Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) usually take center stage when it comes to food and beverages infused with cannabis, but there is health and wellness potential in lesser known – and less researched – cannabis compounds. We recently connected with Jacob Black, Ph.D., CEO of Treehouse Hemp, Longmont, CO, to learn more about the range of cannabinoids that are emerging for use in legal cannabis-infused foods and beverages.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: How will use of cannabis ingredients in food and beverage product development change the U.S. food industry?
Jacob Black: This is one of the biggest outstanding questions when it comes to the potential for the development of new food products. At this point in time, it is very difficult to predict what will happen on this front because of the FDA’s current ruling that CBD is a drug. Depending on how the FDA’s stance on cannabinoids in food evolves a lot could change. If they take a hard stance that CBD cannot be present in food (above levels occurring in naturally grown hemp) many food products will be outright barred. To date, it is illegal to use CBD isolate in food according to the FDA. This has not prevented some states from adopting a different stance in direct opposition to the FDA. However, if cannabinoids are allowed in food, it could truly be a revolution in “active/targeted” food ingredients with a limitless potential. A lot depends on regulation, in particular the FDA’s stance on cannabinoid isolates.
DJP: What do you see as the most-important cannabinoids for foods and beverages geared for the medical, health and overall wellness market?
JB: Given the dearth of information on almost all of the cannabinoids with the exception of CBD and THC, it is really hard to predict which cannabinoids will be the most important. Cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabinol (CBN) are all made by the cannabis plant (in their acid form) in much higher quantities than the other 100-plus known cannabinoids. This relative ease of access will likely make them the first to become common ingredients, as well as the next to be more fully studied and understood by the scientific community. As a caveat, however, I believe for a cannabinoid to be viable as a food ingredient it must be proven to be non-psychoactive (like CBD).
DJP: Beyond CBD, which cannabinoids do you see as having the most promise for these area of health-oriented product development?
JB: I think any one of the 100-plus known cannabinoids could have as much promise as CBD. Until these cannabinoids are isolated and studied better, however, it is hard to predict which of these cannabinoids will be the most impactful. From a basic science standpoint, it is very hard to predict a priori how a molecule (or cannabinoid in particular) will behave medicinally. The hard work of studying each cannabinoid individually is the only way to reveal and confirm the cannabinoids true medicinal potential. I do think CBG, CBC and CBN will be the next to hit consumer products given their abundance in the cannabis plant relative to the other cannabinoids.
DJP: Can product developers find benefits from formulating products with isolated cannabinoids at specific use levels in order to meet the needs of today’s cannabis consumers?
JB: Natural full-spectrum (or broad-spectrum) extracts are highly complex mixtures of cannabinoids, terpenes, fatty acids, proteins and many other molecules. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to consistently formulate identical cannabinoid blends, which in turn makes it difficult to deliver consumer products that have consistent medicinal effects. A better option for manufacturers is to formulate with specific “minor” cannabinoids in order to produce highly standardized cannabinoid products. These unique formulations will allow for more targeted and reproducible effects. With isolates of CBG, CBN and CBC, one can tinker with the cannabinoid ratio lever and create truly one-of-a-kind cannabinoid mixtures.
DJP: Has recent cannabis research connected any lesser-known cannabinoids, such as CBN, CBG and THCA, in a beneficial way to specific health/medical conditions?
JB: Though much anecdotal information minor cannabinoids is available on the internet, very little rigorous scientific data is available on the minor cannabinoids. On the bright side, however, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is open to further study of the health effects of these minor cannabinoids, recently announcing R21 grants (“intended to encourage exploratory/developmental research by providing support for the early and conceptual stages of project development”) for the study of minor cannabinoids as they relate to pain treatment.