As most investors know, cannabinoids are the active ingredients in the cannabis plant, primarily THC and CBD. More specifically, cannabinoids are fat-soluble molecules. In contrast, alcohol molecules are water soluble.
This explains why people ingesting alcohol feel the effects more quickly than someone consuming a low-tech cannabis product. Water-soluble molecules bypass much of our digestive process and thus reach the bloodstream faster – and with less loss of effect due to metabolizing.
Conversely, with low-tech cannabis products – and their fat-soluble cannabinoids – the cannabinoids enter the full digestive tract, including passing through the liver. The liver is the body’s primary filter.
This “first pass” through the digestive tract not only takes much more time, it metabolizes a much greater percentage of these molecules. It also leads to much more uneven effects person to person, because of the great variability in our digestive processes.
Thus the first challenge for the cannabis industry in producing reliable, consistent edibles or infused beverages was to find a way to prevent this “first pass” for cannabinoid molecules. The cannabis industry claims that this challenge has been met.
Several companies have devised patented technologies that allow cannabinoid molecules to mimic water-soluble molecules and avoid the first pass. But now a new issue has surfaced: product testing.
This issue is highlighted in a recent Leafly article that looks specifically at cannabinoid chocolate products. What is being discovered is that the standard lab testing currently used is resulting in noticeable variability in testing cannabinoid potency. Even more baffling is that simply changing the size of the test sample affects the final result.
David Dawson, an organic chemist, was quick to tell Leafly that this is not a public health issue. What makes the issue a legitimate industry concern is that regulations for these products permit very little variability in tested potency versus labeled potency.
It is not yet fully understood why this testing issue has arisen. However, Dawson suspects it traces back to the fat-soluble nature of cannabinoid molecules. Chocolate itself has significant fat content.
Dawson thinks that the cannabinoid molecules are binding themselves to the fat molecules in the chocolate and thus creating small-but-noticeable variability in potency testing. It won’t cause any significant change in efficacy (one way or another), but it can cause enough variability in testing so that products fail current standards.
If Dawson is correct in his suspicions, this suggests that any form of cannabis edible with additional fat content could trigger such testing anomalies. In turn, this raises several questions for the cannabis industry.
- Does this mean that any cannabis edibles with fat content will also be less efficacious? (The chocolate products tested tended to produce lower-than-labeled potency.)
- Do industry standards need to be relaxed for cannabis edibles? Reminder: cannabis is non-toxic. There is no issue with people getting “poisoned” by these small fluctuations in potency.
- Does the industry need to devise even better methods for infusing cannabinoid molecules into consumer products?
- Does government need to devise more sophisticated testing procedures for cannabis edibles – that can eliminate these variable results?
If this is a “fat” issue, the cannabis industry can avoid this problem by simply creating edibles only in low-fat/non-fat products. Sadly, in our society, less fat almost always means more sugar. And it is the sugar in cannabis edibles that is far more of a public health menace than the cannabinoids (or even the fat).
This leads to the second question. Does government need to relax its standards for cannabis product testing? Put another way, is government going to force cannabis companies to dispense (toxic) sugar-laden cannabis edibles, containing an otherwise safe product: the cannabis itself.
Relaxing standards would require governments to overcome their own cannabis phobias, the product of 100 years of Prohibition-era propaganda. Not an easy task.
This leads to the third question. To overcome this issue altogether, is even better technology needed to infuse these cannabinoid molecules into consumer products? But this begs the question: is it even possible to create true/perfect water solubility from a fat-soluble molecule?
Alternately, we don’t even know that this is actually a product quality issue at all. It could be entirely a testing issue: using low-tech analysis methods on highly engineered consumer products. Maybe what is really needed here is for government product testing to advance to the 21st century, to equal the technology of the products they are testing?
This is a vexing issue for the cannabis industry, first because the precise nature of the problem is still not clearly understood. Secondly, it is an issue where (at present) none of the alternatives look particularly attractive.
For cannabis investors, this means taking a much closer look at companies that emphasize these edibles products. Will they be significantly impacted by any regulatory crack-down?
Many of the “issues” currently being raised for the cannabis industry are mere media fabrications. This is a real one.