Health and wellness are among the main factors driving acceptance of cannabis across the U.S.

Since 1996, 33 states have launched medical cannabis programs. And according to a survey conducted earlier this year by BDSA, Boulder, CO, nearly 60 percent of adult cannabis consumers, in states where it’s fully legal, currently use cannabis for health and medical reasons, while 37 percent use cannabis for both recreational and health and medical reasons.

As consumers turn to cannabis-infused foods and beverages to meet specific health and wellness needs, an opportunity arises to boost these products’ overall nutritional profile with botanicals, protein, fiber, and other health-focused ingredients.

“Many consumers regard how they eat and what they eat as being just as powerful to maintaining their health as medication, and in many ways, as a replacement,” Carl Edstrom, senior VP and principal, survey solutions, IRI, Chicago, said during his presentation for the CPX20: Cannabis Products Exchange event held in July. “They’re looking for something they feel is better for them.”

Functional products have become even more important as the global coronavirus pandemic prompts consumers to take a closer look at their health, says Randal L. Kreienbrink, vice president of marketing, Martin Bauer Group, Secaucus, NJ. “It’s really taken off, and especially now with COVID-19, everyone's looking for companion nutritionals, things that are good for wellness and helping people to keep their immune systems strong and healthy during these very difficult times.”

magnolia flower and leaves


Apart from promoting overall wellness, manufacturers are developing food and beverage products designed to address specific need states, says Collette Kakuk, global VP marketing, HempRise and Layn Natural Ingredients, Newport Beach, CA.

“Throughout 2020, we continue to see increasing interest in functional botanicals that help support stress, mood, and sleep,” she says. “In addition to a growing number of consumers experiencing increased stress and insomnia, science also continues to validate the important roles natural botanicals play in these areas.”

Among the popular botanicals in this space are:

  • Magnolia bark—shown to support the endocannabinoid system and help in managing healthy sleep and mood 
  • L-theanine—an amino acid in green tea that supports relaxation, sleep, and anxiety relief because it boosts levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which has a calmative effect on the brain
  • Ziziphus (or jujube) fruit—a good source of vitamins A, C, and B, as well as minerals including iron, phosphorus, and calcium, plus fatty acids, shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and support relaxation and sleep

Kakuk also points to growing awareness of adaptogens, which can play a role in reversing the adverse effects of physical and mental stressors. She says rhodiola has been shown to reduce general fatigue under stressful conditions, while schisandra is supposed to support a balanced mood. Meanwhile, holy basil (tulsi) is shown to help manage healthy stress response and improve symptoms of anxiety.

Additionally, Layn is working on a variety of botanical alternatives to support consumers’ endocannabinoid systems. “We are excited about our experience and research regarding a treasure trove of other plant compounds in the form of flavonoids, phenols, terpenes, and lignans that have been shown to have a direct effect on these receptors, as well,” Kakuk says. “For example, magnolol, found in magnolia leaves, has an affinity for CB2 receptors. Another is kaempferol, which is a compound found in ginkgo that inhibits an enzyme that our bodies produce which degrades one of the natural endocannabinoids we produce called anandamide.”

For a calming effect, Kreienbrink says manufacturers are turning to hibiscus, rosehips, and chamomile, which can pair well with cannabidiol (CBD). Meanwhile, elderberry and echinacea can support immune health.

Kreienbrink notes botanicals can affect the flavor and color of food and beverage products. He cites turmeric, for its anti-inflammatory properties and bright-yellow color, as well as acerola, blueberry, and ginger for both their flavor and wellness benefits.

“A lot of the botanicals have a bitter flavor note, as would cannabis, so you might want to look at some of the botanicals that might have a better flavor note, especially for products that are being ingested,” says Kreienbrink.

Rhodiola rosea roots leaves flowers


Also across food and beverage categories, product developers are boosting protein and fiber content to serve consumers looking for additional functional benefits.

“Protein remains a huge draw, as many consumers associate the nutrient with a raft of positives, including energy, weight management, satiety, and muscle strength,” says Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill, Minneapolis. “Fiber, another staple in the functional space, is well-known for its digestive health benefits. In recent years, fiber has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, as consumers have begun to recognize its contributions to overall health.”

Stauffer also notes prebiotic fiber, such as chicory root, aids in mineral absorption, supports bone health, and promotes gut health. Chicory root fiber is soluble and easy to incorporate into an array of food and beverage applications, from confectionery and baked goods to beverages and dairy products.

For both dietary and ethical concerns, consumers are increasingly seeking out products with plant-based ingredients. The plant-based nature of hemp and cannabis can be complemented by plant-based fiber and protein sources, such as chicory root fiber and pea protein.

“With this newfound mainstream appeal, we’ve seen interest in plant-based eating making its way into multiple food and beverage categories and extending well beyond the traditional vegetarian or vegan consumer,” Stauffer says.

Kreienbrink cites lentil, pumpkin seed, and fava beans as other sources of plant-based protein, and carrot and psyllium as plant-based fibers. Consumers are looking for a natural, softer, plant-based way to get their nutrition and nourishment, he says.

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