise, and, most of all, the testing necessary to deliver a quality product. That said, we do so at not just our own peril but that of the burgeoning industry. Here is an overview of the scientific processes advised for CBD product developers.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Well-designed, peer-reviewed research supporting structure-function claims for CBD is still relatively sparse, but it is expanding rapidly. Begin there — confirm that your idea has some basis in science. Then, refine your ideation with market projections and experienced consultancy. Research, or have your consultant advise on, the ideal potency for your form factor. It will be different for inhalants, edibles, beverages, and topicals; reliable work has been done in each product category. Then consider what supporting ingredients should be included to optimize bioavailability and the Entourage Effect. You can also look to related industries for scientific support; what can we infer from studies done on cosmetics, aromatherapy, asthma, sports medicine? This requires a lot of reading, but most scientific papers aren’t as dense as they appear at the outset. If they are too technical, you can always have a consultant parse them.

Expect to iterate according to the rapidly developing state of the art. As our scientific understanding expands, we are not just likely but guaranteed to have our current assumptions upended. In the cannabis industry, frequent reformulation and rebranding are the norm, not the exception.

PLAN FOR YOUR TESTING OUTLAY

After the product roadmap is outlined, everything boils down to testing. Test at every stage of processing (or ensure that your partners do): Farm, plants, extraction facility, extract, ingredients, lab, packaging, and finished product. Due to the importance of testing, some purchasing decisions must be made at the outset. Are you going to buy some of your own testing equipment or use a lab for everything? There are benefits and drawbacks to both, and the balance depends on your unique product and strategy.

BE THOUGHTFUL ABOUT PACKAGING
Package design is not just branding; the type of packaging used can have a real effect on shelf life. Exposure to light, heat, and air degrades cannabinoids (and other ingredients as well). Choose opaque packaging whenever possible, and try to minimize the amount of air the product will come into contact with (that’s why Velvet Swing uses an airless pump bottle, for example). The expansion of regulations will trickle down to packaging requirements. Think ahead about labeling and child-proofing.

PRIORITIZE INGREDIENT PARTNERS

It’s as true in the cannabis industry as it is everywhere else — high-quality products start with high-quality ingredients. For the extract itself, first decide on the degree of processing you will pay for. Will you do your own extraction, purchase hemp-extracted CBD oil, or purchase an even more refined product such as SōRSE? The more pure the extract, the more expensive it is likely to be, but it can absolutely be worth it due to the savings in equipment and testing costs.

Once you have your suppliers narrowed down and have received your first samples, they must be tested for potency and contaminants: pesticides, heavy metals, solvent residues, bacteria and fungi are standard. CBD companies should provide COAs, but at the beginning it’s best to verify via independent labs. However, while I recommend it initially, this testing is expensive, and you’ll quickly want to identify trusted, vertically-integrated suppliers whose plant-to-sale testing data you can access remotely. Supplier validation is crucial due to the complexity of the regulatory landscape. At SōRSE, we have supplier approval programs that monitor quality over time.

Fortunately, the other ingredients you might use in formulation are likely to have long-standing, reputable suppliers and FDA designations. Consult suppliers based on their systems for different types of tests. For example, if they use a liquid process, there is greater risk of mold compared to a powder.

TEST FOR EFFICACY

This is a highly detailed topic on its on accord; what follows is a summary of the process.

Producers should conduct efficacy testing on the same material that will be used in the finished product. CBD products should be developed like medicines, even though they are not yet regulated as such. A double-blind triangle test should be performed to establish efficacy according to various variables: potency, formulation, supplementary actives. In the THC market, product development can be hindered by regulation; fortunately, CBD is not so severely restricted. Make sure that your test group is large enough to justify your claims, even if you will not be making them on the label.

TEST FOR QUALITY

QA is primarily focused on safety, but the quality is a natural side effect. A hazard analysis must be conducted for the formula, the process, and the supplier chain. Each represents a different set of risks that have to be identified and monitored. Closely adjacent to QA is Regulatory. Depending on the type of product you are producing, regulatory documentation could include any of the following documents: Allergen statement, COAs, BSE/TSE, Ethical Sourcing/Trafficking, Food Grade Statement, FSMA Compliant Statement/FDA Registration, Gluten Statement, GMO Statement, Halal Certificate, Ingredient Declaration, Kosher Cert or Number, Letter of Continuing Guarantee, Natural Statement, Nutrition Information, Organic Statement, Product Data Sheet or Product Spec, Prop 65 Statement, Residual Solvents, Safety Data Sheet, Storage and Shelf Life, Third Party Audit, and Vegan/Vegetarian statement — but it is not standardized.

The sheer complexity of the testing and regulations that may apply to your CBD product can be daunting. Choosing SōRSE takes care of a lot of the worry for you. Here, we work with trusted, reliable suppliers and have leading-edge safety and regulatory standards. Our commitment to science is not only our superpower, but your ticket to peace of mind.

5 Common Mistakes People Make When Stepping Into the Cannabis Market

Professional struggling at work in office.

The appeal of the cannabis industry is powerful: Financial success while doing fundamental good in the world. Entrepreneurial opportunity for those traditionally excluded from the business world. Fame and prestige for industry leaders. The opportunity — and indeed the demand — to innovate.

It’s not a surprise that everyone wants to be a part of it. We are an industry growing in both scope and legitimacy, and there are a lot of new members. Veteran members have a responsibility to help them avoid the pitfalls. Here are the five most common mistakes companies make when entering into the cannabis market:

1. Thinking it will Operate like Other Markets

Over the years, I’ve spoken with a lot of entrepreneurs eager to jump into the cannabis space, and they all have made the reasonable assumption that the fundamental rules of other industries will be at play here. Unfortunately, the regulatory landscape, particularly as it pertains to THC, is like nothing else in the American economy. No other ingredient is federally labelled Schedule 1 — reserved for highly addictive drugs with no medical value — yet is legal medicinally, recreationally, or both on a state level. Not only is it regulated differently from state to state, the regulations are constantly changing and are inconsistently enforced. The cannabis industry gets called the Wild West for a reason. 

CBD companies are prohibited from making any medical claims, which can be frustrating since most customers interested in CBD are looking for therapeutic effects. Because of this, euphemisms come heavily into play in branding. Some companies employ a compliance officer to review all customer-facing verbiage.

If you are working with THC, you will not be able to write off any of your standard business expenses on your federal tax return. This leads companies to fractionate their businesses, with separate companies handling payroll, marketing, and retail, which adds complexity and more paperwork. Similarly, THC products can never be shipped across state lines, even from one legal state to another, since interstate commerce is federally governed. That means that every state in which you operate must have its own THC license, processing facility, and distribution network, even if the product being sold is identical. Not only is this unreasonable, it is also impractical and expensive. Depending on where you’re setting up shop, you will have different packaging limitations for text size, package size, even the colors you can use. Requirements for redundant and/or childproof packaging are wasteful and, again, expensive. 

The other thing that differentiates the cannabis market from other markets is its demographic diversity. People from all walks of life, all ages, races, genders and income levels enjoy cannabis. Previous categorizations can be a guide, but often customer profiles don’t match the real world. You may be surprised by who buys your product–and who doesn’t. 

2. Not Getting it in Writing

Because of the limited regulation of the cannabis industry, it’s tempting to seal deals on a handshake. That’s a mistake in any business, but the ramifications are amplified in this tumultuous landscape. When — not if — one of your partners fails to deliver on their commitments, it’s hard enough to enforce a contract to begin with, let alone in this transitional market. There’s not usually a lot of money to spare for legal battles, either. Take the time to write out the terms of your agreements, and spend the money to have them reviewed by a contract lawyer. 

3. Not Embracing Redundancy

Sourcing is one of the biggest hurdles facing CBD companies. In the face of limited or non-existant regulation, choosing a supplier to provide consistent, clean cannabinoids can make or break your business. Even partners that start out looking great (spoiler: they all do) may end up failing you though logistical insufficiency or a change in leadership integrity. Redundancy is your insurance policy. CBD companies must find not one reliable supplier, but several. Don’t accept an exclusive relationship at the outset; work up to it through years of consistent performance.

4. Disregarding Institutional Knowledge

In a bid for legitimacy, many startups are hiring from industries outside the legacy cannabis market. That can be very useful for expanding the scope of cannabis applications and form factors, but without a holistic understanding of the plant, innovation can be dangerous. Accrued generational knowledge from growers and pre-legalization formulators can help you avoid costly formulation mistakes and contraindications. As a successful cannabis industry friend of mine puts it, “Always make sure you’ve got at least a couple old hippies on staff.”

5. Relying on Hype

CBD is hot as can be right now, but it doesn’t take a prophet to know that at some point the bubble has to burst. Don’t worry, CBD will be around for a long time and likely become a health and wellness staple! That said, the buzz can’t sustain this volume; products cannot be successful long-term on the basis of the inclusion of CBD alone. Thoughtful formulations that look to ingredient synergy will still have something to pique consumer interest after the hype dies down. Look to the bleeding edge of the THC market to see what will trickle down to the CBD world in the next two years: terpenes, flavonoids, fresh frozen extractions, and herbal blends. Of course, this could all be nullified depending on the speed of the now all-but-certain rescheduling of THC. Cannabis is certainly not an industry for the faint of heart.

What Would Development Look Like Without a Water-Soluble Solution?

Water droplets falling from ceiling.

Cannabinoids are lipophilic, meaning they dissolve in oils. For this simple reason, oil-based cannabis products have dominated the cannabis industry until very recently. Prior to legalization, they have been the only option; in an illicit market, the massive amounts of money, expertise, and time it takes to create a water-soluble emulsion is prohibitive. Given the nascent state of the legal industry, it’s only natural that oil-based products would be the norm. However, that is changing. 

One way to look at the advantages of a water-based formula is to review the development hurdles that must be overcome without one. A water-based solution is not appropriate for any consumption method involving heat, such as vaping or smoking, so we are going to focus on edible, tincture, and topical formulations. One way to look at the advantages of a water-based formula is to review the development hurdles that must be overcome without one. A water-based solution is not appropriate for any consumption method involving heat, such as vaping or smoking, so we are going to focus on edible, tincture, and topical formulations. 

Several product subcategories are impossible right out of the gate. Beverages, in which water is always the largest ingredient, are commercially untenable with oil. When you mix oil and water together, they rapidly separate, with the oil rising to the top of the liquid. Because of this, many products on the market need to be shaken up before drinking, which is not ideal for the producer or the consumer. The only way to create a stable beverage with oil is to infuse it into a high-fat base that contains natural emulsifiers, such as dairy or coconut milk. 

From the start, direct infusion into any oil comes with its own suite of problems. If you are using dried, cured cannabis flowers for your infusion, many flavor and smell components in the plant material will come along as well, and the resulting oil will have a strong cannabis flavor. That may not be a problem if you are making brownies in your home kitchen, but it is not acceptable at scale. To make matters worse, this flavor will vary from batch to batch; even the most consistent grows are subject to the whims of nature. Trying to guess the flavor profile of any given batch of cannabis-infused oil is like trying to guess the amount of Vitamin A in any given carrot. There is a likely range, but each plant has its own unique composition. 

To create edibles without the characteristic herbaceous notes of the cannabis flower, it is necessary to remove as much of the chlorophyll, lipids, flavonoid, and terpene content as possible. This can be reasonably and inexpensively achieved with CO2-extracted cannabis concentrates, but ideally done with a more neutral (and pricier) distillate. However, when working with these extremely low viscosity extracts, dispersal becomes a challenge. The cannabis oil must first be heated gently with a carrier oil; that carrier oil must be completely evenly dispersed into the final product, otherwise dosing will be uneven. In baked goods, the amount of mixing involved can result in a tough, dense crumb structure. 

To insure that  the oil has dispersed evenly, producers must then test the final product. That said,  it is much harder to test a cookie, for example, than a batch of cannabis oil. The complexity of the ingredients and unreliability of results have led many producers to extrapolate from limited and/or non-randomized samples, and as a result, uneven dosing plagues the legal market.

There may also be consumer education considerations when choosing oil. My largest area of expertise is the development of cannabis topicals for sexual enhancement and relief. However, oil-based topicals are incompatible with safer sex barriers such as latex or polyisoprene condoms — a massive sexual health risk of which most buyers and customers are completely unaware — and they can cause irritation in some people. Moreover, the sensory profile of cannabis is, shall we say, less than sensual for many people. My primary impetus for developing Velvet Swing was to offer a neutral, gentle, barrier-compatible option, so that customers don’t have to rely on their budtenders for being informed and willing to dispense sexual health information.

Fortunately it’s no longer necessary to be bound by the limits of oil. It’s the first rung on the ladder, the easiest path to take, and still the wisest choice for some applications. However, if you are developing a beverage, tincture, or topical, consider what water-based formulation can help you do — and what it can help you avoid.

Benefits of SōRSE From a Product Development Standpoint

aluminum cans lined up

Here at SōRSE, we talk a lot about our seven pillars and what they mean for the consumer. However, many of the best aspects of our technology show up well before a product gets to the end user. Let’s look at the ways that SōRSE can help you through the classic stages of product development:

IDEA GENERATION

A fast and easy-to-use water-based preparation opens up entire new worlds of creative product ideation, and even new product categories. For example, beverages, which is an enormously diverse product type, are impractical or unpalatable (usually both!) with oil. What would you do if you weren’t limited to using oil? With SōRSE, beverages are easy — so your team can really let their imaginations run wild.

IDEA SCREENING

After you’ve brainstormed with your team, it’s time to sift out the winners from the duds. To know what is most likely to succeed in the market — or to create a new market — you need data, and we’ve got it. SōRSE is proven in market; you can look to our partners’ successes to help refine the viability of your ideas. We also have an experienced technical team to help you identify complex problems in advance of production. We can help you figure out and understand your unknowns.

The cannabis market is a dynamic, evolving place. Customer profiles and categories don’t fall along traditional lines; the appeal of CBD cuts across demographic lines like little else. Rather than predicting customer preferences based on age, gender, etc., we should look to their reasons for choosing CBD. Take potency, for example — one of the key market decisions you will need to make. For the medical user, cost per milligram (mg) is the primary value, whereas casual users are more likely to prioritize taste. Fortunately, SōRSE works with both low and high potencies, which you can optimize for the market you are trying to reach.

CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT

Paying for a pre-emulsified product may seem like a luxury, but it’s far less expensive than reinventing the wheel. Building an emulsion technology is not as simple as porting existing food science techniques to cannabis oils. Emulsion technology becomes far more complicated when working with 30 or more compounds that make up broad spectrum cannabis concentrates. Even distillates typically have impurity percentages in the low double digits, all with different weights and attributes. The amount of work perfecting a cannabis oil emulsion is staggering. Fortunately, at SōRSE, it’s all we do.

Another consideration is supply. Vetting reliable sources for materials can take months, and there’s still no guarantee that they will remain reliable. Why? Because the regulatory landscape changes fast, and turnover is high. The solution to this uncertainty is redundancy. SōRSE has a network of manufacturing locations and multiple well-established, high-quality suppliers. If something changes in the regulatory landscape, we can respond quickly and there will be no interruption in supply.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

The nuts and bolts of formulation are where SōRSE shines the brightest. Rather than having to spend thousands of dollars on equipment and months of employee time working up an emulsion only to have it fail stability testing, your team can hit the ground running and put your focus where it belongs: sensory, efficacy, and scalability. Because competition is ramping up every day in the CBD world, it’s more important than ever to stand out. SōRSE also blends effortlessly into most water-based preparations, so it’s a good choice if you’ve already done some product development work.

COMMERCIALIZATION

Once you know you’ve got a winning formulation on your hands, it’s time to put it into motion. In the run-up to launch, you’ll be able to generate buzz as a product #PoweredbySōRSE. You’ll again benefit from the institutional knowledge of our team, who have decades of experience in food and beverage science, emulsion, and cannabis as you strategize for your product’s big splash.

Water-based products appeal to the values of the emergent market. They can be accurately marketed as innovative, convenient, palatable, versatile, and adaptable — truly the next evolution of cannabis. And with SōRSE, you’ve got a powerful team behind you every step of the way.

The Versatility of SōRSE in CBD Products

plastic juice bottles in a row

It is increasingly true that if a product exists, there is a CBD-infused version of it — and we think that’s great! In fact, at SōRSE we are doing everything we can to make infusing products with cannabinoids easier, safer, and more reliable. Here are the categories in which SōRSE can be used to create exceptional, innovative products:

BEVERAGES

Drinks are our bread & butter here at SōRSE Tech, but it’s worthwhile to take a moment to review the incredible versatility within this one category: hot and cold beverages, carbonated sodas, juices, mixers. SōRSE, in liquid or powder form, can be used as a beverage amendment or integrated into the end product. It’s easy to work with whether you’re a product developer or a consumer.

Using SōRSE in beverages means greater bioavailability and faster onset, thanks to our small particle size and even dispersal. One of the biggest hurdles facing cannabis drink manufacturers is the delay of onset. With SōRSE, consumers can feel the effects in as little as 20 minutes. This makes beverages viable and versatile conduits for cannabinoid delivery in the real world: a way to engage in casual, socially acceptable relaxation without the drawbacks of alcohol.

TINCTURES

Tinctures are distinct from beverages because they allow sublingual as well as intestinal absorption (the longer the product is held in the mouth, the greater the proportion will be). They tend to be highly concentrated and usually combine cannabinoids with other bioactive herbs. Historically, tinctures were made using alcohol as a solvent (the process was as simple as grinding up cannabis flower and letting it sit in alcohol for two weeks), and most tinctures were strongly alcoholic as a result. In the modern landscape, however, this is undesirable – and sometimes illegal.

With the faster onset time and great palatability mentioned above, SōRSE is a fantastic choice for tincture development. It also offers seamless blending with terpenes to increase absorption and/or tilt the effects of the cannabinoids towards a classically “indica” or “sativa” experience. In any tincture, some proportion of the cannabinoids will be swallowed and absorbed intestinally, using SōRSE ensures that their onset time is as short as possible, so that consumers are still getting the immediate results they expect from tincture applications.

TOPICALS

Topicals and transdermals will always be nearest and dearest in my product developer heart. That’s because they have so many benefits and are so appreciated. The skin is loaded with CB2 and CB1 receptors, and the discomfort of many skin conditions is the result of inflammation. Cannabinoids are famously anti-inflammatory.

I have seen cannabis topicals make a huge difference in symptom management for a wide range of localized skin and muscle issues. The challenge when developing topicals and transdermals is penetration, and most products facilitate this with oil and intense chemicals like capsaicin, menthol, or DMSO. SōRSE offers a water-based alternative for those with sensitive skin, or for application to mucous membranes. Unlike oil, its consistency can be easily adjusted. And for those of us who are concerned about the use of nano products topically (more on that in an upcoming article), SōRSE offers safe, predictable results.

With this many application avenues it’s easy to see how SōRSE became a product developer’s dream. Maybe we should change the saying to “if it exists, you can add SōRSE to it!”

What New Consumers Want In a CBD Product

customer shopping on aisle

Recent projections estimate the CBD market will see $15-20 billion in sales in the next 5 years, with the expansion of CBD into mainstream retail driving most of the influx. Some of these sales are going to be existing customers increasing their consumption, but the bulk will come from novel consumers. First-time CBD users tend to be in their 30s and 40s, educated, and employed. This is the person whose tastes will drive the emergent market. What will they be looking for in CBD products?

EASE OF USE

There are many products on the market that, frankly, look and taste awful, but they succeed because their form factors make consumption convenient. The emergent CBD consumer isn’t looking for bongs and dabs; they want products they perceive as more sophisticated. Clean, tidy, portable.

DISCRETION & TASTEFULNESS

CBD doesn’t bear the stigma of THC but delivery methods can look the same, which lends practical support to the new consumer’s otherwise subjective preferences. For their most common applications, cannabinoids require periodic administration. Professionals may be interested in consuming CBD consistently throughout the day, which calls for a non-obvious delivery method. Beverages and beverage additives, elevated tincture formats, and transdermal patches seek to address this.

EFFICACY

Does the product deliver its promised effects? This can be a tricky one when structure-function and medical claims are verboten. Marketers have to approach from a glancing angle, using non-specific words like “calm,” and “relief” to code for CBD’s established medical effects. With customer expectations based on such inference, how will they assess whether a product “works?” As producers, our job is to overshoot the mark and make our products as effective as possible.

Unfortunately, many formulations include CBD as an afterthought rather than an active ingredient. Products need to be treated as delivery matrices for CBD; their job is to efficiently and pleasantly usher the active ingredient to the consumer. In order to be effective, CBD must be delivered in sufficient dosage, and it benefits tremendously from co-administration with native phytochemicals such as terpenes and flavonoids. While these can be a sensory challenge due to their bitterness and perceived “chemical” notes, they can also direct or integrate the flavor profile to make it feel more natural. Terpenes and terpene blends are a way to bend the subjective CBD experience and even offset the small number of potentially undesirable effects.

If customers find a product’s drawbacks outweigh its benefits, then they will most likely not purchase it again. If they do not find their product to be effective at all they will relegate CBD to the snake oil bin, with dire repercussions for the industry as a whole.

FLAVOR

In the pre-legalization market, taste was de-prioritized and the natural bitterness of cannabinoid extracts was the price you had to pay for the effects. (There are even some who currently argue that cannabis’ bitterness helps it be taken more seriously as medicine.) But for the casual, more recreational user, it’s hard to see why unpalatability is anything but a challenge to overcome.

Fortunately, relaxed stigma around cannabis has made higher-skill talent available from the food and beverage science industry, where bitterness is an old and oft-vanquished foe. By porting people and technology from there, we can avoid reinventing the wheel.

STABILITY

At SōRSE, stability is our claim to fame, but the truth is customers don’t give much thought to it — at least not consciously — until it fails. Rather it is an expectation they have of mainstream commercial products, only noticeable when it is absent. As the CBD market becomes more polished, products that separate or require shaking will be viewed as unprofessional. Stability work is an indispensable part of product formulation, especially for complex concentrates with diverse chemical profiles. We’ll see more and more customers asking for this as the market matures.

4 Steps to Entering the CBD Market

production line of bottled drinks

If you are considering developing a CBD product or adding CBD to one of your existing products, the time to pull the trigger is now. Everyone is excited about this ingredient. If you’ve come up with a great idea, know who your target customer is and you’ve got a funding plan — all the regular business stuff — and you’re ready to jump in, here’s how you should you prioritize your energy to optimize for this specific niche.

DEFINE YOUR VALUE IN THE MARKET

CBD is being added to everything under the sun. The market is still expanding, but saturation is on the horizon. What will your product offer besides just CBD? Will it outperform existing similar form factors, or be a new form factor altogether?

When articulating your value proposition remember that medical claims and structure-function claims are off limits. You are not allowed to market an anti-anxiety soda (not yet, anyway). Learning how to state your products unique benefits without using prohibited language is an invaluable marketing exercise.

HIRE A STRONG TEAM

…especially if you are new to product development. Everyone knows the right team can make or break any product, but it’s especially true in the CBD world. An emergent market with lax regulations is the perfect circumstance for unprofessional and/or incompetent entrepreneurs to thrive. Your goal is to weed through the charlatans without weeding out talented partners from the pre-legalization market.

Get ready to do a lot of interviewing. Think about unknown unknowns: the things you don’t even know that you don’t know — and hire people who can illuminate your dark spots. You’ll likely need to create new roles to deal with the unique challenges of formulating with CBD, such as a packaging specialist or an extraction consultant. Even with systems as easy to use as SōRSE, you will want to make sure your ingredients are optimized; contract with a cannabis expert who has worked with CBD before and have them review your formula.

FOCUS ON PROCESS — BUT STAY NIMBLE

Most companies in the CBD market are severely lacking in the process department. Thousands of worker hours are wasted reinventing the wheel whenever a problem crops up. Don’t get so caught up in iteration that you neglect process. It won’t be long before the federal government is forced to create a real, enforceable legal framework for CBD. Those who invest in strong systems now will survive the upcoming regulatory onslaught.

That said, the regulations are likely to remain volatile for some time, just like everything in this market. Consider paying a premium for smaller packaging runs rather than saving money by ordering in bulk, for example, because label overhauls are the rule rather than the exception. Don’t expect that customer demographics will break along the usual lines; CBD has tremendous crossover appeal. Always be ready to pivot and adapt.

DO YOUR TRADEMARK HOMEWORK

So many companies have had to rebrand as a result of insufficient competitor research, or worse, the hubris of believing that since CBD is quasi-legal it is immune to trademark infringement complaints from fully legal markets. You don’t want to go through the work of painstakingly building up a brand identity only to find out via cease-and-desist that you have to start all over. Think outside the box and find an unusual, attention grabbing name.