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CBD as a Functional Ingredient:
Updates, Paradigm Shifts, Challenges, Opportunities

Chief Science Officer, Sörse Technology

Sörse Technology's Scott Riefler told attendees of the 102nd Annual NAFFS Convention that a lot has happened in the 12 months since the prior convention. The first major shift, he said, is that Canada has launched legal cannabis programs nationwide. Health Canada is permitting cannabis extracts, cannabinoids, into the food supply, beginning Jan. 1.

In the United States, Riefler said, several states have made cannabis legal, either in recreational or medicinal programs. The Farm Bill, he said, has had major effect on hemp usage and CBD was removed from the Schedule 1 narcotic classification.

Riefler said since 2015 many companies (a lot of them technology firms) have entered the space. Sörse Technology considered many platforms and settled on emulsification for cannabinoids. His home state of Washington, he said, has realized taxes on legal cannabis of more than 1.5 times the taxes on alcohol, or $367 million in 2018. He noted that alcohol sales go down about 15% when a medical or recreational cannabis market comes to a state.

Riefler made the case for edibles: “Edibles are an appealing part of the pot pie, which was worth $7.2 billion in 2016 and is projected to grow up to 25% annually,” he said. The growth is higher in food and beverage than it is in combustible (smoked) marijuana, he added. “This is because 85% of Americans consume alcohol. Add caffeine or other pharmaceuticals and the interest increases to almost 95%. Most of these people are curious but don’t smoke,” he said.

Riefler said in the human body, the endo-cannabinoid system balances the bodily functions; it’s already part of the body. Since the marijuana plant was classified as a Schedule 1 drug, the research on it has been restricted, at least in the U.S. Legalization has opened the doors to university and laboratory testing never done before.

He offered the audience new vocabulary for the cannabinoid industry.

“Extraction,” he said, “can be a medium with CO2 or alcohol. Then there’s the ‘degree of refinement’ from initial to separation and isolations.” He said there is “full spectrum”, which is the first step to extraction, and there is “broad spectrum”, which is the result of “winterization.” Winterization, he said, is the process by which the waxes and chlorophylls are removed because they are not soluble. Then the solvate is put into alcohol, chilled so that the waxes lose solubility and are filtered. He went on to explain that there are isolates and distillates that select and capture or remove the terpenes. They are highly purified.

Riefler said there is good product manufacturing guidance in the CBD world. He strongly recommended to look to FDA, which is encouraging people in the legal space to refer to CBD as “hemp extract” as opposed to “CBD” itself.

CW Pharmaceuticals recently had an epilepsy drug approved by FDA. Here, he said, is where one can run into a “pinch point”, since something called a drug by FDA can’t also be approved as a food and beverage ingredient.

“Isolates would in some sense belong to the pharma area”, Riefler said. “And fully expect to see the path chosen to be more of a broad spectrum, overall extraction.”

Decarboxylation, Riefler said, removes the acid, which is done with heat. For ingredients for consumption, it must be converted prior to presentation, he said.

Riefler said that in terms of components, there’s opportunity in that they are strain-specific, with different fragrance, different aroma, and different physical effects for each. He said the terpenes are what sets apart the different strains, adding there’s some disagreement in the industry on whether the terpenes manage the experience or not.

Riefler said tracking the supply chain in this space is very important. Many suppliers are new to the business and more specifically new to food and beverage ingredients. “Extraction sites are opening everywhere and some have very little background in this space,” he said. “It’s important to ask the questions and confirm they are doing all they are required to do.” 

There are several forms of cannabis, including flower, oils (extracts) conversions to powders and waxes (in or out). These forms are extremely bitter, Riefler said. The endgame for Sörse Technology, he said, is making the cannabis water-soluble and water-compatible so a food or beverage company can formulate with them. “Decarboxylation does the conversion now, helping to make the experience less variable, the timing more predictable,” he said. “it used to be if you baked cannabis in a brownie, for example, the oven temperature, brownie temperature and concentrations would vary widely, making the edible experience very unpredictable.”

Riefler said he’s often asked about appropriate dosage of CBD. He said state laws call 10 mg of THC one dose, which, he said, is a healthy dose. “The cannabis today is high-potency and one marijuana cigarette could carry as much as 200 mg THC. In combustion, you lose a lot. In edibles, the bio-availability is tremendous, so that a 10mg dose can be the equivalent of a full marijuana cigarette,” Riefler said.

The legal limit for one serving is 10 mg, for a full package, 100 mg. CBD, on the other hand, isn’t regulated at the state level. 10-50 mg can be a dose in the recreational market. In Epidiolex, the CW Pharmaceuticals drug approved by FDA, the dosage is 10mg per kg of body weight, which on average, would be about 2,500 mg per day.

Riefler said that when labeling, it’s important to recognize that “hemp extract is not equal to CBD, period.  A lot of materials come from the hemp plant, including hemp seed oil and all extraction components. The standard of identity limits the amount of CBD that can be present to very ineffective levels.”

Riefler said that while the opportunities abound for flavorists in the cannabis industry, there are challenges as well. “The sensory is horrible, a terrible bitter taste. Dosage control, too, is a challenge. As a food platform, uniformity is critical. The first sip to the last sip, it has to be the same concentration, the same experience,” he said. Riefler said the cannabis interacts with the body is also important. He said that when it’s inhaled through combustion into the lungs and bloodstream, the effects are felt in a minute or so. When ingested through an edible or beverage, the digestive system treats the oils much differently.

“The goal is a reliable, rapid onset with a half-life that can be fit into a manufacturing stream,” he said. “Labeling concerns exist just as for any food ingredient. Consumers want clean, organic, non-GMO, etc. And the overall must-have goal is a pleasant culinary experience. It has to taste good!

“We’ve effectively isolated the bitterness, with no plant matter odor or taste,” he added. “The underlying sensory platform survives. It allows for fast-acting onsets of 10 to 20 minutes with a managed, 90-minute half-life and for complete homogeneity and uniformity of the active within the matrix, in powder or liquid, allowing for near perfect dosing for recreational and medical products.”

Stacy Primack, corporate chef at Sörse Technology, prepared two cocktails for audience members to taste. The first was a Better Bloody, which, she said included terpenes for relaxation. It contained peppercorns and beta caryophyllene, which is said to be anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-fungal and to offer improved metabolism and mood. She said the audience would taste a spicy, woodsy, clove and peppery profile, which is very aromatic.  She said it’s important to note this is not a flavor but a terpene.  She said the terpene is an oil that she turned into an emulsion. It pairs well with the Bloody recipe with dill, mint and ginger beer as a topper.

She also offered a tasting of her Better Ginger Mule, which, she said features a reduction of honey, lime leaves and ginger with a dried mango as a garnish. She said mango has myrcene, a true terpene, which is said to be anti-convulsive, antibiotic, and have muscle relaxation and sedative effects. Myrcene, she said, has been thought to intensify the effects of THC.

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