Last month, Freedom Leaf Health, a publicly-traded developer of hemp-based CBD products and ingredients, announced a new water-soluble hemp extract for beverages under its IrieCBD brand. The company says the product’s “true” solubility will allow the body to absorb the CBD more effectively. IrieCBD is considering launching a water brand with the ingredient as well. To help educate our readers, BD reached out to Garrett Wood, who manages product development and sales for IrieCBD. We wanted to better understand the myriad ingredient references seen on CBD-infused beverage labels. The following has been edited for clarity and space:
BD: First the basics. What’s the difference between CBD and THC?
GW: Let’s start with how they’re the same. THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, which are found to grow naturally in the cannabis plant. When we’re talking about hemp, we’re talking about a plant that grows very high in CBD but very low in THC. To be classified as hemp, the plant has to have less than 0.3% THC. CBD is a great anti-inflammatory. It’s also great at helping with things like anxiety and stress. It helps with people’s pain. THC is the thing that gets us high, that elicits the psychoactive effects. CBD has no psychoactive effects.
BD: How is CBD extracted?
GW: The two primary methods are CO2 extraction and ethanol extraction, where we’re actually taking the plant matter and just kind of stripping it of its goodness. With ethanol extraction, a solvent is used, but the ethanol is purged out, so you’re not left with any of the solvent. It does a really good job and is very efficient at removing all of the beneficial compound that exists in the plant, such as CBD and CBG, which is another cannabinoid. CO2 extraction is a solvent-less process where we’re using pressure and heat, and we’re in essence squeezing the plant with a whole bunch of pressure from CO2. After either process, you’re left with CBD oil. People are using CBD isolate as well. CBD isolate is simply processing the hemp plant so far that we are processing out all of the other constituents, all of the other cannabinoids, all the other terpenes, all the lipids, all the flavonoids. Everything’s been processed out and you’re left with only the CBD molecule. Just 99.X% pure CBD.
BD: How do you go from oil to something that can be used in beverages?
GW: Traditionally, there have been a few methods where we kind of hide oil in water. There is micro encapsulation, there’s nano emulsion [sometimes referred to as nano technology], and another one is micelle. Nano emulsion is breaking down the particles into something really tiny and they kind of suspend in the water. Micro encapsulation is hiding the oil in water. Micelle is another kind of liquid technology. But all these are not truly water soluble. A lot of times with these other methods, over the course of time, the CBD oil will and can break out of solution. And that’s what we’ve had up until we developed BioAlive, where we’re using a proprietary fermentation process that takes oil and converts it into a material that is truly water soluble. So what we’ve developed through this fermentation process is something that is highly unique that actually stays in solution because it is truly becoming a part of the water. We’re finding that two milligrams of our BioAlive extract has been anecdotally as effective as taking 20 or 30 milligrams of our full spectrum oils, for things like pain and anxiety.
BD: CBD beverages are often marketed as containing broad spectrum or full spectrum hemp extract or CBD. What is the difference?
GW: Isolate again, as we said, comes down to just the CBD molecule. Broad spectrum is an extract where typically they refine out the THC completely. In that refining process you’re cutting out some of the other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. You’re truly trying to get to a place where THC no longer exists and to something more concentrated in terms of CBD. Broad spectrum is a great step up from isolate, but it’s not going be as effective as picking the full plant. Full spectrum can be synonymous with the whole plant extract where you’re keeping all the constituents intact, as many of them as you can in the extraction process, trying to preserve all of the characteristics of that plant and then taking that as a therapeutic extract. In terms of effectiveness, typically isolate is going to be the least effective, broad spectrum is going to be better than isolate, and full spectrum is really going to have all of the constituents to be the most effective version of an extract.
BD: Which of these versions of CBD are being used most often in beverages?
GW: Isolate is probably the most common thing we are seeing infused into beverages. One reason may be its price per gram. But its effectiveness is certainly much lower than that of using full spectrum extracts. Isolate is kind of leading the way right now and I think it’s because people just want to see CBD on a label and they think that it’s all created equal. But as consumers become savvier, I see the isolate kind of fading out a little bit more as the market matures. So I would see that as number one, but you can see the nano emulsion too. It’s hard to say which one’s winning out. We’re still really in the infancy of this.
BD: When it comes to taste, is any of this better or worse for taste when it comes to beverages?
GW: If someone can taste it a little bit they know that it’s there, and I think that is potentially beneficial. The taste spectrum ranges. Some of them are very, very tasteless. Some are incredibly bitter. BioAlive as a concentrate is bitter and has terpenes, but when it’s diluted into a beverage or into anything that you’d be manufacturing, the bitterness is completely gone and you’re just left with a very, very subtle floral taste. Once again, you could easily mask this with other flavors, but just in water on its own it has a very nice, very subtle floral flavor which just comes from the natural terpenes. So to me, the taste a lot of times is indicative of, “Are cannabinoids actually in this? Am I actually getting something?” Because the cannabinoids do have a flavor and do have a bitterness.
BD: Is there any reason to believe that beverages are a better CBD delivery format than other types of more solid edibles?
GW: Definitely. We’re talking about absorption. That’s a big thing in the world of nutraceuticals and natural supplements. There’s anecdotal evidence that says things like kombucha absorb really well because they’re fermented as well, and that our body really recognizes things like kombucha. So adding CBD or hemp extract to kombucha might help boost its absorption.
BD: How far along is the science behind claims about CBD’s health benefits?
GW: I am looking forward to seeing more and more research and especially research done on humans. So there are a lot of studies on mice and in vitro [test tube studies], but I’m very much looking forward to seeing more research done in human studies. I think the results from that will be absolutely tremendous.
BD: What is your outlook when it comes to the regulatory environment for CBD in the US, especially as it relates to the FDA potentially creating a framework around the use of CBD or hemp extract in food and beverage?
GW: They’re going to want to know that everything’s tested. And they may put limits on dosing. I see them potentially keeping dosages low and making sure that everything’s coming from certified facilities and people are getting good, clean products that don’t have contaminants in them like pesticides, heavy metals, solvents and things like that.
BD: Some beverage companies are using the words “hemp extract” instead of CBD on labels. Is this just to play it safe with regulators or is there an argument to be made that “hemp extract” labeling is a good approach?
GW: In a perfect world, the label would show how much hemp extract is in the beverage and how much of that hemp extract is CBD content. Let’s say you have ten milligrams of hemp extract in a beverage. You would then also denote that there are seven milligrams of CBD in that hemp extract. Hemp extract is a great way to label things because we’re not just caring about CBD. The other cannabinoids and terpenes and other things are very therapeutic and powerful in their own right. It’s just that CBD has gotten the buzz right now. But when we do more research on other cannabinoids like CBG and CBN, we going to find some fantastic things about those as well. They all carry their own traits. That’s why hemp extract is important, and it’s great that we’re moving there. It’s also important to know how much CBD you’re getting in those hemp extracts, because they can vary from a 30% CBD extract to a 90+% extract. Then it makes a very clear distinction as to whether or not this is a CBD isolate or if we’re actually using a lot of the plant. And I think that’s where we really want to have a clear distinction because of the big time difference in how effective either one of those are.
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