Water-Soluble Cannabinoids: A Challenge and Solution for the Cannabis Beverage Market

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Cannabis infused beverages have a few kinks to work out, but the demand is there and the technology to create high quality products exist. According to Fortune Business Insights, the demand is led in large part by consumers who desire “minimally processed health drinks” According to the article, the cannabis beverages market is slated to reach over $2 billion globally by 2026. That’s an exponential jump from its current value of approximately $173M. 

Coupling with growing demand is the changing tide of politics, which has led to legalization of hemp and cannabis all over the world. That means cannabis companies have ample opportunities to develop and sell new products to a market of eager consumers all over the world. From hemp juices to CBD infused water and coffee, to THC beer and energy drinks–the possibilities are boundless. And once the kinks are worked out via technology like water soluble cannabinoids, the explosion of cannabis beverages is inevitable.

Water-soluble cannabinoids provide significant advantages that can drastically improve products on shelves today. So what are the issues with the current products and how are water soluble cannabinoids both a solution as well as an ongoing challenge?

In this post – 

The Problems with Today’s Cannabis Infused Beverages

The Mixing Problem 

Cannabinoids are fat soluble molecules, and according to the laws of chemistry, water and oil do not mix. Due to this fact, many of the infused drinks we see in the market do not provide the best beverage experience. The cannabinoids don’t dissolve fully, so they are unevenly distributed throughout the drink. That means if you don’t properly shake the mixture, all of cannabinoids may sink to the bottom. 

The Late Onset Problem

Late onset is a huge problem in most of the drinks we see in the market today. Like cannabis edibles, the body breaks down most cannabinoid-infused beverages via the digestive system. That means the cannabinoids must travel through the stomach to reach the small intestine. Once there, the body starts to break down the molecules into tiny, nano-emulsion droplets. This process moves slowly and absorption doesn’t happen all at once. 

That means, depending on one’s body type and how much food is in the system, it may take hours for the cannabis or hemp infused drink to kick in. The problem is that many people think the delayed onset means that the drink “isn’t working” and mistakenly ingest more than they need. This may not be a huge issue for non psychoactive CBD products, but when one over-consumes THC, it can causes that dreaded feeling of being too high. Feeling too high can be physically and mentally unpleasant leading customers to shy away from trying the product again. That is a problem for businesses’ bottom line and for the reputation of the industry. 

The Taste Problem

A drink that doesn’t taste great can be a deal breaker in and of itself because consumers expect to enjoy the food and drinks they ingest. This is especially true in the cases of CBD and cannabis infused mocktails at bars, where people are gathering to drink socially. Unfortunately as of the market today, most cannabis infused beverages tend to have a–shall we say–earthy flavor. Save for the higher quality brands, many don’t mask the plant taste very well. 

One option is to shake up the solution to evenly distribute the earthy flavor throughout the solution, but that doesn’t work in every case. Carbonated beverages for example will lose their fizzy quality when shaken too much (and possibly explode all over the consumer).

It’s clear that cannabis companies need to reform the current beverage market to keep up with the demand and guarantee a pleasant customer experience. That’s where “water soluble cannabinoids” come into play.

Water Soluble Cannabinoids

First and foremost, as scientists here at ACS Laboratory it’s our duty to get technical before we go any further. That means sharing the fact that the term  “water soluble cannabinoids” is more marketing than it is scientific. The fact is that water soluble cannabinoids do not actually exist. All cannabinoids are naturally fat and alcohol soluble. 

So when people mention the term “water soluble”, they truly mean “cannabinoids that have been broken down to such small sizes that they immerse evenly throughout water based mixtures.” This is also known as nano-immersive technology. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll move forward with the accepted market terminology, “water soluble cannabinoids.” 

The Benefits 

Creating a cannabis or hemp drink made of cannabinoids that evenly dissolve in water is a bit harder to do because it requires advanced technology and processes. But when done right, the result is a top quality beverage with even distribution and precise dosing. The resulting product is so tasty and effective, that many industry experts posit cannabis infused beverages may seriously disrupt the alcohol industry. 

Mixing problem solved

Remember the mixing problem (anchor link) we mentioned earlier. Well, that gets solved easily when you have true water soluble cannabinoids. In these advanced beverages, the hemp or cannabis compounds dissolve evenly throughout so dosing is precise and no shaking is required. That means the carbonated canna-beverage problem is solved. Yes–sparkling water infused CBD! 

Late onset solved

The days of waiting hours and wondering if or when the cannabis beverage will take effect are nearly done. Moreover, the days of experiencing potentially unwanted psychoactive effects for hours are also over. Unlike oil soluble cannabinoids, which require digestion, water soluble cannabinoids dissolve directly into the mouth, stomach and small intestine. They act fast and subside much more quickly than standard edibles and drinks. These type of drinks can kick in in 5 minutes and subside in 90 minutes or less. 

Taste Problem Solved

Quite possibly the most consequential benefit of water soluble technology is the amazing flavor potential they offer. That common earth-meets-oil taste may soon be a distant memory; replaced by deliciously tasty beverages that rival the best juices, teas, coffees and cocktails in the market.

Water Soluble Challenges & Solutions 

The case for why we need new technology in the cannabis beverage market is clear. It’s also clear that water soluble cannabinoids are the solution. But of course, few things that are worthwhile are ever easy–and that certainly applies to this technology. So what are the issues with water soluble cannabinoids and how can we overcome them?

Methodology Challenges

Since cannabinoids are naturally oil and alcohol soluble, it’s more difficult and expensive to perform the scientific processes required to make a high quality emulsion (a mixture of two or more liquids that normally don’t mix). 

Macro emulsions, which is what we see in the market today, are the most cost effective. But as we know, they produce particle sizes that are visible to the naked eye, which are cloudy in color and separate in solutions. Nano emulsions on the other hand, is what we mean when we talk about “water soluble cannabinoids.”

Nano emulsions require advanced machinery to break down particles to an invisible size, which are translucent when dissolved in a water-based solution. Nano emulsions must be created mechanically through a process that breaks down and mixes components by shear force. Different methodologies exist, but the biggest challenges companies face are optimizing and scaling in a cost effective manner.

That said a number of companies including, Sproutly Canada, Trait Biosciences, Vitality Biopharma, and Emerald Health Therapeutics have all developed or are in the process of developing water soluble products, according to an article in Cannabis Tech. These companies are employing some form of the following methodologies:

Advanced Solutions

High amplitude ultrasonication – This method is generally preferred because it is the most energy efficient, low cost, and simple method. It involves using sound in the form of high intensity acoustic waves to break down the particles of an emulsion. This process is eco friendly, and meets customer demand for all-natural ingredients. 

Microfluidization – Is an advanced form of high pressure homogenization. It uses machinery to divide pressure streams into two parts and directs them towards each other through microchannels of the microfluidizer equipment. This creates an effective cutting action that produces extremely fine particles. It is considered one of the most effective methods, especially when compared to high speed homogenization (which uses only one stream of pressure). 

Microencapsulation – The process of microencapsulation coats cannabis particles in a natural binding material, which allows cannabinoids like THC or CBD to dissolve easily in cold water. An example of this includes Trait Bioscience’s, Trait Distilled Method

In the case of Trait Bioscience, micro-encapsulation involves taking extracted cannabis oils and fermenting them the way beer is made. Then using yeast cells, they attach sugar molecules to cannabinoids, which changes them from fat to water soluble. While this process is undoubtedly effective, it will not address customer demand for more healthy, natural alternatives. 

Testing Challenges

At ACS Laboratory, we are most intimately familiar with water soluble challenges as they relate to laboratory testing. Many of the HEMP/CBD beverage companies that test their products with us say that previous labs delivered inconsistent results. There’s a couple reasons why that might happen:

Many laboratories think that cannabinoids are water soluble so they test the water itself for potency levels. They don’t realize that they need to extract the cannabinoids from the water solution first. This is a critical step. Unfortunately, if the lab doesn’t have a strong science background they may skip this process entirely. Moreover, even if the lab knows to extract, they may not have the right machinery in place for precise results. For example, UHPLC equipment will not detect the low levels of cannabinoids present in these beverages.

At ACS Laboratory, we’ve done our due diligence on this issue and are at the forefront of cannabis beverage testing. We carefully extract minute levels of cannabinoids from any type of beverage. Then, we use LC-MS technology to detect micro levels of CBD, THC and other cannabinoids that may be present in the solution. We are a science-driven, award winning laboratory. That’s how we guarantee reliable results.