While much of the fast-emerging legal cannabis industry has focused its attention on cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), several other cannabinoids have strong potential to play a significant role in development of legal cannabis foods and beverages in the coming months and years.

Consumer interest in cannabis-fortified foods and beverages has seen a major spike over the past year as people look for natural solutions for ailments and to improve overall health and wellness. As a result, many companies are poised to release products once a clear pathway toward federal regulation has been established.

“Because of the lack of federal regulation, the cannabinoids of choice seem to be floating in a development purgatory in which businesses are either interested in exploring or are already in development so that when the federal government makes a decision, the products can be let out into the mainstream market fairly quickly,” says Mike Schmitt, technical project manager, SōRSE Technology, Seattle. “In all cases, businesses large and small are developing cannabis products, and it would seem the smaller ones are willing to dip their toes into the gray areas to take advantage of consumer demand.”

CBD is poised to have the greatest impact on the industry in the U.S., says Keith Dolo, CEO, Sproutly Canada Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia. “BDS Analytics has estimated the current size of the CBD market from general retail and dispensaries at approximately $3.5 billion for 2019. They predict the industry is primed to grow to approximately $17.9 billion by 2024.” Food and beverage products will play a significant role in that market.

While CBD is a clear star, as time progresses, more research will go into understanding other cannabinoids the cannabis plant has to offer, such as cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabinol (CBN), suggests Dolo. Even the “raw cannabinoids” such as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) have potential health benefits that we will gain a better understanding of as research progresses in the field, he says.


Blending for Benefits

It appears that there is strength in numbers when it comes to cannabis. “A groundbreaking study performed in Israel was published in 2015 that concluded that the full-spectrum properties of the whole plant were more effective at treating conditions in mice than a single molecule of CBD isolate,” says Dolo. This would support including CBN, CBG and THCA in product formulations to achieve a superior effect.

There’s an opportunity to develop a wide range of beneficial consumer products utilizing the full-spectrum properties of specific cannabis strains, says Dolo. “Some research has shown that it’s not the cannabinoids themselves that produce the most-impactful benefits, but how all the cannabinoids and compounds work in harmony to produce a desired effect, known better as the ‘entourage effect.’” This makes “full spectrum” oils attractive for use in product development, he suggests.

“While CBD is the cannabinoid du jour, it is, therapeutically speaking, one of the most difficult to work with, due to its relatively weak action necessitating higher potencies,” says Chelsea Cebara, subject matter expert, SōRSE Technology, and co-founder, Velvet Swing. “However, it’s great when used in conjunction with other cannabinoids. I believe the future actually lies in blends rather than isolated cannabinoid preparations. The entourage effect is in the public consciousness now—customers are increasingly looking for diversified cannabinoid profiles.”

Cebara suggests that CBG, “the mother cannabinoid,” is a prime prospect for adding functionality to cannabis products due to its perceived broad effects. She also notes that tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) and the mildly psychoactive CBN likewise show promise—particularly for appetite suppression and sleep issues. “We may also see a move toward the non-intoxicating acid forms,” she notes, such as CBGA, CBDA and THCA.

“We cannot speak to specific health claims at this time, but we are seeing increased interest in these ‘secondary’ cannabinoids and how they may be added to products developed for specific niche markets looking for specific health benefits/supplements,” says Schmitt. “CBN, CBG, THCA and THCV have received a lot of attention for their specific applications, but there is not enough research to confirm.”

It’s difficult to only pick a few cannabinoids from the many that naturally exist in cannabis, because they appear to work so well in a synergistic manner, notes Emily Skrobecki, manager of process engineering, SōRSE Technology. “Based on recent research, we see CBD, CBN and CBG doing wonderful things for people, whether it is recovery or for overall wellness.” She notes that these cannabinoids will likely prove popular in food and beverage products geared toward medical conditions, as well as overall health and wellness.


A Healthy Outlook

“Health can be categorized into multiple subsections,” says Skrobecki. Key areas include circulatory, gastrointestinal and brain health. “Certain cannabinoids assist more than others depending on the health concern. Sleep has been a common field of interest recently, and not just falling asleep, but staying asleep. We see more and more research around CBN contributing toward this concern.”

While the cannabinoid receptors in the human body seem to respond more efficiently when multiple cannabinoids are present, notes Skrobecki, standardization is a crucial value to have in cannabis product development. “By combining isolated cannabinoids at specific ratios, developers can tailor the effects to their customer base and ensure reliable results, something that’s been sorely lacking in the landscape thus far.”

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