Achieving cannabinoid consistency in food and beverage products
From raw ingredients to the end product, maintaining accurate cannabinoid content is crucial for developing safe, compliant cannabis foods and beverages.
Though outward appearance, taste and product format may initially draw in today’s recreational and medical cannabis consumers, precise dosing is the cornerstone of developing safe, consistent infused food and beverages—and it’s essential for strong brand resonance in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Cannabis consumers need to know that they will consistently get the same benefits from the cannabis-infused foods and beverages that they purchase, and that the products reliably match stated dosing claimed on packaging.
Products lacking in consistent dosing put end users at risk of consuming too much or not enough of the incorporated cannabinoid, notes Skyler Webb, director of product development at Cannabistry Labs, Skokie, IL.
“Consumer safety could potentially be of concern if more cannabinoids are consumed than they willingly wish to take,” Webb says. “At the other end, you may deliver consumers an ineffective product if the target potency is not achieved. In order to deliver consumers an infused product for self-dosing, the cannabinoid content needs to be consistently accurate within your claimed values.”
The high viscosity and sticky nature of cannabis oils can make consistent incorporation difficult, but there are ways to meet this challenge, says Matt Hepfinger, vice president, commercialization, Cannabistry Labs.
Hepfinger recommends using a “reliable and accurate scale, preferably an analytical balance with high precision.” At the top of the range are Mettler Toledo’s Excellence XPR and XSR Analytical Balances, which feature a maximum capacity of up to 320 grams and readability down to 0.001 milligram, depending on the model. The company also offers advanced and standard level analytical balances for varying needs and budgets.
No matter which scale manufacturers use, Hepfinger stressed the importance of thoroughly heating and mixing cannabis oils before continuing through the production process of any cannabis-infused food or beverage. “The active ingredient must be heated to a minimum temperature for flowability and homogeneity, and this elevated temperature during weighing and dosing is critical to ensure accuracy,” he says.
Heating and mixing are just two factors to consider. Product manufacturers must also determine which of the base ingredients will combine properly with the cannabinoids. Hepfinger recommended mixing cannabis oils with other oil-based ingredients. “These ingredients can then be mixed prior to addition to the full batch formulation, which helps to more accurately and evenly disperse the active ingredient throughout the product,” he says.
However, not all products include a suitably lipophilic ingredient. “If those types of ingredients are not available in the formulation, then it may be necessary to utilize a different form of the active—such as powdered isolate instead of oil—or employ other metering methods like a high-precision heated dosing device,” says Hepfinger.
These devices can be used to repeatedly and accurately dose active ingredients. ViscoTec America Inc., Kennesaw, GA, offers a variety of dispensing and filling systems for a range of applications, including food and pharmaceutical products. Specifically, the VHD and VPHD Hygienic Dispensers have dosing volumes ranging between 0.01 and 50.0 ml/rev, depending on the model, and volume flows ranging between 0.2 to 800.0 ml/min.
Cannabis-infused food and beverage developers can also opt to use encapsulated ingredients to address homogenization issues in products like beverages. Cannabis ingredient providers continue to make strides in building stability into their ingredient options in order to deliver a consistent experience in every product.
To confirm dosing is accurate, manufacturers should not only test their finished products, but also the raw active ingredients, Webb notes. But that’s often easier said than done.
“Unfortunately, many licensed third-party testing facilities do not have properly validated methods for testing cannabinoids and can report inaccurate results,” says Webb. “This presents challenges during formulation, as the potency of the raw material determines the cannabinoid concentration in the final product. Inaccurate raw material results can lead to improper dosing and noncompliant batches.”
Webb adds that working with reliable, transparent suppliers is critical. “The source of cannabinoids needs to be accurate and appropriate for the product category and formula,” he says. Additionally, he continues, cannabis ingredient suppliers need to provide consistent material with accurate and comprehensive certificates of analyses (COAs).
Webb recommended vetting several cannabis labs for third-party testing, comparing their results with properly validated in-house results, if possible. Other factors to consider include lead times for receiving test results, ease of submitting samples, and cost.
Carolina V. Mitchell, founder and chief scientific officer for Ciencia Labs, Los Angeles, also points to the importance of conducting a background search. “First, research the lab history for any lousy press, including legal issues, bad reviews or lack of ethics,” she says. “Second, choose a lab that is close to your facility. This will facilitate R&D testing and any unplanned tests. Third, check their prices and fees for expedited services or picking up samples. Finally, look at the transparency—the ideal lab will share how they test your product.”
For in-house and third-party testing, Mitchell cites high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) as the most-common and accurate method. It separates, identifies and quantifies each component in a mixture. She notes that HPLC can be used to test any edible for cannabinoid content and other parameters. However, extraction methods, which will be different depending on the infused product, must be validated.
Mitchell adds that near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) and fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) are other viable methods, but they require further validation by HPLC.
Hitting the Market
As with any food or beverage, understanding how the cannabis-infused products will perform after they leave the production facility is also necessary, particularly in regard to cannabinoid efficacy—immediately upon hitting the market and over the course of the intended shelf life.
“Once the source and concentration of cannabinoids are selected, the formulation’s ability to maintain the initial content over time needs verification,” Webb says. Conducting shelf-life testing for potency helps ensure that the consumer is actually consuming the claimed value of cannabinoids—and that they experience the targeted efficacy of the product, he notes.
While accurate dosing is integral to creating a safe and enjoyable consumption experience, manufacturers must not lose sight of the overall picture, Mitchell says.
“Creating good cannabis-infused foods goes beyond flavor, texture, correct dosage, and even quality,” says Mitchell. “You can make a delicious cannabis-infused food or beverage that passes all the tests—including compliance and quality—but still get complaints about lack of effect, or that the extract started to react weirdly once the product is on the shelf. A deep understanding of food technology and cannabinoid science is essential to succeed as an edible manufacturer.”