Current trends in the cannabis beverage industry: Industrial Sonomechanics’ perspective

Written by Alexey Peshkovsky

Technology background

With technological advancements and expanding consumer interest in CBD/THC-infused beverages, Industrial Sonomechanics (ISM) is experiencing significant activity and business growth in relation to its technology for creating water-compatible CBD and THC formulations as well as to the production of finished nanoemulsion products. ISM’s technology is a complete solution comprising high-amplitude laboratory-, bench- and industrial-scale ultrasonic liquid processors in conjunction with several All-In-One NanoStabilizer® formulations.

With this solution, ISM’s clients are fully enabled to commercially manufacture translucent water-soluble nanoemulsions of cannabis extracts that can be readily infused into water and other beverages, allowing consumers to benefit from the accelerated onset of action, improved bioavailability and reproducible dosing of the incorporated cannabinoids.

A typical nanoemulsion concentrate produced with ISM’s technology contains between 10 and 50 mg/ml of cannabinoids suspended in the form of nano-sized droplets of about 20 – 30 nm in median diameter, ensuring permanent water-compatibility, translucency and long-term stability. When about 0.2 – 1 ml (depending on the concentration and the required dose) of nanoemulsion is infused into water (see pictures below), translucency turns into full transparency and results in a clear cannabinoid-infused water-based product.

ISM’s technology also makes it possible to produce water-soluble CBD and THC powders and tablets, as well as a wide range of water-compatible nanoemulsions of flavor oils and many other hydrophobic bioactives.

Bioactive ingredient trends

We look at cannabis beverage ingredients from two consumer-oriented perspectives. First, what is the desired consumer experience with cannabis beverages? Is the consumer interested in therapeutic benefits, just relaxing in the evening, both? Second, what is the vehicle for consumption and desired product appearance and taste? With today’s nanotechnology, consumers can take advantage of infused bioactives like CBD and Delta-9 THC, and we are seeing a significant increase in the evaluation of Delta-8 THC characteristics.

Acting on these perspectives, manufacturers can formulate CBD and/or THC products with the desired effects. Consequently, consumers can dictate what they want out of their product and expect that companies with the right equipment and formulations can create high-quality products that enable short onset times with predictable and reproducible strength of effects.

At the beginning of the CBD/THC-infused beverage market curve, we were seeing a lot of low-quality emulsions with large droplet sizes (in the hundreds of nanometers) and the appearance of milk, which were not readily available for the body to absorb. As the industry advanced, enabled by high-amplitude ultrasonic equipment and better emulsifier formulations, translucent nanoemulsions with much smaller droplet sizes quickly started to replace the milky emulsions.  Translucent nanoemulsions are in high demand because their extremely small droplet sizes enable high bioavailability, short onset times and predictable duration of effect. They also have the advantage of not changing the look of the beverage because they become transparent upon dilution.

Currently, we are also seeing a quickly growing demand for water-soluble CBD and THC powders that reconstitute into their original nano-emulsified state when added to a beverage (in the same way sugar is added to coffee). Powders also allow for diverse applications and finished products – they can, for example, be compressed into pills that instantly disintegrate and dissolve in the saliva in the mouth or formulated as fizzing/effervescent tablets that rapidly dissolve in beverages.

Flavor trends

Although it may not always be apparent, cannabis extracts are bitter. It is important to remember that the taste of a substance cannot be perceived unless the substance is dissolved in the saliva. Refined CBD and THC extracts, distillates and isolates may not appear to be bitter when tasted directly because they do not dissolve in water (or saliva). Formulating them as nanoemulsions makes them water-compatible, and while doing so increases their bioavailability, it also allows our taste buds to perceive their bitterness.

We are seeing two distinct preference trends relative to flavor. Many consumers still enjoy and are seeking a “homegrown flavor”, where they can taste the terpenes and flavonoids from the original plant in the beverage. This is surprising to some, but others do want to intimately identify with what they are consuming. Of course, a second preference exists, where consumers want to taste something that they really enjoy but that is not necessarily related to the flavors associated with the original plant. In other words, they want to mask the taste of the extract and/or cover it with other kinds of flavors. To this end, we consistently see requests for masking agents and water-soluble flavor additives.  We have recently started to offer such products as well.

Cannabis beverages can be a bit like alcoholic ones – an acquired taste. Some consumers like the natural taste of cannabis, akin to those who love a peaty scotch. Others find the flavor unpleasant and would align more with the hard-seltzer drinkers of the world. The industry is learning that not everyone’s tastes are monolith in the CBD/THC beverage space. If there’s a market for a certain flavor profile or taste, the industry will adapt. Given the tools and product options, the branders, the designers, and the marketers will be there, ready to fill that need.

Technological innovation trends

In our opinion, the single most important product development technology trend revolves around particle sizes. Water-compatible nano-emulsified beverage products with a focus on small particle size are at the core of bringing THC/CBD products to market going forward as they enable the consumer to have confidence in the quality, the effects, and the taste.

The trend is towards nanoemulsions with the smallest possible droplet sizes. This applies to liquid nanoemulsions as well as to water-soluble powders and tablets that reconstitute into nanoemulsions in water (or saliva). The droplet size has a direct effect on all the important benefits of nanoemulsion-based products, including translucency, bioavailability, and the onset of action. Generally, in order to absorb oils and fats from our food, the digestive system first “re-formulates” them into mixed micelles – droplets with median droplet diameters around 20 nanometers. This is what our small intestine is designed to absorb most efficiently. For maximum benefit, it is, therefore, important to keep the droplet sizes in nanoemulsion-based products in the vicinity of this value.

ISM’s Barbell Horn® Ultrasonic Technology-based processors and NanoStabilizer® formulations enable its clients to easily produce nanoemulsions with droplet sizes as low as 20 – 30 nm. Because these droplets closely mimic mixed micelles naturally produced during the digestive process, bioactive ingredients such as CBD or THC contained within them are absorbed into the bloodstream very rapidly and completely. Our processors can output extremely high ultrasonic amplitudes and operate at any scale, allowing manufacturers to move quickly from a laboratory to a production environment in order to meet the expanding (and ever-changing) consumer interests in infused beverages.

The next two years will likely see rapid advancement in the CBD and THC-infused beverage market. Companies need to be nimble and act quickly as they bring new products to market that are reliable and consistent in quality.  Technology needs to be coupled with consumer education that, in turn, is backed by research. Scientifically minded institutions, technology companies and informed consumers will be great partners in advancing technology and innovation within the infused beverages industry.

About Industrial Sonomechanics, LLC.

Industrial Sonomechanics, LLC (ISM) is a research & development, equipment design and process consulting firm, specializing in high-intensity ultrasonic technology for liquid treatment. Our mission is to help businesses optimize their ultrasound-assisted processes and implement them in commercial-scale production. Learn more about ISM by visiting sonomechanics.com.

About the author

Alexey Peshkovsky

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