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.