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A Guide to the Expanding Portfolio of Cannabis Extracts, Infusions, and Concentrates

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Sep 05, 2019   
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As more pro-cannabis legislation makes it onto the books of an ever-growing list of countries and states, the worldwide cannabis industry is able to expand.

The global legal cannabis market has been predicted to grow to be worth as much as $146.4 billion USD by the end of 2025, if current trends in legalization measures and public opinion hold steady. According to a report from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics, cannabis extracts and oils are the fastest growing product sector in this blooming industry.

Understandably then, cannabis companies are eager to carve out their slice of these potential profits by creating and marketing novel products that could dominate a segment of the cannabis market. This has led to an incredibly wide portfolio of different cannabis extracts, infusions, and concentrates that are each tailor-made to appeal to a specific demographic or audience in order to meet consumer demand or spur a new popular trend.

Trending cannabis products for 2019

Simple and straightforward – cannabis oil

In the United States, where cannabis is still federally illegal, one cannabis oil made headlines in 2018 when it became the first cannabis-derived product to receive official approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medicinal use. That oil, known as Epidiolex, proved its efficacy at treating seizures in rare forms of epilepsy through clinical trials, and so the FDA awarded the cannabidiol-based oil its approval. In states with legal medicinal cannabis programs, or countries where medicinal cannabis is legal, cannabis oils are also often prescribed for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea or muscle spasms caused by conditions like multiple sclerosis.

Outside of medical prescriptions, cannabis oils are also becoming popular as an e-liquid choice for e-cigarettes. These cannabis oils can have a number of different formulations with varying cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content to suit the consumer’s needs. Using cannabis oil in e-cigarettes is often a popular choice for people wanting a more discreet way to use cannabis than smoking cannabis flower, as the vapor from cannabis e-liquids often has a much less potent smell than the smoke from a cannabis flower cigarette. For those who want to be extra-discreet, cannabis oils can often be placed directly on or under the tongue and consumed.


Looking good – cannabis skin care products

Hemp, a non-intoxicating form of the cannabis plant, and its oil extracts are also starting to appear in more mainstream products. Hemp tends to be high in CBD, which is known to be a good anti-inflammatory and can be absorbed through pores to interact with endocannabinoid receptors in the skin. In addition, a presentation given at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology also linked trace THC in hemp oil to a positive antioxidant effect on the skin, and noted that hemp oil also tends to be high in vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, as well as Omega 3 and Omega 6, which are important to general skin health.

Hemp oil and CBD-containing skin creams and beauty products can be found with relative ease at a number of mainstream health and beauty outlets, such as Sephora. Manufacturers of CBD and hemp oil-based products often claim they are good for fighting acne or skin redness, due to CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, but some also claim that they are able to help with pain relief, skin hydration, or generally promoting a relaxed feeling. There is even a hemp seed oil mascara, that uses the oil as a vegan alternative for the beeswax binding agent that’s common in mascara formulas.

Shaken, not smoked – cannabis drinks

Cannabis beverages haven’t quite made it as mainstream as cannabis skin care products – you can’t go into your local bar and see a range of cannabis-infused beers available on tap. But that future may not be far off.

THC-infused zero-alcohol beers are already being produced by several brewers – including Hi-Fi Hops; a THC-infused low-calorie IPA-style beverage produced by the Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Grainwave; a Belgian-style white “ale” developed by Keith Villa, the same brewmaster behind the Blue Moon Belgian-style ale. The products are usually brewed from a combination of hops, water, and yeast to give the flavor of beer, but care is taken to filter out alcohol during the brewing process, leaving a non-alcoholic beer that can be infused with THC. The drinks are marketed as a more socially acceptable way to consume THC and experience the cannabis high without smoking.

Due to cannabis remaining federally illegal in America, these THC-infused beverages are only available in states where recreational cannabis has been legalized at a state level, and even then the drinks can only be sold in recreational cannabis dispensaries.

But it isn’t just THC-infused drinks that are worth keeping an eye on – the cannabis health and wellness trend has also led to a wide range of CBD-infused beverage options. While CBD-infused skincare products tout the anti-inflammatory and mild pain-relieving effects of the cannabinoid. Those in the wellness market say that CBD’s effectiveness at tackling the symptoms of anxiety and nausea can promote feelings of calm and relaxation. These wellness CBD drinks are usually some type of flavored sparkling water, marketed for stress relief in the modern world.

Given the recent legalization of hemp-derived CBD in America under the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (more commonly known as the Farm Bill), these products can be easily stocked by retailers on store shelves, rather than being confined to dispensaries. This wider accessibility could make the CBD drink market an attractive prospect for investors and start-ups in 2019.

How are these products made?

There are a number of different techniques for creating the THC and CBD extracts that are used to create these products, and which extraction technique is best will depend on what exactly the product manufacturer desires or prioritizes.

For example, cannabis alcohol extraction might be a poor method for producing products where the flavor of cannabis oil won’t be masked by additional flavorings, as a polar solvent like ethanol can also extract pigment compounds like chlorophyll, which can give the resultant extract an unpleasant bitter taste. But for other purposes, alcohol extraction can be an excellent choice, as the process can be carried out at atmospheric pressure and there is no risk of toxic residual chemicals being left behind in the extract.

Alternative methods, such as supercritical CO2 extraction come with the drawbacks of high up-front cost, as the method requires a lot of specialist apparatus that can operate under high pressure and heat, but it also produces a very high final product yield with very little waste, making the method incredibly efficient.

In the face of increasing demand for cannabis extracts, producers of these extracts will also be looking for extraction methods that can be scaled safely. For example, hydrocarbon extraction, which commonly uses propane or butane solvent, can be extremely effective on small batches but when scaled up the explosion risk presented by the large quantities of light hydrocarbons should be a red flag to extract producers. Additionally, any large-scale operation should be looking to minimize the environmental impact of the operation by using predominantly environmentally friendly solvents and minimizing waste products. Cannabis science researchers are actively working to identify suitably green solvents for use in cannabis extraction.

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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