Creating and Developing a CBD Product

By Michael Schmitt, Technical Project Manager, SōRSE Technology

Great growth opportunity in the cannabinoid space is represented by projected sales of nearly $12.8 billion in cannabis and $2 billion in hemp products during 2019 alone. With such wonderful potential happening in this market, how does one determine whether to enter it, where, and – most critically – how?

Start at the Beginning

First, it’s important to understand the difference between marijuana and hemp. The 2018 Farm Bill spelled it out: Hemp is a variety of the cannabis sativa plant which contains less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol or Δ-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) on a dry weight basis, while marijuana is the variety that has greater than 0.3% THC. The federal government prohibits the sale of marijuana, including concentrates and extracts of more than 0.3% THC.

Conversely, hemp-derived cannabinoids are legal, and CBD (cannabidiol) products are being increasingly found in places like supermarkets and pharmacies, and as additives in food, beverages, or topical products. For now, only hemp-derived CBD is legal for sale in the United States.

Know the Market

A good understanding of the market is fundamental to developing one’s product. Some consumers may enjoy the taste and aroma of cannabis, whereas others may be curious about what a hemp-derived product can do for them, but prefer to avoid the associated flavor or smell. If a marketer finds an audience comfortable with the flavors and aromas (i.e., the terpenes and terpenoids) of a hemp product, then the use of full-or broad-spectrum CBD may be advantageous, since terpenes and terpenoids remain present in the hemp extract (along with hemp/cannabis flavor and aroma).  Likewise, CBD isolate is available to develop products without any hemp/cannabis aromas or taste.

TAKEAWAY: Consider CBD product options to determine which to focus on, and the best audience for it.

Determine Dosing

Ascertain whether to make any types of claims regarding how much CBD is in a product, particularly per serving size. Existing products on the market which make claims about CBD content tend to focus on milligrams per serving; producers should implement quality systems to include testing. After testing some products, the FDA has recently issued warning letters due to findings that some companies provided less (or no) CBD than their labels claimed. Even without making claims, producers should confirm that the amounts included are appropriate and consistent for milligrams per serving.

TAKEAWAY: Discuss and confirm dosing options, and focus on quality and safety for products and customers.

Source the Best Possible Extract

In sourcing a hemp-derived CBD extract, producers need to confirm that it is safely compatible with laws regarding food, beverages or topicals. Producers should consult with suppliers to consider any types of risks (physical, chemical, microbial) associated with the extract, and assess the impacts on their products through risk analysis of the extract. Variables include pesticide residue, heavy metal uptake, microbial presence, residual solvents, and possibly mycotoxin. Check to see whether a supplier offers a certificate of analysis (COA) () to confirm the potency and risks of the CBD extract, and vouch for any claims made for the final product.

TAKEAWAY: Not all extracts are equal; producers should seek out suppliers who assuredly meet safety, quality, and regulatory standards.

Identify the Best Way to Combine Ingredients

From full-spectrum to isolate, CBD extracts are oil-soluble. For food, beverages, or topical products that are oil-based, incorporation into the product should be straightforward, and mixed in such a way that the CBD is dispersed evenly through the entire product so that there are no “hot spots” of CBD in the finished good which can lessen  its efficacy and lead to customer dissatisfaction.

If a product is water-based or mostly water, then manufacturers should consider extra measures in making the oil and water mix, which can be done by dispersing the oil into the water by using a homogenizer or working the CBD into the water phase using emulsifiers to help prevent separation. The primary goal is to maintain stability and disperse the oil evenly into the product so that it does not separate or float to the surface like an Italian salad dressing.

Also, producers should mindful of pesticide-testing thresholds when choosing raw materials to mixed with clean cannabis extract or isolate. Often, pesticide thresholds for commonly used agricultural products (e.g., olive oil or strawberries) are higher than those required for cannabis products, so mixing without first testing every input could be a recipe for a failed product, despite one’s best efforts for cannabis inputs.

TAKEAWAY: Toward determining the best approach for mixing CBD into a product, producers should consider water-soluble options.

Create a Great Flavor Profile

Once a producer reliably incorporates CBD into their product, comes a focus on its flavor profile. If aiming for full-spectrum flavor/aroma, producers can celebrate the fact by letting the taste and smell shine through. Conversely, an isolate should be of such low flavor and aroma profiles as to minimize any need of masking them. Nevertheless, using flavors such as citrus, cheese, berry, or sweet brown flavors (e.g., chocolate, almond, apple) might be preferable. Consultation with a flavor supplier is advisable.

TAKEAWAY: Producers should consult with a capable supplier to understand options for high-quality flavor profiles.

Taking a product from concept to commercialization involves a lot of work, especially for companies with less bandwidth or fewer resources to internally handle everything from start to finish. Tackling sourcing, applying food science, conducting safety and regulation checks, and other due diligence can be daunting without the right partners. It can be convenient to off-load many such needs to a supplier who has already taken many of the issues into account and made the CBD extract into an easily dispersible, water-soluble, food- and beverage-safe format. Producers can leverage the knowledge of such a supplier to help calculate usage rates and even work through where it may be most appropriate to add in one’s process.

It may be intimidating to go through a new product development cycle with CBD in the mix, since the sourcing, regulatory environment, food science, and confirmation of product claims can be overwhelming. Yet, CBD represents an exciting new category with enormous growth potential, and countless big brands are racing into the space. While much of the product-development market can seem complex, there are undoubtedly many more CBD-infused products coming.