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The Hidden Problem Looming Over the Cannabis Edibles Market

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The Hidden Problem Looming Over the Cannabis Edibles Market

A Problem Looming Over the Cannabis Edibles Market

The boom in legal cannabis has been absolutely historic.

According to ArcView Research, it’s already a multi-billion dollar industry – and by 2022, the legal market could be worth $32 billion globally.

As in any nascent industry, the early days of cannabis have been exciting and formative. As it begins to mature, it’ll become clearer what products will drive future growth.

In this context, cannabis edibles and beverages have taken center stage – and today’s infographic from Trait Biosciences outlines the magnitude of this opportunity, along with some of the challenges the market faces going forward.

The Rise of Edibles

From dark chocolate to CBD-infused beverages, the cannabis edibles market is one of the most diverse and exciting markets for both consumers and businesses.

Edibles and beverages have already more than doubled in their share of the overall cannabis market since 2011, and the market is expected to grow in size from $1 billion to $4.1 billion between the years 2017 and 2022.

This year, the Specialty Food Association even named cannabis edibles and beverages as a “Food Trend of the Year” – a nod to the fact that edibles are going mainstream, even within the scope of the much larger food and beverages industry.

Not surprisingly, as this category emerges, there are many big brands exploring options in the edibles market, including Constellation Brands, Molson Coors, Mondelez, Carl’s Jr, Anheuser Busch, Neal Brothers, and Coca-Cola. In particular, the beverages space seems to be hot: Constellation shelled out $4 billion for a stake in the largest cannabis company globally (Canopy Growth), and beer-maker Anheuser Busch partnered with Tilray to research THC and CBD drinks.

Marketplace Risks

There are four major sources of risk that could impact future growth potential for companies in the fast-moving cannabis edibles market:

  • Regulatory risks:
    Regulators are becoming increasingly concerned about the dosage, packaging, and labeling of edibles products
  • Stiff competition:
    Mega brands are entering the edibles space at a blistering pace, and could dominate market share from newer entrants
  • Taxes:
    Complex layers of taxation could decrease demand for edibles, such as in California, while also pushing consumers towards the black market
  • Consumer concerns:
    Unpredictable dosage amounts, taste, and even toxins have surfaced as issues with the media, as consumers voice their concerns with edible products

But above and beyond these known risks, there is another potential hindrance to the edibles and beverages market that flies under the radar: how cannabinoids are absorbed into the bloodstream when ingested.

The Journey Into the Bloodstream

Unlike substances like sugar or alcohol, cannabinoids are not soluble in water. Instead, they are soluble in fats.

A substance such as sugar can enter the bloodstream within 10-15 minutes of ingesting. On the other hand, fat soluble substances such as cannabinoids have to wait – which is why sometimes edibles take hours to kick in.

Ultimately, cannabinoids are absorbed through the body’s fat. This happens in the small intestines, which help distribute them to the rest of the body.

Implications for Edibles and Beverages

For some cannabis producers, fat-solubility just means slow onset times and a generally undesirable taste. For other products, like CBD beverages, it creates bigger problems. Water and oil simply don’t mix.

To get around this, producers are using special emulsion techniques to make oil particles smaller, so that they mix with water better, increase bioavailability, and speed up onset times.

  • Macroemulsion:
    Think of this as mixing oil and vinegar. It’s your common emulsion that will separate over time, since oil and water don’t mix
  • Nanoemulsion:
    Stable but thermodynamically unstable. Uses surfactants to keep water/oil binded
  • Microemulsion:
    Stable, but uses a higher concentration of surfactants (which lower the surface tension between two liquids)

While these techniques are seeing increased usage by producers of cannabis products, they do have their own set of limitations.

Oil and water solutions still unbind over time, and products may only have a limited shelflife. Reporting by WSJ has found that these beverages also have a questionable aftertaste for many consumers, and onset times of these products are still not as fast as smoking or vaping.

It’s also worth noting that various health regulators, scientific journals, and international organizations have raised concerns about using nano-sized particles in food and beverages.

For example, the Canadian government warns that there is a “causal relationship between nanoparticle exposure and adverse health effects”, while the respected scientific journal Nature warns that nanoparticles “may behave differently within the human body”, and that “safety of nanoparticles should be judged on a case-by-case basis”.

Next Steps?

The cannabis edibles market is poised to be the next big thing – but when it comes to how these cannabinoids get absorbed by the body, there is still much work to be done.

How will the industry and consumers move forward to capitalize on growing opportunities in the edibles and beverages market?

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Mapped: The European CBD Landscape in 2020

This graphic explains the innately complex legal status of CBD products in Europe and highlights the countries leading the CBD charge.

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Mapped: The European CBD Landscape in 2020

To say CBD has risen in popularity over the last decade is an understatement.

Not only have CBD consumer products rapidly infiltrated a long list of industries, new research discoveries continue to prove their therapeutic benefits. By 2023, the European CBD market is estimated to reach €1.4 billion.

However, a big problem remains—there is an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounding what is legal, and what isn’t. The above infographic from Elements of Green sheds some light on the innately complex legal status of CBD products in Europe.

The Great CBD Debate

CBD—short for cannabidiol—is a non-psychotropic compound produced by cannabis plants.

While most European countries have legalised it in some way, the caveat for many is that it must be extracted from industrial hemp, thus containing less than 0.2% THC—the intoxicating compound also found in cannabis. On the other hand, countries such as France and Norway only permit CBD isolate (the pure form of CBD) with no THC.

In 2019, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) designated CBD products as a novel food. This means that companies should seek authorisation to bring products to market, although it is not required by law.

However, the industry has now hit a fork in the road, as the European Commission (EC) recently announced it will be suspending applications for novel foods status while it determines whether or not certain CBD products should be labelled as narcotics instead.

The Legal Landscape in 2020

As the industry flip flops between regulations, consumers and investors need to understand that each country has its own laws surrounding the use of CBD.

CountryCBD Legal Staus
🇦🇱 AlbaniaIllegal
🇦🇩 AndorraIllegal
🇦🇲 ArmeniaIllegal
🇦🇹 AustriaLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇧🇾 BelarusIllegal
🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaIllegal
🇧🇪 BelgiumLegal grey area (restricted lean)
🇧🇬 BulgariaUnrestricted
🇨🇿 Czech RepublicLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇭🇷 CroatiaLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇩🇰 DenmarkUnrestricted
🇪🇪 EstoniaLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇫🇮 FinlandLegal grey area (restricted lean)
🇫🇷 FranceUnrestricted
🇬🇪 GeorgiaIllegal
🇩🇪 GermanyUnrestricted
🇬🇷 GreeceUnrestricted
🇭🇺 HungaryLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇮🇸 IcelandLegal grey area (legal lean)
🇮🇪 IrelandLegal grey area (restricted lean)
🇮🇹 ItalyLegal grey area (restricted lean/legal for medical use)
🇱🇻 LatviaLegal grey area
🇱🇮LiechtensteinLegal grey area
🇱🇹 LithuaniaIllegal
🇱🇺 LuxembourgUnrestricted
🇲🇹 MaltaLegal grey area/legal for medical use
🇲🇩 MoldovaIllegal
🇲🇨 MonacoIllegal
🇲🇪 MontenegroIllegal
🇳🇱 NetherlandsUnrestricted
🇲🇰 North MacedoniaLegal for medical use
🇳🇴 NorwayLegal for medical use
🇵🇱 PolandUnrestricted
🇵🇹 PortugalLegal for medical use
🇷🇴 RomaniaUnrestricted
🇷🇸 SerbiaLegal grey area (restricted lean)
🇸🇰 SlovakiaIllegal
🇸🇮 SloveniaUnrestricted
🇪🇸 SpainUnrestricted
🇸🇪 SwedenUnrestricted
🇨🇭 SwitzerlandUnrestricted
🇺🇦 UkraineUnrestricted
🇬🇧 United KingdomUnrestricted

While a handful of European countries have made it illegal to import, buy, or possess CBD, the vast majority have legalised CBD products that either comply with the Novel Foods Act, or can be obtained from a licensed medical practitioner.

Of these countries, Germany and the UK lead the European CBD market, followed by Switzerland, Austria, Spain, and Greece.

A Call For Change

A progessive stance on cannabis legalisation combined with increasing consumer demand has led to several countries showing remarkable growth, such as Poland, Bulgaria, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Luxembourg in particular presents a compelling growth story, as it plans to fully legalise adult-use recreational cannabis in 2021, which would make it the first European country to do so.

Despite its small size, Luxembourg could in fact be instrumental in encouraging neighbouring countries to implement similar reforms, also known as the neighbour effect.

Growing Pains of a Nascent Industry

Considering each country has its own unique restrictions in place, CBD consumers should educate themselves on the regulations and laws relevant to them.

Despite these often confusing laws and restrictions, it is clear that demand for CBD products is growing exponentially. As a result, the continent may have the potential to overtake North America as the largest CBD market in the world.

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CBD Oil vs. Hemp Oil: What’s the Difference?

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CBD Oil vs. Hemp Oil: What’s the Difference?

For many consumers, cannabis plays a significant role in the treatment of medical conditions and managing general well-being. As a result, certain products have seen a rapid increase in popularity in recent years.

But while awareness of these products is at an all-time high, false or misleading information continues to cause confusion, and creates an unnecessary barrier for consumers who want to experiment with, or try different products.

For example, 69% of cannabidiol (CBD) products are reported to have inaccurate labeling, so it’s no surprise that some consumers are uncertain about the suitability of these products and are hesitant to invest.

Today’s graphic from Elements of Green dives into the differences between popular cannabis products, CBD oil and hemp seed oil—more commonly known as hemp oil— and the common misconceptions that are inhibiting consumers from entering the space en masse.

Same Plant, Difference Characteristics

Typically, both CBD oil and hemp oil originate from the hemp plant, a non-psychoactive cannabis plant. Therefore, it typically does not result in any intoxicating effects. However, many consumers mistakenly believe that CBD or hemp products will get them high, when in fact it is the marijuana plant—hemp’s psychoactive cousin—that can induce mind-altering effects.

Even though both oils are extracted from the same plant, they each have very different characteristics and uses that consumers should be aware of.

CBD Oil

CBD oil is extracted from the flowers, leaves, stems, and stalks of hemp plants, and contains high levels of the naturally occurring CBD compound. Various CBD oil formats include tinctures, vape oil, and capsules, which are commonly used for their proven therapeutic benefits, such as:

  • Pain management
  • Relaxation
  • Stress relief
  • Treatment of medical conditions such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis
  • Reduction in anxiety
  • Sleep aid

When it comes to product labeling, consumers should be aware that different types of CBD oils exist, depending on the chemical compounds—known as cannabinoids—they contain.

  • CBD Isolate: Pure CBD, with no other cannabinoids such as THC
  • Full-spectrum CBD oil: Contains CBD among other cannabinoids, including THC
  • Broad-spectrum CBD oil: Contains CBD among other cannabinoids, with no THC

These oils are used in a wide variety of consumer products such as beverages, beauty products, and even pet food.

Hemp Oil

Hemp oil, on the other hand, is extracted from hemp seeds and contains no cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. It is used more like a traditional cooking oil, but can also be found in topical creams and lotions.

More recently, hemp oil is being hailed for its use in industrial products such as concrete, bio-plastics and fuel. While it has huge potential for use in both consumer and industrial products, its benefits differ slightly to CBD oil:

  • Source of plant-based protein and rich in fatty acids and antioxidants
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Reduces severity of skin conditions such as acne, eczema, or psoriasis
  • Anti-bacterial properties
  • Could reduce PMS or menopause symptoms

Consumers should ensure that hemp oil is listed as the active ingredient on the product’s packaging, but it may also be listed as cannabis sativa seed oil.

Busting the Myths

While there is strong scientific evidence to support the efficacy of CBD oil and hemp oil, companies need to commit to both appropriate and safe labeling regarding dosage levels and ingredients.

Following that, previously held stigmas and misconceptions should slowly disintegrate as these products become more widely available and consumers increase their knowledge and understanding of their benefits.

Considering that the popularity of cannabis consumer products has only exploded over the last decade, initial confusion surrounding them is to be expected, and the true potential of these products is yet to be realised.

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