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How Cannabis Emulsion Science is Advancing

By Harold Han

Published: Mar 05, 2021   

Photo by Elsa Olofsson via cbdoracle.com

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The cannabis industry is growing, and in many areas thriving, despite the challenges of the past year. Cannabis businesses being classified as “essential” during the Covid-19 pandemic was a promising reminder of how much progress the industry has made in terms of building trust and breaking stigma with both consumers and regulators.

This progress is built directly on the scientific innovation that enables brands to provide safe, effective, and consistent cannabis wellness solutions. An overview of these recent advances is useful for tracking the industry’s progress and identifying areas in need of further study.

Water compatible cannabinoids as backbone ingredients

Emulsion science is the tool that enables product makers to mix oil-based cannabinoids with water-based products such as beverages, topical creams, toners, and even gummies. Emulsion creates large surface area by dividing the cannabis oil into billions of smaller droplets, which in turn offer quicker onset and higher bioavailability. It changes how consumers experience a cannabis product. A good cannabis emulsion not only is compatible with the ingredients within the base product, but it also offers stability against thermal processing and packaging materials.

But when it comes to emulsions, one size does not fit all, and emulsion science is constantly evolving to tackle new challenges and expand the range of infused products on the market. Recently, leading emulsion providers such as Vertosa have brought important developments to the industry, including launching emulsion systems that:

  • Are stable with aluminum can liners.
  • Have National Organic Certification.
  • Are designed for fast-acting gummies.
  • Come in a water dissolvable powder, to be used in beverage mixes, capsules, compressed tablets and even K-cups.

Many brands and product makers recognize the benefit of cannabis emulsions and have developed new products around this backbone ingredient. As well-known consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) and VitaCoco enter the infused products industry, the ability to produce high quality tailored emulsions at an industrial scale is key to sustaining growth and product diversification in the years ahead.

New foundational pharmacokinetics data

In Feb 2021, Colorado State University and Caliper Foods released the results of an important pharmacokinetics (PK) study. PK indicates how bioactives get absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted by the body. PK is essential for understanding and standardizing the effects and experiences of cannabis infused products. In the researchers’ words, “PK studies provide the scientific foundation for claims such as ‘fast acting,’ ‘long lasting,’ and “superior bioavailability.’”

This study compared PK across five different form factors, including two types of emulsions, one water dissolvable powder, an oil tincture, and isolate powder. It provided new scientific evidence for what many in the industry already know anecdotally: CBD emulsions are absorbed significantly faster than either oil-based CBD tinctures or un-emulsified CBD isolate.

Importantly, the study also revealed that the gum acacia-based emulsion, with the largest droplet size, offered the highest total bioavailability. This was contradictory to common beliefs in the industry that smaller droplet size always means greater absorption and proves that emulsion droplet size is not the main factor for bioavailability. This is an important foundation that could lead the industry out of the sole pursuit of smaller droplet size, and toward a focus on developing unique emulsion formulations.

Mainstream packaging enters into cannabis

One of the greatest challenges for the cannabis beverage industry has been finding compatible and scalable packaging. Emulsions for infused beverages must be delicately engineered in order to remain stable during contact with the hydrophobic polymers found in aluminum can liners and other plastic bottles.

This is why it’s promising that several mainstream packaging companies, who control the supply chain of can liner resin manufacturing, have teamed up with the cannabis industry to better understand how emulsions react with their respective packaging materials.

The results of those studies will be very useful for emulsion providers and product makers, who will be able to leverage the information to design mass-produced, cost-effective products without compromising on stability or shelf life. These research partnerships also signal a readiness from the broader CPG manufacturing industry to quickly scale cannabis products on the next big wave of legalization.

There have been numerous exciting advances in cannabis science over the past year, enabling the industry to further unlock the potential healing benefits of the plant and deliver an ever-improving suite of products to consumers. As a scientist, I am most eager to see additional research on the functional therapeutic benefits of cannabis for sleep, pain and stress, as well as how cannabinoids can best blend into holistic everyday wellness. To ensure steady scientific progress, it will be important for every member of the industry to advocate for more institutional support towards research, funding, and promotion.

Harold Han is the founder and chief science officer at Oakland-based infusion technology company Vertosa.

Harold Han

Founder and chief science officer at Oakland-based infusion technology company Vertosa.


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