In fact, the global cannabis beverages market “is projected to grow at a CAGR of 17.8% from 2019 to 2025,” according to a new report by Million Insights, and currently there are a variety of CBD beverages available from CBD-infused bubbly water to CBD-infused teas and cold brew.
But, amidst the hike in CBD beverage sales and the projected industry growth, experts and consumers have long debated the efficacy of CBD beverages. For instance, some independent testing has shown that many CBD beverages are inaccurately labeled—with 54% containing less CBD than advertised—and early on in the CBD beverage craze, it was common to feel little or no effect from them, leading many consumers to call them a waste of money.
“It wasn’t that [those early brands] weren’t trying,” says Dr. Christopher Shade, CEO and Founder of Quicksilver Scientific, which is making a new line of CBD Beverages in partnership with the beer brand, Molson Coors. “[The early brands] were trying to get all the CBD in there, but it wasn’t staying in the liquid, it was stuck to the sides of the can. It would destabilize. That is all chemistry.”
Because chemistry can be tweaked, Shade asserts CBD beverages can be made to be stable and effective through the use of nanotechnology. In fact, his proprietary nanotechnology for CBD beverages, which he developed to effectively deliver doses of CBD and other terpenes and botanicals, was recently selected by Molson Coors for use in a new line of cannabis beverages designed as an alcohol alternative.
Here’s the science behind the effects of CBD beverages, and ways to verify the quality of a CBD beverage, to inform you as you decide whether this trending CBD delivery method is worth a try.
According to Shade, a big reason why many CBD beverages are ineffective is due poorly executed nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, specifically Nano emulsion, is a key part of developing any CBD beverage because it allows for the CBD, a fat soluble molecule, to be encased in a tiny droplet—literally measured in a billionth of a meter—so it can be easily dispersed in water and absorbed by the body.
“People get a little bit of a misinterpretation that [through Nano emulsion] you’re changing the CBD molecule some way, but really, what you’re doing is making a little carrier for the molecule that is water-dispersible,” said Dr. Shade. “Picture this tiny nano-sized droplet of oil and…coating the outside of the droplet is something that’s fat soluble and sticks to the fat droplet and the other side of it is water soluble and that gives it stability in the water.”
To do this, you need to start by making your CBD oil, which is done through the typical process of extraction, distillation and refinement. Brands like Quicksilver might also add flavors to mask the cannabinoid’s bitterness, as well as terpenes and other botanicals to encourage a specific outcome, like anxiety-relief.
“We use broad and full-spectrum CBD, and then we have a CBD synergies line where we might blend it with sleep-based botanicals, like passionflower, skullcap, chamomile and melatonin,” said Dr. Shade.
The emulsion will also include a binding agent—something called a surfactant, compounds that lower the surface tension between liquids and solids, or other types of stabilizing agents like phospholipids—used to bind the water and oil together.
“It’s an emulsion, so basically, it’s a salad dressing. An emulsion is a blending of water and oil and [whatever else you want to add, like spices,]…and then you have to tie them together with something, [otherwise] the oil and water separate.”
From there, your CBD emulsion is put through one of three methods of homogenization, in which shear force mixes together all your components and then breaks them down into tiny, water-dispersible nanoparticles. These methods include sonification, which uses sound energy to break up the oil, high pressure homogenization, which uses pressure, and microfluidization, which uses fluid pressure to reduce the particle size of the CBD emulsion to make a nano-emulsion for incorporation into an effective, and shelf-stable CBD beverage.
If the science is all sound, this process should result in a beverage that is shelf-stable but also effectively absorbed by the body. This optimized absorption is due to how quickly the microscopic, water-soluble droplets encasing the CBD nanoparticles can be ingested.
For instance, when you drink a CBD beverage, the cannabinoids are partially digested through the saliva and the rest goes down the esophagus to the stomach, where normal particles may take longer to digest, if they process at all. Nanoparticles, on the other hand, are small enough for transmembrane absorption, helping speed up the process. This drug-delivery technology is not new—nanoparticles have long been used to help effectively deliver other sorts of protein and peptide drugs that play vital roles in cancer, autoimmune diseases, and cardiovascular diseases.
But, Shade says that because the CBD industry is largely unregulated—many CBD brands who claim to use nanotechnology aren’t doing adequate testing to verify that their nanoparticles are small enough and stable for this optimized absorption.
“[Some brands], they just use the term [Nano emulsion]. The good group [of brands] should be imaging their nano-emulsions and doing stability studies,” said Dr. Shade. “Then, when you put the concentrate into the beverages you want to make sure they’re sizing is stable and it stays like that…because the size controls how fast [the CBD beverage] is absorbed.”
Hence, many CBD beverages are ineffective due to poor science. Hence, as cannabis expert and co-founder of Dieux Skin, Charlotte Palermino, told Byrdie, “Unless a beverage has done some sort of a study on how their formula matches their claims, dosing, and the bioavailability (how much you absorb), I suggest taking their marketing with a grain of salt. In theory, it could work, it also could not work. We just don’t know.”
In terms of Quicksilver Scientific’s formulations, they have done internal efficacy studies showing that 20 minutes after drinking 10 mg nano-emulsified cannabinoids in beverages, absorption is 5-6x greater than with traditional delivery methods.
Like any other CBD product, there are some that work well and others that don’t. It’s a consequence of the lack of regulation in the CBD industry and the race for profit among CBD brands.
Shade claims many brands on the market don’t do enough to verify that their products will be effective for consumers. In fact, many CBD beverages do not contain enough CBD to begin with, or easily degrade once they go on sale.
“Most brands include minimal levels of CBD (2-5 mg) in their water. For it to be beneficial for the body, studies suggest a person needs to have at least 15 mg CBD every day (approximately). Supermarket shelves are exposed to light and air which degrades CBD particles. It’s expensive and provides lesser CBD content,” reports Cannatech Today.
Luckily, Shade says a consumer can also verify the quality of a CBD beverage by how it looks. According to shade, a true nano-emulsion should be transparent—not cloudy. That transparency proves that they have used true Nano emulsion—and that the bioavailability of that beverage will be good.
Hence, in the question of whether CBD beverages are worth the hype—it all comes down to the product you choose. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that consumers do their homework and require brands to provide third-party testing results, before they risk wasting their money on this trendy CBD product. That said, if they do land on a product that executes nanoemulsion well, they may discover CBD beverages that are tasty, shelf-table and effective.