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.

How To Educate First-Time CBD Consumers

smiling woman holding beauty products on market aisle

Many people are just now discovering CBD, and that’s a good thing! But it does mean that producers are facing a hefty educational burden. The key features of the cannabis prohibition era –which we are just barely exiting — have been fear, stigma, and misinformation. We must still contend with their echoes. On top of this hurdle, there are also countless new brands cropping up daily that want to sell CBD producers to consumers. How do consumers understand CBD well enough to make informed buying decisions? Fortunately, the antidote to all of these issues is education.

Here are some guidelines for educating your new potential customers:

BREAK IT DOWN

Break the info down into pithy, easy-to-understand bullet points. The New York Times is famously written at a 10th grade reading comprehension level. Explain it to your audience like they’re young teenagers – not because you don’t respect their maturity or intelligence, but because when humans are absorbing new information, it helps not to be distracted by industry-specific lingo and ten-dollar words. The goal should be to hold attention and convey information rather than to sound smart.

REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT

Be prepared to repeat content. The average person needs to hear something three times to truly absorb it. It’s okay to publish 101-level info repeatedly in different formats (or even the same format!). I have been in this industry a decade and I still read 101s occasionally–and frequently learn something. That’s because our knowledge base is always expanding. There may be a new angle on an old fact, or a more useful way of explaining it. Hearing information multiple times in diverse ways makes us more likely to really grok it.

HEALTHY SKEPTICISM

…but be cautious about orthodoxy. The flipside to the above is that if you hear something repeated often enough, you come to believe it whether it’s true or not. This tendency is to blame for many of the myths our customers believe. It’s also to blame for our tendency to hold on to outdated beliefs such as “the Endocannabinoid System is made up of two receptors: CB1 and CB2.” We now know that the interactions between cannabinoids and our bodies are more complex than that, but most 101s have not yet been updated. The explosion of cannabis research happening right now means many of “the basics” will be challenged and expanded upon in the next few years.

MARKETING ISN’T EVERYTHING

Don’t make it all about marketing. It’s okay to mention your product in educational articles, but overdo it and your audience will tune out. Folks, especially younger folks, have been saturated with product placement, infomercials, and celebrity sponsorship for a long time–they are very good at spotting a pitch. Better to be authentic and straightforward about your positionality. Your customers know you’ve got an angle, that this information isn’t free. Acknowledge it. And include a nice, easy-to-use link.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT THC

Talk about differences from and similarities to THC. A common consumer misconception about CBD is that it is the “medical” cannabinoid while THC is the “recreational” one. CBD is non-intoxicating, but it’s not more medical than THC – its effects are just different. They both are created by the cannabis plant, in addition to a huge number of other useful phytochemicals. It’s not helpful to stigmatize THC or imply that CBD can do everything THC can do. Just today I spoke with someone who said he wanted a CBD cartridge “but without the weed.” I had the privilege of explaining to him, gently, that CBD is in fact “weed,” and that that’s totally okay.

DON’T OVERPROMISE

I’m sorry to say that with the creation of the CBD hamburger, CBD has officially reached fad status. Marketers seeking to cash in on the hype are implying it can do almost everything. It’s true that CBD shows broad promise–it is what we might call a promiscuous cannabinoid, having shallow interactions with a wide range of receptors–but it is no panacea. Managing customer expectations is key to staying viable when the buzz dies down. There is so much we don’t know. The number of studies on CBD is accelerating exponentially and we still are barely scraping the surface. We are likely to have our notions turned inside out and upside down in the next decade — and I’m really looking forward to it.

Why Do Most Cannabis Products Taste So Bad?

fruity drinks in mason jars

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.

What To Expect When Creating Your First CBD-Infused Product Line

hand pouring SoRSE sample into plastic cup

The emergent CBD industry is a very exciting, dynamic place. The opportunity to capitalize on a rock n’ roll ingredient with meaningful and ever-expanding scientific validation behind it is compelling and potentially very lucrative. However, for producers who want to add CBD to their existing products, or develop new CBD products, a spate of novel challenges await. More than just the usual ins and outs of product development, working with CBD has multiple dimensions of complexity and several co-evolving variables.

Here are the main challenges that you can expect when creating your first CBD products, as well as how to address them.

CBD IS A NOVEL ACTIVE

Now that the stigma around cannabis has relaxed a bit, more mainstream producers are open to formulating with CBD. However, cannabis extracts are a unique class of chemicals with many synergistic–and some antagonistic–properties. (For example, CBD is a more potent inhibitor of liver enzymes than grapefruit, and is contraindicated in all the same medications.) Scientific research has been hobbled by federal scheduling, which until recently included CBD along with THC in its most restrictive category (it is still unclear whether CBD or just the CBD-derived drug Epilodex will be reconsidered, but the DEA has demonstrated no willingness to criminalize CBD producers). Most of what we know about CBD comes from overseas, from very recent research, or from massive anecdata. The pressures of this longstanding quasi-prohibition have also dictated that formulation prioritize delivering active over sensory considerations, but contemporary CBD customers are beginning to demand more palatable options. Because CBD is a weak actor on its own, potency must be high to deliver the results the customer expects. This relatively high proportion of active has a cascading effect on formulation. CBD’s weak action also benefits from supporting chemicals: terpenes, flavonoids, or synthetic dermal absorption enhancers.

Contrary to public perception of cannabis as more art than science, cannabis science experts do exist, some with decades of formulation experience. They have unique knowledge of terpene & flavonoid balances, form factors, and extraction methods. Do not discount expertise because someone worked in the pre-legalization market. You will want to make sure you have a cannabis-specific expert on your team.

REGULATORY IS COMPLEX, UNCERTAIN, AND CONSTANTLY CHANGING

2018’s Farm Bill did a lot to legitimize CBD derived from hemp, but it still exists in a tenuous legal purgatory. Fortunately, federal regulatory hearings are happening, and generally moving in a direction that is more supportive of legal commercial access.

State to state, however, regulatory requirements are either nonexistent or conspicuously unenforced. THC markets have much more stringent regulatory requirements; much of what producers do in the CBD landscape amounts to asking forgiveness rather than permission.

As a producer, the best you can do at this time is follow best practices. Don’t cut corners, because enforcement is coming, and soon. Put the effort into developing thorough processes now. Follow FDA protocols–terms such as “natural,” for example, have precise definitions. CBD products cannot be certified organic, but they can get Clean Green Certified, the cannabis industry’s certification for growers who use organic processes, in 7 states. Carefully avoid structure-function and/or medical claims.

SOURCING

CBD suppliers can be fickle; locking down reliable, high-quality extracts is difficult. Know the right questions to ask and, if possible, tour their facilities in person. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, either: many CBD sources appear reliable at first but will falter on execution within a few months. Be ready with backups should the relationship with your first choice supplier fail.

Do your own independent testing of concentrates at all stages of the development process, making sure the lab includes testing for terpenes and pesticides. Confirm that batches are consistent within an acceptable range. This goes double for full spectrum extracts, which by their nature can vary more widely batch to batch.

Be thoughtful about packaging. Cannabinoids degrade faster when exposed to light and heat. Choose opaque packaging and speedy shipping. And perhaps this goes without saying, but test for potency in the final product and print the result clearly on the label. Customers are increasingly discerning and deserve to know what they’re getting.

MARKET RESEARCH

The CBD market is growing, but mercurial. It doesn’t follow demographic lines the way many industries do and it’s so new that little research exists, creating a unique burden for market strategy. CBD appeals to everyone while stigma crops up in surprising places. When deciding on new products, producers should bear in mind positioning and efficacy.

Your new product should have a compelling reason for the inclusion of CBD. It should be a real value add; the uncritical addition of CBD to existing products fuels the fad hype and shortens the viability of your product. Be thoughtful and conscientious: does this product make taking CBD easier, more convenient, faster? Is it a novel form factor? Aligned with your values and the values of your customers?

Arrange as large a customer test group as possible; there may be scientific data for the results you’re claiming, but are your customers experiencing them? Often the effects suggested by rodent studies aren’t borne out in humans (or the interactions are sufficiently complex that they can’t be reproduced reliably).

SENSORY

For obvious reasons, sensory took a back seat to efficacy in the pre-legalization market. CBD, like all cannabinoids, is intensely bitter. Since it needs to be present in high potency, overcoming bitterness is a leading challenge in developing CBD food and beverages. In the past, developers have used complementary bitter flavors such as peppermint to mask the taste. However, now the technology exists to make CBD and other cannabinoid preparations comparably palatable to non-infused products.

To sum things up, the advice to producers entering or thinking about entering the CBD space boils down to common sense: do your homework, find and support reliable suppliers, and engage the expertise of industry veterans. It’s a wild new world out here.

5 Questions to Ask Your CBD Supplier

cannabis products and tinctures

Because CBD and terpenes can now be so easily integrated into food and beverage products with greater stability and consistency, we are almost certain to see a surge of new functional applications and products for retailers to stock their shelves. But before brands rush to create their own CBD-infused product, it’s important to understand how to best work with a supplier. Below are five guiding questions that should lead you to the best possible partnership for your product!

1. Stability: What is stability/shelf life of the emulsion as a stand-alone and in a finished product?

Currently, the highest quality water-soluble emulsion is meeting (and exceeding) food-grade stability testing up to 12 months.


What to confirm:

  • Real-time data. The supplier should provide at least 12 months of real-time stability data for their product, as well as any finished products.

2. Testing: Does your supplier have third-party testing results to confirm the quality of their product?

What to confirm:

  • Request that suppliers provide a Certificate of Analysis (COA) from a third-party testing facility to confirm quality.
  • Verify that the COA is through a third-party, not conducted internally.
  • Never work with a supplier who can’t provide any COA.

3. Food-grade Quality & Safety: what processes have you implemented to maintain food-grade quality and safety?

Since the CBD space is still in its adolescence, it’s important to ensure that the CBD supplier is compliant with all FDA regulations and applying a ‘food science perspective’ to the production procedures. Suppliers who are not taking necessary precautions can be problematic for the longevity, scalability, and success of a brand.

What to confirm:

  • Confirm the supplier can provide all requisite quality documentation. This includes, but is not limited to, COAs, allergen statements, regulatory compliance, third-party audits, etc.
  • A supplier’s facility should be CPMG / FSMA compliant. This is separate and in addition to the product’s food-grade rating.

4. Seamless Integration & Packaging: When does dosing take place in the production process and is there specific packaging required to maximize the shelf-life of the product?

Today, there are emulsion technologies available that allow small and large batch dosing with seamless integration.

  • Determine whether a supplier’s emulsion requires major disruption to existing manufacturing and packaging procedures.
  • Ask if the supplier has technical team members who can work with you directly to develop the best approach to dosing and product development.
  • Packaging does matter and some are better than others for water-soluble emulsion technology in finished goods. Ask about their experience – the successes, as well as the failures.

5. Offerings & Associated Taste & Smell: There’s hype around all forms of CBD – CBD isolate, full spectrum, broad spectrum – how do I know which is best for my product?

Each CBD form impacts the taste, smell, and texture of the finished product. These forms can impact the added ingredients, mainly sugar and flavor additives, and overall nutrition of the finished product.

  • Confirm the suppliers can achieve the desired flavor profile (with or without CBD flavor and aroma presence)