Food Dive: How SōRSE Technology is formulating CBD products in a pandemic

5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

“We’re still trying to do what we can given the circumstances… We are still manufacturing, we’re still producing product, doing development, it’s just taking sometimes a little bit longer time to get it done or just a more creative way to get it done.” – Michael Flemmens, SōRSE’s VP of Technical Business Development

As interest in infused food and beverage has increased during the pandemic, Food Dive interviewed Michael Flemmens, on how SōRSE continues to formulate CBD products during this time. Read more of Michael’s comments here.

5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

Jacob Schweppe. Dr. John Pemberton. Caleb Bradham. Perhaps only one of these names sounds familiar to you — Jacob Schweppe — because you can find his last name in every grocery store on bottles and cans of ginger ale, club soda, and tonic water. Schweppe first began selling seltzer in Geneva 237 years ago in 1783, 30 years after carbonation techniques were developed. The other men created two of the most famous beverages in the world: Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886, and Bradham developed Pepsi-Cola in 1898. 

Beyond being the founders of three iconic beverage brands, these gentlemen had something else in common, something they share with people who are creating beverages today — their drinks started with an idea and inspiration. Perhaps you, like them, want to make an infused beverage, perhaps inspired by a drink you loved as a kid, a drink that you had on vacation, or a drink that you concocted in your kitchen for fun. How do you take that idea and turn it into a viable product that you might find on a store shelf?  Here are the Top 5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage from three SōRSE producers themselves. 

1. IDENTIFY YOUR TARGET CONSUMER —  GET TO KNOW THEM INSIDE AND OUT 

The first thing you need to know is that a product is more successful when you are passionate about an idea. There are a lot of really good ideas out there, but good ideas are only successful when they happen at the right time and the right place. Ask  yourself why you want to do it and what you can bring to the table. What is your niche, and how are you going to differentiate yourself and excel?  

In the idea generation phase, you need to identify your audience — who is going to buy your beverage and where that person would buy it. The profile of your target consumer should be as specific as possible. You should be able to picture what that person looks like in your head; you should know what kind of clothes they shop for, what kind of cereal they would buy, and where they would buy it. You have to get in their head and see the world through their eyes. You need to know what is important to them.  

When you do market and consumer research, do a deep dive on all the different things your consumer is attracted to, all the while focusing on how your product is going to appeal to them AND be different. When you market to a consumer, you can talk about all the positives of your product, but you have to talk about what makes yours unique. One of those positives has to be something that no other producer can talk about. 

Product development is like any other sort of idea generation — you need to do tons of research to really know your audience.  When you are creating an infused beverage with CBD or another cannabinoid, the narrower you can make your consumer, the more successful you will be. You want to create a beverage that someone will stop to buy in the middle of the day somewhere; you want that repeat customer. Your drink being delicious isn’t enough — you need to create a need in your customer so that they will keep coming back.  

It’s also important to visualize what your consumer is doing when they are drinking your beverage. This will help you create a marketing focus which will then tie into the format you choose, your packaging, the color palette for your branding, and the words you use to draw attention to your product. When someone sees your product in a store, you want them to wonder what it is. Once you hook them in with the look of your product, your flavor will keep them there.   

2. DETERMINE WHAT FORMAT YOU WANT YOUR PRODUCT TO COME IN — GLASS, CAN, POWDER, RIP AND SIP, CONCENTRATE OR DROPS  

When looking for where your product will fit in in the marketplace, it’s best to examine other products your consumer might purchase and what the packaging looks like. Packaging and labeling are the first visual and tactile interactions a customer has with your product, so that first level of engagement is important. Is your consumer drawn to natural products? Do they buy glass over plastic because they are concerned about their environmental footprint? Do they buy products with fruits and vegetables on their labels? Your label and packaging should reflect your company ethos and what makes your product different.  You should also consider how your consumer takes in information about products and how they digest it. Where the products they are buying are being advertised — on social media? In print? Is the product being handed out at events?   

3. CREATING A FLAVOR PROFILE AND DETERMINING DOSING  

Adding CBD to a beverage formula that already exists is relatively easy, but if you are starting the process from scratch and creating something new, you can begin by looking at food trends. Those tend to start at boutique, culinary restaurants. Eventually they can trickle down and show up in other places and then be transferred into color palettes, clothing, ice cream flavors, all the way down to the fast food level — the highly accessible level.  Microtrends are ones that are just emerging, mainstream trends are ones that appeal to a lot of people, and then there are trends that are on their way out.  

Today, national and global travel is relatively easy — so people are exposed to new flavors and are generally open to trying other cultures’ flavors. That said, it helps to use a base flavor that is transferable and versatile in almost any recipe. The secondary flavors are the ones that might be more out there — one that you wouldn’t expect to see paired with the base flavor. For example, citrus is a common base flavor, and it pairs well with other secondary flavors like mint or berry.  
 

When it comes to choosing the type of CBD you want to infuse in your drink, you have a few options. If you want a beverage with a clean, specific flavor profile, use an isolate. If you know that your customer will prefer the flavor of cannabis and will appreciate the nuances of the botanical flavors, then you would choose a broad spectrum. Broad spectrum adds another layer of complexity which some see as a perk and premium.  

You will also need to determine how many milligrams per serving of your cannabinoid will be in your beverage. If you are making a recovery drink, then you might offer 25 mg to the consumer; if you are creating an herbal tea for the evening, then you might choose 10-15 mg per serving.   

4. FIND A TRUSTED CBD SUPPLIER  

When making an infused beverage, consumer safety should be your #1 concern. That means that your label claims need to be accurate, that your beverage is shelf stable, that the product quality has been tested, and that the consumer experience is a positive one. Take the time to find a CBD supplier who has extremely high standards, who are offering the best product on the market.  

The company supplying your CBD should be following regulatory protocols, supplying documents that verify product quality, offering the appropriate solution for your beverage, and offering implementation support. Look carefully at the types of CBD the supplier offers — water-soluble solutions, oil-based solutions, and emulsions — and work with them to find the best solution for your product. You will also want to work with a lab that can independently test your product and that is open to communication with your CBD supplier. 

If you are working with a company that offers an emulsion, make sure that the emulsion is their priority and not simply an add-on offering. Look for an emulsion that is stable in its raw form and in the letdown, as well as one that has been tested for shelf life.  If the company cannot supply documentation on their product like a Certificate of Analysis, Product Data Sheets and Safety Data Sheets, it’s time to find a different supplier! 

5. BASED ON YOUR TARGET CONSUMER, IDENTIFY WHERE YOU ARE GOING TO PRODUCE YOUR BEVERAGE AND WHO IS GOING TO PRODUCE IT FOR YOU 

Figuring out who your consumer is is also tied to where you are going to produce your product. If you want to sell to an audience in a specific state and there is a manufacturing center in that state, you’ll save a lot of money by producing it as close as possible to your market area. Also, if there is a facility producing a product similar to yours and it’s considered a turnkey process for them, you will be more successful commercializing your product because they already have experience making something similar.   

When you are ready to produce your beverage, look for a co-manufacturer who has produced other infused beverages. A company that understands CBD as an ingredient and has produced other CBD beverages will understand how to work with it. Doing test batches is key because it will allow you to tweak your formula if you need to. 

Creating a product for consumer use is an exercise in creativity, analysis, problem-solving, flexibility and collaboration. You might hit bumps in the road along the way of getting your CBD beverage to a grocery store shelf, but if you work with a CBD supplier and co-manufacturer who has experience working with cannabinoids, they will be able to collaborate and work with you throughout the process. At SōRSE, our R&D team is well-versed in beverage production from concept to final product and welcomes the opportunity to help bring your dream to life and your product to market. Schedule an exploratory call today with SōRSE to get started on your infused CBD beverage journey! 

SōRSE 2019 Recap

SoRSE team photo

For a company that started 2019 with 15 employees and is finishing with over 40, it has been an exciting year for SōRSE Technology, one filled with change, growth, challenge, and promise.  The articles listed below document some of the many highlights for SōRSE from the year — from Geekwire’s peek into the goings-on in our Seattle offices and labs, to a press announcement about our expanded partnership agreement with Valens. The articles highlighted throughout the year are on some of the people who power SōRSE and the events where we have showcased our products and our knowledge about the marketplace. SōRSE is definitely ending the year on a high note, having emerged as an innovative leader in the industry.

SōRSE Featured in Geekwire

In May, a team from Geekwire paid a visit to SōRSE headquarters and wrote this piece about the company’s beginnings, the products #powered by SōRSE, and on the magic happening in the labs. Writer Kurt Schlosser commented, “Lee considers what his scientists are working on to be more of a platform — like Gortex — and he said the breakthrough for the company has been in understanding food technology, speed to market, and getting the right people to actually help drive the product.”

Forbes: Five Questions with Scott Riefler 

In July, Chief Science Officer, Scott Riefler, was interviewed by columnist Warren Bobrow on his background in aerospace and food science, as well as the work he is doing at SōRSE. When asked about short and long-term goals, Scott commented: “Regardless of the timeframe, our team is always focused on improving and evolving our technology.”

Emily Skrobecki Recognized as Fifteen Power and Innovation Women in Cannabis 

In August, Manager of Process Engineering, Emily Skrobecki, was named one of the Cannabis industry’s most powerful and innovative women by Forbes. When describing Emily, writer Warren Bobrow commented, “The challenge of the unknown is what drives Skrobecki to search for knowledge and dive deep into this type of science.”

Mad Tasty Featured on the Today Show

In September, Ryan Tedder, frontman of the band, OneRepublic, appeared on the Today Show to talk about his successes, his failures, his creative process. Toward the end of the interview, after being handed a can of Mad Tasty (powered by SōRSE)  and asked what it was, he commented, “In all my downtime, I started a beverage company about a year ago with Interscope Records, my label, and some friends…It’s got 20 mg of CBD in each can…zero sugar, all natural. I drink about five a day.”

SōRSE Debuts Agglomerated Powder at SupplySide West 

In October, at SupplySideWest in Las Vegas, the SōRSE team unveiled its agglomerated CBD powder, which allows for rapid hydration for instant beverages. When describing the power of the powder, VP of Science, Michael Flemmens commented, “This is a game-changer and silver bullet for the cannabis functional ingredient space and infused products.”

Diana Eberlein Gives Her Insight on the Celebrity and Cannabis Wave Featured on CNN 

In November, CNN ran an article on Drake entering the cannabis space through a partnership with Canopy Growth. VP of Marketing, Diana Eberlein, shared her thoughts on which types of celebrity brands resonate with customers, and which don’t. “People are attracted to brands that are real and authentic…If it feels inauthentic, they will lose that audience very quickly.”

Emily Skrobecki Named in High Times Female 50

Also in November, Manager of Process Engineering, Emily Skrobecki, was honored for her work in the cannabis industry in the inaugural honoree class of the High Times’ Female 50. Each woman featured on the list was nominated and voted on by the public. High Times staffers wrote, “This collection represents fifty women in all areas of the cannabis space, from research to business and from politics to activism, who have made their mark in a truly significant and impactful way.”

SōRSE Wraps up the Year with a Successful BevNET Live Debut 

In December, the SōRSE team traveled to Santa Monica for the company’s debut as an exhibitor at BevNET Cannabis Forum and as a Gold Sponsor of BevNET Live Winter 2019. A highlight of the conference was SōRSE partnering with Drop Water and hosting a “Build Your Own CBD Beverage” station where guests could create their own CBD beverage. CEO Howard Lee shared, “Our team showed the breadth and array of flavor and dosage possibilities to attendees and generated positive buzz around our technology and this emerging category.”

SōRSE Expanded Partnership Agreement with Valens 

In December, SōRSE and Valens announced their expanded partnership agreement, which grants Valens an exclusive license for Canada, Europe, Australia and Mexico to use the proprietary SōRSE emulsion technology to produce, market, package, sell and distribute cannabis-infused products. Tyler Robson, CEO of Valens, commented, “We expect the expanded exclusive territory will provide our clients with improved visibility and greater opportunity as they look to build global businesses around cannabis-infused products over the long term.”

2019 has proven that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts at SōRSE. Yes, we have increased our staff three-fold in twelve months, but what is most important about this growth is the intelligence, innovation, and the range of professional experience that each member of the team brings to the table. SōRSE is powered by creative, analytic, fun-loving people who are passionate about what they do, who believe in the products they are producing, and who appreciate the strengths and talents of their co-workers. When we look back at what the company has accomplished in 2019, we can only be excited for what is ahead of us in 2020 and beyond.

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.

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.

Cannabis & Western Medicine Working Together

cannabis leaf and scattered pills

Culturally, we uphold a dichotomy between natural medicines and standard Western treatment. The internet is equally awash with testimonials about ditching prescriptions for botanicals and eye-rolling about natural medicines that simply do not work. But for many of us, botanical options can and do live alongside their Western counterparts in the medicine cabinet. Not to mention that it may already contain plant-derived medicines such as aspirin, codeine/morphine, taxol, quinine, and digoxin. I personally use botanicals for prevention and supporting homeostasis, as well as for treatment when my symptoms are mild, because they tend to be gentler and less invasive. Sticking with the minimum effective treatment reduces side effects and potential negative interactions. Cannabis is the perfect example of such a minimally invasive natural medicine. In fact, its absence from the pharmacopoeia is recent; until the early part of the last century, it was ubiquitous in medicine. Let’s review some of the contexts under which cannabis can support or synergize with standard treatment, as well as some of the limited circumstances where it may be able to replace it. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and these are only my opinions, non of which are intended as medical advice. Please consult with your doctor about potential treatment avenues with cannabis.

CANNABIS & CANCER

Using cannabis in conjunction with cancer treatment is both the most impactful synergy and the one we know the most about. Cannabis seems custom-made to address the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of radiation and chemo. Marinol, a synthetic version of THC, was approved in 1986 to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Patients found relief but the medicine was expensive, and used in isolation THC’s less desirable effects—anxiety, feeling spaced-out—are maximized. Many cancer patients have greater success using cannabis itself to help with nausea, appetite and to avoid chemo-induced anorexia. There is also promising research on it as a treatment for chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy. Finally, cannabis seems uniquely effective in treating cancer pain: it works through different receptors than opiods and can therefore be used alongside them. Commonly patients find that cannabis reduces their need for opiates, improving their cognition and quality of life.

While cannabis is usually used only for symptom management, in the case of cancer it may actually treat the disease itself. There have been a relatively large number of studies that have demonstrated anti-tumor activity in animal models; a 2014 mouse study on found that THC and CBD increased the effectiveness of radiation against an aggressive type of brain cancer. Rick Simpson famously claimed to cure himself of cancer using a concentrate extraction method he developed, which now bears his name. Cannabinoids also decrease tumour-cell invasiveness and potential for metastasis, and they have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that support health and cancer treatment in a more holistic sense. However, stories of patients with curable cancers who forego standard treatments in favor of cannabis are tragically common. The evidence is not supportive–or even suggestive–of cannabis as a replacement for clinical cancer treatment.

OTHER HEALTH USES

Cannabis is can be an excellent option for people experiencing non-cancer pain that is insufficiently controlled by other methods. Though dosing can be limited by psychoactivity, it has been shown time and again that the introduction of cannabis can reduce the amount of other drugs required to control pain. Ironically given its history as a narcotic with a “high potential for abuse,” this feature can also help with addiction recovery. Cannabis can stand in for more harmful drugs as crucial part of harm reduction, a strategy which gives patients a greater voice in their recovery.

Epilepsy is the other condition for which an FDA-approved cannabinoid medicine exists, this time based on CBD. Epidiolex is used to treat two rare and severe forms of childhood epilepsy. For decades, parents of children with epilepsy pooled resources to source high-CBD cannabis strains in the face of legal prohibition. Now, CBD is a hot heath trend being used for every conceivable condition. You can purchase it at Walgreen’s.

There are even a small number of conditions for which it may be possible to use cannabis as the primary treatment. Substituting cannabis is only appropriate when symptoms are mild and stem from non-progressive causes, such as with menstrual cramps, sleep issues, anxiety, migraine or chronic pain. Many people with these conditions turn to cannabis after having exhausted standard therapies without experiencing relief. That was my own journey treating endometriosis, and in fact it led directly to my work in the cannabis industry.

WHY IS CANNABIS EFFECTIVE?

So why is it that cannabis seems to treat so many types of illness? The short answer is because cannabinoids are powerful anti-inflammatories, and inflammation is at the root of much of our suffering. It is a major component in everything from acne to arthritis to Crohn’s to fibromyalgia. Where there is pain, there is inflammation.

So what are the risks? Cannabis’ ubiquity as a recreational drug lends credence to the perceived lack of interactions with prescription drugs, though as with much of cannabis, there is scant scientific research on this. One important risk we do know about, however, is CBD’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 enzymes, which play a role in metabolizing 60 percent of pharmaceuticals (and most chemo drugs). In fact, CBD is a more potent inhibitor of cytochrome P450 than the grapefruit compound bergapten, and is counter-indicated in all the same drugs as grapefruit. The effect is usually only significant if the patient is taking large doses of CBD, but large doses are often necessary to see results. Patients should check with their doctors and potentially use blood monitoring to see if adjustments are necessary.

As with any treatment, cannabis is unlikely to be a panacea. It is, however, broadly effective due it its unique ability to mimic our bodies’ natural compounds and tendency to harmonize and promote homeostasis. The risks of adding cannabis to a standard treatment regimen under the guidance of a supportive health professional appear to be small. And whether medical or recreational, the golden rule for cannabis use always applies: start low, go slow, take good notes.