Cannabis, Hemp, THC, CBD … What’s all the Buzz?

Cannabis is of major interest for many of our food industry clients.  Susan Mayer, Certified Food Scientist and Food & Agriculture Sector Lead for RTI IA, and Lawrence Blume, PhD, pharmacologist and lead researcher for IA’s food & ag clients, help clients understand the science and technology of cannabis.  Below, Susan and Lawrence share a conversation they had in April. The conversation followed the IFT Short Course on Legalized Cannabis and Hemp Edibles (LCHE) where Lawrence Blume spoke.

image of cannabis

Why You Need to Understand the Cannabis and Hemp Lexicon

Susan:  How was your Institute of Food Technologist’s (IFT) short course on Legalized Cannabis and Hemp Edibles (LCHE)?

Lawrence:  Great!  I met lots of interesting people and my talk on pharmacology went well. It was good to see the attendees, from start-ups to major Fortune 500 companies, actively engaged and asking me honest questions about what we know and don’t know on the science of cannabis.

Susan: I’m not surprised it was a full house.  Every day my inbox, social media accounts, and industry journals have stories about CBD, cannabis, or hemp.  Seems these terms are becoming more than buzzwords, and many vendors and “experts” are jumping in because it’s a viable business growth opportunity.  The cannabis lexicon is crazy and tough to follow, and so many terms like CBD and cannabis seem to be used interchangeably.  Keeping track of the laws, policies and shifting demographics all play into the opportunities and risks of the cannabis and hemp markets.

Lawrence: I agree.  While our goal as Innovation Advisors is to help our clients achieve more substantial, successful innovation in this fast-moving cannabis industry, the first thing to do is to make sure everyone has a basic knowledge of the industry’s terms.

Susan:  More alphabet soup?  All these acronyms! LCHE, CBD, THC – it’s no wonder people are confused and a bit wary.  It’s tough enough for product developers to produce new products when they understand the ingredients they’re using.  It’s like playing whack-a-mole when you think about all the cannabis products.

Lawrence Blume speaking at conference Lawrence:  It certainly is. Understanding the cannabis and hemp lexicon is vital to anyone interested in exploring this space from a business and product development perspective. Here’s a great example from the IFT Short Course on Cannabis Edibles that highlights the subtle but important details of having a good lexicon on ‘Cannabis’.

There was a conversation about whether ‘Cannabis’ and its extracts were legal in the U.S.  Someone said that ‘Cannabis’ was legalized in the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 It’s true that industrial hemp – a specific type of cannabis plant – and its extracts are now deregulated. This means that CBD is legal if extracted from hemp plants, but not if extracted from marijuana plants. Here’s where it’s important to understand the differences among Cannabis, Hemp, THC, and CBD.

Susan:  The Hemp Farming Act brought the conversation of plant source to the forefront.  But it’s still confusing to many people who ultimately really need to understand ingredients.

Lawrence: The distinction between Cannabis and its two primary species — hemp and marijuana — is unclear to many and some even consider the three plants to be one and the same. Because of this, the three terms are often used interchangeably, and this has created difficulties when trying to understand the usage and benefits of hemp, marijuana, and cannabis in general.

Susan: Can you describe the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Lawrence: Hemp and marijuana are, taxonomically speaking, the same plant; they are different names for the same genus (Cannabis) and species. Cannabis plants contain a variety of different compounds called cannabinoids, with the most abundant and widely known being Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). The difference is that hemp plants contain no more than 0.3 percent (by dry weight) of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. By comparison, marijuana typically contains five to 20 percent THC.

Susan:  Well that makes this family of ingredients even more challenging!  And if that’s not bad enough, not only do the image of innovaiton analyst Susan Mayer hosting a design thinking workshopsource and chemistry differ, but the impact on the user varies depending on the finished product.  That’s similar to some ingredients like caffeine, but this is much more of a challenge, don’t you think?

Lawrence: You’re right. There are a lot of missing and conflicting pieces in the scientific literature and within R&D right now. Many groups are attempting to capture a slice of the supplement market by touting the health and wellness benefits of CBD because it resonates well with consumers. I’d caution against that because the FDA has warned companies about making CBD claims, and furthermore, we know today’s educated consumer wants validated products. Right now, we don’t have enough scientifically validated data to verify dose-response effects for many of CBD’s intended benefits.

Susan: Even when you get the dose-response figured out, there are challenges that come with different product formats.  Ingredient pH, turbidity, solubility, flavor and color will all be factors.  Another challenge will be distribution, right?  If the product isn’t a single phase, then getting the ingredient dispersed evenly throughout the batter, dough, or whatever will impact dose per serving.

Lawrence: The industry is focused on developing standards for extraction, purification, and testing of cannabis-based ingredients and products. Those efforts should coincide with FDA regulations and policies to provide a framework for development, testing, and marketing of products moving forward. Central to this effort, and a big challenge today is creating a homogenous cannabis-based product due to the high lipid content of cannabis, CBD, and THC. Innovations in dispersion, encapsulation, emulsions, and taste-masking strategies will contribute to overcoming many of the current challenges.

Susan: Once you know what the terms mean, you need to understand risks and safety.

Lawrence:  Yes, and we help companies understand the terms, the risks, and the safety implications.

Susan: And we’re also available to speak with attendees at IFT’s Annual Event and Food Expo – IFT2019: Feed Your Future – in New Orleans from June 2-5. Stop by and see us at booth 3758! #IFT19

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About the authors

Lawrence Blume, Ph.D. is passionate about collaborative partnerships that bring innovative solutions to challenging research and development roadblocks. A lead advisor for our food science and biotechnology innovation, Lawrence brings extensive experience leading technology-focused opportunity forecasts in support of competitive advantage, product differentiation, and commercialization strategies for C-level executives at companies ranging from early startups to Fortune 500s. Over the last decade, Dr. Blume has applied his background in cannabis physiology and pharmacology towards novel commercial applications in the medical, CPG, and food and beverage spaces. He received a Ph.D. in Physiology & Pharmacology from Wake Forest School of Medicine and a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Biochemistry from Duquesne University.
Susan Mayer is our technical food industry leader, with great problem-solving, strategic, and communication skills. Our clients rely on her experience in product development, product lifecycle management, and public-private food industry partnerships to understand how technology, research, and the right suppliers can create innovation opportunities. How does her work with us benefit food companies? Susan believes that our human-centered design perspective makes all the difference. ‘Product developers always believe they are thinking about the consumer, but our human-centered design approach to considering technology brings an entirely different perspective.’ Susan applies her love of food science to her hobbies; she and her husband formulate and brew beer, much to the delight of their friends and neighbors. Susan has an M.S. in Food Science and a B.S. in Foods from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is a Certified Food Scientist.

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