Vanishing CBD in beverages: Are you getting what you think you’re getting?

The dirty secret of the beverage category is that, most times, the hemp CBD inclusion does not make it out of the can.

Karen Hufnagl, Clinical Science Director

October 21, 2021

6 Min Read
Vanishing CBD in beverages: Are you getting what you think you’re getting?

Two significant, intertwined issues plague the CBD beverage industry today. The first is the stability of the cannabinoid(s) to remain suspended in the beverage over extended periods of time. The second is absorption of the cannabinoid(s) into the lining that coats the inside of aluminum cans.

Cannabinoids like CBD, THC and CBG from full spectrum hemp-derived oil are not soluble in water. That means an emulsion must be created in order for cannabinoids to remain suspended and dispersed throughout a beverage. The emulsion is a mixture of microscopic liquid droplets of CBD (and potentially other cannabinoids) evenly distributed throughout another liquid. These droplets are most commonly nano-emulsified or encapsulated by stabilizing/emulsification agents to keep them suspended throughout the other liquid.

Water: Love it or hate it

Two terms are important to understand here: hydrophilic and hydrophobic. Hydrophilic refers to molecules that get along with water, whereas hydrophobic refers to molecules that do not. Cannabinoid emulsion droplets are hydrophobic. The inside of aluminum cans are coated with a very thin polymer layer designed to keep the liquid inside away from the aluminum and preserve the product’s taste and protect it from corrosion. 

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This polymer layer is also hydrophobic, and therein lies the problem: Neither one of them gets along with water, and the hydrophobic liner will attract the hydrophobic emulsion droplet, causing it to attach to the liner and leading to a decrease in cannabinoid potency of the beverage over time. In some cases, the potency is reduced almost completely, rendering the product ineffective.

Emerging trouble in cannabinoid beverages

Canopy Growth first identified challenges with cannabinoid stability and the aluminum can liner issue with its Canadian THC-infused beverage in April 2019. In the US, cannabis beverage producers Lagunitas and Tinley have also been experiencing the same problem. Tinley CEO Jeff Master has stated that they found “97% absorption into the can after a few months.”

Like those who came before, CFH, Inc. was running into the same issue in 2019 when it first began development of its CBD infused beverage, James & James. Formulating an infused beverage with CBD isolate is difficult enough; formulating with full spectrum crude oil is even more so. It comes down to basic chemistry: Oil and water don’t mix. When serial testing of its finished product ensued, it became apparent that the 25 mg of full spectrum CBD present at the time of canning was reduced by as much as 90% in three months. Clearly, the product potency quickly departed from the label claim.

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Indeed, this is a widespread problem in the CBD beverage industry. Many companies proclaim that their cans contain between 20-25mg of CBD. However, stability and potency are not yet regulated in this industry, and standards guidelines are still being developed. This begs the following questions: How many of these beverages are incorrectly labelled? Are their potency claims no longer accurate? Do they need to be relabeled or recalled due to a failure to meet label claims?

25 mg of CBD … or not?

In an effort to identify just how far-reaching these issues are, CFH evaluated 40 different CBD-infused beverages in cans, plastic and glass bottles. The data showed a wide range of variability in the label claim for CBD content compared to the actual test result.

Of the 40 products tested, 10 had “Manufactured On” dates that were 150 days or less from when the evaluation was performed. The data showed that in under five months, these products already contained less than 50% of the target CBD content.

Overall, variability in the CBD content for the 40 products tested ranged from a low of 0% to a high of 132% of the label claim. A total of three beverages tested at 0% CBD content; all of them were in plastic bottles. At the other end of the spectrum, a CBD content of 132% indicates a significant over-formulation.

On average, the CBD concentration across the 40 products tested was 26.2% less than the amount listed on the label.

Though it was not alone in these challenges, it was back to the drawing board for CFH. The first hurdle was to find an emulsification method that would effectively keep the full spectrum hemp flower crude oil in solution over extended periods of time. The second was to identify a beverage container that would not attract the cannabinoid emulsion and lead to detrimental effects on product potency.

CFH evaluated several methods for creating an emulsion, including sheering and sonication, nano-emulsification, encapsulation and chemical bonding, searching for at least one that would provide the desired outcomes of long-term emulsion stability and maintain the product potency and shelf life indicated on the label.

Positive outcomes and making good choices

Ultimately, one emulsion process emerged as the leader for use with a full spectrum hemp flower-derived CO2 extracted crude oil. The resulting product stayed in solution, demonstrating stability and shelf life of more than a year from the date of manufacture. As for the issue of cannabinoids migrating out of the beverage into the walls of the container? Stability studies revealed that using glass bottles eliminated the problem completely.

So, amongst the sea of CBD beverages in the marketplace, what should you look for when you are making a purchase. 

  • Type of container: Is the beverage in a can or a plastic bottle? Both have demonstrated issues with stability and cannabinoid potency. Glass bottles appear to be the solution here.

  • Freshness: Look for a “Manufactured On” date to assess for potential potency degradation.

  • Purity: Ask to see a third-party COA (Certificate of Analysis) documenting that the beverage is free from pesticides, residual solvents, heavy metals, microbial contaminants, molds/mycotoxins and foreign matter. If any of this information is missing from the COA, the question arises as to why it was not included. Unfortunately, until regulatory oversight of CBD beverages becomes a mainstay, it’s best to move on to a beverage made by a company that does include it.

  • Potency: Make sure the COA verifies that the amount of CBD in the container matches the label claim.

  • Stability data: Request a stability study COA to confirm the product you are purchasing maintains its potency through the intended shelf life.

  • Traceability: Visit the company’s website to see if they provide transparency in ingredient sourcing and traceability. Many companies do not know where their CBD ingredients come from, and that opens the door for questions around product consistency. You want a beverage company that can provide you with comprehensive and consistent data with high standards that are verified by outside parties. 

For more on developments and innovations in the hemp, cannabinoids and CBD market, we’ve got you covered at SupplySide West. Check out the two-hour workshop, “Hemp’s expanding opportunities (mostly) beyond CBD” on Tuesday, Oct. 26, from 1:00-3:00pm, in the lower level, South Pacific C room.

About the Author(s)

Karen Hufnagl

Clinical Science Director, CFH Ltd.

With a doctor of chiropractic and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition, Karen Hufnagl is a functional medicine practitioner and the founder of In Avanti Health—a private medical practice where she specializes in helping people get to the root cause of thyroid and hormone imbalances, gut/digestive issues, stubborn weight and fatigue. Hufnagl is dedicated to helping athletes reduce pain and inflammation, maximize their recovery and performance, and reach new heights in their athletic pursuits. She combines 20 years of study and practice in functional and alternative medicine with her review of emerging research on cannabinoid medicine, the endocannabinoid system and her clinical experience using full-spectrum hemp oil to serve as the clinical science director for CFH Ltd

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