CBD has been gaining in popularity in the US these days as many people are turning towards natural products instead of pharmaceuticals to treat their pets. There are now many options on the market that makes it easy to add CBD into your pet’s diets, such as our partner, Heirloom Pet Products. Our VP of Technical Business Development, Michael Flemmens, discusses the potential benefits of CBD and how it affects your pets in Pennsylvania Cannabis News’ article.
There are over 200 terpenes in the cannabis plant, and each strain has its own unique terpene blend and sensory profile. SōRSE’s VP of Technical Business Development, Michael Flemmens, describes the flavors terpenes can impart and how they interact with cannabinoids with Head Magazine.
There is no doubt that the cannabis industry has matured over the past ten years, due in part to an increasing number of states legalizing medicinal and recreational use as well as a growing public acceptance of the plant for its health and wellness benefits. This cultural attitude shift is welcomed, especially for those who know the rich history of the plant and what it has offer. That said, it has been a long time coming, given that cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated crops recorded, dating back 12,000 years to Central Asia. During that time, cannabis was used for spiritual enlightenment and pain relief, not unlike today’s consumers!
A Growing Acceptance
A great example of consumer acceptance of cannabis is the ever-growing popularity of cannabidiol, CBD, one of the many cannabinoids in the plant. Consumers are curious about the functional attributes that CBD products offer and are open-minded when looking to purchase products featuring CBD. As a result, companies producing infused products are closely aligning themselves with the food and beverage industry, following their tried-and-true standards and guidelines with the goal of creating safe, great tasting products for their target consumer base.
Heard of GRAS Status? If No, You Will Soon
Back in the day, before cannabis edibles became mainstream, there was minimal regulation in the space, which led to inaccurate dosing as well as quality and safety concerns. Today, many companies are preparing themselves for FDA regulation by pursuing self-affirmed GRAS status. GRAS, which stands for Generally Recognized as Safe, is the FDA’s designation that a substance added to food is considered safe. If companies actively pursue self-affirmed GRAS status now, this will prevent reformulation requirements and reduce potential barriers to enter mainstream retailers, making the company a more valuable partner. Companies pursuing GRAS also sends a message to the consumer carefully reading labels that their safety comes first.
Focus on Quality and Safety
While the FDA considers how to regulate CBD, companies creating infused products are utilizing the traditional food and beverage quality and safety protocols to keep the consumer safe. CBD might be “new,” but if it’s going to be in food and drinks, it has to be treated just like any other food ingredient. In the food and beverage industry, it’s common for the terms “quality” and “safety” to be paired together, but they are not interchangeable. The word “quality” refers to the features and characteristics of a food product that is acceptable to consumers, meets their expectations, and conforms to required specifications. The word “safety” refers to practices and conditions that confirm the ingredients and finished goods will not harm consumers if ingested. Many companies have implemented their own food safety programs which include following GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) standards. The more that companies prioritize safety and quality, the more the consumers will trust and remain loyal to the brand.
Beyond the Brownie: Product Quality and Variety
Years ago, if someone wanted an infused cannabis product like a cookie or brownie, they would have likely had to make it themselves. In contrast, today’s cannabis marketplace is rich with a variety of products from wellness shots and beverages to gummies and tea sachets. An important difference between today’s infused products and those of the past is the focus on flavor and the consumer’s sensory experience. Product producers are committed to creating high quality goods that taste good, which means that they are spending more time considering what flavors and ingredients will work in concert with the cannabinoid.
Popular product categories are by no means new; they are simply enhanced by CBD. Currently, the canna-curious are interested in low-calorie, low-sugar infused beverages and food items, and products that meet diet-specific and lifestyle needs. This includes organic, all-natural, and gluten-free diets as well as products that feature functional ingredients. Ready to mix (RTM) beverages is a category on the rise for their portability and ease of use. Today’s consumers are also buying CBD products for their pets, from infused biscuits to food toppers. Water-soluble cannabinoid emulsions are making it easy for product developers to add CBD to almost any food or beverage product that you can find on a grocery store (and pet store) shelf.
Growth and Scalability
With consumer demand for quality and novel products on the rise, rates of production and distribution increase as well. Now more than ever, retailers are creating ample shelf space for CBD products. As CBD has become more widely accepted, larger food and beverage companies are joining the wave of infused product development. With this, more manufacturing and co-packing companies are following suit, creating opportunities for product developers to scale their products and get them to market. Retailers are also eagerly anticipating the influx of CBD–infused products from larger traditional food and beverage companies that are waiting for the go-ahead from the FDA before releasing their already developed, not yet available infused products.
As the cannabis industry matures, consumer demand is on the rise. Today’s consumer expects healthier, more unique products, which creates exciting opportunities for product developers as well as manufacturing challenges. In this time of high demand, it is important that product developers choose their strategic partners wisely to ensure market success. SōRSE utilizes patent-pending emulsion technology designed for an easier cannabinoid infusion and a better finished product. At SōRSE, we convert an oil into a water-soluble liquid or powder that is easily integrated into the production process using food grade ingredients. Because the emulsion is homogeneous, the amount of cannabinoids is evenly distributed throughout the product, and the first sip tastes as good as the last. With a team backed by 200+ years of experience in the food and beverage industry and a focus on consumer safety and satisfaction, SōRSE is committed to moving the industry forward with our partners and taking infused products to the next level.
There is no doubt that cannabis has a very distinct taste and smell. Most people can identify it as soon as they smell it – but if they have never ingested a CBD drink or edible, they might wonder about the flavor it can impart. When it comes to describing cannabis’ smell and taste, a few of the words we often hear are earthy, skunky, herbaceous, citrusy or piney. It’s important to note that each strain has its own unique sensory qualities, much like a Gravenstein apple tastes and smells different than a Fuji. What gives cannabis and other plants these qualities that humans react to when they smell or taste them? Terpenes!
Terpenes: What They Are and What They Do
In the cannabis plant, terpenes are fragrant oils that are produced and secreted from the same glands that produce cannabinoids, which are called trichomes. Terpenes are the molecules that give the plant its odor and flavor and increase the cannabinoids’ efficacy. As is true with other plants, the qualities that terpenes bring to cannabis are impacted by soil composition, climate, and myriad other factors. Terpenes can help the plant repel insects and other predators, as well as attracting pollinators like bees. They also have antioxidant effects. Scientists have identified over 200 terpenes in the cannabis plant, and each strain has its own unique blend of terpenes.
Terpenes also have therapeutic qualities; they can play a role in a plant’s medicinal effects because of the way they interact with cannabinoids and help them enter the bloodstream. Scientists have found that when terpenes and cannabinoids work synergistically, their effectiveness in treating pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and infection is enhanced. Interestingly, Terpenes are the basis of aromatherapy, a healing treatment that utilizes a plant’s essential oils to promote physical and emotional well-being.
Common Terpenes and Their Qualities
Beta-caryophyllene can be found in black pepper, oregano, cloves and cinnamon and can be described as peppery. It is the only terpene that can act as a cannabinoid and interact directly with our endocannabinoid system and is reported to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Limonene can be found in citrus fruit rinds, rosemary and peppermint. It is reported to provide stress relief. Research has shown Limonene’s potential for stress relief, fighting fungus and bacteria, and relieving heartburn.
Linalool can be found in lavender and birch bark and can be described as floral. It is reported to promote calm and relaxation. It’s also known for its antimicrobial properties and its ability to help the immune system fight stress.
Myrcene, one of the most common of the cannabis terpenes, can be found in hops, mango, and lemongrass and can be described as floral or herbal. It is reported to impart calming qualities and relax muscles. One of its most important qualities is that increases a cell membrane’s permeability, which allows for a larger uptake of cannabinoids and therefore stronger effects.
Pinene, another very common terpene in the plant world, can be found in basil, dill, rosemary and pine needles. The scent and flavor be described as foresty or piney. Because it is a bronchodilator, it can improve airflow to the lungs. It is reported to provide relief for pain and inflammation and aid in memory retention.
Terpinolene can be found in apples, lilac, tea tree, nutmeg and cumin and can be described as fruity. It is reported to have uplifting effects and can help fight off mosquitos. Terpinolene is a common ingredient in cleaning products because of its fresh scent and antibacterial qualities.
ECS and The Entourage Effect
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) which is present in all humans and animals is responsible for building and sustaining health. Its primary role is to maintain and balance all of the other bodily systems such as the central nervous system, reproductive system, and immune system. The ECS is made up of receptors throughout the body and in the brain, which help maintain balance in reaction to change. The ECS is crucial when it comes to regulating a broad range of physiological processes that affect us, such as our mood, energy level, and immunity, as well as how we experience stress, pain, and more. Research studies have linked the ECS to the following processes: Appetite/digestion, metabolism, chronic pain, inflammation, mood, learning/memory, motor control, and skin/nerve function, to name a few. After being thrown into imbalance by physical, environmental or emotional stressors, the combination of cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and terpenes can bring the body back into balance.
Cannabis researchers S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam introduced the term “Entourage Effect” to explain the process of biological synergy between cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes. It represents the idea that “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” meaning that the effects created when the three work together are stronger than each would achieve alone. A paper by Ethan Russo titled “Taming THC” in the British Journal of Pharmacology reported evidence that taking cannabinoids and terpenes together may be beneficial for treating conditions like pain, anxiety, inflammation, epilepsy, infection and cancer. What this means, in layman’s terms, is that the combination of cannabinoids like CBD with terpenes can bring a body back into balance through its work with the ECS.
If you are exploring the idea of creating a CBD beverage or edible or perhaps reformulating a recipe you already have in the works, it’s important to consider the differences between extractions, particularly CBD Isolate and Broad Spectrum. Isolates are CBD in their purest form; they are 99% CBD and impart very little in the way of flavor or odor. Broad Spectrum retains a large complement of plant material without the THC, which allows for the Entourage Effect to occur. Hemp, which contains less than .3% THC, forms the basis for most Broad Spectrum 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. If you want to create a product that is free from any plant smell or flavor, Isolate is your best bet. If you want to give your customers the benefit of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids working together and imparting flavor and smells that can complement the other flavors, then Broad Spectrum is a great choice.
The team here at SōRSE is well-versed in working with cannabinoids and terpenes alike and are always willing to help you create the perfect sensory profile for your product. Book an exploratory call today!
Presented by Michael Flemmens, VP of Technical Business Development
Hosted by SōRSE Technology
CBD is the hottest ingredient trend and demand has continued to soar in 2020. But what is CBD, why do consumers want it, and why has it been so difficult to integrate into beverages, food items, topicals, and nutraceuticals? Learn from the industry-leading water-soluble CBD emulsion supplier, SōRSE Technology, the basics about CBD and how it can seamlessly be integrated into any manufacturing process to create safe, stable, and scalable products.
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.
(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 likely) at 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.
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?
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.
Let’s be real. The majority of cannabis-infused products, both CBD and THC, taste downright awful.
The reason why is simple: cannabinoid extracts are intensely bitter, earthy, and difficult to work with, owing respectively to the cannabinoids themselves, terpenes/flavonoids, and the infinitesimally complex interactions between them and other ingredients. Formulating infused foods and beverages is a huge challenge when the active weights the flavor profile so heavily–it’s like flying a paper airplane with a marble on one wing. Right now consumers are buying products for their effects, not for their taste. But it won’t always be that way, and the companies who are first to offer both efficacy and good taste will have an enduring market advantage.
In emulsified cannabinoid products, carrier oils, preservatives, and surfactants also bring their own challenging tastes to the table. Nanoemulsions, a common way of reconciling cannabinoid oils and water, are even more bitter due to their small particle size, which creates more surface area for bitter compounds to interact with taste receptors. (Fortunately, SōRSE is non-nano, which allows for masking any bitter flavors with minimal sugars and additives.)
Increasing the concentration of active increases the bitterness, a particularly difficult issue for CBD-only products, which require increased potency to overcome CBD’s relatively weak action at endocannabinoid receptors. Add to all this the fact that many in the industry come from the cannabis world and are new to food and beverage (full disclosure: myself included), and you’ve got a perfect recipe for terrible-tasting cannabis products.
SO, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TO FIX IT?
Options for dealing with bitterness fall into two main categories: incorporation or masking, which can be thought of as either going with the flow, or fighting it.
Incorporation (going with the flow) means accepting the naturally bitter and complex flavor of cannabis and working with it rather than trying to hide it. It means thinking of the flavor of the extract as an ingredient in the overall sensory formulation. Because bitterness originally evolved as a way to disincentivize eating toxic foods, it is the only one of the primary taste dimensions that is unpleasant; generally, we experience sweet, sour, salty, and umami tastes positively. However, bitterness is a component in many pleasant tastes. Flavors that are naturally bitter, such as peppermint, chocolate, coffee, citrus, or beer, trick the brain into incorporating the bitterness into the familiar flavor, such that it doesn’t register as bitter but rather “peppermint, which is a little bitter.” Many actives are bitter; customers can accept that bitterness is the cost they must pay for the effect, or even celebrate and cultivate it, much as we do with caffeine or alcohol.
The trouble with this approach is it limits flavor options severely. The market is absolutely laden with chocolates, sour candies, and peppermint mouth sprays. We need to evolve and be prepared to match the sophistication of the upcoming landscape.
Masking (fighting it) is actually a more traditional, low-tech option that has recently gotten a high-tech makeover. The low-tech version works similarly to incorporation but has the goal of completely erasing the taste of the cannabis rather than complementing it–think dark chocolate coffee brownies. The modern version involves bitter blockers as a process aid, which interfere with the taste buds’ ability to perceive bitterness.
Masking sparks controversy: even though we can eliminate the herbaceous, bitter taste of cannabis, should we? Some people argue that cannabis shouldn’t taste good, because its bitterness will make people more inclined to think of it as medicine. Or that without the distinctive taste, accidental ingestion will happen. Considering cannabis has no practical lethal dose, that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.
Let’s start at the beginning, the very beginning, of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). 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.) This is a system that has literally been with us since before there were mammals, that survived a die-off of 90 percent of the planet’s species.
And yet, we know so little about it. The formal discovery of the ECS happened gradually over the latter part of the last century, beginning in 1964 with the identification and synthesis of THC by Mechoulam and Gaoni, Israeli scientists. Much of the best research on cannabinoids in general and THC in particular comes from Israel, where research is not hobbled by federal prohibition the way it is in the US. The contagious stigma against cannabis has nipped our curiosity about a system that has a role in almost every regulatory and homeostatic function of our bodies. It oversees our processes of “eating, sleeping, relaxing, forgetting and protecting,” according to biochemist Vincenzo Di Marzo, who named the ECS.
Now the curtain is starting to lift, saner policies are emerging, and consumers are becoming more curious about which cannabis options work and why. The information is out there and sometimes as easy as a Google search. But 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–which is the reason the same weed that relaxes you friend gives you a panic attack. There is no getting around this fundamental fact of cannabis: everyone is different, and trial and error is inherent to the journey toward optimization.
How do we convey complex concepts simply and accurately? Pictures are very helpful. Leafly and Phytecs put out some killer infographics to break down complex concepts. I also tell people to keep a literal notebook. A physical record of their feelings as they try different strains, growers, methods of delivery. I advise tracking the status of their own body such as hunger, tiredness, hormonal cycle, etc. Patterns will begin to emerge. Since using the same cannabis product over and over will gradually make it less effective, and product availability is inconsistent, it’s best to have a sense of the commonalities between products that you like.
A parallel can be drawn to medication journeys or even skincare routines. Consumers are used to, if not happy about, having to try a number of different options before finding what works. The categories of Indica and Sativa, rather than being a genetic reality, are more often shorthand for a particular experience, but they are a reasonable place to start. Dialing down a level of granularity, budtenders and cannabis websites will often list the effects one can expect from a strain or product. Despite the wide variation from person to person, any given effect will likely apply to about 80 percent of consumers–however there are so many effects that you’re likely to be in the 20 percent for some of them. Take note of which effects seem to be the most common, which the most pronounced. Method also matters. There are just so many ways to enjoy this plant. Some of them preserve the terroir of the very earth they are grown in; some obliterate everything but the THC. Both will be someone’s favorite.
Another education hurdle that we are facing is overcoming the prohibition mindset of high THC percentage buyers. It is true that THC is the dominant intoxicating element in the cannabis plant, however if the goal is to get the most high for your buck, it’s not the only number you should be looking at. Setting aside that passive corruption in THC testing abounds (labs that return higher numbers get more business), THC is like the gas in your car; without the rest of the car you’re not going anywhere. Minor cannabinoids and terpenes help the THC cross the brain blood barrier so you can actually experience it. And that’s only if the highest high is what you’re seeking. Most people don’t buy Everclear when they want an alcoholic beverage; they are looking for a particular taste and experience.
Cannabis is still more art than science, but the science part of the pie chart grows every day. Our knowledge about cannabis is expanding rapidly from every angle. Still, stigma can make first-time cannabis users hesitant to seek out information. Everyone can help alleviate that by being as open and frank about their use as their circumstances allow. Coming out of the closet as a cannabis user humanizes the experience. Most people have used cannabis. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Change is happening, and we can facilitate it by sharing our knowledge in a friendly, compassionate way.