Sunday September 1, 2019
A single cannabis plant produces hundreds of cannabinoids, many of which are only now being investigated. Arguably the most famous is THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive component found in the marijuana plant. Recent innovations have allowed the design of novel THC-infused products. While it may seem simple, the development of water-soluble THC is a huge advance for the creation of new and infused beverages, edibles and more.
How is THC Made Water-Soluble?
THC is a lipid with incredibly low solubility in water: 0.003mg/ml. For perspective, a ‘standard’ edible dose of 10mg THC would require over three liters of water to dissolve. Like other aromatic terpenoids, THC readily dissolves in alcohol and other lipids. This has been exploited for the production of myriad oil- and alcohol-based beverages on the current cannabis market.
For those seeking THC without alcohol, the options are limited to cannabis beverages that attempt to mix oils with water. Inevitably, emulsifiers have been required for this task. Traditionally, these oils did not hide well, often dictating the flavor and mouthfeel of the final product. Like raw milk, or a vinaigrette, these mixtures can settle and separate, requiring a vigorous shake or stir.
However, recent advances in emulsion science, genetic modification, and cannabis chemistry have resulted in near-completely water-soluble THC solutions. This opens the door to entirely new products that had so far been out of reach. Given the infant status of this new field, many companies and brands are coming to market with wildly different approaches to the same goal.
The Science Behind Water-Soluble THC
The current cannabis market is mostly populated by products that have taken advantage of innovative oil-based delivery methods. They have learned from molecular gastronomy and modernist cuisine, employing technology to rethink food.
These micro-emulsions are often achieved by packaging cannabis extracts into tiny bubbles, or micelles. Vegetable starches like maltodextrin, and ‘carrier oils’ mediate this process. These ‘micro-bubbles’ can easily be dissolved into water or other liquids with a little shake or stir. This process is employed for prepared and packaged beverages, many of which are low- or zero-calorie and make use of different approaches to mask the minimal remaining flavor and texture. Some employ carbonation and familiar archetypes, like cider or beer, to forego even more minimal additives.
A few other brands take this microencapsulation a step further by drying the final product into a fine powder. This is the most advanced form of water-soluble THC so far, with the option to add it directly to any drink or food. These are edibles that have brought convenience and discretion to a new level. In the case of Ripple, a dissolvable powder made by Stillwater Brands, the creator stresses that the product doesn’t entirely dissolve to clear, assuaging any fears of unwanted additions to your drink.
The Future of Water-Soluble THC
While they’re not currently available, some products will soon be released that remove the need for additives or emulsifiers entirely. In their purest forms, they are nothing more than flavorless THC in purified water. The approaches being pursued are innovative and much more advanced than your average emulsion.
Trait Biosciences solves the problem of solubility by learning from our own bodies and the cannabis plant itself. By attaching a sugar molecule to THC, something organisms naturally do, the compound instantly becomes water-soluble. They accomplish this ‘glycosylation’ both directly in genetically-modified plants, and after the fact through enzymatic fermentation.
Still, others are working on proprietary methods on which many experts can only speculate. Infusion Biosciences claims their ‘Aqueous Phytorecovery Process’(APP) produces a whole-plant extract dissolved in only water, THC and all. While Infusion Bio. doesn’t intend to release products directly, they have already started partnerships with several brands. Expect new and exciting products from these modern cannabis alchemists, and their collaborators, in the near future.
Why Water-Soluble THC is Great for All Consumers
For a dozen different reasons, fewer people are smoking cannabis, and turning to other alternatives for their THC infusions. The edibles market has exploded to fill the gap, with products both savory and sweet. While convenient, long-lasting, discrete and tasty, this booming form of consumption brings along new challenges. The nature of eating cannabis both delays and extends the effects, progressing through digestion before hitting the bloodstream. This often results in variable and unpredictable time-frames for the experience. These unforeseen consequences are one of the primary reasons people report avoiding edibles.
Water-soluble THC, when consumed on an empty stomach, can usually be in full effect within 15 minutes.
From a medicinal perspective, this fast onset is incredibly useful for prompt relief. Recreationally, the equally accelerated duration can be appealing for those that have things to do later in the day. Further, liquid or powder delivery allows for precise mixing and dosing: no more surprises from a strong corner of the brownie.
Finally, something most edibles can’t claim: water-soluble THC rarely has more calories than if it had been smoked. Many water-soluble THC products have very low calorie counts, owing only to added sugars, oils or other ingredients. Along with the calories, the characteristic cannabis flavor that imbues so many edibles is nowhere to be seen.
Have you tried water-soluble THC? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.